Rainforests, and especially tropical rainforests, is where life thrives with all its originality and creativity. These conditions are wet and for tropical regions, warm. This luxurious climate is perfect for growth, but there is also fierce competition for light and nutrients. It is humid beneath the canopy but pleasantly cool above where water is released through leaves to form clouds. Thus these forests have a dramatic effect on Earth’s moisture and heat circulation while providing 28 % of the planet’s oxygen.
Rainforests have been around for tens of millions of years and have adapted with continental drift and glaciation e.g. the Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Australia, is thought to be 135 million years old and contains about 30 % of all reptile species on the continent. It is thought that not only the excellent growth conditions, but also time, allowed for increased diversity, complexity and symbiotic relationships to form beneath the dark canopy.
This biodiversity in rainforests provides 25 % of all Western pharmaceutical ingredients, yet only 1 % of tree and plant species have been examined. One hectare of rainforest contains approximately 750 tree species and 1500 plant species. A quarter of all insect species are also thought to exist in these forests. We should also be most grateful for tropical forests providing 80 % of our diet…including avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos and tomatoes; vegetables including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee, vanilla and nuts1.
Yet we are painfully slow to see their real value. Modern humans have only seen timber, pasture land for cattle and what potentially lies beneath the soil in the form of oil and gas. We destroy most of the real bounty and wealth to create a beefburger. Even indigenous humans who live in rainforests have suffered from this modern greed; 500 years ago there were 10 million Indians living in Amazonia, this has been reduced to less than 200 000 today. Though it is hard to call it greed when most of the value of rainforests is not used for human benefit; ignorance is a better word, yet this also fails to fully encompass repetitive and willful destruction.
Decisions are required by all of us. As a human the Earth forms part of our identity and so, even if implicit, the destruction of a vital organ of the Earth is an act affecting all, and requires a response. The trees around us should remind us of this; as their kin are ‘cleansed’ we should reflect on our way of life. For myself, this introversion realises itself in a project to help the Earth, and thereby hopefully ourselves.