August 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Volume 2, Number 8

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Footprints in the Soil

by Frances E.S. Campoy
 

Lush rainforest undergrowth. Source

The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of a primary rainforest is indescribable, according to Leslie Taylor, author of Herbal Secrets of the Rainforest. It is impossible to capture on film, to describe in words or to explain to those who never had the awe-inspiring experience of standing in the heart of a primary forest. Rainforests are filled with beauty, life, and new discoveries waiting to be exposed. By virtue of their richness in both animals and plants, they represent a store of living and breathing renewable resources that contribute to the wealth of resources for the survival and well-being of the human race.

Yet, humans manage to strip away the beauty of the rainforest and overuse its natural resources for the technology they have become dependent on. In fact, because of humanity’s selfish carelessness, the rainforests are disappearing. Many plants and animals are being driven to extinction, and since the rainforest is a fragile system, where everything is interdependent, upsetting one part can lead to unknown damage or even the destruction of the environment itself. Therefore, to save the environment and humankind, the total destruction of the rainforest must be prevented and should be illegal.

The Mindo Nambillo cloud forest reserve is threatened by a new pipeline. Source
Article on Ecuador: New Oil Pipeline Threatens Fragile Ecosystems and Communities from Amazon Rainforest to Pacific Coast: Source

Sadly, humanity has become dependent on materials obtained from the rainforest. One example is petroleum, where our dependence on its use makes it almost impossible for the human race to survive without it. Current usage allows people to make space in rainforests for farmlands, for growing crops and grazing cattle, for roads, transportation, buildings, businesses and shelters, and for mines for the consumption of coal.

In less than 50 years, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have been consumed for human benefits. This massive deforestation may bring many ugly consequences, such as air pollution, loss of potential medications, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the loss of biodiversity through extinction of plants and animals, which may have a harmful effect on people and the atmosphere.

Deforested (brown) versus Remaining Forested (green) over the last 8,000 years. Source

Deforestation also leads to the extinction of many valuable plants and animals because the biodiversity of the tropical rainforest is very immense. Harvard’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning biologist Edward Wilson estimates that we are losing over 137 species of plants, animals, and insects every single day because of rainforest deforestation. Thus, hundreds of thousands of species are becoming extinguished before they even have been identified. There is a possibility that the loss of animals and plants may affect the food chain. If one species becomes endangered, it could leave a surpassing amount of another species because there are not enough predators to prey off that species.

The rainforest is also an important component of the process that provides medication for man’s everyday life. Its resources can and will affect man’s welfare. According to Taylor, rainforest plants are complex chemical storehouses that contain many undiscovered biodynamic compounds with unrealized potential use for modern medicine.

Madagascar Periwinkle: scientific name, catharanthus roseus, also known as vinca rosea. Although mildly poisonous, there are two drugs extracted from it: “vinblastine,” used in the treatment of Hodgkins’ disease, and “vincristine,” used in the treatment of leukemia. Also used as an alkaloid to help treat diabetes. 1st Source, 2nd Source

Drugs that can be obtained from the rainforest plant known as the Madagascar Periwinkle increase the chances of survival for children with leukemia. Although threatened in the wild by deforestation, the plant can be cultivated for its known medicinal properties. But other plants, holding other unknown potential medicines, could succumb to deforestation-caused extinction without their benefits ever being identified. The United States National Cancer Institute already has identified 3,000 plants that are active against cancer cells. Seventy percent of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.

Deforestation is not just a home loss for animals and plants, and the medications they produce, it is also a home loss for humans. There were an estimated 10 million Amazonian Indians living in the Amazon Rainforest five centuries ago. Today there are less than 200,000. In Brazil alone, European colonists have destroyed more than 90 indigenous tribes since the 1900s. As their homelands continue to be destroyed by deforestation, rainforest people continue to disappear. With them has gone accumulated knowledge of the medicinal value of rainforest species. Most medicine men and shamans remaining in the rainforests today are 70 years old or more. Each time a rainforest medicine man dies, it is as if a library has burned down. Taylor stated, “When a medicine man dies without passing his art on to the next generation, the tribe and the world loses thousands of years of irreplaceable knowledge about medicinal plants.” As these medicine men disappear, humans are slowly losing their chances of possible discoveries of cures from some dreadful diseases that afflict many people. The knowledge that many medicine men hold may be the answer to many of the problems the human race encounters.

Under the canopy of a temperate rainforest. Source

Tragically, humanity will experience change in the world’s climate patterns because of the lack of rainforests. The Amazon Rainforest, the world’s greatest remaining natural resource, is the most powerful and bio-actively diverse natural phenomenon on the planet and has been described by Taylor as the “lungs of our planet,” because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. As soil loses its minerals, nutrients provided in the plants are being depleted as part of the destruction of the rainforest. In addition, the rainforest is responsible for its own rainfall; deforestation would cause a sudden decrease in rainfall. This decrease in rain would contribute to making drought a major concern. The destruction of the rainforest would alter the climate, unbalance the environment, and would lead to global warming.

