Mr. Edward Pearlman
December 1, 1997
Tropical Rain Forests
There are many different ecosystems on this planet. They include tundras, prairies, deserts, grasslands, forests, alpine environments, ect. One of the most important and extraordinary ecosystems is the tropical rain forests. A tropical rain forest is a woodland that usually is in the tropical zone. It receives heavy annual rainfall, usually at least 100 inches. It is marked by broad-leaved evergreen trees forming a continuous canopy. The rain forest is home to a vastly diverse plant and animal population. Saving the tropical rain forests is a major concern for the United States as well as the global community.
There are many types of animals that make the rain forest their home. Some of them include monkeys, snakes, birds and millions of insects. There are an estimated fifty million different species of invertebrates living in the rain forest. There are new species being discovered all the time in the rain forest. Just in the last six years 15 new mammals were discovered in the Philippines. Since 1990 seven new primates, the order of mammals that includes humans, have been discovered in Brazil?s rain forest. The discoveries go far beyond animals. Many new species of plants and fungi are being revealed. These could be used to make new medicines. Scientists estimate that half of the worlds species have not even been identified yet. But everyday an estimated thirty five rain forest species are becoming extinct. This is significant because these extinct species can never be used as a medicine. It also disrupts the ecosystem which could cause harm on other plant or animal species.
The tropical rain forests are shrinking at an alarming rate. This year?s dry spell in Brazil is resulting in more fires then ever. According to satellite data burnings are up twenty eight percent from last year. While people are setting fires to clear the land, a technique known as slash and burn, the El Nino weather effect is aggravating those fires. El Nino has dramatically lowered the humidity in the Amazon turning loose foliage into kindling. In effort to control deforestation Brazil?s inspectors are fining those who burn or log illegally. But for every person who is fined there are hundreds who are never caught. There are only about three hundred inspectors monitoring the vast Amazon. In Indonesia the forests are covered by an unhealthy haze brought on by the uncontrolled fires. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, deforestation is most rapid in Asia where nearly eighty eight percent of the forests have been destroyed. In Pakistan and Thailand four to five percent of the forest is lost every year. In fifteen years it could be completely lost, creating semi-desert conditions.
When forest are cleared without proper planning and management people living in and around them are deprived of sources of food, medicine, building material, and water. In developing countries deforestation particularly affects women, because they are usually the ones responsible for providing their families with food and fuel. Women living in the foothills of the Himalayas often spend a whole day collecting wood to cook dinner, where as their mothers collected the same amount in an hour. Deforestation does not only affect the people who live nearby. If forests continue to disappear supplies of game, fruit, and nuts dry up. Drug companies rely heavily on rain forests. Researchers are currently studying chemicals taken from Australia?s black bean tree to see if they can be used to help treat AIDS. Extracts from the almost extinct Pacific yew are proving effective against cancer. So, as the forests vanish so does the potential of finding a life saving drug.
The destruction of tropical rain forests greatly affects the global warming situation. The rain forest acts as a global air conditioner. It cools the planet and rejuvenates oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Trees use up carbon dioxide or CO2 in photosynthesis to make their own food. The growing level of CO2 is a major contributor to global warming or the greenhouse effect. Since the Industrial Revolution human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels have caused a dramatic increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the past one hundred fifty years the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen 27 percent. It is expected to double in the next hundred years. Consequences of the green house effect will be severe. Change in sea-level will be the most dramatic change. Increased variability in weather patterns will occur. Storms and hurricanes may become more frequent and severe. Rainfall patterns would likely changes, causing countries experiencing severe droughts and floods to see an increase in disasters. Many scientists believe this will cause an increase in wildfires. The effects are frightening. New laws and treaties have been signed in order to slow the process of global warming. Most of them have little effect however. One such treaty that the Clinton Administration may sign this month in Kyoto, Japan is quite questionable. It calls for reduced levels of greenhouse gas emissions and a timetable for reaching them. It would likely cost five hundred thousand US jobs every year for a decade, higher energy costs, and an economic slowdown, however countries such as China, India, Korea, and Mexico are exempt. Because these countries are exempt this treaty would do little for the environment.
The tropical rain forests are vital to the stability of the earth?s environment and the well being of the human race. The future of the earth?s rain forests depends on management, planning, and careful regulation of tree cutting. Saving the tropical rain forests is a major concern for the United States as well as the global community.
Roy Gallant. Earth?s Vanishing Forests. Atheneum
Paula Hogan. Vanishing Rain Forests (Environment Alert). Gareth Stevens
CNN. ?Forests Shrinking At Alarming Rate?. Oct. 8, 1997
CNN. ?In the Amazon, deforestation is on the rise?. Nov. 24, 1997
National Geographic Website. http://www.nationalgeographic.com
Timothy M. Ito Margaret Loftus. ?Cutting and Dealing?. US News and World Report. Mar 10, 1997
Laura Tangley. ?New Mammals in Town?. ? US News and World Report. Jun. 9, 1997
Smithsonian Website. http://www.si.edu
World Wildlife Fund Website. http://www.wwf.org