Rainforests – everything you need to know
This blog will be about the Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world, as well as the other rainforests worldwide. It will cover the facts and statistics about these incredible places, as well as the threats to rainforests, why it is important to conserve them, and how to reduce your impacts on the world’s rainforests. Out of all the possible environmental topics there are to cover, this is the one that I feel the most connected to as rainforests are such amazingly biodiverse places and should be preserved as natural wonders. The fact that this is such an extensive topic and I have only scratched the surface of what can be discussed means that I will probably return to this topic or topics related to this in the future in other blogs.
The Amazon – the largest Rainforest in the world:
The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world, an incredible sea of green stretching across central South America, with an area 5.5 million square km. 32 million people depend on this forest for their livelihoods and survival. Going back 100 years this would have been a vast, seemingly endless, untamed wilderness, full of dangers and beauty alike. Even today, in a time where few parts of the earth have not been thoroughly explored and exploited by humans, parts of the Amazon are still uncharted and unknown, the last havens untouched by mankind. As you are reading this, there are still expeditions of scientists going through the Amazon documenting endless new species and uncharted land and making new discoveries all the time. There are still an estimated 40 uncontacted tribes left hidden in the jungle that have never been contacted by modern man and live nearly prehistoric lifestyles that revolve around hunting and gathering. The fact that such an untouched wilderness still exists in the modern world is surely enough reason to protect the Amazon, yet it is being exploited and deforested in unimaginably large expanses. It is estimated that if the rate of deforestation that we are experiencing now continues, most of the Amazon will have disappeared by 2050. The Congo rainforest in central Africa is also experiencing quite a lot of deforestation and the rainforests in Southeast Asia in places like Indonesia have been decimated by Palm Oil plantations.
Why rainforests area so important:
The wealth of these incredible rainforests are only just beginning to be realised, here are some figures of what the Amazon and other rainforests contain and offer us, giving yet more reasons on why it should be protected:
- It is thought that over half of all plant and animal species live in rainforests, many millions of these species haven’t even been documented, and many species could be helpful to science. The amount of species in the rainforest that we are losing to deforestation is incredible: around 50 – 100 day, and even this number could be much higher (127 species are made extinct each day worldwide). Almost all of these species were not known to science, and never will be; they could have been a completely new species of mammal unlike anything else on earth, or a plant that could have been turned into the cure for a previously-untreatable disease. This unimaginable biodiversity is truly mind-blowing: a single pond in the rainforest can contain more species of fish than are found in all of European rivers. A single bush in the rainforest can have as many ant species as all the British Isles. Temperature forests usually have around 6 or less tree species that make up 90% of the tree species in a forest, but a tropical rainforest can have more than 480 tree species in just one hectare. Rainforests are home to an estimated 3 million – 50 million species.
- Many ingredients for most medicines and drugs come from the rainforest, and it is thought that the cure for cancer can be found somewhere in the rainforest, as well as cures for many other diseases.
- Rainforests are huge carbon sinks, and are thought to produce between 20% and 30% of the worlds oxygen, as well as absorbing 20% of all CO2 emissions, or all the combined annual emissions of the global traffic sector, this includes cars, planes and all other methods of transport. Rainforest in places like Indonesia have grown up on peat land, and this peat that the forest has grown up around absorbs 10x more CO2 than normal soil, this is usually around 500kg to 1000kg per square meter. These forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate, mainly by slash-and-burn, where the forest is cut then burnt to the ground. The peat is very flammable and can burn for years, so when the peat and the trees are burned, they release the billions of tonnes that they have absorbed. Rainforests are thought to hold around 250 billion to 700 billion tonnes of carbon, but even this number could be a lot higher.
- Rainforests help stabilise and cool the world’s climate, and influences weather patterns for thousands of km away from the nearest rainforest. Rainforests also act like a sponge, soaking up water and stopping floods, the water is then released in times of little rain and prevents droughts. Rainforest cover also prevents soil erosion.