Global warming is one of the major threats to the world’s climatic conditions, and the key component to this dilemma is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect happens when the Sun emits short-wave radiation, which passes through the atmosphere to Earth. The Earth then radiates some of the Sun’s energy back to the atmosphere in the form of long-wave infrared radiation. According to Ian Bowles and Glenn Prickett in Reframing the Green Window, “Although nitrogen and oxygen, which the atmosphere is almost entirely composed of, do not retain heat, certain trace gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide, trap some of the infrared radiation.” This is what keeps the planet warm.

To keep our planet warm, the greenhouse effect is needed in the environment, although too much of it could also be hazardous to the atmosphere. “Billions of tons of greenhouse gases have been spewed into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and have thrown the system out of balance,” says renowned environmentalist Jeremy Leggett. Sadly, human activity is changing the composition of the atmosphere. The main contributions of gas emissions that result in global warming are: carbon dioxide, produced by fossil-fuel combustion including coal, oil, gas, and through the burning of vegetation in deforestation; methane, produced by biological decay, animal waste, and biomass burning; and chlorofluorocarbons, produced by fertilizer use and the burning of fossil fuels.

Bornean dipterocarp forests can reach heights of over 200 feet. Beneath their lofty branches, one finds a burgeoning world of living things. Source

In addition, the greenhouse gases affect most plants and many animals that thrive under specific climatic conditions in particular habitats. The effects could result in countless ecosystems being forced to migrate, or widespread extinction. Global warming would also melt polar icecaps, creating rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Bowles and Prickett write that fresh-water aquifers could be contaminated by salt-water intrusion from a sea-level rise, placing dwindling fisheries that lie near the ocean at risk. In addition, agriculture would be adversely impacted by global warming. The world’s most important food-exporting nations, such as United States, Canada, and France, would most likely suffer drought and drier soil conditions.

There is growing evidence that past emissions of greenhouse gases could already be altering the Earth’s climatic weather patterns and temperatures. There is a dramatic increase in atmospheric concentrations of each greenhouse gas. In 1850, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 265 parts per million (ppm). By 1995, the number had jumped to 359 ppm, representing a 170 billion ton increase in this warm blanket of gases that has accumulated since the beginning of the industrial revolution,” according to Christopher Flavin and Odil Tunali in World Watch: Getting Warmer. The world’s concentration of carbon dioxide will continue to increase because of the loss of trees that filter the air and the because of air pollution from transportation and industry. This will provoke a serious problem for the atmosphere unless humans take responsibility and take charge of the situation.

Although humans have grown accustomed to their everyday life, there are several ways that they can alter their habits to save the existing rainforest without completely giving up using its resources. By reducing paper and wood consumption, recycling paper for future use, reducing oil consumption, limiting gas emissions from industrial businesses, banning clear-cutting, requiring companies to plant new trees after the old trees are cut down, and promoting the use of sustainable and renewable resources, destruction of the rainforests could be stopped. By creating a new source of income through harvesting the medicinal plants, fruits, vegetable oils and other sustainable resources, the rainforest would become more valuable alive than cut or burned.

Source

In conclusion, the excessive destruction of the rainforests is hazardous to life, and future destruction must be limited. The clearing and burning of rainforests releases vast amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, forests absorb and store atmospheric carbons, and this is how the carbon in the atmosphere is balanced. In deforestation, more and more carbon is released into the atmosphere, while there are fewer and fewer forests to remove it.

To totally stop using the rainforests’ resources would be unrealistic. Taking responsibility and setting limits on the amount of resources that are taken from the rainforest, on the other hand, will benefit the atmosphere, the environment and the future generations to come. In addition, the rainforest is a beautiful peaceful shelter for living and breathing organisms. What a great tragedy it is to see humanity destroy the Earth’s valuable resources where there are so many amazing things waiting to be discovered. The rainforest is a fragile environment, just like a footprint in the soil, and the human race is like the ravishing wind, erasing the footprint from its existence, never being fully able to follow the path in which it was directed.

Web Links of Interest:

Works Cited

  • Bowles, Ian and Glenn Prickett. Reframing the Green Window. Conservation International and Natural Defense Council, 1994.
  • Flavin, Christopher and Odil Tunali. World Watch: Getting Warmer, Volume 8. Lester Brown, 1995.
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Disease in a World Out of Balance,” The New Republic, 1995.
  • Laurance, William F. “Fragments of the Forest,” Natural History, July 1998.
  • Leggett, Jeremy. Global Warming: The Greenpeace Report. Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Nicole, Sarah, Cameron and Matthew. Preserving the Rainforest, May 12, 2003.
    http://rochedalass.qld.edu.au/rain8.htm
  • Parker, Theodore. Rainforests - Whose Treasure?. Enteractive Inc., 1995.
  • Preserving the Rainforest. May 12, 2003.
    http://www.srl.caltech.edu/personel/krubal/rainforest/Edit560s6/
    preserve.html
  • Taylor, Leslie. Herbal Secrets of the Rainforest. Prima Publishing, 2003.