In the international name-calling business, comparing geographical places to body parts is a dirty, but quite popular game. While people of different nationalities spare no means to avoid being associated with certain body parts, most people agree about what the lungs look like: they are green, and are commonly known as rain forests.
You have probably heard the term “green lungs of the world” so often that you think of it as nothing more than a tired old hippie cliché. Be that as it may, new research adds considerable significance to this nick-name. And just as most humans don’t think much about their lungs until they stop functioning, it is the disappearance of the rain forests that has brought new attention to their function as green lungs. According to the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme (GCP), deforestation is the second most serious cause of global warming.
The Independent reports that deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases. Most people know that living rain forests absorb CO2. Thus, cutting them down will lead to less CO2 being absorbed, and consequently more CO2 in the atmosphere. What people normally tend to forget, is that when trees are cut down and eventually burned or left to decompose, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. According to the British Stern report, destruction of forests will in the next four years alone pump more CO2 into the atmosphere than every flight in the history of aviation.
The good news? Reducing emissions can be achieved quickly and relatively cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, Congo and elsewhere. Still, standing forest was not included in the original Kyoto protocols and is not mentioned in the report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointing to ways to stop global warming. Most of the world’s rain forests are located in desperately poor countries who simply cannot afford to leave their rain forests alone. Papua New Guinea, for instance, has declared it has no choice but to continue deforestation unless it was given financial incentives to do otherwise.
Hylton Philipson of Rainforest Concern explained to the Independent:
– In a world where we are witnessing a mounting clash between food security, energy security and environmental security – while there’s money to be made from food and energy and no income to be derived from the standing forest, it’s obvious that the forest will take the hit.
It is time for the developed world to put a price on the rain forests, not just as timber, but as the green lungs they really are. Even though saving the rain forests may be cheap compared to other climate saving initiatives, it will still cost money. But, hey, so does lung surgery!