Are We Forgetting our Rain Forests?

Masoala National Park in Madagascar, a lowland rain forest
Masoala National Park in Madagascar, a lowland rain forest

When I was a child, I remember turning the hallway of my elementary school into a tropical forest. To complement our unit on the rainforest, we would use construction paper primarily to create leafy trees with strong buttresses and a variety of other rainforest species, from orchids to jaguars. We learned about how rapidly the rain forests are being chopped down and how vital they are to the health of the entire planet. It seems issues such as hydrofracking and fluctuating oil prices have taken the spotlight in the media recently. I decided to check on these precious lungs of the Earth recently with an Internet search. I hoped that I hadn’t heard anything because the situation was getting better, however unfortunately I was mistaken. The rate at which tropical rain forests are being cut down has increased 62 percent though the 1990s and the 2000s. What does this mean exactly? According to a recent Science Daily article, basically it just means what we thought was an improvement was totally off-base. Three researchers from the University of Maryland, geographer Do-Hyung Kim, Joseph Sexton and John Townshend, found after studying 34 forested countries that make up 80 percent of the forested tropical areas of the world, net forest loss is increasing. But how? Didn’t the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), predict that there was a 25 percent slow-down in the rainforest being cut down? Yes, but this previous estimate was based on nothing but reports from a handful of countries — in other words, paper (how ironic considering the old joke about killing rain forest trees by using too much paper — which is false, but that’s another blog post) This new report showing the 62 percent increase in rain forest destruction was based on the analysis of 5,444 Landsat scenes. What the heck is a Landsat? Glad you asked — I’ll save you a Google. A Landsat is a U.S. scientific satellite that examines and takes pictures of the Earth’s surface using remote sensing technology. So after studying over 5,400 of these images, the three researches found that while from 1990 – 2000 annual net forest loss was 15,000 square miles per year, from 2000 – 2010 this number rose to about 25,000 square miles. So we are talking going from cutting down a few thousand miles short of Maryland to cutting down almost the entire the state of West Virginia, basically. THAT IS A LOT. So what can we do about it? 1. AVOID PALM OIL and SOY. These products are part of the agribusiness that leads to deforestation in the rain forests 2. SUPPORT ZERO-DEFORESTATION OPTIONS: As consumers, we do have power. Buying 100% post consumer products or paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a start. 3. DONATE: Support organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Nature Conservancy that purchase large tracts of rain-forested land for preservation 4. EAT LESS MEAT!: Don’t support Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “CAFOs.” Even though they may not be in important areas of tropical forests, these areas such as the all-important Amazon are often used to grow their food (more soybeans). 5. LEARN MORE : If you are bored and don’t have time for that full episode of Scandal on Netflix, look up websites like this one: http://www.rainforesteducation.com/about2/threats.htm I don’t think we could ever truly forget our previous tropical forests. However, if you live in a place as snowy and blistery as Upstate New York like me, they can seem like part of another world. Let’s just remember that they are not — and that we need them. Trees = Oxygen: ‘Nuf said, I hope.

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