WHY RAINFORESTS SHOULD BE PROTECTED?
WHY RAINFORESTS SHOULD BE PROTECTED?
Rainforests, whether tropical or temperate, are the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Where rainfall is both abundant and constant and essentially a non-seasonal forest, rainforests serve as a home to almost half of the Earth’s animal and plant lives. Though recent evidences proved that rainforests does not have to do with the world’s oxygen supply, rainforests are still considered as sun’s heat absorbers, therefore reducing the implications of global warming. To wit, rainforests will continue to play a key role in the global ecosystem and that the destruction of remaining rainforests we will suffer much more, double of the current benefits acquired from them over time. In this article, I will be discussing the nature of rainforest and why is it important to protect and preserve what is remaining of them. Rainforests once covered 15% of the Earth’s surface but now only 6% of the planet is covered by rainforests and within 40 years it will totally vanished.
What is a rainforest?
The term rainforest in first used in the latter part of the 19th century in efforts to describe forests that grow constantly in wet conditions due to rainfalls. Scientists of today define rainforest as forests that receive a range of 80 to 400 inches of rain evenly spread throughout the year. When people talk about rainforests, they usually refer to tropical rainforests, and it is often mistaken with jungle. Tropical rainforests are forests that are found in a belt around the equator. Being nestled in this, tropical rainforests experience high temperatures and rainfall throughout the year with less variation in temperatures and seasons. The best known tropical region can be found in between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Tropical rainforests have four layers such as emergent trees, canopy, understory and forest floor. The very top of the rainforests in made up of emergent trees and canopy close to the sun while the understory and forest floor and found on the bottom (Silber and Kelman, 2004, p.2).
Temperate rainforests, on the other hand, do not have precise definition to date. A forest could be considered as temperate rainforests on the basis of one long wet winter or spring season and a dry foggy summer and have different ranges of daytime and nighttime temperatures. The main difference between the two is that they have different diversity ranges when it comes to animal and plant species. In a square acre of land in tropical you can find an already diverse bionetwork and find complete biological diversification in another square acre unlike temperate which are attributed by specific species only. For instance, temperate rainforests could have 6 to 8 species of trees but tropical rainforests could have at least 300 different tree species.
Sustaining rainforests is central to interdependence or the concept that everything in nature is connected to each other and cannot survive without the help of plants, animals and essential abiotic factors including sun, soil, water and air. As such, there are enormous benefits that we can derive from these rainforests in three forms: environment, communal resources and personal enjoyment (Cramer, 2000, pp. 73-75).
First, rainforests are effective source of oxygen and carbon and it can drive and water cycles as well. Rainforests also help stop flooding, prevent erosion, soil fertility and replenish groundwater as well as provide shade and shelter. In terms of biological interactions, rainforests became habitats and/or refuge for and support interdependence of various flora and fauna wherein animals and insects pollinate plants, animals eat insect pests and plants feed animals.
Second, rainforests are responsible for genetic resources, education, recreation, scientific discoveries and the two most important of all pharmaceutical products and food. These rainforests also function as suppliers of clean and regular water and fresh air around the world despite their relative minimal size geographically. In addition, rainforests are beneficial sources of plants for horticultural industry and hydro energy.
Finally, rainforests are a place for serenity and sense of place. Scenic views, bushwalking, bird watching, camping and lifestyle are just some of the personal enrichment that could be derived from rainforest experiences. Further, rainforests are now a significant determinant of national identity, cultural identity and sense of history.
Destruction of rainforests
The destruction of rainforests centers the extent of the dependency of man in order to sustain their ever-growing needs. Deforestation had been the culprit of the continuous obliteration of these rainforests at alarming rates that are caused by humans. In fact, the global rates of deforestation are: 2.47 acres (1 hectare) per second, 150 acres (60 hectares) per minute, 214, 000 acres (86, 000 hectares) per day and 78 million acres (31 million hectares) per year. If we are going to predict the total destruction of natural rainforests, in about 40 years rainforests would be just a part of history. The purpose of this activity is to acquire lands for crop cultivation/farming, logging, cattle ranching, road building and hydro-electric activities (Gray, 2000, pp. 42-43).
