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Photo: Neil Palmer

Climate Change and Our Rainforests

After years of research, there is no longer any doubt that climate change is not just occurring, but that it is caused by human actions—mostly by our reliance on fossil fuels, but also by the massive deforestation that has occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries.  By protecting our forests, we help fight the worst effects of climate change.


What is climate change?

Climate change refers to the increase in the Earth’s average temperature experienced over the last century, and projected to continue into the next. In the last hundred years, the global temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Less than 1.5 degrees doesn’t sound like a big difference but that small change in temperature is leading to dramatic changes on our planet.


What are the consequences of climate change?

We don’t know all of the consequences a changed climate will bring, but some changes are already underway.  For example, the shrinking ice sheets at the Earth’s poles, glacial retreat on land, and decreased snow cover over the globe and decreased access to fresh water. The oceans are also affected, as sea levels rise putting billions of people in coastal regions at risk.  As the oceans themselves become warmer and more acidic, the oceans as we know them may change as not only mammals are at risk but also most fish.
Small global changes in temperature can also lead to significant and often unpredictable variation in weather and climate on a local level. Some regions have experienced increased floods, droughts or heatwaves, as a result of shifting rainfall and climate patterns.
Due to its global nature, climate change represents the greatest challenge to human kind and our ways of life in the 21st century, and perhaps ever. How, and to what degree we attempt to address it will have implications for our planet and every living thing that will last for thousands upon thousands of years.

Sunset over the Amazon–It’s not just beautiful, the Amazon is one of the frontlines of the battle against Climate Change (Photo Sara and Tzunki)

What do rainforests have to do with climate change?

The world’s forests interact with the atmosphere and the carbon cycle in key ways. Plants absorb harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it into organic carbon, which is found in all living things. In 2009, forests absorbed about half of fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, forests can be considered a carbon “sink”  actually storing more carbon that the atmosphere itself. That’s right-the more forests we have, the more carbon we take out of the atmosphere!
By protecting our forests and engaging in reforestation projects in places where our forests have been cleared or damaged we help trap carbon that is already causing climate change. Because of this, almost every nation has committed to help protect our remaining rainforests at the United Nations’s Climate Change conferences.  It’s up to us to hold them accountable to their promises!

Why does deforestation matter?

The flip­ side to the forests’ ability to trap carbon is what happens when we cut down our forests. Deforestation accounts for about 11% of annual greenhouse gas emissions globally. Deforestation thus poses a double­ threat to our Earth’s climate.  Cutting down our trees allows  harmful greenhouse gases to escape into the atmosphere. At the same time, it destroys one of the natural systems the Earth has for absorbing  those same gases from the atmosphere. Globally, deforestation is occurring on a massive scale: we lose enough tropical rainforest to fill the state of New York every year!
It gets worse! As our climate changes, our forests are at greater risk, the latest research has shown that tropical rainforests are now at risk of wildfires — something previously almost unheard of. In addition, as the climate changes many of the trees, plants and animals that make up our tropical forests may not be able survive as their environment changes, leading to more deforestation.

But there is a solution!

Indigenous and community ownership and management of our rainforest lands. Multiple Studies have demonstrated that when Indigenous communities have the legal right to their land two things happen:

Forests under the control of  Indigenous communities tend to be healthier, storing more carbon than similar lands without the same protection.
Forests protected by Indigenous communities are also associated with lower rates of deforestation, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

For example in Brazil, which has relatively strong (though certainly far from perfect) protections for indigenous ands. The areas demarcated for and managed by Indigenous communities the forests are healthier and store 36% more carbon per acre and emit 27 times less carbon dioxide from deforestation than forests without the same protection.

So, how can you help?

Don’t make these brave communities fight for our planet alone!

Indigenous communities are at the forefront of our struggle to protect our forests and our climates. They often put their very lives on the line as they battle illegal logging in the forests, fight against clearing forest lands for ranching and farming of palm oil or oil concessions.
By becoming a Rainforest Defender you can ensure that the men and women who are on front lines aren’t standing there alone. Your donation ensures that communities have the tools they need to protect their lands–giving Indigenous communities the funds to fight for the legal right to their lands and defend them for years to come.  Just $5 saves one acre of rainforest!