Why is the rainforest extremely valuable and why should it be preserved? What are the catastrophic consequences of destroying them?
Rainforests have more species of animals and plants than any other ecosystem on Earth: half of the Earth's species!
Rainforests are the most biodiverse ecosystems on land on Earth, meaning they have more species of animals, plants, fungi, and other life than any other ecosystem. Rainforests are home to millions of species, including 70% of Earth's land animals and plants, and half the Earth’s total species, including the ones that live in the ocean. This includes chimpanzees, orangutans, many species of monkeys, rare river dolphins, sloths, gorgeous parrots and toucans, and large and spectacular butterflies. Our closest relatives, the great apes, live in tropical rainforests and cloud forests. Chimpanzees and orangutans live in rainforests, while gorillas live in cloud forests. The Bonobo Chimpanzee is the closest relative of the human. Ninety-eight percent of their DNA is identical to ours. Bonobos are a peaceful species of the rainforest that settle disputes without violence. They are threatened with extinction because their rainforest habitat is threatened, as is true of all great apes.
Most of the rainforest species are in the canopy, high up in the tops of the trees. A study of diversity in a rainforest in Peru caused the estimate of the number of species of animals in the world to be revised from 5 to 10 million up to 30 to 60 million. Costa Rica is smaller than of the state of West Virginia, with its widest point being only 185 miles across. Yet has as many bird species as all of the United States and Canada combined! It contains approximately half a million species of animals and plants. The Amazon River has as many species of fish as the entire Atlantic Ocean! Rainforests provide a habitat for migratory birds to live during the harsh winters of the temperate and polar regions of the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Because of this high diversity of plant and animal life, economic losses of 2 to 5 trillion US dollars per year are attributed to downgrading rainforest to pasture and less productive land use .
Trees carry out photosynthesis, which produces oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. But when they are cut or burned, trees can no longer perform photosynthesis, so cannot remove carbon dioxide from the air. Instead, burning or dead and decaying trees release the carbon dioxide stored in their trunks into the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Rainforests are often destroyed by flooding from huge megadams. In this case, the trees decay under water in the absence of oxygen, which means they release methane instead of carbon dioxide. This is much worse for Earth’s climate, because methane is 25 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. Thus, destroying rainforests makes human-induced climate much worse, heating the Earth. Destruction of tropical rainforests accounts for about 17% of global carbon emissions! (2)The climate crisis cannot be solved without stopping the destruction of rainforests. Without a solution to the crisis of human-induced climatic disruption, there will be a tremendous catastrophe greater than humankind has ever experienced, with crop failures and mass starvation, unprecedented shortages of drinkable water, global pandemics, coastlines going under water, record high temperatures, huge droughts and floods, and many other catastrophes.
There is a vicious cycle. Human-induced climate change is rapidly destroying rainforests worldwide. The increased heat from greenhouse gasses people produce cause droughts in rainforests. Hotter air can hold more moisture without dropping it as rain than colder air can. So the warmer air over the forest does not lose its water as rain, but moves away from the equator, and drops rain in temperate regions, where it is too cold for the air to hold its moisture. Thus, rainforests are experiencing droughts all over the Earth. Rainforests normally have very large amounts of rain. This keeps fires in rainforests small and limited in size. But when rainforests are dry from droughts, fires are more easily started and can burn much larger areas. Since the droughts in rainforests from global warming have appeared, there have been massive fires in rainforests in Mexico, Brazil, Africa, Indonesia, and other rainforests, destroying tremendous areas of these forests. The Indonesian fires have caused massive air pollution in Southeast Asia. The fires are often started by land developers, ranchers, and corporate farmers. The droughts also cause the edges of rainforests to die. After the trees on the edges die and fall over, there is a new edge whose trees then dry out and die, in an endless cycle that can continue until the entire rainforest is gone.
In 2005 and 2010, the Amazon experienced the worst droughts ever recorded. Rivers dried up, isolating communities, and millions of acres burned. The smoke caused widespread health problems, interfered with transportation, and blocked the formation of rain clouds, while the burning contributed huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, worsening the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, Indonesia has experienced several severe droughts in recent decades. The worst occurred in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, when millions of acres of forest burned. Therefore, destroying rainforests makes climate change worse, and climate change destroys rainforests, in a vicious cycle called a positive feedback loop.
In palm tree plantations that produce palm oil, corporations drain out much of the water to dry out the area to make a monoculture of palm trees, where no other kinds of trees can grow. These plantations easily catch fire. They often have a great deal of peat in the soil, so hot fires that are very hard to put out burn. Many of these are underground, so hard to access to put out. Many have burned for years. Some are still burning now. This happens in many parts of the world, but mainly in Southeast Asia. The smoke pollutes large areas, affecting the breathing and health of many people.