Why rainforests are cut down:
Rainforests obviously have massive amounts of timber, but this not a large reason for rainforest deforestation (however the timber is usually sold and used to offset the costs of clearing the land, this is why companies prefer to deforest rainforest in Indonesia rather than using available empty farmland that usually has poor quality soil, as plantations where rainforests are cheaper as the money gained from selling the timber offsets the costs of clearing the land and preparing it for palm oil). In the Amazon, over 80% of deforestation is because of cattle ranching, where vast areas of rainforest are cleared for grazing pastures, which have extremely low productivity (usually less than one cow per hectare). In the Amazon, forest is also cut down for mining, as lots of precious metals and gemstones are found in large deposits in the soil under the forest. Large scale agriculture is a problem in the Amazon, yet soybean farms, once one of the leading drivers in deforestation, have not expanded since 2006; where a Greenpeace campaign caused a moratorium on soybean expansion (however this moratorium has not been perfectly observed). Rainforest is also cut down to make small scale farmland for poor families and communities trying to find a way to survive. Hydroelectric dams flood large areas of forest, and despite being a renewable source of energy, should not be encouraged in rainforest due to the drowning and destruction of large areas of forest. Dams are popular in the Amazon because of the many rivers and valleys that are perfect for creating and sustaining large hydroelectric dams.
In areas of Southeast Asia, in countries like Indonesia, Borneo, and Sumatra, as well as all the other smaller islands and archipelagos, vast areas of rainforest have been cut down to make palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a cheap oil that is used in over 50% of supermarket products, not just in things like food but also in cosmetics. Palm oil plantations have destroyed millions of acres of pristine rainforest and more forest continues to fall to the axe every day. Palm oil plantations have also been linked to human rights abuses such as slavery and child labour, and there have been many instances where large palm oil companies have been found to have illegally forced whole villages off their land with nothing as they were in the way of planned plantations. I have done another blog about palm oil that has a lot more information and facts about everything related to Palm Oil, and you can view it here: http://ripplezoo.com/2017/08/25/palm-oil-the-effects-dangers-and-how-you-can-avoid-it/
(Palm oil fruit harvest Malaysia)
As the climate warms up, droughts will become more common each year and be larger, stronger and longer-lasting. These droughts will put more and more rainforest at risk of forest fires, which can easily grow out of control and burn for months or years across a vast area of previously-untouched rainforest. In areas like Indonesia, where most of the forest has grown on peat, forest fires can smoulder for years and can spread across huge areas in a short amount of time. These fires are practically impossible to put out, and emit huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere that had been previously locked into the peat. A square meter of peat usually contains between 500 kg and 1,000 kg of CO2 (10x more than normal soil). The fires that burn every year in Indonesia can be seen from space and make that country one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters. Large fires in the Amazon are also becoming more common in the Amazon.
As previously mentioned, over 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is for cattle ranching, yet this is much worse than it first seems, as the cattle also emit huge amounts of methane, which is 23x more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2. The billions of cattle world-wide make up a huge portion of the world’s CO2 emissions, as around 18% of global CO2 emissions come from agriculture, this is more than the whole global transport sector; and a huge percentage of this 18% comes from cattle. This deforestation for cattle ranching is creating more land for more cows, and these cows are accelerating global warming, and this global warming is increasing wildfires in rainforest, which are destroying more rainforest on top of the forest already cleared for cattle ranching. As you can see, deforestation for cattle ranching is the start of a long cycle that is causing even more deforestation by forest fires, as well as global warming which is having lots of other effects worldwide, and as this continues this effect is getting worse and worse.
How you can help:
This section will tell you how to help reduce the deforestation of rainforests worldwide. A basic principle is to follow ‘TREES.’ This a concept originally created for a child audience but is a good set of principles to save rainforests and other ecosystems in the world:
- Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
- Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
- Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
- Establish parks to protect rainforests and wildlife.
- Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.
You can donate to charities that work and campaign to protect and conserve rainforests, a number of which will be listed in the web-links section below. These include the WWF, which has many worldwide campaigns to help conserve wildlife and the Amazon rainforest. Amazon Watch is an organisation that works to protect the Amazon Rainforest and the indigenous communities that inhabit it.
