I have grown increasingly interested in green issues this year, particularly with respect to the rainforest, and one of the things I needed to understand is the reasons the rainforest is important to the world. Depletion of the rainforest always seems to be mentioned when green issues are discussed, but how many of us understand why? I’d like to share with you the reasons the rainforest is important that I have learned.
The world’s climate is in a very complex balance, but a balance it is and that is why small difference can make a very large impact. If you take one thing away then something else has to give in order to retain the balance. Something as minor as a small ice sheet lowering its temperature by just 2 inches is enough to turn Britain into a place as cold as northern Russia. That is one of the reasons the rainforest is important. The rainforest has been evolving for millions of years and now plays a big part in the world’s climate. Take it away and the rebalancing process will set us up for thousands of years of violent rebalancing that will have massive repercussions across the globe.
Very few people understand the significance of the rainforest in medical terms and how the plants and animals play a part in that. For example, Chinese medicine was tested years and years ago. The things that worked were turned into medicine/drugs; the things that didn’t work are sat in your local holistic shops. Without scientific study of those Chinese medicines, we would not have discovered Artemisia annua as an anti-malaria compound or have made the drug Tripterygium wilfordii for rheumatoid arthritis. There are said to be more "varieties" of species of plants and animals in the rainforest than walking the rest of the earth in total (not the sea, as the sea has more). When these plants, animals, insects and bacteria are gone then so are their medicinal benefits.
Few understand geography enough to understand the importance of the rainforest. Without getting too technical, using transpiration, it acts like a big water pump, pumping water into the sky. This is then recycled into precipitation which, when it falls back to Earth, provides water for life. The world would be a lot drier without the rainforests.
Check the American dust bowl problems if you want to see how trees protect from erosion and drought, and that was just because they pulled up a bit of grass; imagine what happens if you remove whole forests. Or you can look up the Pakistani company that pulled up acres of trees, only to find that the rainwater had nowhere to go as a result. They ended up creating several hundred acres of swamp. Or, you can look into the British builders who removed trees to make homes, only to find out that the trees were holding back subsidence and ended up causing sloping homes and millions in damages. All of these benefits come from having trees around, so we should be making more rainforests, not cutting them down.
Nuts, fruits and lots of types of rubber come from the rainforest, including latex. Do you really want to go back to using a sheep’s bladder for a contraceptive like in the days of Casanova? Do you really want doctors doing surgery with plastic bags for gloves? What would our diets be like if we didn’t have chocolate colas, bananas, pineapples, coconuts, eggplant, sugar etc? Even though these are now grown universally they all originated in the rainforest, along with many more of our staple foods.
One of the reasons why the rainforest is important is because there are not just animals and plants living there, there are people living there too. And, if you cannot muster any sympathy for these people as humans, then muster it for your own needs. We have only just finished the human genome project and are still rushing to understand genetic disposition. Without a diverse gene pool to play with, then we will never know why some races are more prone to cancers and diseases than others. There are plenty of Caucasians, Indians, Africans, etc, but rare gene pools such as Native American, rainforest-tribal and Inuit are more valuable now than ever.
There are parts of some countries that derive more than 70% of their GDP (albeit sub-domestic) from rainforest-based tourism. Take away the rainforest and people will stop visiting. This will push more companies into bankruptcy and other companies will feel the hit too. This will lead to another global economic downturn that will mean more suffering for all of us. The rainforest generates enough tourism to keep countries running and that alone is one of the reasons the rainforest is important.
I felt better informed on green issues when I understood the significance of the rainforests to our world. I hope these facts have proved useful to you. Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think we do enough to care for this valuable resource?
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