Rainforests regulate the global and local water cycles and protect their rivers and soil
Rainforests are important in the regulation of the global water cycle. Thus, the destruction of rainforests affects Earth’s water cycle and causes floods and droughts far from rainforests. São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is suffering from serious droughts due to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. This megacity of over 12 million people is literally running out of water . Deforestation in the Amazon and Central America severely reduces rainfall in the lower U.S. Midwest during the spring and summer seasons and in the upper U.S. Midwest during the winter and spring, respectively, and deforestation of Southeast Asia affects rainfall in China and the Balkan Peninsula significantly (4). High-resolution simulations of destruction of the Amazon rainforest showed 10-20% less rainfall for the coastal northwest US and the Sierra Nevada, and declines of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada of up to 50% .
Rainforests also play an important role in the local water cycle. Rainforest trees add water vapor to the atmosphere by transporting water in the ground through their roots, up their trunks, and through their leaves into the atmosphere in a process called evapotranspiration. This causes rain. Half of the rain in the Amazon rainforest is caused by the trees there, while the other half comes from water evaporated by the sun in the Atlantic Ocean. The rain that rainforests produce is needed by local farmers to grow food, people and animals for drinking, trees and plants to grow, and the rivers and lakes of the forest. These rivers lakes support fish, freshwater dolphins, turtles, and invertebrates, such as insect larvae and shrimp.
Rainforest water is purified by tree roots and fungi underground, where toxins are removed. Roots of rainforest trees store large amounts of water. Without the rainforest to soak up rain and release it slowly, floods and droughts become more common. In the Amazon rainforest, more than half the water in the ecosystem is stored within the plants.
Trees shade rivers and keep them cool enough for fish and other animals and plants in them to thrive. They stabilize river banks and prevent their erosion. Without this, sediment from soil would pollute rivers and lakes in the forest, and many fish, river dolphins, and aquatic invertebrates would die.
Rainforest trees shade and protect the soil, blocking the hot, intense tropical sun from hitting it during the day. They hold heat in at night. Destroying the forest leads to more extreme temperatures swings that are harmful to plants and animals. The trees also protect the soil from intense tropical rains. When the trees are removed, the rain washes the soil away, and the sun bakes the soil into a hard, brick-like state. In a short time, this can result in a desert on which no trees or food crops can grow.
Rainforests regulate Earth's reflectivity
Rainforests affect the reflectivity of sunlight by the Earth. This is called the Earth’s albedo. When they are cut, the albedo changes, and sunlight is reflected differently. This changes wind patterns and therefore rain patterns of our planet. This causes floods and droughts, reducing our agricultural yields and ability to obtain clean drinking water. The floods cause soil erosion, making it harder for wild plants and trees to grow and for humans to grow food
Rainforests are a source of food, drinks and spices
Many of the foods, beverages, and spices we eat and drink originated in rainforests. Bananas, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, pineapples, guavas, avocados, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, coffee beans, sugar cane, coconuts, sugar palms, other species of palm trees, coffee, and many other foods and beverages all originated in rainforests. The large Arenga sugar palm is a hardy plant that actually helps restore the soil where deforestation has occurred in the rainforests. Many spices come from rainforests, including cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla. And chocolate comes from the rainforest.
The açaí palm tree grows naturally in the Amazon rainforest and its berries, rich in protein and minerals, can be harvested without harming the forest. Science has shown the açaí berry to be an especially effective health food. It is rich in antioxidants, which protect from cancer and damage to your cells from free radicals. It strengthens the immune system. It is high in fiber. It keeps one’s blood sugar steady. It has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And it is high in calcium, so it will help keep your bones, heart, muscles, and nerves strong and healthy.
Modern technology has allowed us to grow many of these staples in temperate regions. However, all of these foods, beverages, and spices are constantly under threat from viruses, bacteria, fungus, drought, flooding, heat, and cold. They require a constant input of new varieties for genetic variability to be able to evolve and respond to these threats. The only source of these new varieties and genes are the wild varieties in rainforests. Therefore, without rainforests, we would lose a great portion of our food supply.
Unfortunately, some of these foods from the rainforests are grown in a way that is harmful to their environment. It’s important to select foods that are grown with Earth-friendly farming methods. Check the labels on the foods you eat to ensure you are choosing organic products, or products endorsed by Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, or the Forest Stewardship Counsel.
The following are lists of foods, spices, and beverages that come from the rainforest. They are not comprehensive.
