Tropical forests are characterised by year round high temperatures and high rainfall, situated around the equator, these forests are what we usually think of when we use the expression rainforest or jungle. Temperate forests are further away from the equator in the temperate zone, experiencing lower temperatures and more seasonal weather.
Rainforests are important for several reasons,
- store carbon
- release oxygen
- produce rain
- endemic and endangered species
- source of many modern medicines
- 1.6 billion people rely on the rainforest
Deforestation occurs mainly though logging or slash and burn, with the main reasons for deforestation in the Amazon being industrial scale cattle farms and soybean production, while in Indonesia the main reasons are palm oil plantations and paper pulp production. In Africa logging for timber and clearing for mining are the main reasons for deforestation.
The United States uses about a third of the world’s paper even though they are less than 5% of the world’s population.
In Europe, United States and Japan alone nearly half of timber produced globally and up to 70% of paper is consumed.
“Forests are the world’s air-conditioning system: the lungs of the planet, and we are on the verge of switching it off” (HRH Prince Charles)
All plants absorb carbon and produce oxygen, rainforests also create rain. The trees absorb moisture from the ground, then through transpiration, release the same into the atmosphere. Rainforests being huge, do these things on a global scale.
They provide us with the air that we breathe! The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.
Rain ‘made’ in the Amazon falls in Texas. The Amazon river basin contains about 1/5 of the world’s fresh water.
Rainforests in SE Asia influence weather in China and Europe. The unusual weather phenomenon we have been experiencing recently is due, at least in part, to deforestation.
Climate change, is affected in a massive way by deforestation, trees absorb carbon, deforestation causes this carbon to be released into the atmosphere, making it directly responsible for 20% of global, man-made CO2 emissions.
Deforestation releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the cars and trucks in the world!
Every hectare of forest can store 200 tonnes of carbon,
Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, 75% of which are a direct result of deforestation.
As well as having a massive affect on our environment in terms of climate change rainforests are also home to an abundance of natural remedies that can be used as medicines. Over 25% of modern medicines come from rainforest plants, many of which are endemic, and only 1% of the plants available have even been investigated, so imagine what diseases the 99% that have not been explored can cure!
Rainforests are the oldest ecosystem on Earth, and have taken millions of years to develop, making them impossible to replace. We simply cannot regenerate them fast enough!
Sumatra and Borneo boast rainforests around 140 million years old, those rainforests were there when dinosaurs walked the earth!
Rainforests are a hugely diverse ecosystem, of the 10 million species of plants, animals and insects known to man over half are found in rainforests, which now cover less than 7% of the Earth’s land surface. Many of these species are endemic, for example orangutans are only found in the forests of Sumatra and Borneo and jaguars are unique to South and Central America.
Some facts from the Rainforest Foundation;
- 80% of all insects live in tropical forests!
- In Borneo, 700 tree species were found in 25 acres!
- In the Tambopata Reserve in Peru, 43 ant species were found on a single tree!
- In Panama, 18,000 beetle species were found in only 2.5 acres of forest!
Rainforests are home not only to an abundance of plants and animals, thousands of indigenous people live in rainforests, though many of these tribes have already been wiped out through disease, such as the common cold, which wiped out half of the Murunahua people in Peru during the mid 1990s after they were forcibly contacted by illegal mahogany loggers. In 1995 only seven members of the Akuntsu tribe in Brazil remained after cattle ranchers took over their land, massacred them and bulldozed their homes, precise details are not known as nobody else speaks their language, their tribe has since suffered three deaths and now numbers only four.
“Surely our responsibility is to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on earth?” (Sir David Attenborough)
The Facts surrounding deforestation are extremely difficult to pin point, every website, publication or journal you look at will give a different figure, and offer a different visualisation, most of which don’t even equate to the same amount! Here are a few suggestions, whichever one you chose to take as accurate, what is blindingly obvious is that this figure is way too high!
- According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost each year.
- The Forestry Department Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, says about half the world’s tropical forests have been cleared or degraded.
- A UN report in 2015 stated that despite having halved the rate of global deforestation, 129 million hectares of forest had been lost since 1990, this equates to an area of forest the size of South Africa.
- The WWF says that around 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.
- According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) 32 million acres of tropical rainforest were cut down each year between 2000 and 2009—and the pace of deforestation is only increasing.