Hello! Welcome to My Bubble. Most of you have probably heard the expression "their own little bubble" in some variation. This blog is a reflection of mine. Just one girl's ideas, finds, responses to news stories and popular trends, recipes, life, thoughts, and opinions.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"The Rainforest: A Disappearing Wealth of Resources"

This is the last paper from my Adv. Comp class and I wasn't going to post it because it is not a essay, it's an actual research paper, but so many people have asked me about it, I decided to post it anyway. It is long though! This is not the topic that I originally chose and it is a subject that I usually do not take very seriously because most of the time when you hear about the rainforest it is by an extreme nature lover and usually attached to a speech on global warming, however when I started looking at the subject strictly from a facts view, I couldn't stop. Being in the medical field has made me realize how important it is to preserve all plants that carry medicinal value, and the rainforest is an abundant supply! Not to mention all the people and animals who live off the rainforest! How can we consider ourselves good stewards of something that we are destroying? This world is full of beautiful creations that should be being preserved.

The Rainforest: A Disappearing Wealth of Resources

When most people hear the word “rainforest” in a conversation, they usually stop listening and roll their eyes. The rainforest has been a topic of controversy for years and to most that’s much longer than necessary. To some it is like beating a dead dog, but what they don’t know is that their future is affected by whether the rainforests live on, or continue to be depleted year after year.
The Tropical rainforests surround the earth's equatorial zone and are warm, humid places. They provide shelter and sustenance for an enormous variety of animal species and are also home to 50 million Indigenous peoples. Although tropical forests cover less than 7% of the earth's surface they are home to approximately 50% of all living things on earth. The largest tropical rainforest is the Amazonian rainforest, or Amazonia; it is a region that includes most of Brazil and parts of bordering French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It can be visualized as a funnel, (with its wide end at the Andes), draining some six million square kilometers through a complex of rivers that are tributaries of the Amazon River (rainforestfoundation).
A major reason for cutting down the rainforest is for grazing land. As the demand in the Western world for cheap meat increases, more and more rainforests are destroyed to provide grazing land for animals. Looking at just Brazil, there are an estimated 220 million head of cattle, 20 million goats, 60 million pigs, and 700 million chickens. That’s a lot of animals that need a lot of room. Most of Central and Latin America's tropical and temperate rainforests have been lost to cattle operations to meet the world demand, and still the cattle operations continue to move southward into the heart of the South American rainforests. Amazingly, to graze one steer in Amazonia takes two full acres (rain-tree). Now multiply that by how much cattle there is and that’s a huge chunk of rainforest!
What a lot of people may not realize is that the Amazonian rainforest is an abundant supply of medicinal plants and organisms for us to use. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently there are 121 drugs on the market that are derived from plants and over a third of these originated in the rainforest (rainforestfoundation). There are 18,000 known plants in the rainforest that are not found anywhere else on the planet. The most necessary of these drugs are the ones we use to fight cancer. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3,000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today's cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest. And while 25% of all Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists (rain-tree). We are destroying the rainforest before we can even explore all that it has to offer. The cure for cancer could be living right there and we would miss it, simply because of a few shortsighted capitalists trying to make more money. We are losing the Earth's greatest biological treasures just as we are beginning to appreciate their true value! The earth’s rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface whereas now they only cover 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years (rain-tree).
Besides the massive amount of plants that live in the rainforest, there are 434 species of mammals, 239 reptile species, and 225 species of amphibians that call the rainforest home. The vast majority of which, cannot be found anywhere else. In the Amazon rainforest alone there are 200,000 Indian tribes still living and thriving. Each time a part of the rainforest is cut down, so is a part of their home and livelihood (rainforestfoundation). What this adds up to is nearly half of the world's species of plants, animals and microorganisms being destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century as a result of rainforest deforestation. According to GNN, or the Guerrilla News Network, the rainforests are, “Considered to be the planet’s richest biological reserve, it is home to millions of insects, countless amphibians, reptiles, snakes like the powerful anaconda, thousands of bird species, with many forms of life in Amazonia yet to be catalogued. Our rainforest is under attack. While we see a beautiful tropical paradise, teeming with life, the capitalist sees a fortune waiting to be made. As they cut down our forests in country after country, continent after continent, they destroy a little bit of history. The Earth bleeds wherever they go, and little is done to stop them.” (gnn). These may sound like harsh words, but they are the startling truth. Much of the food we eat every day comes from the rainforest. Foods like, coffee, bananas, lemons, oranges, cacao, cashews, peanuts, pineapples, papayas, and many more all come from tropical forests. We need to ensure that the things we are taking out are not being taken at the expense of destroying the rainforest around them. The current rate of destruction is 2.47 acres a second, which is approximately two US football fields! Expanded, that amounts to 64 acres a minute, 3,800 acres a hour, 93,000 acres a day, 2.8 million acres a month, and 33.8 million acres per year! The natural extinction rate is approximately 1 species per year. As a result of deforestation, species will become extinct at a rate 3 to 4 times higher than that (rainforestfoundation).
