by Rita Goldner
My illustration this month comes from the Desert Botanical Garden. The DBG invites painters from the Scottsdale Artists League to come for free and paint the landscapes. So during Saturdays in March and the first two Saturdays of April, we have been, and will be, painting up a storm! Figuratively, of course, as the weather has been beautiful. However, since I needed a rain scene for my April blog, I used my artistic license and added rain, puddles, and umbrellas to this formerly sunny scene.
My interest in rain precipitated (pun intended) from my research of rainforests for my recent book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. I started out knowing about as much as everyone else: that rainforests have tall trees, are warm and moist year-round, and are home to a bunch of unusual animals and plants.
Then I learned the impressive statistics: 50 to 260 inches of rain a year; 77 to 88% humidity; and home to more than 50 percent of the earth’s animals and plants, even though they cover less than 6 percent of the land. Statistics are usually boring and sterile to me, but in this case, they led me to research further than what I needed just to write my book.
I see now that there is much more to this fragile ecosystem than meets the eye. I originally thought, as many do, that the importance of the rainforests was in their ability to convert CO2 to oxygen, making them the “lungs of the world.” I’ve since learned that this isn’t really true, since decaying plant matter uses up most of the oxygen the rainforests produce. The actual chief source of the world’s oxygen is plankton in the oceans. But we can’t infer that this newfound knowledge in any way detracts from the importance of the rainforests, because scientists now report that they are:
- The air-conditioners of the world. The dark floor and undergrowth absorb heat from the sun. The land near the equator, without this foliage, would reflect heat into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
- The pharmacy of the world. More than 25 percent of today’s medicines come from rainforest plants, and these plants make up less than 1 percent of the total collection of rainforest species, which we have yet to test for their healing properties. It is likely that our cure for cancer and other diseases is somewhere in that other 99 percent. It’s also likely that we won’t find the cures if deforestation continues at its alarming rate. Roughly 1.5 acres of rainforest are destroyed every second. At this rapid rate of destruction, the rainforests are predicted to be gone in 40 years.
- The biodiversity source for the world. Tropical rain forests have a higher level of biodiversity (variety of plant and animal species) than any other place in the world, and a significant portion of these is endangered.
The rainforest is being cut down and burned for three main reasons: (1) land for crops, (2) lumber, and (3) grazing pastures for livestock. All of these endeavors produce money, and since money drives most decision-making around the world, the solution must also include money.
Making an income from deforested rainforest land is very short-sighted, because the land itself is not suited for crops and livestock. When cleared, without any decomposing plant life, it’s relatively infertile. The very real and sustainable way to make money from the rainforest is by harvesting fruits like avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos, and tomatoes; vegetables, including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash, and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric, coffee and vanilla, and nuts including Brazil nuts and cashews.
Also, plants with medicinal value are sold to prescription drug companies. If hardwoods were harvested in a sensible way, allowing for re-growth, the source would be renewable. The current irresponsible way of logging depletes the wood source permanently. Statistics show that rainforest land cleared for cattle yields $60 per acre. Harvesting timber yields $400 per acre. If the renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the yield is $2,400 per acre.
The problem is not insurmountable, but it does involve a lot of education and re-thinking of ingrained habits and ideas. Certainly the cost is worth the effort. The scope of it was explained by Harvard’s Pulitzer Prize winning biologist, Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s:
The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapses, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us for.
Some of the information for this blog was taken from these sources:
I will email a hi-res printable JPG of my April Rain illustration that accompanies this post to subscribers of my “Orangutan News.” Sign up here: http://tinyurl.com/znms43b
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: ADay in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure andJackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.