The Importance of Rainforests
The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of a primary rainforest are
indescribable. It is impossible to capture on film, to describe in words, or to
explain to those who have never had the awe-inspiring experience of standing in
the heart of a primary rainforest.
Rainforests have evolved over millions of years to turn into the
incredibly complex environments they are today. Rainforests represent a store
of living and breathing renewable natural resources that for eons, by virtue of
their richness in both animal and plant species, have contributed a wealth of
resources for the survival and well-being of humankind. These resources have
included basic food supplies, clothing, shelter, fuel, spices, industrial raw
materials, and medicine for all those who have lived in the majesty of the
forest. However, the inner dynamics of a tropical rainforest is an intricate
and fragile system. Everything is so interdependent that upsetting one part can
lead to unknown damage or even destruction of the whole. Sadly, it has taken
only a century of human intervention to destroy what nature designed to last
The scale of human pressures on ecosystems everywhere has increased enormously in the last few decades. Since 1980 the global economy has tripled in size and the world population has increased by 30 percent. Consumption of everything on the planet has risen- at a cost to our ecosystems. In 2001, The World Resources Institute estimated that the demand for rice, wheat, and corn is expected to grow by 40% by 2020, increasing irrigation water demands by 50% or more. They further reported that the demand for wood could double by the year 2050; unfortunately, it is still the tropical forests of the world that supply the bulk of the world's demand for wood.In 1950, about 15 percent of the Earth's land surface was covered by rainforest. Today, more than half has already gone up in smoke. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world's tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day, and 78 million acres lost every year! More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues. It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year. If nothing is done to curb this trend, the entire Amazon could well be gone within fifty years.
Massive deforestation brings with it many ugly consequences-air
and water pollution, soil erosion, malaria epidemics, the release of carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere, the eviction and decimation of indigenous Indian
tribes, and the loss of biodiversity through extinction of plants and animals.
Fewer rainforests mean less rain, less oxygen for us to breathe, and an
increased threat from global warming.
But who is really to blame? Consider what we industrialized
Americans have done to our own homeland. We converted 90 percent of North
America's virgin forests into firewood, shingles, furniture, railroad ties, and
paper. Other industrialized countries have done no better. Malaysia, Indonesia,
Brazil, and other tropical countries with rainforests are often branded as
"environmental villains" of the world, mainly because of their
reported levels of destruction of their rainforests. But despite the levels of
deforestation, up to 60 percent of their territory is still covered by natural
tropical forests. In fact, today, much of the pressures on their remaining
rainforests comes from servicing the needs and markets for wood products in
industrialized countries that have already depleted their own natural
resources. Industrial countries would not be buying rainforest hardwoods and
timber had we not cut down our own trees long ago, nor would poachers in the
Amazon jungle be slaughtering jaguar, ocelot, caiman, and otter if we did not
provide lucrative markets for their skins in Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo.
from the book, The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs (Square One Publishers,
Inc. Garden City, NY 11040, © Copyrighted 2004) By Leslie Taylor
The Rainforests of the planet are the world's greatest natural
resource - they contain most biodiversity on the planet and are the source of a
dizzying array of plants that provide our modern society with many products..
These include drugs like quinine, muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs
are found. More importantly, are the new drugs still awaiting discovery - drugs
for AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's.
Yet rainforests around the world continue to be destroyed at an
Rainforests once covered 20% of the earth's land surface; now they
cover a mere 5%. In less than 50 years, more than half of the world's tropical
rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw and the rate of
destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, over 200,000 acres of
rainforest are burned every day in the world. That is over 150 acres lost every
minute of every day.
The problem and the solution to rainforest destruction are both
economic. Most Rainforests destruction
is motivated by the short-term profits they yield - mostly harvesting
unsustainable resources like timber. Some of the deforestation is for
converting land to cattle pasture and agriculture.
Some deforestation is still for subsistence cropping by
rainforest inhabitants but it is not as big a factor as it has been in the
If land owners, governments and those living in the rainforest
today were given a viable economic reason NOT to destroy the rainforest, it
could and would be saved. Thankfully,
economic alternative are being created.
Medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, oils and other resources like
rubber, chocolate and chicle, when harvested sustainably, yield much more
economic value than if timber were harvested or if it were burned down for
cattle or farming operations. Sustainable harvesting of these types of
resources provides this value today as well more long term income and profits
year after year for generations to come.
- If managed properly, the
rainforest can provide the world's need for these natural resources on a
- Promoting the use of these sustainable and renewable sources
could stop the destruction of the rainforests. By creating a new source of
income harvesting the medicinal plants, fruits nuts, oil and other sustainable
resources, the rainforests is be more valuable alive than cut and burned.
- Sufficient demand of sustainable and ecologically harvested rainforest products is necessary for preservation efforts to succeed. Purchasing sustainable rainforest products can effect positive change by creating a market for these products while supporting the native people's economy and provides the economic solution and alternative to cutting the forest just for the value of its timber.