Spices and Flavors: Allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, chili pepper, chocolate (cocoa), cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, turmeric, vanilla
Other Food Products: Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, coconut, coffee, cola, corn, macadamia nuts, peanuts, rice, sesame seeds, sugar, tapioca (from the cassava plant)
Rainforests are a source of many of the world's medicines
Tropical rainforests are a major source of medicines. Approximately 7,000 drugs used in Western medicine are derived from plants, and a majority of these are from rainforests. Over a quarter of the medicines we use today have their origins in rainforests, and only about 1% of rainforest plants have been studied for their medicinal properties.
The estimated value of these medicines was US$43 billion in 1985. Seventy percent of the 3,000 plants used to treat cancer are from rainforests. Vincristine, derived from the rosy periwinkle of the Madagascar rainforests, decreased the death rate from childhood leukemia from 80% to 20%. This cancer was much more likely a death sentence for children until this medicine was found. It also treats these cancers: non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, rhabdomyosarcoma, neuroblastoma, and Wilms’ tumor. The rosy periwinkle also yields Vinblastine, which treats Hodgkin’s disease, several lymphomas, advanced carcinoma of the testes, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and other cancers. Another periwinkle plant was used for cancer-fighting drugs, but is now extinct because of rainforest destruction. Rainforest drugs prevent, treat, or cure headaches, pains, malaria, heart disease, bronchitis, hypertension, rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, arthritis, glaucoma, dysentery, tuberculosis, fungal disease, bacterial and viral diseases, and many other diseases. Several anesthetics, enzymes, hormones, laxatives, cough medicines, antibiotics, and antiseptics are derived from rainforests. Theophylline, compounds from the trumpetflower, and cocoa are rainforest-derived, and treat asthma by opening airways. Cyclosporine, derived from rainforest fungi, is an anti-rejection drug, necessary for transplants to save lives. The local anesthetic lidocaine, so important in dentistry and procedures in which the patient is awake, comes from the rainforest. Quinine, a treatment for malaria, is an alkaloid extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree found in Latin America and Africa. From the deadly poisonous bark of various curare vines, used by generations of indigenous peoples in Latin America, comes treatments for multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and other muscular disorders. It is also permits surgery because it is an anesthetic.
The bite of the highly venomous snake, the fer-de-lance, causes victims to collapse because of a drop in blood pressure. The synthetic compound captopril was created from the venom of this snake. This medicine prolongs, improves, and lengthens the lives of millions of people as a treatment for the pathological effects of chronic high blood pressure, also called hypertension, “the silent killer”. One billion people worldwide and one out of three people in the U. S. have high blood pressure. Untreated, it increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, other cardiovascular diseases, and dementia. There are now nine other close chemical relatives of captopril ultimately derived from the fer-de-lance snake available for the treatment of hypertension. They have other uses in medicine. They are used for congestive heart failure, coronary or other vascular disease, may stave off atherosclerosis, can slow the progression of kidney disease in people with diabetes, and there is good evidence that they reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Almost 90% of human diseases are treatable with drugs derived from nature. The benefits to humanity of medicines from the rainforest are spectacular in their increase in longevity, quality of life, and relief from suffering. Production of these drugs produces hundreds of thousands of jobs. Many billions of dollars stimulate the global economy as a result of these medications.
Rainforests provide us with many products we use every day
The average person in the industrialized world cannot get through one day without using several products from the rainforest. Products we obtain from tropical rainforests include oils, gums, and resins that are used in paint, varnish, wood finishing products, fuel, and rubber products. Rubber itself came from the rainforest until it was replaced with a synthetic form. Rainforest oils are key ingredients in detergents, disinfectants, cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, and shampoos. In fact, many ingredients in shampoo come from Amazon plants; one comes from passion fruit from that ecosystem. Some skin moisturizers are made from oils from Brazil nuts and coconuts from the Amazon. Coconut oil is also used in beauty products and as a cooking ingredient. Many wood, paper, and other wood products come from the rainforest.
Contraceptives: Rainforests provide contraceptives. Besides allowing pleasure without producing babies, contraceptives are crucial in controlling world population. World population currently exceeds seven billion people, with a doubling time of about 40 years. Imagine two Chinas, two Indias, two New Yorks, and so on in the future. The Earth cannot sustain itself unless the human population is controlled. The population explosion is a leading threat to the climate, global environment, and human survival. Rainforest drugs offer great hope for safe and effective contraceptives for both women and men. Worldwide, approximately 4,000 plant species, including those not in rainforests, have been shown to offer contraceptive possibilities. Wild yams from rainforests in Mexico and Guatemala give us diosgenin and cortisone, the active ingredients in birth control pills. Until recently, this plant provided the world with its entire supply of diosgenin.
