Along with the world’s soil and oceans, rainforests and tropical rainforests contain the highest concentrations of biodiversity on Earth
They typically contain far more biodiversity than man made forests and tree plantations.
Rainforests may also provide many benefits for humans, the economy, and the environment & wildlife.
It is therefore in our interest to consider how we might help preserve them, and address deforestation.
This guide outlines potential solutions on how to save rainforests, and reverse deforestation and declining canopy cover – on both the society wide level, and on the individual level.
We also look at how many trees we might actually need on Earth
Summary – Saving Rainforests
Benefits & Functions Of Rainforests
There can be several important benefits and functions that rainforests provide
Some of these benefits and functions can include that they contain a significant amount of biodiversity, they impact climate, weather patterns, and the Earth’s natural systems, and, they can be a source of products we use in society
There’s also the general benefits that trees that make up forests provide
Why There Can Be A Concern About Clearing Rainforests
Aside from clearing of rainforests impacting the functions of rainforests, and the benefits we receive from them, there may also be concerns that some of the effects of clearing may either take a long time to replenish, or may be irreversible in some cases.
Additionally, local populations that depend on rainforests may be displaced or have their livelihoods significantly impacted
There’s also the general effects of deforestation to consider
At What Rate Are We Losing Tropical Rainforests?
Some estimates say the rate of tropical tree canopy loss has doubled over the last decade.
Understanding Why Rainforests Might Be Cut Down
Aside from some of the reasons outlined above and in thing guide, care2.com explains why rainforests might get cut down in this way:
‘[They] tend to be worth more economically to some people to cut down, and tend to be located in poorer regions of the world where local populations need the money to survive, and local corruption and foreign corporate advancement are also common’
Deforestation in general also happens because forests and trees are often cleared for a land use change to subsistence farming, logging, and commercial and industrial agriculture.
So, it’s worth starting with looking at these causes to the problem when looking at rainforest clearing in a particular area.
Two Approaches To Saving Rainforests
There’s might be two main approaches that can be taken:
– A society wide approach
– An individual approach
Society Wide Approach To Saving Rainforests
A society wide approach might involve one or both of the following:
– Legal protection of rainforests
This might involve a direct ban/restriction on clearing rainforests.
Or, it could involve a more indirect solution in giving legal and land rights to local communities and groups who depend on the health and well being of rainforests for their livelihood
In this scenario, there is an incentive for these communities and groups to conserve and maintain rainforests
There might be several ways to pursue this option, such as setting up public funded programs to subsidise certain conservation effort, or to provide extra incentive to engage in economic practices that conserve rainforests (such as sustainable sourcing of resources from rainforests, sustainable rainforest tourism, and more)
There could be additional reason to legally protect rainforests if it can be proved that the preservation of rainforests help prevent other potential problems like a detrimental impact on global climate and weather patterns, decreasing biodiversity, species endangerment or extinction, impact on the products we source from rainforests, and so on.
– Changing economic conditions and factors to provide more economic incentive to leave rainforests standing
In order for rainforests to not be cleared without imposing legal restrictions, there generally has to be other ways to make money that don’t involve the clearing of forests i.e. as long as rainforests are economically worth more to cut down than to leave standing or conserve, deforestation will be a big threat.
Another way to say that is that there has to be an incentive to leave rainforests standing in a free market, or, economic activity has to be decoupled from the unsustainable clearing of rainforests.
In lower income countries, or countries with a weaker or less developed or diversified economy, there may not be as many other ways for individuals and groups to make money.
Locals need a way to provide a livelihood for themselves that involves both of preserving rainforests whilst also making money from them, or, they need the ability to earn income from other avenues other than clearing rainforests so that rainforests can be left standing.
The availability of resources elsewhere can also matter – if resources can’t be extracted elsewhere, like for example for wood, forests are more attractive to obtain these resources from.
Management of resources and countries by governments and those with power and legal and land rights also matters – they ultimately make the decisions on what happens.
Careful consideration should also be given to whether big companies, governments and other parties are clearing rainforests for an easy profit (and also in some instances exploiting rainforest resources), where there are other options to make money that don’t involve clearing rainforests.
More diversified, developed and stronger economies, more sustainable acquisition of resources, more sustainable management of resources and forests by those in power, and other factors can help to address some of the above points.
Consumption rates of the world in general also matter – the higher consumption rates are – the greater the likelihood that resources have to be extracted from places like rainforests, or land has to be cleared for other land uses to increase production for this higher consumption rate.
Individual Approach To Saving Rainforests
An approach for the individual might involve:
– Supporting products and companies that support rainforest conservation
Examples of this might include not suing resources that have an origin from rainforests, or weren’t produced on land that was cleared in a rainforest area.
Alternatively, it could involve supporting products and services that use practices that are sustainable towards rainforests
The Benefits That Rainforests & Tropical Rainforests Offer, & The Functions They Serve
Some of the benefits or functions that rainforests might contribute to humans, society and ecosystems might include:
Rainforests contain heavy concentrations of biodiversity, along with the soils around the world
Biodiversity is particularly important for ecosystems to function, which in turn benefits humans as well
The diversity of life that a tree can support is incredible.
A single tree in the tropical rainforest can house up to 2,000 different species of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fungi, mosses and epiphytic plants!
