Why are rain forests so important to the health of our planet?
In 1800 there were 7.1 billion acres of rain forest in the world. Nowa little more than 200 years laterless than half, or 3.5 billion acres, remain. Over 100,000 acres of the world's rain forests are destroyed each day, with trees cut down for their valuable wood and land cleared for farming. While covering just two percent of Earth's surface, the dense vegetation of these forests plays an important role in the health of our planet. The destruction of rain forests threatens the health of our planet by reducing the amount of oxygen in our air and increasing carbon dioxide. Too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere keeps the Sun's heat from radiating back into space, increasing global temperatures (called the greenhouse effect). Global warming, in turn, could bring about major climate changes: melting glaciers and rising sea levels, for example, could cause the flooding of coastal regions.
The plants in rain forests produce natural chemicals that fight off destruction by insects, and scientists have learned how to make plant-based insecticides from rain forest plants (without destroying the rain forests) to spray on crops. These natural insecticides are far less toxic than synthetic, or human-made, chemicals. Numerous medicines, as much as one-quarter of all prescription drugs, have been made from materials gathered in rain forests, and many more life-saving medicines may await discovery there. Many products, like natural rubber, essential oils used in cosmetics and perfumes, and rattan, a material weaved together to make furniture, can be taken from rain forests without causing widespread destruction. In addition, rain forests can absorb huge amounts of water. When rain forests are destroyed, the vast amounts of rainfall in those regions cannot be absorbed, resulting in widespread flooding. International efforts have begun trying to save what remains of the rain forests by helping the people who destroy them find other ways to earn a living. Still, the destruction of these important forests continues at a rapid pace.