Biodegradable Pesticides: Natural biochemicals in rainforest plants hold promise for safe, less toxic, biodegradable pesticides for farmers. The threat to human health and nature posed by many of today’s chemical pesticides make these possibilities crucial. There are millions of animal, plant, and fungus species that have not been discovered or described by science. If deforestation continues at the current rate, more than three quarters of these will be made extinct before they are discovered. This will be devastating to our scientific knowledge, medicines, food crops and food production, items we use daily, and global climate. Sadly, 137 rainforest species are exterminated completely every single day.
Unfortunately, some products are grown in a way that causes harm to the rainforest and the people and animals that live there. Do your best when buying products from the rainforest to choose ones that are produced sustainably and are made by companies that are ethical and responsible.
The following products used daily by essentially everyone are derived from rainforests.
Rainforests are home to many indigenous people who need it to survive
Many indigenous people depend on their rainforest home to survive. They live as hunter gatherers or agriculturalists, in the natural way the human race lived for 99% of the time we were on Earth. Without rainforests, some of these tribes will die, and their cultures, traditions, and languages will be lost forever. Indigenous people have thrived in rainforests since the origin of humans. Their lives and spirituality are inextricably linked to the plants, animals, and flow of life in this rich environment. We can learn from these special people about medicines from the rainforest, other uses of animals and plants there, spirituality, sustainable living, deep ecology, respect for the Earth, and appreciation of its beauty and of life. Anthropologists learn about other cultures, ways of living, and views of the world from people of the rainforests.
Knowledge of the shamans, or medicine men, of indigenous people of the rainforest is extensive. A given shaman knows as much botany as a Ph.D. botanist at any major university in the US. The shaman knows more about the medicinal uses of plants, while the US botanist knows plant physiology, internal structure, ecology, and so on. Shamans in Southeast Asia use about 6,500 different plants to treat diseases. Their traditional methods are in treating both physical and psychological ailments. The U. N.’s World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of people in developing countries rely on traditional medicine for their primary health care needs. Shamans teach researchers about their medicines, so we can use them for our health care needs. One scientist stated, "Each time a medicine man dies, it is as if a library has been burned down.” Scientists often modify the chemical structure of the rainforest medicine to make it more effective.
Indigenous Reserves comprise 20% of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. They are now increasingly targeted by illegal loggers and poachers because they are still intact. Indigenous people are natural protectors of the rainforest. They live there and want to protect their homes, so will defend it without being paid. Guards in countries with protected areas of rainforests like national parks need to be paid. Often these countries either lack the funds or the will to pay enough guards to protect the forest, so exploiters destroy forest and kill wildlife in national parks. The parks are paper parks, parks in name only. Indigenous people want to defend their rainforest home, but often lack the resources to do so. However, they can protect the rainforest if they are given the support that organizations such as the World Rainforest Fund give them. Therefore, you can support the rainforest by donating to the World rainforest Fund.
How rapidly are people destroying rainforests?
We do not know the exact rate of rainforest destruction, but have excellent scientific estimates, partly because of NASA’s satellites that observe, photograph, and document it. Globally, rainforests are being destroyed at the rate of about 5 acres every second, or 300 acres per minute. We are losing over 80,000 acres, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres, of tropical rainforest every day. Every year, the area of rainforests destroyed is equal to one half the size of the state of California. The destruction of rainforests alone, without any other of the myriad causes of species extinction, is causing the extinction of 135 plant and animal species every day, which is almost 50,000 species a year! According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, overall tropical deforestation rates this decade are 8.5 percent higher than during the 1990s. Worse, the loss of primary tropical rainforest—the wildest and most diverse areas—has increased by as much as 25 percent since the 1990s. Thus, sadly, deforestation rates are rising rapidly. It is estimated that if the destruction is not stopped, rainforests will cease to exist except in a few protected areas within 60 years. Brazil has declared the situation in its Amazon Rainforest to be a national emergency. Madagascar has already lost over than 60 percent of its rainforest habitat as of 2015. A Harvard biologist has estimated that the loss of rainforests could result in approximately 25 percent of the world's species becoming extinct by the second half of the 21st century.
The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed at double the rate of all previous estimates, according to research published in the journal Science. The destruction is leaving the forest more prone to fires and thus further destruction.
An analysis of satellite images of the Brazilian part of the Amazon basin, which forms part of the largest contiguous rainforest on Earth, shows that on average 6,000 square miles of forest is being cut down by selective logging each year. This is in addition to a similar amount that is clear-cut annually for cattle grazing or farming.
Conservationists have been able to monitor large clear-cut areas using satellite images. But the extent of selective logging, where individual trees of high value, such as mahogany, are felled and smuggled out of the forest, has been unclear, the effects being masked from satellites by the forest's dense canopy.
