Forests, especially rain forests and old growth forests, are the lungs of the planet. Taking in carbon dioxide that is expired by animals and produced by burning of fossil fuels, the forests produce oxygen that we need to live. Rain forests and old growth forests are homes to numerous species that don’t live anywhere else. Cutting these trees destroys a virtually irreplaceable ecosystem—both the trees and the animals and other plants that depend on these forests. Moreover, 70% of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in rainforests.

About 78% of old growth forests and 50% of rainforests have already been destroyed. In addition to the tragic loss of irreplaceable ecosystems, logging old growth forests and rain forests also impacts soil and water resources. After the trees are gone, soil erosion increases, reducing the biological capacity of the soil and increasing water pollution from sediment runoff, which also negatively impacts fisheries. Loss of old growth forests and rain forests also affects the cultures of indigenous people whose way of life is dependent on the intact forest ecosystems.

Although forests are needed as raw materials for many products, such as paper and lumber, there is no need to destroy the remaining old growth forests and rain forests. These unique resources should be protected as human heritage sites and natural resource treasures. Old growth forests have not been logged for at least 200 years. They contain a variety of tree species of varying ages, including some very large trees that are hundreds, or even thousands of years old. Covering less than 2% of the Earth's total surface area, the world's rainforests are home to 50% of the Earth's plants and animals. Other types of forests can be managed sustainably to provide the materials that are needed for human use. 

The root causes of deforestation are poverty, overpopulation, market forces, globalization, and government policies. Proximate causes are unsustainable logging, conversion of forests to agriculture and urban land uses, road and pipeline construction, overgrazing, and harvesting of trees for fuel.

Do you love the Earth? Want to walk your talk? Then take one or more of these steps today:

  • Stop using paper plates and napkins—use reusable plates and cloth napkins
  • Take a reusable cup to buy coffee or tea
  • Buy paper products with at least 30% postconsumer recycled content
  • Don’t eat beef from cows that were grazed on cleared rain forests
  • Contribute to efforts to reduce rates of poverty and overpopulation
  • Support government policies that protect old growth forests and rain forests
  • Buy wood products that come from sustainably managed forests
  • Don’t buy products containing palm oil, much of which comes from plantations that have replaced rain forests
  • Buy fair trade products such as brazil nuts and shade grown coffee that are grown sustainably in rain forest ecosystems and that provide a viable income to the workers.




About the Author

Sandy Olliges

Sandy Olliges, M.A., teaches academic writing at San Jose State University. She is a former Environmental Manager for the NASA Ames Research Center.

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