Landless people surrounding the rainforests cut and burn to clear the forests to provide for farming, an activity known as ‘slash and burn’. Ash acts as fertilizer adder nutrients to the soil and will be utilizable for about 3 years or so. However, the thinning of the humus layer of this soil will make it infertile to further cultivate the land and less sufficient to supply nutrients. The process of slashing and burning will continue as these people moved to another part of the rainforest as enabled by incessant logging activities.
Many lowland rainforests are turned into livestock pastures since the 1950s. In providing access for the landless people, rainforests are converted into roads. Provided also that these places have unlimited supply of water and its ideal river condition, there had been experiences of extensive development of hydro-electric power stations (HEP stations). Though rainforests have an abundance of mineral reserves, however, the manner of extracting those is rather dangerous and extremely destructive.
Why conserve rainforests?
The disturbing fact is that once rainforests are destroyed it can never be replaced and will be gone forever. Silber and Kelman contend that rainforests have been evolving for about 70 to 100 million years now and that they housed species that could never be found elsewhere on the Earth’s surface. When these rainforests are damaged, all the plants and animals species will going to be extinct as well as permanently displacing indigenous people who reside in the area. Further, the devastation of rainforests could have significant impact on ecosystem from local to national to global levels that calls for an extensive support or action to conserve and preserve them, directly pointing to the rationales why we should do so.
According to Butler (2006), there are many reasons to protect rainforests. These are: loss of local climate regulation, erosion and its effect, loss of species for forest regeneration, increase of tropical diseases and destruction of renewable resources. Primarily, the continued loss in forests means ‘environmental insufficiency’ in terms of valuable services that came from these sources free of charge such as clean water and air. There would be the interruption of the flow of natural systems that protects community from floods and droughts. Since rainforests absorbs most of the water from tropical downpours and release at a balance interval, a balance between destructive flood and drought cycles is achieved.
Consequently, the loss of trees that anchor soils with their roots could cause widespread erosion on rainforest regions. When these trees are removed, the soil is left exposed to heavy equatorial rainfall that will cause it to erode at a rapid pace than expected. Not all rainforest lands have good, healthy soils and those that are plow-friendly are directly washed away by heavy rains. The removal of top soil could mean less vegetation to grow and will result in decline in crop production thus people will have to import foreign fertilizers and/or clear additional forests. In addition, soil erosion could lead to flooding as soil is deposited on river beds.
Butler also maintains that fully functioning forests have great capacity to regenerate and that excessive hunting of species found in tropical rainforests can reduce those species. This has implications on forest continuance and regeneration. The impact of deforestation is on the mergence of various tropical diseases and outbreaks of new diseases that includes Ebola and Lassa fever. Deforestation too is responsible jeopardizes the countries potential renewable resources by means of replacing valuable, productive lands with scrubs and grasslands, a process known as desertification.
As such, rainforests are now known to be the world’s pharmacy for the abundance of several medicinal plants. Notably, even scientists admit that there are still many species that are not tested for its medicinal properties with less than 1% being examined. There are at least 3, 000 plants that are identified by the US National Cancer Institute which could be actively used against cancer cells to which 70% are found in rainforests (Brooks, 2007). If deforestation will prevail, then we will lose the opportunity to discover medication that could cure different diseases that plague mankind such as cancer, diabetes and even AIDS. Essentially, more than 25% of the medicines that is in current use today come from plants that originated in rainforests. To wit, only 1% of the total tropical trees and plants have been tested. What more if all the species were examine?
Further extinction of not just exotic animals would be likely to prevail as deforestations reign. Provided that rainforests provides habitat for several species of living creatures, when these are coercibly destroyed these animals will be killed as well as the underbrush. Though these animals might migrate to other areas, there are no guarantees that they could live longer because of the threats of the new place no to mention, these areas could be populated already. Only few will survive as they are not used to the systems and the interaction of that new place.
