Simple Steps for Students, Schools, and Families
Why Is the Rainforest In Danger?
When you think of the rainforest, you probably think of monkeys, jungle plants, big snakes, and lots of rain. You may not think about oil, copper, and gold, but these are found in the rainforest, too! Companies from many different countries are interested in removing things like oil, copper, and gold from the rainforest and selling them in other parts of the world. The wood from certain types of trees in the rainforest, like mahogany, is also very valuable. When these natural resources are removed from the rainforest, companies often destroy or damage the water, soil, plants, and animals there.
Another reason the rainforest is disappearing is because of cattle farming. Although cows aren't normally found in the rainforest, some individuals and companies are clearing rainforest land and raising cows on it because the land is relatively cheap. However, the rainforest soil isn't very good for growing the grasses cattle eat; usually after a few years the cattle farmers have to move on to new areas of the rainforest, cut down more trees, and start over again.
Although rainforests have been around for millions of years--they're the Earth's oldest living ecosystems--they may not be around for much longer. At the present rate of destruction, all the earth's rainforests will be gone in 30 years. And once the rainforest is destroyed, it doesn't come back. 137 species of plants and animals become extinct every day in rainforests around the world.
Why Save the Rainforest?
Some uses of the rainforest land, like those listed above, are very damaging to the rainforests' survival. However, other products can be "sustainably harvested" from the rainforest and greatly benefit both the native people living in the rainforest and the rest of us in other communities. For instance, did you know that:
- One out of every four medicines in pharmacies today comes from the rainforest. These include treatments for serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and childhood leukemia. But there's much more testing to be done: scientists estimate that over 99% of the plants in the rainforest haven't even been studied yet for their possible medical uses.
- Destruction of forests is the second largest cause of global warming.
Scientists believe that if global warming continues, it could cause serious problems like floods and droughts in different parts of the world.
- Rainforests supply yummy foods. Look to the rainforests for Brazil nuts, cocoa, coffee, bananas, yams, and many other foods and spices we enjoy every day.
- About one million people call the Amazon home. These people's ancestors have lived in the Amazon for hundreds of thousands of years, and the survival of their culture depends on the rainforest's survival.
How Can I Help?
One of the biggest threats to the rainforest today is large-scale logging of rainforest trees. To help decrease the number of trees logged in the rainforest, you can:
Another way you can help is by using fewer products made from oil. When oil is drilled and piped in the rainforest, it causes a lot of pollution to the water and ground there. One out of every four gallons of oil coming into the U.S. comes from the Amazon rainforest. Try to do the following:
- avoid buying products made from "exotic woods" that grow in the rainforest. These include Mahogany, Teak, Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, and Western Red Cedar.
- use recycled paper (or tree-free paper made from cotton, straw, or other substances)
- recycle paper goods at home and at school
Cattle farming in the rainforest leads to large-scale "slash-and-burn" practices in the Amazon: the rainforest is set on fire to clear away the trees and other plants, and then grass is planted for cows to eat. The meat from these cows often comes to the U.S. for fast food burgers, frozen dinners, and other products. Every hamburger patty from the rainforest means 55 square feet of rainforest land has been destroyed. Try to:
- walk or ride your bike when you can. If you can't do that, keep gasoline use to a minimum by carpooling or taking a bus.
- use glass instead of plastic (which is made from oil). If you have to use plastic bottles, utensils, etc., recycle them.
If your class or school is interested in doing more to protect the rainforests, consider joining the efforts of others connected through the Rainforest Action Network (http://www.ran.org/). Two programs you might want to investigate are:
- find out where the meat you eat comes from. Ask for this information in fast food restaurants. In the grocery store, look to see if you can find this information on food packaging.
- eat less red meat, if possible, and write letters to fast-food restaurants and other food manufacturers asking them not to buy beef from the rainforest if they're doing so now.
Other good rainforest Web sites and resources include:
*Thanks to Tamar Hurwitz and the Rainforest Action Network for the statistics and conservation ideas cited above.
- The Protect-An-Acre Program: Organize a community fundraiser for this program, and the money will be used to help native people in the Amazon secure community land and develop sustainable uses of rainforest resources. This is different from other "buy-an-acre" programs you may have heard about, because the money goes to the people who live in the rainforest, allowing them to live and work where their ancestors did, and to encourage non-harmful uses of rainforest land.
- RAN's Kid's Action Team: A $7.00 subscription fee will buy your class a Kid's Action Guide with rainforest information; you'll also receive four newsletters sent throughout the year with articles, activities, and suggestions for ways to help preserve the rainforests. Teachers may copy the printed materials for classroom distribution.