Monday, November 23, 2009

Revealing the Daily Destruction of the World's Rainforests

We're losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that, mostly due to activities such as commercial logging, agriculture, cattle ranching, dam-building and mining. Pictured: a section of Amazon rainforest is cleared by burning. Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

The tropical Amazon rainforest is often referred to as “the lungs of the Earth”; but, the truth is that any forest can lay claim to that title. Forests are crucial for cleaning the air and providing the oxygen so necessary to the survival of nearly every living species on earth. The Rainforest Alliance tells us that deforestation is “responsible for 20 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the emissions from trains, planes and automobiles combined.”

However, the tropical rainforest that is being lost today is part of a global calamity; if not one of the leading causes. Every man, woman and child on the face of the planet suffers a loss every time a tree is harvested. The loss is even more significant today than it has ever been.

We have the least amount of tropical rainforest now than at any other time in history; and, have finally reached that tiny margin that keeps us from plunging into global crisis. We have just about reached “the point of no return”; and, we have gone there willingly.

While forests serve many functions, there are two major functions they perform that make them irreplaceable. They regulate the climate patterns of the planet; help reduce the negative effects of climate change; and, help reduce global warming. They are also the world’s largest treasure trove of biodiversity – most specifically plant and animal diversity – being home to approximately 50% of the world’s species.

The experts’ best guess is that we are losing approximately 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest a day; and, are significantly harming and/or degrading an additional 80,000 acres daily. On top of all this, the experts feel that the earth is losing 135 plant, animal and insect species daily due to deforestation of tropical rainforests alone. Or in other words, we are actively choosing to lose 50,000 species a year rather than regulate the logging industry.

Some of those species that are being lost are undiscovered, uncatalogued, totally unknown; and, consequently, the world has no idea what we have lost.

Just one loss is to our pharmaceutical industry. One quarter of all our modern pharmaceuticals are based on rainforest ingredients; but, amazingly less than 1% of the plant species have been tested for possible curative properties. With 25% of our medicines coming from only 1% of the plant species, why aren’t we investigating the other 99%? Have we already eliminated the cure for AIDS as we slashed our way through the forests? Did we burn the last cure for Multiple Sclerosis? Have we planted over the last oasis of the Lou Gehrig’s disease cure?

One of the losses that seems to escape the view of many people is that of the Forest people. Not only are their home ranges being logged forcing them into smaller and less habitable portions of the forest; but, we are losing the knowledge they have gained over the centuries of living on the land. Forest people have been historically using rain forest resources in very sustainable ways. The knowledge gathered has been passed from generation to generation. Why aren't we taking advantage of this wisdom?

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that the overall deforestation rate are 8.5% higher than the 1990’s; but, researchers believe that the loss of the old-growth rainforests, the last bastion of wilderness and diversity, have increased as much as 25% over the 1990s.

Deforestation is rising because activities like commercial logging, agriculture, cattle ranching, dam building, and mining combine to make the new yellow brick road. In this case, instead of leading to home and security, the yellow bricks are gold leading to financial prosperity. In this case financial prosperity will also led to environmental ruin.

An offshoot of the loss and degradation of the land is that local inhabitants, already poor, are impoverished even more as the ability of the land to grow their marginal subsistence crops decreases. In order to cook their meager meals, the people collect fuel wood which further depletes the forest. However, as long as these peasants continue to be ignored and their ranks swell, the forest will continue to suffer.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who remain blind to the facts because looking at the reality is just too overwhelming for them; and, there is always more than one way of looking at data.

I love the next little story that demonstrates how answers appear to be given; but, are not what they seem.

A young man is at a function where he is hopelessly over his head – boring academic function – but, he is a master tap dancer. Approached by a stuffy old gent who inquires whether he has ever read an unknown stuffy old book, our hero remains nonplussed.

He raises an eyebrow inquisitively and asks, “in English…recently? Unfortunately not.”

You can do the same thing data. You can make it look very impressive indeed; while, there is nothing of substance once you get under the surface.

Some place to go for more information and to help if desired.

The Prince's Rainforests Project @

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very useful article. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you learn that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.