From 1999 to 2002, 5 states in the Brazilian Amazon basin that account for 90% of deforestation in the Amazon lost between 4,685 and 7,973 square miles each year from selective logging alone. The cutting was shown to go much deeper into the interior of the forest than scientists had thought.
In both Africa and Asia, large areas of rainforest are being cut down, often in order to remove just a few logs, and rainforest is being destroyed at double the rate of all previous estimates. Unfortunately, this means that there is a very high rate of extinction, as the wildlife depending on the forest dies with it.
On average, for every tree removed, up to thirty more can be severely damaged by the timber harvesting operation itself.
Why are people destroying rainforest?
There are several reasons why people are destroying rainforests. The major ones are listed below.
Logging is thought to be the second largest cause of deforestation. According to the UN, up to 90% of logging in tropical rainforests is illegal. Large timber corporations cut down huge trees such as mahogany and teak, and sell them to other countries for building materials, making furniture, and paper production. Less valuable trees are cut and used to make wood chips. Clearcutting is the process by which large areas of rainforest are completely cut, felling every tree and leaving a vast barren area devoid of any vegetation. This is often done to get only a few trees, leaving the rest to decompose, because it is easier than selectively cutting and removing individual trees. This is because rainforest trees are intertwined by vines, and removing individual trees can require helicopters to lift them out of the forest. The roads that are created in order to gain access to and remove the timber are used by other exploiters to gain easy access to the rainforest to destroy it for any of the reasons discussed in this section. Local people, usually those who are poor, cut smaller trees to make charcoal to keep warm and cook their food. Overpopulation results in great numbers of poor people in rainforest areas, so vast areas of rainforest are destroyed by this method. As the forested area decreases, poor people need to walk greater and greater distances to obtain their wood for charcoal, often walking hours every day in the hot sun.
Very large dams
Large companies and banks invest money in developing countries to build dams for the generation of electricity. This involves flooding vast areas of rainforest. It creates artificial lakes, and the trees end up completely under water. The rainforest is completely destroyed. The electricity is often used for other destructive projects, such as to power iron mines, which destroy vast amounts of rainforest. Dams built in rainforest areas often have a short life because the submerged forest gradually rots, making the reservoir water acidic, which eventually corrodes the dam turbines. The dams can also become blocked with soil washed down from deforested highlands in heavy rains. This can cause great problems, such as flooding.
Cut and burned trees add to climate change because they emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when they decompose or burn. Oxygen cannot get to tees under water due to mega-dams, so different micro-organisms than the ones on land decompose them. These microbes emit methane instead of carbon dioxide. Methane is twenty-five times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. So large dams that flood rainforests exacerbate climate change much more than the cutting or burning of them does.
Metals that are found under the ground below rainforests are mined for export by large corporations. These include iron, aluminum, copper, and gold. Large areas of rainforest are destroyed to obtain these metals. Poisonous chemicals are used to extract the metals. For example, mercury is used to separate gold from the soil and debris with which it is mixed. These poisons pollute rivers, killing fish, frogs, turtles, birds, dolphins, invertebrates, and water plants. People depend on the rivers for their water, and the fish and other aquatic animals for food. Often mining towns appear that are high in poverty, crime, and prostitution.
Rainforests are often destroyed by oil companies extracting oil from the ground below them. This is incredibly damaging, since large roads are built through untouched forests in order to build pipelines and extract the oil. This encourages settlers to move into hitherto pristine forests and start slash-and-burn farming or cutting more timber for sale or the production of charcoal. It also gives rich exploiters of the forest, such as ranchers and timber companies, access to destroy the rainforest. Once established, the oil pipelines which transport the oil often rupture, spouting gallons of oil into the surrounding forest, killing wildlife. The oil flows into rivers, killing fish and other organisms, and polluting and contaminating the water supplies of local villages and indigenous people.
Farming by local people
Local people use what is called slash and burn agriculture, meaning small areas of rainforest are burned to plant crops. The crops can only be grown for about five years because the nutrients in rainforests are mainly in the trees, not the soil. (Most of the nutrients are in the soil in temperate forests). Since rainforest soils are low in nutrients, the nutrients are quickly depleted when it is farmed. And without the rainforest, the sun hits the soil, so the soil becomes very dry and hard, and cannot absorb water. The land becomes a crusty desert. So the farmers need to cut or burn more rainforest to continue farming. Because of the great number of poor people that farm by this method and their need to destroy more rainforest every few years to continue farming, this method of farming is believed to account for about 50% of rainforest destruction.
Indigenous people also use slash and burn farming techniques, but on a very small scale. For centuries they have used a sustainable system where, when they finish using one small patch of land, they move away to a different area and allow the forest to regenerate. The area they clear is so small that the soil does not dry out and the forest grows back again.
