Although rainforests cover about 8% of our land surface, they are home to half of our animal and plant species.
Rainforests are rich in medicinal plants. For example, about 70 % of the anti-cancer plants identified so far are from rainforests.
Rainforests fight climate change, of course, by absorbing and storing massive amounts of carbon.
But when the trees are burned or chopped down, much of that carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The clearing and burning of tropical forests and peatlands accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gases from human activities. It’s been estimated that more than five billion trees are cut down across the tropics every year.
The largest rainforest, the Amazon, covers 40% of South America, principally Brazil but also 8 other countries.
Despite international pressure, the Amazon Rainforest is now seriously threatened by deforestation. Cattle ranching, driven by an international demand for Brazilian beef, is responsible for most of it. After a decline beginning in 2004, deforestation has increased dramatically in the last two years. Amazon Watch reports that the rate of deforestation in Brazil has jumped by 29% since 2015 and 75% since 2012.
(Photo from MONGABAY: rainforest in Borneo cleared for palm oil cultivation)