– Impact The Planet’s Climate, Weather Patterns, & Natural Systems
For example, rainforests.mongabay.com indicates that:
‘[Tropical rainforests can impact local and global weather through absorption and creation of rainfall and exchange of atmospheric gases, and when tropical rainforests are cut down or cleared, this changes …] the reflectivity of the earth’s surface, which affects global weather by altering wind and ocean current patterns, and changes rainfall distribution’
– Provide Products To Society & The Economy
Some of the products we use in society and as part of the economy may be sourced from rainforests
Medicines are an example of products sourced from rainforests, and rainforests can also be a part of food security and diversity
It’s estimated we source about 5000 different products from trees in general.
– Other Benefits & Functions
Such as helping to prevent flooding, soil loss and siltation
Why There Might Be Concerns About Clearing Rainforests
Apart from no longer having the benefits and functions that rainforests might offer, there might be a few other concerns with clearing rainforests.
They can include but aren’t limited to:
– Rainforests can take far longer to be restored than man made forests and tree plantations, and may sometimes never return to their original condition.
Saying that another way – the effects of clearing rainforests may be irreversible in some cases.
One example of this is species extinction.
– Local populations may be displaced, or may struggle to find other viable ways to make a livelihood for themselves if they depended on the rainforests prior
Beyond some of these concerns, there’s also the general effects of deforestation to consider
Tropical Tree Canopy Loss Rate In The Recent Past
It appears tropical tree canopy loss has not slowed or plateaued in the recent past:
Globally, tropical tree canopy loss has almost doubled over the past decade (weforum.org)
How To Save Rainforests, & Reverse Deforestation & Declining Canopy Cover
We’ve put together a separate guide that lists potential sustainable forest management practices.
But, below are some potential society wide, and also some individual level solutions to save rainforests.
Some effective solutions rely on understanding the key reasons why rainforests are being cleared, and engineered solutions around those reasons/causes.
Government intervention and protection, decoupling profit and economic activity from deforestation, and purchasing products that don’t contribute to the unsustainable clearing of rainforests can all be general solutions to saving rainforests.
Some more in depth potential solutions are outlined below …
Potential Society Wide Solutions
We have synthesised and paraphrased some potential solutions and explanations of those solutions from a Weforum.org article, that outlines steps that Costa Rica took to bring deforestation to zero, and increase canopy cover:
Restrict the number of logging permits
Create a national forestry commission to police forest activity
Introduce a system of payments for environmental services … to help reduce poverty, especially in poor rural areas
Introduce a National Forestry Fund to provide landowners per-acre financial incentives to conserve their land and prevent it degrading, which can lead to improved land management and reforestation. Individuals and entire communities benefit from the fund via jobs and income. A fund can be financed by foreign investment and loans, as well as internal revenues from fossil fuel taxation.
General safeguarding of rainforests by policy makers – especially to secondary rainforests
Focus on both natural forests and man made forests
Understand that human land clearance for agriculture is the key driver of large-scale deforestation
Understand that climate change might cause accelerated deforestation
Communities with rights to resources conserve those resources … [and] communities without rights have no reason to conserve … and deforestation will ensue
If you want to stop deforestation, give legal rights to [local] communities for these forests [as history has shown they manage them sustainably]. [This has happened in Brazil in some parts]
The above approach is a double win, as locals can still make an income, and forests can better be managed and sustainably preserved
[There can be challenges though …]
One problem being faced is that under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism, carbon sinks and carbon credits are being sold off to companies in the name of conservation – but this money isn’t going to locals as the legal, logistical and scientific barriers are too high. Governments don’t help out local populations either.
Governments with international environment groups and corporations are the ones usually profiting from it [and, this happens in the DRC to an extent]
[Poor and local populations often depend on rainforests to make a living, and commercial and industrial agriculture and logging can be hard to turn down for poor countries]
[Subsistence farming, logging and clearing for agriculture are the main reasons for deforestation]
Closing or fencing off rainforests doesn’t work
What can work to reduce deforestation is …
[There needs to be economic incentive to keep a rainforest standing]
[Give poor farmers a sustainable way to make a living that doesn’t involve destruction of rainforests]
[Make more productive and sustainable use of the land already cleared and being farmed … instead of clearing new forest land]
Funding rainforest conservation efforts via payments for ecosystem services, commodity roundtables, eco tourism, bio-prospecting fees, corporate sponsorship
Once funding is in place, these steps can be taken – expand protected areas, increase surveillance of and patrols of protected areas, build research facilities for training local scientists and guides, establish programs that promote sustainable use, compensate displaced people, ensure economic success is decoupled from deforestation, encourage other forms of employment and entrepreneurship
In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed.
Potential Solutions On The Individual Level
[Individuals can take the following steps to help save rainforests:]
Reduce paper and wood consumption … and try to buy recycled or alternative plant fibre products instead (like bamboo)
Reduce oil consumption (helps address deforestation)
Reduce beef consumption (helps address land clearing for agriculture)
Hold businesses accountable – support companies that support rainforests, and stop buying from those who don’t
Invest in rainforest communities such as RAN’s Protect-an-Acre Program
Join a local forest preservation group
Support Rainforest Action Network
[Individuals can take the following steps to help save rainforests:]
Support organisations that work to save global rainforests through incentive-based initiatives, education and conservation programs
Try to stay away from palm oil products
How Many Trees Might We Actually Need On Earth?
This guide outlines in more detail how many trees we may actually need on Earth