Large-scale argiculture for cash crop exports
Large corporations make a great deal of money by cutting and destroying very large areas of rainforest to plant cash crops for export to countries such as the United States and those in Europe. The forests are cut down to create cleared land for vast plantations where products such as bananas, palm oil, pineapple, sugar cane, tea, and coffee are grown. Just as with local farming, the nutrients are depleted within a few years, and the company moves on to cut another large area of rainforest, destroying it forever. But in this case, the area of rainforest destroyed per crop planted is much larger than when small farmers burn the forest to plant crops. In large corporate farms, herbicides and pesticides are used in great amounts, because tropical rainforest has so many species of plants that could compete with the cash crops and insects that could at them. These toxins kill rainforest animals on land, in rivers, and in lakes, and cause cancer and other diseases in the local people. The same principle applies as that for slash and burn agriculture. The nutrients in the soil to grow the cash crops are depleted in a few years, and the agricultural corporations must cut more rainforest to start raising their crops in a new area.
Many rainforests in Central and South America have been burnt down to grow grass for cattle to graze on. Cattle ranching in the rainforest supplies cheap beef, primarily to North America, China, and Russia. It often is used to make hamburgers for fast food restaurant chains. Cattle ranching in the rainforest is spectacularly inefficient. It is estimated that for each pound of beef produced, 200 square feet of rainforest is destroyed. Incredibly, another estimate is that it takes 5 acres of grassland from cleared rainforest in the tropics to support just one cow!
In the past 20 years, Costa Rica has lost the majority of its forests to cattle ranching. Large amounts of water are used. The rainforest ends up as a desert. The methods to raise the cattle are often inhumane. In addition, beef causes heart disease, clogged arteries, some cancers, and other diseases. Cattle ranching in the rainforest is big business. Most of it is done by very rich ranchers and large corporations. As in agriculture, the nutrients in the soil to grow the grass get depleted in a few years, and the ranchers must cut more rainforest to raise cattle in a new area.
Roads built to the rainforest from populated areas, are constructed to allow access to the rainforest to exploit it. They are also built to allow people to drive through the rainforest to get to their destinations. The mere presence of roads allows destroyers of rainforest to have access to it. Once the road is in place, exploiters clear-cut the rainforest for its wood, shoot its wildlife, mine the forest, drill in it for oil, plant cash crops, or destroy it for some other reason to make money. Therefore, sometimes the first and best step in saving rainforest is preventing the construction of roads from towns and cities to the rainforest.
Poaching of animals and plants
People shoot rainforest animals to eat them or sell their meat. This is often done by local poor people. Companies also catch animals from the rainforest to sell to the pet trade or zoos. People also kill animals to sell their skins or other parts. Some smuggle plants out to sell to collectors. Poachers sneak in and cut trees for timber. All this often happens in in national parks and reserves because tropical countries often do not have enough money or the will to pay enough guards living wages to protect rainforests. It also happens in unprotected rainforests. Sometimes people shoot animals to eat them because they are poor and have a hard time obtaining enough food to feed themselves and their families. In these cases, we need to find alternatives for them to earn money so they do not have to kill animals to survive.
When certain animals are killed off, many other species of animal and plant can die out. For example, if the jaguar is sent extinct locally in a rainforest, its prey will have population explosions. They will then eat so much of the animals and plants that they normally eat that these will go locally extinct or greatly decrease in number. Then animals and plants dependent of them will go locally extinct, in a catastrophic chain of die offs throughout the food webs of the rainforest.
How can you help to save the Earth's rainforests?
Support nonprofit organizations that are working to save rainforests
It helps them tremendously to receive your financial donations. You can join them as a member. You can volunteer for them. As a member, they often have newsletters that keep you informed. They often send action alerts by email that you can act on to help save rainforests. These are petitions, letters to political leaders, letters to newspapers, and other items that you can sign to help preserve rainforests.
The most effective and ethical non-profit, tax-exempt organizations working to preserve rainforests, besides the World Rainforest Fund, are listed on this website.
Recycle and reuse
Paper is made from the wood of trees. The more paper is recycled, the less the demand to cut trees for paper production. Recycling other material from plastic to glass to cans is healthy for the Earth in general, and can as a result potentially help rainforests. Recycling is good for the planet in general, not just rainforests.
Even better for the Earth than recycling is reusing products whenever possible.
Hold an event to raise money to donate to a rainforest organization
Fundraising events to save rainforests are especially popular among school students ranging from kindergarten to the last year of high school. They are also done by people who are no longer in school.
Here are some ideas for school fundraisers:
Bake sales of home-made cakes, cookies and other foods. It is better yet with organic fruits and vegetables, instead of sugar-laden foods or meat. This is better for the health, the planet, and the rainforest. These can be held during lunch hour, or after school to bring in the parents.
