Consuming Smarter to Protect the Rainforest with Rainforest Relief’s Tim Keating

August 28, 2015

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Festival edition of Green Is Good, and we are here in Washington D.C., and we’ve got Tim Keating. He’s the Executive Director of Rainforest Relief. Welcome to Green Is Good, Tim. Tim Keating: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on. John Shegerian: Tim, before we get talking about your great organization – the Rainforest Relief organization – talk a little bit about Tim Keating. How did you even get to this point as the Executive Director? Was this something that you were raised with – everything green – or is this something you learned along the way and you got really excited about the environment and about sustainability during your journey? Tim Keating: I would have to say it was definitely a journey. John Shegerian: A journey. Tim Keating: Yeah. In fact, when I first started going out into the woods, not necessarily just to play but I would say as a budding naturalist, my parents didn’t really know what to make of it and neither did my friends. I picked up field guides eventually and went out there starting to identify everything. At the time this was pretty unusual, so I was seen as a bit of an oddball. But ultimately I think in terms of the journey starting Rainforest Relief, I was actually much older and went through a number of alternatives. I had actually gone to college for Environmental Science, eventually, because I really couldn’t think of anything else when people kept asking, “What do you want to do when you get old?” I couldn’t think of anything else I would want to do except something involved with environmental work. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: But then interestingly having done a number of things as hobbies and whatnot when I came out of college, I got a new lens for my camera and I started getting involved in photography so heavily that I decided I wanted to do that. It led me to a bunch of other things away from environmental work that I was doing for probably about eight years. And what ended up happening was by the time I was growing tired of those things, really what was going on for me was this kind of Earth – I think – dragging me back into environmental work, and I went back out looking specifically to get involved. When I was very young – like 14, 15 – I think I might have signed my first Greenpeace petition to save the whales. John Shegerian: Really. Tim Keating: And my parents – I remember – were giving me little whale trinkets and whatnot, because I was into the whales for a number of years. So for me, the Greenpeace whaling campaign was kind of the iconic got people out there on Zodiacs getting in between the whales and the whalers was something I never forget, and not only was it possibly the most effective campaign in history, but it kind of called to me. Literally, when I was looking for work in something to do environmentally, it was in the back of my head, “How can I get out there on the Zodiacs with Greenpeace and save some whales?” John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: But, of course, that opportunity didn’t necessarily present itself to me until much later, believe it or not. So I was looking for something along those lines and saw a flyer up at the local community college, where I was going back to use their computers in the computer lab and I saw this flyer and it said, “Do you want to save rainforest? Call this number,” so I called this guy and we ended up starting Rainforest Relief. John Shegerian: And how many years ago was that? Tim Keating: That was in 1989 that I called him. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: We incorporated in 1990. John Shegerian: So for our listeners and our viewers out there, we have got Tim Keating. He is the Executive Director of Rainforest Relief. You can find him and his great organization at Tim, what is Rainforest Relief, and what do you specifically do, and what is your mission? Tim Keating: Sure. Mainly, what we’ve done is try to educate people about the linkages that they have when they buy products in terms of the destruction of rainforests and what those alternatives might be. So our main focus has been the use of tropical hardwoods. All of our research has said that logging for export wood is the primary factor leading to deforestation in the tropics. So when you look at very small quantities of tropical wood here in the U.S. or in Japan or in Europe, the impact on the woods has been enormous just for literally very, very small quantities like a few board feet of very, very high-quality, high-grade material here can mean that they’ve logged a whole tree to get it and those trees very often are only found one or two individuals per acre. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: So when you look at a 20-foot-long beam of ipé that has no defects – no knots or defects the entire length of the board – that may be the only board like that that has come from an entire ipé tree. Literally. So, therefore, when you are ordering 40,000 board feet like New York City used to do or now other towns and whatnot for their boardwalks, you’re talking about vast areas of rainforest being logged, and this is – they call it “selective logging,” but we call it “high grading.” Most of it is done illegally, and then once those loggers have bulldozed roads into the forest, then it provides access for all sorts of other extractive industries like agriculture, mining and whatnot. So it’s the logging very often, though,, that we see is the avant garde of deforestation that leads to the rest of the forest being completely destroyed. John Shegerian: I have been in the rainforest in Brazil. How many rainforests are there around the world? Tim Keating: I think something like 50 percent of Brazil is rainforest, right? John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: So Brazil has actually the largest area of rainforest of any country in the world – tropical rainforest. But it’s not the only Amazon country in South America. John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: Peru, as you are probably aware. John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: Ecuador. Columbia. There are a number of countries – Suriname and others – that parts of the Amazon are within their borders. But then if you go across the ocean, you’ve got a very large area of rainforest in West Africa – down below 50 percent now of what it used to be, the former extent. Then Southeast Asia, vast areas of rainforest there with Indonesia having the largest amount of rainforest within their borders. Many, many islands, of course, but Borneo and Sumatra – and the island of Borneo being divided between Indonesia and Malaysia so you have Malaysian Borneo and Indonesian Borneo, but Borneo is almost all rainforest. Then we see small pockets. Hawaii has some rainforest and Central America has quite a lot as well. But what we’ve seen in general is we’re looking at more than 50 percent deforestation at this time, and if you look at the estimate of how long these rainforests may last, it’s probably only another 30 years. So at the current rate of deforestation…. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: All accessible rainforest will be done in our lifetime. So this is beyond tragic. This is actually cataclysmic. It’s the only word that I can come up with because it means that we’re losing species at a rate that’s unprecedented since life began on Earth. Even faster than when an asteroid slammed into the planet 65 million years ago. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: We are losing species faster today than after that asteroid slammed into the planet. John Shegerian: OK. So you have been doing this 25 years. We’ve got water shortages, climate change. Tim Keating: That’s right. John Shegerian: The rainforest is being eroded. Tim Keating: Right. John Shegerian: Exponentially. What do we attack? Tim Keating: Yeah, it’s daunting, right? John Shegerian: It’s daunting. It’s a little bit overwhelming and daunting at the same time. Tim Keating: And I went through all that, and I have to say, I still have my moments. I can be walking onto the metro – like today…. John Shegerian: Yeah. Tim Keating: Go by two buildings sided with ipé from the Brazilian Amazon. John Shegerian: Yeah. Tim Keating: And get to the train station where there are benches inside underneath the canopy that are made of rainforest wood. There is no reason for that really. John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: So I get very frustrated when just walking around I see benches and whatnot made of tropical hardwoods. So I think, though, the only possibility of us turning this around is very quickly this kind of thing – what we see going on here today – each of us individually and us as a society has to go through a sea change. And it happened for me. It took a lot of years, but eventually I guess some of us refer to it as, I got “radicalized.” I’ve been arrested for protest over a dozen times, but I’m not saying everyone needs to do that, but certainly one thing we absolutely do need to do – and I’ll be talking about this tomorrow – is look at what we buy because that is in this current society, in the modern United States, we probably have more vote with our dollars in terms of what the world decides to do than we do currently when we go to the voting booth. John Shegerian: That’s really true. Tim Keating: So every time we plunk down a dollar – as we know from Economics 101 – we’re sending a message that says, “I want this, go make more,” and every time we refuse to plunk down a dollar, we’re sending another message that says, “You know what, I don’t want that.” John Shegerian: Voting with your pocketbooks. Tim Keating: “Don’t bother making any more of it.” So we have this incredible power – supply and demand – and for people who believe that we have no power this is – in modern America – probably the greatest power we have, other than actually getting involved as citizens and going out there and protesting. John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: Or talking to other people and talking to our Congress people and whatnot. But every day we’re buying stuff – and this has become the “causer à célèbre,” right? And so what I’m saying to folks is look at the products we buy, and at least for our top 10, top 15 products to avoid. Some of these shifts are very easy, some are not so easy. How do we avoid steel? How do we avoid aluminum? That’s not necessarily very easy. Avoiding tropical hardwoods – I can say – is probably fairly easy. You have to know how to do that though. Call us up. Send us an email. I’ll spend however long I need to on the phone with you to get you to do that. Chocolate and coffee and bananas have got to be organic, got to be shade-grown. Those are some very simple – the simple three. How do we avoid palm oil? We’ve got to look at the ingredients on packages. Not that hard to do, but it’s in a lot of things. So some of our favorite foods that we buy at the supermarket might actually have palm oil in there. John Shegerian: Is your office here in D.C.? Tim Keating: We don’t have an office in D.C. John Shegerian: Where are you based? Tim Keating: We’re based in New York. We have an office in Portland, Oregon, as well and another one in Los Angeles. John Shegerian: Great. So New York, Portland and L.A. Tim Keating: Yeah. John Shegerian: We’re here at the Green Festival. This is the Green Festival edition of Green Is Good. Tim Keating: Right. John Shegerian: Tomorrow you’re speaking. Tim Keating: Yes. John Shegerian: The topic tomorrow? The title of your presentation? Tim Keating: Actually, I call it “Consuming Earth to Death and How We Can Stop.” John Shegerian: Wow. Tim Keating: But I talk mostly about rainforest because to me that is the epitome of the fluorescence – if you will – of life on Earth. John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: Biology of life. John Shegerian: For our listeners and our viewers out there that want to make a difference, that love what you’re saying, believe everything and know you’ve been doing it 25 years so you’re an expert at this, how do they get involved? How do they donate? How do they help support your mission? Tim Keating: We have a “donate” button on our website. We also have a Fundly page up. You can find us on there if you want to help. It’s a crowd-funding site. John Shegerian: Right. Tim Keating: And is the simplest way, and I will personally answer that email if you’ve got a question about which woods to avoid or getting involved with the organization. John Shegerian: Perfect, Tim. We wish you luck tomorrow in your engagement here at the Green Festival. Tim Keating: Thank you. John Shegerian: It is very important that you continue to get the word out. If you want to help Tim and his great organization push the mission forward, it’s Tim Keating, thank you for making the world a better place. You are a truly living proof that green is good.