Why protect Rain Forests?
by Neil Gale - Rain forest ecologist
In a time when there is terrorism, not enough hospitals and people can't afford to buy a house, why should we care about far-off rain forests? Apart from the well-known utilitarian reasons, I have made a list below of why rain forests are important.
1) Biodiversity - an area of rain forest equivalent to two farmer's fields has more species in than the whole of the UK. Manu National Park in Peru harbours 1440 species of butterfly. In the UK we have only 55 species.
2) Some forests in Asia have stood for over 20 million years.
The surving remnants of Borneo, Sumatera and Malaysia have stood untouched for 20 million years. Yet this area has been decimated in the last 40 years. Other rain forests are younger such as those in Central America (3 millions year old) but this is still a long time in terms of our civilisation.
3) We're the ones doing it! It is the one billion of us in the rich world that are financing rain forest destruction; not some big, bad person living in another country! Every time we buy chicken or meat from the supermarkets that is fed on soya from the Amazon, we're financing rain forest destruction. 10% of the products in our supermarket trolleys are straight from oil palms. Palm oil is responsible for mile upon mile of chopped forest in the tropics. Everytime we buy illegal chipboard from Malasyia we are part-financing the destruction. No one of us is any more guilty than the next; but multiply our use up by one billion and you have the destruction that we are presently witnessing. It's death by a million cuts and ultimately it's us doing it. See "How we can help" sheet to reduce your impact on rain forests.
4) It's happening on our watch. 55% of Burundi has disappeared in 40 years. 50% of Borneo has gone in the same time. It's happening in one generation and it's our generation's responsibility to do something about it. What will our descendants think in four or five generations' time when there is a fraction left? Will they look back on us as primitives, much as we do on the slavery societies of 200 years' ago?
5) Local and global climate. Half of the rain in the Amazon come from the forest itself. The rain falls but evaporates back into the air forming more clouds in an never-ending cycle. If we take the forest away, the rainfall flash floods into the rivers and not having the chance to evaporate again into clouds. Swap the forest for soya and the watersheds will dry out and the local climate will deteriorate.
On a global level, 20-25% of the CO2 released is from forest destruction.