Compile a booklet of rainforest poems and stories written by each member of the class and sell them to parents. Throw a fun party of dance, poetry, songs, films, or talks on the rainforest, and invite parents and others to come for an admission fee.
Have a contest on any topic you think of. People can enter the contest for a fee.
Organize a sponsored roller disco; run, walk, cycle, read, time of silence, or anything else you can think of. For example, sponsors donate a certain amount of money for each mile the student they sponsor walks, runs, or rides. Teachers and parents could be sponsors.
Organize a school litter pick-up. Pick up litter and recycle the litter that should be recycled, putting the rest in the trash. In some communities, there are containers for recyclable materials and others for trash. People often put recyclables in the trash, and trash in the recycle containers. You can take these out and put them in the correct containers. This can be an event sponsored by parents and teachers to raise money for the rainforest.
There are many other methods to hold fundraisers. Brain storm together and use your imagination for more ideas.
Write to political leaders and newspapers in support of preserving rainforests.
Educate people you know about the need to preserve rainforests. Encourage people to do the actions on this list, and to live in a way that does not hurt the environment.
Walking, riding your bike, and tasking public transportation adds less greenhouse gasses to the air than driving. Warming of the climate is causing drought in rainforests. As a result, they have more and bigger fires, and are drying out and dying around their edges.
Lobby companies that are doing things to destroy rainforest to change their ways
You can do this by not buying their products and writing them to let them know you are boycotting them and why, and what you want them to do to change. You can join Rainforest Action Network, which specializes in this. It is listed as an organization saving rainforests on this website, with information on how to contact them. You can Google this group by typing their name in the search bar. Go to their website for information on some of the companies that destroy rainforests.
You can also search the internet for such companies. PepsiCo is currently an example of such a company.
Do not buy animals, plants, and products that come from rainforests illegally or unsustainably
Many animals and plants from the rainforest are brought to our country illegally for pets or house plants. Many are endangered. Their export often impacts their populations negatively, adding to their endangerment. They are often treated inhumanely and suffer. Many die before reaching the consumer. Parrots and iguanas, for example, are often imported illegally. We should not buy these animals and plants.
Invest your money responsibly
There are many social investment funds that invest only in socially and environmentally responsible companies. Ask your investment advisor or search the internet to find them.
Green Century Funds is a great example of a fund that invests in environmentally responsible companies.
RSF Social Finance is socially and environmentally responsible fund.
Be an ethical consumer
Most of the products that we use in our country that come from rainforests, such as fruits, coffee, and rainforest lumber are produced in ways that destroy rainforests. Rainforests are cut down to harvest the timber and also to make room for farms to grow coffee and other export crops. Each of us needs to be thoughtful about the way we consume these products. Please avoid companies that make products that harm rainforests.
Please support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment and rainforests. Support companies that help rainforests. Please avoid products produced in ways that destroy rainforests, and avoid companies that produce these products and harm the environment and rainforests.
Here is a list of rainforest products of concern. You should be aware of where these products come from and if they are produced in an environmentally sustainable way, in order to preserve rainforests. These products are often, but not always, produced in ways that destroy rainforests. This list provides sustainable alternatives to help you enjoy these products while keeping harm to rainforests, wildlife, and the Earth to a minimum.
Approximately 65-70% of deforestation in the Amazon occurs because rainforest is cut to make room for cattle ranching, not cutting trees for wood. Worldwide, demand for beef is increasing, because people eat so much of it. Large areas of the rainforest are being destroyed so that ranchers can meet this increasing demand. After about 5 years, the soil is depleted, and they need to cut more rainforest to grow grass to raise cattle in a new area. Even if you eat only beef grown outside of rainforest areas, you are still contributing to the problem by raising prices and demand, encouraging more Brazilian farmers to raise cattle. Standard cattle ranches are factories that raise cattle inhumanely and cruelly, and pollute the environment with toxins.
Great amounts of toxins are put into the environment from industrial production and pesticides each year. You ingest some of these even if you are vegetarian. However, if you eat any kind of meat, you get a much higher concentration of them because the animal you eat has to eat large amounts of vegetation during its life to stay alive. So it has very high concentrations of toxic chemicals in its body that you ingest when you eat it. We know these chemicals disrupt the hormone systems of our bodies, damage our brains, and cause cancer and heart disease. We do not know the effects of many of these chemicals, nor the effects they cause when they interact with each other in our bodies. Even without these toxins, beef is bad for your heart and causes cancer.