Because of their relative vastness, rainforests have the ability to affect the climate. Rainforests hold moisture that could create humidifying effects in their respective areas; thus their loss would deliver immeasurable harm to our planet. As such, destruction of canopies or the highest level of the rainforests will affect local weather as well. The moisture that is condensed on treetops could contribute to the rainfall within and on the borders of these rainforests. Without these forests covers, the rainforest regions would reflect more heat into the atmosphere and therefore warming the rest of the world (Gray, 2000).
The loss of the rainforests hence could be considered as a contributing factor to global warming as it can profoundly affect global wind and rainfall patterns, probably causing droughts to many areas. Winds that are normally slowed or deflected through the process will be permitted to race freely over the soil and the clouds above could be influenced to develop and released rain in a different way. Then, the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect will be distorted on the stratosphere. Slashing and burning of rainforests releases vast amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Roughly 23 to 30% of greenhouse gases came from burning rainforests (Brooks, 2007).
Preserving rainforests not only meant to protect nature but also protecting culture and indigenousness of the people that regards rainforests as their homes from their ancestors for which they intend to protect also for their descendants. As David Brooks (2007) puts it, in the Amazon Rainforest there was once more than ten million Indians who live in the region. Now, there are only less than 200, 000. Brooks claims that as these natives die and their populace continues to decrease, we are losing the opportunity to tap knowledge about the benefits that only these natives could disclose.
As well, biodiversity suffers as deforestation occurs. There at least 50 to 70% of the entire planet’s species that resides in rainforests or a total of an estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. Environment specialists and scientists said that there are approximately 50, 000 species of animals, plants and insects are lost due to extensive obliteration of rainforests. The main reason for this is its timber value; rainforests are good source of lumber. Nonetheless, these experts also discover that in the long run, logging will actually diminish the world’s lumber supply albeit acts of afforestation. Loggers are consuming lumber supply more than the forests can sustain (Butler, 2005).
Putting more organic nutrients in the table is a function unique to rainforests and thus protecting them could mean ensuring healthy bodies and sound physical functioning. Brooks relates that there are at least 3, 000 fruits that can be found in rainforests though only 200 of these are consumed in the Western World and the Indians however used more than 2, 000 of these fruits. Evidently, at least 80% of the developed countries’ diet originated from rainforests including avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos and tomatoes as well as vegetables that includes corn, potatoes, rice, squash and yams. Rainforests too have abundant supply of spices such as black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and sugar cane aside from coffee, vanilla, Brazil nuts and cashews (Brooks, 2007).
What should be done?
True enough, there is a need to protect the rainforests. Apart from this, the protection of rainforests is center on reassessing the value of rainforests with human needs as well as reevaluation of the global consumption of factor endowments. There are many advocated ways to conserve what is remaining of the rainforests today. According to mongabay.com there are specific steps onto which we can contribute to saving the rainforests on a broader scale around the world by focusing on TREES. TREES stands for Teach, Restore, Encourage, Establish and Support.
There is the need to teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save the rainforests. Next is to restore damaged ecosystems by means of planting trees on land where forests had been slashed, burned and cleared. Encouraging people to live in a way which will not hurt the ecosystem is the third step. The fourth one is establishing manageable parks that could protect rainforests and wildlife. And, support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.
The protection of the rainforests is everyone’s duty. Why? Because humankind will be the most affected once rainforests are gone. Rainforests could be considered as one of the essential elements that contribute to the quality of human life. The concern is not just about losing animals and plants species but in the long run nutritional foods and breakthrough medications and the most important a safer place to live in as we continue to gamble our lives with climate changes and global warming and risking our very existence. Preserving rainforests is very future-oriented as well as the destruction of such that undermines the value of nature-inherent services. The prevalence of such condition could only mean the complete riddance of the right and the opportunity for posterity to witness what the remaining of the rainforests is today by means of TREES.
Brooks, D. (2007). Important Facts You Should Know About the Tropical Rainforests. Associated Content, Inc.
Butler, R. A. (2005). Are rainforests still worth saving? A look at why rainforests are important.
Butler, R. A. (2006). A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face.
Cramer, P. F. (2000). Rethinking Environmental Protection: A Natural Approach to Nature. Lexington Books.
Gray, S. W. (2000). Rain Forests. IncNetLIbrary, Compass Point Books.
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