In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. However, now there are more than 100 pharmaceutical companies, including giants like Merck, Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Monsanto, Smith-Kline Beecham, as well as several branches of the U.S. government, including the National Cancer Institute, that are engaged in plant-based research projects trying to find possible drugs to treat infections, cancer, and AIDS. Most of this research is currently taking place in the rainforest in an industry that is now called "bioprospecting" (rain-tree). They are making progress however it is a race against time as each day another part of the rainforest is turned into a charred mess. The hopes of bioprospecting is that researchers will be able to show that the world's rainforests by are much more valuable when they are standing than when they are cut down.
The Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multi-national logging companies, and land owners. One thing that they all have in common is that they’re ignoring a major consequence of deforestation. An even more important aspect than the loss of medicinal plants and the extinction of animal species is that the forests regulate water and protect watersheds. Without the canopy breaking the force of heavy downpours, rain can dissolve pastures and cropland into mud slides. The canopy allows rainfall to slowly trickle down, rather than rush into rivers and flood the surroundings. For example, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 people dead and many more homeless in Central America. The destruction was caused primarily by deforestation (rainforestfoundation). This is a dangerous and costly price to pay for greed.
The problem and the solution of the destruction of the rainforest are both economic. Money is the bottom line. Governments need money to service their debts, squatters and settlers need money to feed their families, and companies need to make profits. The simple truth is that the rainforests are being destroyed for the income and profits they yield, however fleeting. Money is still what makes the world go around, even in the rainforest. The good news is that this also means that if landowners, governments, and those living in the rainforest today were given a viable economic reason not to destroy the rainforest, it could and would be saved. And this viable economic alternative does exist, and it is working today. Many organizations have demonstrated that if the medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, oils, and other resources like rubber and chocolate are harvested sustainably, rainforest land has much more economic value today and more long-term income and profits for the future than if just timber is harvested or burned down for cattle or farming operations (rain-tree). Companies need to start looking at the
long-term effects of their deforestation and look at the opportunities that the rainforests has to offer them to continue to prosper in the long run.
There are many ways that we can protect the rainforests of the Earth. There are a number of nongovernmental organizations, including international environmental and human rights groups that are dedicated to preserving the resources that the tropical rainforests provide. Some of these organizations have gained titles to forestlands and are letting them grow and prosper as they have for years (Gay). We need to become aware of and support these groups because they are not governmentally funded and the purchasing of rainforest land can be very costly. A great way to protect the tribes living in the rainforests is through one of these groups, the Rainforest Action Network’s Protect-An-Acre program. The Protect-an-Acre program helps forest people protect their rainforest homes by helping them gain land title, or ownership of their land. This is important because even though forest people may have lived in the same rainforest for thousands of years, in many cases the government doesn't officially recognize that indigenous people control or own the land they live on. This puts the forest people and their land at risk (ran).
In “Rainforests a Pro/Con Issue” author Linda Johnson raises the point that clearing and logging in tropical rainforests should be banned because once the trees are gone, they will never grow back. It is simply impossible for the rainforests to expand and grow anywhere close to the speed needed to compensate for the rate of our deforesting. The only answer is to stop hacking away at it or in the very least, control it and keep it to one area. We need to ensure that when we go in for bananas, coffee, or any other resource, that great care is taken so that we are not destroying the area around them.
The best way to cut down on deforestation is to recycle. This is another area of controversy but the fact remains that if we want our resources to last into the future, we must reuse them. Paper can be recycled again and again. Imagine all the trees that is would save just by recycling our paper at the end of each month! Use recycled paper or tree-free paper made from cotton, straw, or other substances (pbs). Another way to help persevere the rainforests is to avoid buying products made from "exotic woods" that grow in the rainforest. These include Mahogany, Teak, Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, and Western Red Cedar (pbs). And lastly, another way to ensure the safety of the rainforest’s future is to use fewer products made from oil. When oil is drilled and piped in the rainforest, it causes a lot of pollution to the water and ground. One out of every four gallons of oil coming into the U.S. comes from the Amazon rainforest. Simple ways to cut down on the oil we use is to walk or ride a bike whenever it’s possible or keep gasoline use to a minimum by carpooling or taking a bus. Plastic is made from oil so whenever possible, use glass instead. If you have to use plastic bottles or utensils, recycle them. Oil is also used to make synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon (ran). We should limit our use of these itmes as well if we want to cut down on oil drilling in the rainforests.
It’s time for us to step up and realize that although we may not be able to see or directly witness the amazing beauty of the tropical rainforests and all that they have to offer it is still our responsibility to ensure their protection and preservation.

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