Over 75% of timber comes from illegal logging operations in the Amazon. When you purchase furniture, hardwood floors, and products made from hardwood timber, there is a very good chance that it originated from illegal logging in the Amazon. Unfortunately, the Brazilian government fails to properly monitor logging companies, and timber importers do not properly examine the supply chain. Please carefully check the source of any hardwood you buy to be certain that it is sustainably harvested and not taken unsustainably from the rainforest.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies that wood was harvested sustainably, so look for their certification when buying wood. It has a free list of sustainable wood companies you can download at this link: https://advocate.us.fsc.org/product-recommendations/
As a result of the rapidly rising demand for coffee worldwide, many coffee producing regions have switched over to sun-grown coffee in order to increase overall productivity. However, this method of production requires the destruction of the forest where the coffee is being grown, unlike shade-grown coffee. Even fair trade coffee still fails to address this problem. The fair trade label has no environmental requirements at all. It only addresses human issues.
If you buy coffee that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance and grown in the shade, you will be helping preserve rainforests. Here are three companies that produce environmentally sustainable coffee in the US that you can order from: Counter Culture Coffee (North Carolina), Portland Roasting Coffee (Oregon), and Colectivo Coffee (Wisconsin). You can find more with an internet search.
Chocolate production in the Amazon has increased by up to 5 times in approximately the last 20 years because of the high demand for it. This has caused tremendous deforestation and CO2 production. Just one chocolate plantation in Peru destroys 5,000 acres of rainforest and produces the CO2 equivalent of driving around the world nearly 60,000 times! Darker chocolate has more cacao and less sugar, so is healthier, and more of the money from purchasing it goes to chocolate farmers. Chocolate can be produced without rainforest destruction.
Please buy chocolate certified by Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, which are merging and creating a new certification standard. Sustainably produced chocolate is actually easy to find.
Paper comes from trees, and is responsible for the destruction of a great deal of both rainforest and temperate forest. You can help save trees from many forest types, including rainforests, by using recycled paper.
Toilet paper accounts for 10% of total paper usage. Every day, 27,000 trees worth of toilet paper are flushed down the toilet. It is not well known, but using pulp from rainforest trees for toilet paper is a leading cause of rainforest destruction. It also uses far more water than recycled toilet paper. Please use recycled toilet paper, which is easy to find in stores, such as whole Foods. Recycled toilet paper makes use of the paper thrown away every day and helps prevent further destruction of rainforests.
Seventh Generation sells recycled toilet paper, which can be found in Whole Foods and other grocery stores. If you use a bidet, like most people in the world, you can help the Earth even more by not using any toilet paper. It is also possible to find recycled napkins and paper towels.
Grove Collaborative can be Googled, and they sell recycled toilet paper, tissues, napkins, and paper towels.
Most soy is used as feed for cattle, chickens, and pigs. Soy farming drives deforestation in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Buy soy that is not grown in the rainforest. Organic soy is better for your health and the Earth, and not that much more expensive than soy grown with pesticides. Organic soy beans and organic tofu can be found in Whole Foods and other grocery stores.
7. Palm oil
Palm oil is used in many products. The deforestation associated with palm oil is vast, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia. It was discussed previously on this website. The truth is scientists say there is no really sustainable palm oil at present. It is best to buy a different type of oil for cooking. It is hard to avoid palm oil because it is in d=so many products.
Half of the Bornean orangutan population has been killed off in just 16 years, with habitat destruction by the palm oil industry a leading driver. More than three-quarters of Tesso Nilo national park, home to orangutans, tigers, and elephants, has been converted into illegal palm oil plantations. Globally, 193 species classified at some level of endangerment are threatened by palm oil production. The plantation sector – palm oil and pulp – is the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia. Around 24 million hectares of rainforest was destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, according to official figures released by the Indonesian government. Read labels of snack foods to see if they contain palm oil. Please avoid these, unless you know the oil was sustainably produced, to help save rainforests. As a general rule, palm oil in snack foods are not sustainably produced, and these foods tend to be unhealthy. PepsiCo is one of the biggest purchasers of palm oil which has still not produced an adequate palm oil policy.
Rainforest Action Network, which can be Googled by typing their name in the search bar, has a list of the worst companies in terms of destruction of rainforest because of palm oil production. It is called the Snack Food 20.
Our consumer choices have large impacts on the environment. Let us make Earth-friendly choices in the products we use. Rainforest Relief has a good blog on products to choose and avoid to save rainforests. Here is the link to it: https://www.teadorabeauty.com/
Establish national parks and other preserves to save rainforests
Although these parks often do not have enough guards to protect rainforests, they are better than nothing, and have the force of law behind them. Some are successful. This is a collective action we need to do as a society, and that must be accomplished by the nation with the rainforest that needs protection. However, there may be times when we can write letters or lobby for this.