CHILDREN'S RAINFOREST INFORMATION PAGE
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WHAT ARE RAINFORESTS?
Generally, rainforests are
forests with high rainfall and a large number of different kinds of plants and animals (see also *). There are many different
types of rainforest. The three main ones are:
Temperate, Sub-tropical and
Most of the surviving
rainforests in the world are tropical
rainforests. Tropical rainforests cover less than 6% of the earth, yet they contain
over half the worlds species.
Temperate and sub-tropical rainforests also contain a large number of species although
they are not as diverse as tropical forests. Tropical rainforests are found in hot
countries near the equator. Most of what is written here is about tropical rainforests.
WHY ARE RAINFORESTS
* Human beings depend on rainforests
in many ways, but it would be wrong to suggest that they should be saved just because they
are useful to humans. They also have a right to exist simply because they are part of life
on Earth, just like us.
* There are millions of different kinds of plants and animals on Earth. They are called
species. Rainforests have been called the womb of life because they are home to more than
half of the species on Earth.
* Millions of forest-dwelling people around the world live in or depend on rainforests. They have
learned how to live in ways that dont harm the forests.
* Many of the worlds important food crops, medicines and domestic animals have been developed from rainforest
*The Earths climate
is affected by rainforests. When trees are cut down and burnt or left to decompose, they
release carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide is the main gas that causes global warming.
* Cutting down rainforests also changes the amount of rain that falls in an area. When
rain falls on forests, the water is slowed down by the trees and other plants. When they
are taken away, the water flows quickly over the ground. This can cause floods and
WHY ARE THE RAINFORESTS
Over half the worlds
rainforests have been destroyed already and what remains is being cut down very quickly.
Much of the damage is being done by poor farmers, but they are not to blame. They have to
clear rainforest land to grow food for their families. Governments and companies have
forced them into this situation.
If one had to choose which was the biggest cause of rainforest destruction, one
would have to say it was development. This means the way our civilisation exploits the
Earth in order to produce things such as cars, timber, paper, electricity and many other
things we have become used to in our daily lives. It may be possible to have development
without rainforest destruction, but if it continues in the way it has happened so far,
development will mean more oil drilling, logging, large dams and clearing of rainforest
for agriculture and plantations. Development, as it has happened so far, takes the control
of rainforest areas out of the hands of the people who depend on them. Instead, the
forests are controlled by governments and developers who are mainly interested in using
the forests to make a profit.
Third World Debt - Much of the worlds remaining tropical forest is
found in poor countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and Zaire. Many of them owe large
amounts of money to the worlds rich countries. In order to make money to repay their
debts, they have to damage or destroy their forests. Many people believe these debts are
not fair, and are campaigning to have them cancelled.
Rich Countries like Australia and the United States are a big part of the
problem because we buy rainforest timbers and other goods which contibute to rainforest
destruction. Some of the products grown on cleared rainforest land are: beef, coffee, palm oil, and
soybeans. Oil companies like Shell, Mobil and Exxon also damage or destroy rainforest in
order to supply oil to rich countries. Also, aid from rich countries has often been given
in such a way that it encourages rainforest destuction.
Logging is also an important cause of rainforest
destruction, not only because of the trees that logging companies cut down but also
because the roads that the loggers build are used by poor famers to get into the forest
and cut it down.
Firewood - Most of the people in countries with rainforests use firewood to cook their
food. Often, they cut rainforest trees. This is another important cause of rainforest
is an important problem. Because there are more and more people in the world (more than 6
billion now!), more and more forests are being cleared to grow food for them. Unless this
problem is solved, it will be very difficult for tropical rainforests to survive. But
unfortunately, many governments say overpopulation is just about the only reason that
rainforests are disappearing. They use this as an excuse for not dealing with the other
things that are causing rainforest destruction.
HOW CAN RAINFORESTS BE
* The things that need to be
done can be divided into two groups: Campaigns and Structural Change.
In countries where rainforests are
being destroyed or damaged, campaigns (see also *.) are being waged to save particular areas of forest. Unless
these campaigns succeed, rainforests will die out. Therefore, supporting these campaigns
is very important. Organisations in western countries, like the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Rainforest Movement and the World Wide Fund for Nature are
involved in these campaigns. In many cases, they are supporting campaigns which were
started by local groups in tropical countries. By supporting these groups, members of the
public in rich countries can play a role.
Campaigns to save particular areas of forest are essential, but unless the
underlying forces which cause rainforest destruction are dealt with as well, rainforests
will continue to be threatened. Structural change is much more difficult to achieve
because it requires basic changes in the way we and other people live.
In tropical countries, rich and powerful
people often own most of the land. So poor farmers often have to look for more land to
clear. If the already-cleared land was shared more equally, then they wouldnt have
to do this.
(See also *.)
have lived in rainforests for thousands of years, hunting, gathering food and farming in
small plots. Governments and corporations often act as if indigenous people do not own
their forests. The rights of indigenous people need to be recognised. Often, indigenous
people can look after the forest better than anybody else because they undestand them so
One of the reasons that rich landowners force poor farmers off the land is so that they
can make a lot of money by growing things like soybeans, cattle and palm oil. Often these
things are sold to rich countries. So rich countries can help by buying less of these cash
The logging industry also contributes to
the problem of land clearance. The roads made by logging companies are used by poor
farmers to enter the forests. It is not necessary for tropical timber to be used in rich
countries. By using other things instead, people in rich countries can help reduce logging
in tropical forests.
An organisation called the Forest
Stewardship Council has begun a scheme which may make logging in tropical forests less
destructive. They give a certificate to logging companies which do as little damage
possible to the forests. This means that people who buy the timber can then decide to buy
from that company instead of the ones which do more damage.
Aid organisations like the World Bank
have given money for large-scale mining, irrigation and hydro-electric projects. Every
time these projects have been started, local people have opposed them. The right of local
people to decide how their land is used should be supported. Organisations like the World
Bank need to be changed so that they respect the wishes of local people. They should
become involved in smaller projects which offer solutions that do not harm the environment
and which help the inhabitants of the forests. Examples of organizations that do this kind
of rainforest protection are the Rainforest Information
Centre and Rainforest Concern.