Written by Christel Schultz
Earth is designed to promote and sustain life of all kinds. Humans, animals, and plants can – and should – coexist in harmonious balance based on this planet’s unique structure. We’ve searched amongst the stars for something similar but have discovered nothing quite like it.
The science behind the basic nature of Earth is no less fascinating. The sun provides light and energy that plants use to live, generate seeds and produce fruit that can be consumed. Trees generate oxygen that we need to breathe and absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Vegetation acts as a natural storage area for carbon dioxide, lessening buildup in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming.
Forests are concentrated areas of vegetation; they cover 31% of our planet. Tropical rainforests are the most biologically diverse type. They are located north and south of the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These equatorial rainforests receive at least 80 inches of rainfall per year and typically maintain temperatures above 64° F.
The Amazon Difference
The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on our planet, covering 40% of the South American continent. The Amazon is home to 10% of the known plant and animal species on Earth. Since total precipitation can exceed 12 feet annually, it’s not surprising that 15% of the planet’s fresh water comes from the Amazon basin alone.
However, this vast rainforest system does much more than provide oxygen and fresh water for global consumption. Indigenous people and tribes in remote areas of the jungle rely on the forest for their livelihood and survival. The habitats of numerous plants and animal species are also closely intertwined. The existence of certain species may be highly dependent upon that of another. The health of the network relies upon the survival of all components. If portions of the forest are gone or the contiguous whole becomes fragmented, links in the network are broken.
Deforestation in the tropical rainforests, and in forests around the world, is occurring at an alarming rate. The Amazon is particularly vulnerable to impact due to the biodiversity and interdependency of the region. Land clearing and fragmenting of the forest is an ever increasing problem.
Fire-based agriculture, or slash and burn, is common to prepare land for farming or livestock grazing. Large volumes of carbon stored for years in the vegetation can be released in a matter of hours during the burning process. Fire may travel beyond the cleared area and destroy the low-lying, dense vegetation of the understory in the surrounding rainforest. Even if the overhead canopy of the tall trees is untouched, the understory habitat – home to countless insects, reptiles and more – is lost.
Logging to harvest old growth trees is another significant factor contributing to deforestation. Woodland sections cut off from the contiguous rainforest cannot maintain growth and function. Fragmentation leaves the edges exposed and unprotected. The large trees die faster and in greater numbers as far as 1,000 feet into the forest under these conditions. The woody vines and less dense, faster-growing trees that take their place do not have the same oxygen-production and carbon dioxide-absorption capabilities.
What you can do…
The Amazon rainforest continues to diminish. It may seem like a distant, exotic place that is beyond our reach, BUT, our everyday decisions can have a positive impact on rainforest survival. Consider the following:
• Do not buy tropical hardwood products, particularly those made of Mahogany, Rosewood and Ebony
• Reduce beef consumption, verify the source of meat products you do consume, and research the practices of those livestock sources
• Try to buy and consume less, but choose environmentally friendly products (Rainforest Alliance certified, for example) or those that give back to environmental causes when possible
• Hold businesses accountable, choose sustainable – The 2019 Top 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World
• Always keep the “R’s” in mind…refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle
Together we can create a better tomorrow, starting now!