Friday, April 10, 2009

Rainforests - Part One

This is the first in a series of posts on the Rainforest, an expansive subject. Most of us know that rainforests are important and they are in serious trouble. But perhaps we don't know exactly why they are important or how we, especially those of us who live no where near them, can help. Let's start with why they are important ... here are a few facts:

  • Tropical rainforests are the single greatest terrestrial source of air that we breathe (they generate over 20% of the world's oxygen). They take in vast quantities of carbon dioxide and, through the process of photosynthesis, convert it into clean, breathable air. This also helps prevent global warming.

  • They are home to between 50 and 70 million different life forms ... two-thirds of all the living species on the planet.

  • Nearly half the medicinal compounds we use every day come from plants endemic to the tropical rainforest. That means that if we are to find a cure for such diseases as AIDS or cancer, it'll probably come from the tropical rainforests.

  • Almost half of all the world's rain falls on these forests. Vegetation traps the water in the soil and slowly releases it back into the air where it evaporates. This causes clouds to form and rain to fall ... filling rivers and streams ... and supporting life. One-fifth of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.

  • Rainforests regulate world temperatures and weather patterns. Trees are like big air conditioners. They lower the temperature, filter air, remove carbon dioxide, and absorb storm water. Fewer trees equate to higher temperatures everywhere.

  • Indigenous people live in the rainforest. From a moral standpoint, it is wrong to destroy their home ... and in the process their lives. With the loss of indigenous people, we lose valuable information on sustainable practices ... practices that, we are now realizing, will ultimately save our lives and the earth.

OK ... so the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clean water we enjoy, the medicine we need, the knowledge on sustainable practices that we require and our weather all have origins and/or links to the rainforest. They are important and their survival affects every single one of us. Their survival, however, is in serious jeopardy. Read on:

  • Worldwide, rainforests are being lost at the rate of an acre-and-a-half every second.

  • It is estimated that accessible rainforests will be completely wiped out in 45 years.

  • The earth is losing more than 400 species to extinction each day. This is a greater rate of species extinction than occurred 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit earth. When the rainforests are gone, 90% of earth's unique life forms (the majority of which have not yet been identified) will be lost forever.

What will happen to humans if the rainforests are lost? Some say that it is unlikely that we will survive because life is entirely dependent upon the integrity of the world’s biological fabric. Not everyone agrees with this analysis ... but all agree that life, as we know it, will drastically change for the worse.

There are many reasons why rainforests are disappearing ... agriculture, logging, mining ... to name just a few. Solutions are hard to find and, quite frankly, need to come from government leaders and policy makers to have the kind of impact required to save these precious resources. But we can help. Once again, there is power in our choices and our purchases. As long as we, the consumer, continue to buy and use products which negatively affect the rainforest ... and as long as those products continue to be big business ... we will continue to see the current rate of demise. Here is a list of products that, in coming posts, we'll take a look at:

  • Rainforest wood
  • Petroleum
  • Bananas
  • Aluminum
  • Paper
  • Gold
  • Steel
  • Beef
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Rayon
  • Flowers
  • Palm Oil
  • Soy

Saving rainforests, throughout the world, is crucial to our lives. We can help by knowing where products come from and refusing to purchase products that contribute to deforestation and destruction of, possibly, our most valuable resource.

Stay tuned for our next post ... Rainforest Wood.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!