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We need their animals and plants. Though rainforests cover less than 2 per cent of the Earth's surface, they are home to half of the Earth's plants and animals. A typical four square mile patch of rainforest contains as many as 1,500 species of flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 400 species of birds and 150 species of butterflies.
Keeping the Planet Healthy
Rainforests also act as the world's thermostat by helping to regulate its temperatures and weather patterns. In particular, rainforests are critical in maintaining the Earth's supply of drinking and fresh water: one-fifth of the world's fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin. All this water stabilises the temperature across the continent and helps prevent damaging droughts and forest fires.
The Amazonian forests also act as a huge sponge for carbon dioxide - the plants absorb it as they grow. If the forests are cut down all that stuff will come out again. In fact up to about 20 per cent of CO2 emissions come from the destruction of rainforests. If the destruction of the Amazon rainforest continues, it will no longer absorb CO2 but actually release it, the WWF warns, and that could be a tipping point for global warming.
Before 1500, there were approximately 6 million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon. But as the forests disappeared, so too did the people. In the early 1900s, there were less than 250,000 indigenous people living in the region. Across the world, nearly 90 per cent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for their livelihoods.
So far more than 2,000 tropical forest plants have been identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties.
What You Can Do
Support rainforest protection charities. And if you are buying wooden furniture choose products that are grown sustainably in approved schemes - particularly if you are buying hardwood furniture. Most importantly, help tackle global warming, since climate change is certain to damage these forests.
You could even grow your own rainforest on a tiny scale. If you live in a city, say, planting can actually help reduce local temperatures. By altering the amount of greenery in cities, researchers have found that temperature increases due to global warming could be reduced. Green roofs, in particular, could make a substantial difference, they say.