Sunday 1 April 2018

Book Review – Rainforest by Tony Juniper

Written by Allan Todd

Whilst I strongly recommend buying/reading Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics which I reviewed here last week, there is another - very much connected - new book which should also be essential reading for all those concerned about the environment and climate breakdown. This is Tony Juniper’s latest book, Rainforest.

The main connection between Tony Juniper’s book and Doughnut Economics is that Rainforest deals with two of the planetary boundaries which have already been exceeded/over-shot since 1950:

           Land conversion
           Biodiversity loss

Land conversion and the rainforests

Many of the problems associated with ever-growing land conversion is because of the great demand for palm oil and meat - with huge swathes of tropical and temperate rainforests still being destroyed by the activities of large global corporations:

As a consequence, deforestation in the rainforests continues to be a growing problem.  Furthermore, much of this continuing destruction is amplified by organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF which - in line with their neoliberal outlook - have tried to move public spending in developing countries away from ‘unproductive’ areas - such as the environment. Instead, such countries have been pushed into exporting natural resources via the ‘liberalisation’ of trade and foreign investment. The latter, typically, then requires massive road systems to be driven through the rainforests - with all the attendant negative consequences. 

The global importance of rainforests

As has long been know, the rainforests act as the ‘lungs of the planet’ - absorbing/capturing carbon, and releasing oxygen. However, it is now increasingly understood how the rainforests - whether in the Americas, Asia or Africa - play an incredibly important role in the planet’s rainfall and freshwater systems. Not only do rainforests have a lot of rain - they also create rain and help move it great distances across the globe. The Amazon is, in fact, Earth’s largest freshwater system - and, like other rainforests, creates large-scale air movements which, in turn, effectively pump moisture-laden air inland.

But destroying great swathes of rainforest results in reduced rainfall (the clue’s in the word ‘rainforest’!) and creeping desertification in adjoining areas. Such destruction also reduces the planet’s ability to stay temperate - in part, by destroying the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon. Thus, in turn, making extreme weather events much more common, and much more destructive.  Ultimately, then, deforestation of the rainforests makes it more difficult for the Earth’s delicate systems to keep increases in global temperatures below 2 degrees C. As most thinking people now realise, temperature increases beyond that figure will, at best, make life much more difficult and unpleasant. At worst, if tipping points are passed, then it is quite likely that life on planet Earth will become unsustainable.

Biodiversity loss

Apart from such problems mentioned above, deforestation is also associated with increasing biodiversity loss - or, to put it more bluntly, the extinction of many species of flora and fauna. This is such a huge problem, that many scientists are describing our era as the ‘Sixth Extinction’.

Yet, as Tony Juniper points out, we’ve only just begun to understand how many potential health benefits for humans are locked up in various rainforest plants. Many medicines - such as anti-cancer drugs, medications to prevent cardiovascular disease and painkillers - were first identified among rainforest species. Altogether, over 28,000 plant species have already been identified as having some medical benefits. The more research is done, the greater the number of helpful plants that are found in the mega-diverse rainforests.

Areas that are both biologically unique and under pressure are known as ‘biodiversity hotspots’. So far, 34 biodiversity hotspots have been identified - to qualify as hotspots, these regions have to have at least 1500 unique higher plants AND to have lost at least 70% of the their original natural habitat. Together, these make up about 2.5% of the Earth’s land - and are home to a truly staggering 60% of the world’s entire animal and plant species!

What on Earth is the 8th great ape doing?

In addition to the mounting threats to so many plant species, several mammals are also increasingly under threat in the remaining rainforests. Such as the tiger in Thailand.  Many of the great apes - in particular gorillas and orangutans - are also facing extinction in the wild.

The recent discovery of a new species of orangutan in Sumatra, means that scientists now recognise, in addition to humans, 7 other types of great ape. Sadly, many of these latter great apes are now seriously under threat because of the activities of the Earth’s 8th. great ape - aka humans! Not the kindest, most caring way to treat our very-near cousins!

But don’t despair - there IS hope!

Despite all of the above, there is hope that we can still turn things around - and give all life on planet Earth a really sustainable, secure and just future for centuries to come.

Kate Raworth’s book points out, very clearly, the way to go with economics - if her work can capture the minds of economists and politicians, then things will change. If such groups remain impervious then, if civil society can get behind such ideas and visions, economists and politicians can be forced to change.

Similarly, Tony Juniper points out how self-interest is already beginning to shape the actions of some of the world’s biggest corporations. Several have come to realise that continued loss of the rainforests will seriously jeopardise their agricultural businesses. Whilst a growing number of developing countries are realising the economic benefits of eco-tourism as an alternative and less-destructive way of generating funds badly-needed to finance health and education projects. 

In the end, as it often is, it’s a question of doing some joined-up thinking - and these two books help join up a lot of the most important environmental dots. These books also underline the need to do whatever we can to slow environmental degradation - such as doing all we can to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are not increased further by such climate crimes as fracking. In relation to that, remember to keep checking our website for the latest updates on the forthcoming three months of United Resistance at Preston New Road. 

This book and Doughnut Economics show it is most definitely NOT too late to act! At such times, it’s useful to remember Antonio Gramsci’s advice:

Pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will!

One thing is certain: if you do nothing, things will never improve!

Allan Todd is a member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party, an anti-fracking activist and a Green Left supporter

No comments:

Post a Comment