Rainforests, Biodiversity, and Economics

Fri, Jun 26, 2020

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Today we want to take time to acknowledge the amazing power of rainforests.

Rainforests, Biodiversity, and Economics

To get us started, rainforests account for a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity with the Amazon by itself accounting for 10% (WWF). Rainforests also reabsorb carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and output some of the oxygen that humans and other organisms need in order to survive. Forests worldwide intake 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon each year (Kintisch). They combat climate change and provide us with natural resources.

That being said, it’s very important to acknowledge that our largest rainforest, the Amazon (which is twice the size of India according to the World Wildlife Fund), is still burning around Brazil. It accounts for roughly half of the worldwide forest carbon absorption. Amidst more prominent issues in the forefront of our media, it’s easy to forget that the Amazon is still being threatened.

CNBC states that over 70,000 fires have been detected in the Amazon, which is an 84% increase from 2018’s measurement. According to a peer-reviewed article from ScienceDirect, “cutting down the rainforest significantly increases the effects of climate change, threatening the world’s biodiversity and causing local desertification and soil erosion.” Deforestation, agriculture, and mining of fossil fuels are the biggest threats to rainforests. Over 20% of the Amazon has already been deforested (Amazon Watch), by land developers and for resource extraction by humans. When large parts of forest are lost, the habitants of the rainforest lose their already dwindling homes, and the world economy will also take a severe hit.

But why is biodiversity important? First we need to define biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals (Merriam Webster). When the population of a species decreases, the species becomes more at risk of extinction because the genetic diversity is lower. The Amazon has already seen dozens of regional extinctions due to the deforestation of the past several decades (Guardian). As species go extinct, the resources they provide are no longer available to humans. One of the resources the Amazon provides is medicine. With deforestation leading to the extinction of species, the opportunity to study those species for their medicinal value is lost.

Aside from environmental conservation, the economic impacts of burning the Amazon can have widespread effects. In many cases, intentional forest fires are being started in the Amazon to clear land for agriculture. While an individual farmer may gain from the land conversion, the 8 billion dollars that the Amazon provides to the annual Brazilian Gross Domestic Product from goods like timber and rubber is being threatened (globalEdge).

Furthermore, we can see the burning of the Amazon having an even larger economic impact when noting the rain produced from the Amazon. The rainforest affects rainfall throughout large parts of South and North America. The plant matter in the Amazon creates rain through a process called transpiration by releasing water vapor along with oxygen as the plants “breathe out”. The burning of the Amazon means less plant matter producing rain. Decreased rainfall leads to lower agricultural yields, negatively impacting food production and income.

By addressing climate change, deforestation, and environmentally harmful agricultural practices, we can slowly alleviate rainforest damage and protect our valued ecosystems. If you are interested in helping save the Amazon, please consider donating to:

Amazon Watch (Also supports indigenous rights): https://amazonwatch.org/donate

Amazon Team (24 years strong): https://www.amazonteam.org/

Rainforest Trust: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/

Rainforest Foundation (Also supports indigenous rights): https://rainforestfoundation.networkforgood.com/projects/79631-stop-the-fires-in-the-amazon

Ways to help the Amazon: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/27/amazon-wildfires-how-to-help.html

Photo of Amazon Rainforest by Nathalia Segato