You may live thousands of miles from rainforests, but you still benefit from their presence. Why shouldn't we cut down the rainforest? Rainforest trees produce oxygen to breathe, fresh water to drink and useful products ranging from shampoo to medicine. When people cut down a rainforest, these benefits vanish along with the homes of plants and animals that live there.
Rainfall from the Rainforests
Most rainforest deforestation occurs when people clear land to use for agricultural purposes. Clear the trees, and you acquire more room to raise cattle and produce food. Commercial loggers also harvest rainforest trees for pulp and timber.
Deforestation is a problem because rainforests help regulate weather patterns and temperature. Trees in these forests absorb water and release it into the environment through a process called transpiration. In areas with rainforests, 75 percent of the rain that falls goes back into the atmosphere because of transpiration.
Cut down the trees, and only 25 percent of precipitation makes it back into the atmosphere. This rain is important because it helps supply the planet with fresh water.
Oxygen Courtesy of the Trees
Matthew C. Hansen, professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, called rainforests the "lungs of the planet." Trees in these forests help remove carbon dioxide from the air by using it to make food through photosynthesis.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that causes the Earth's atmosphere to get warmer. Each acre of rainforest removes about 2.5 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. Rainforests also release oxygen into the atmosphere, producing 20 percent of the planet's oxygen supply.
Finally, when people cut down rainforest trees, if they also burn them (a common practice for clearing tropical forest), carbon in the trees combines with oxygen to form CO2 that goes into the atmosphere.
Innocent Casualties of Deforestation
Rainforests cover less than 7 percent of the planet's land area but house over half of all living organisms. Many of these life forms may become extinct if their homes are destroyed.
This loss affects humans because some organisms that vanish could help researchers find cures for diseases. Wind and rain can cause extensive erosion in areas where people remove rainforest trees, and soil may lose its ability to grow plants.
According to experts, all rainforests will vanish within a century if people keep cutting them down at the current rate. Scientists say that if this happens, the majority of Earth's animal and plant species will disappear.
Products from the Rainforests
In addition to timber, rainforests provide products such as bananas, chocolate, insecticides, perfume, detergent, chewing gum, coffee and rubber. Rainforest plants also produce around 25 percent of all drugs on the market.
Scientists have examined only around 1 percent of tropical plants, but in that sample, they've discovered treatments for medical problems, such as high blood pressure and leukemia, according to Live Science. The U.S. National Cancer Institute also reports that rainforests account for 70 percent of the plants that the society finds useful for cancer treatment. As rainforests disappear, so do all these beneficial products and medicines.
Rainforests Regulate Temperatures
Rainforests play an important role in regulating global temperatures, according to Rainforest Alliance. Along with providing oxygen to breathe, products to eat and build with, fresh water to drink and medicines to fight disease, the lush greenery of the rainforest also reduces the reflectivity - or albedo - of our planet, which helps regulate wind, rainfall and ocean currents.
Climate scientists say that rainforest conservation and the conversion to sustainable agriculture could play a significant part in slowing global climate change.
About the Author
After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.