(RIO DE JANEIRO – Deforestation of Brazil’s Atlantic jungle)
Rainforest Action Network has hundreds of petitions that you can sign about rainforests and other environmental issues worldwide. Once you have signed one petition, you can sign the rest extremely quickly as your details are remembered so you only have to select the petition our want to sign, then click on the ‘Sign’ box which takes you down the webpage past the info relating to the petition, to the petition-signing area where you click ‘Sign’ and the petition is signed. This may sound complicated but in a minute you can sign about 10-20 petitions, which are one of the best and easiest ways that you can help the environment from your phone. Petitions can cause huge changes and become hugely successful, as past petitions led by groups such as Greenpeace have shown.
There are many ways that your lifestyle can impact the rainforest. Obviously, avoiding Palm Oil is a good option as the less demand there is for the stuff, the less rainforest in places like Indonesia needs to be destroyed. If you are interested in trying to remove Palm Oil from your diet (which is also a lot healthier for you) you can check out my blog about Palm Oil, where there is a lot more info about it as well as a huge section giving lots of info on how you can avoid this terrible substance. Palm Oil Blog: http://ripplezoo.com/2017/08/25/palm-oil-the-effects-dangers-and-how-you-can-avoid-it/
One of the best ways you can reduce the amount of deforestation that you are contributing to is to Lower Your Beef Consumption. The beef produced by the cattle that feed on the Amazonian pastures is the cheap stuff, and is also the meat that goes into things like McDonald’s beef burgers. I cannot stress enough how much this can help, whether you switch to local, organic beef or cut down on your consumption of cheap fast foods like McDonald’s. As you may know cows are incredibly bad for the environment as they produce huge amounts of methane, which are 23x worse than CO2, as well as large amounts of CO2. By cutting down on how much beef you eat or switching to meats that are more environmentally friendly such as chicken, which also requires a lot less feed to produce the same amount of meat; you reduce your carbon footprint by huge amounts, reduce the demand for more grazing land, which in turn reduces the amount of rainforest destruction and reduce the amount of feed needed to produce the same amount of meat.
(Greenpeace volunteers displayed a 300 square metre banner on a soya plantation grown in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, accusing fast food company KFC of Amazon crimes.)
You can also reduce your damage to rainforests by trying to buy products like coffee from sources that haven’t contributed to rainforest deforestation. You can do this by looking for the Rainforest Alliance symbol, which you can see below. Many companies have products that have been verified by the Rainforest Alliance as not causing deforestation in any part of their production chain. If they have been verified the symbol will be shown somewhere visible on the packaging. Making simple changes like this can have a large impact on the destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests, and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. Thousands of companies and products have been verified by the Alliance, including large brands like Costa (coffee) , Asda (plants and flowers, coffee, tea, chocolate) and Lidl US (plants and flowers, bananas, coffee) as well as many thousands of other smaller supplies. The full list of Rainforest Alliance Certified products can be found here: https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/find-certified
I urge you to at least try one of the ways listed above to reduce your impact on rainforests, as even if you reduce the amount of beef you eat, start giving a small monthly donation to charity, sign the petitions or switch what you buy so it is free from rainforest destruction from deforestation-free brands that have been verified by the Rainforest Alliance; it all helps make a difference and helps reduce the extensive deforestation that is happening to the world’s tropical rainforests.
If you want more info about Palm Oil and how you can live a Palm Oil-free lifestyle, as well as lots of info about the dangers and effects of Palm Oil on the environment and health and how you can avoid it, click on the link to my Palm Oil Blog in the Further Reading section below.
More info about Rainforests:
- Brazil – https://rainforests.mongabay.com/20brazil.htm
- How to save Rainforests – https://rainforests.mongabay.com/1001.htm
- Consequences of Deforestation – https://rainforests.mongabay.com/0901.htm
- Amazon Rainforest – https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/
- General Rainforest Info – https://rainforests.mongabay.com/
- Website – https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/
- Certified Products List – https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/find-certified
My name is Oscar and I am the face behind Rescuetheworldtoday. I am a student who is passionate about the environment and like to raise awareness about it through daily posts on Instagram on my account (@rescuetheworldtoday) and I also do environmentaly-themed blogs here on RippleZoo, I hope you enjoy them.