Thanksgiving is an opportune time for us to sit and reflect on the things for which we are truly grateful. Given that most of us have emerged from a weekend spent with family and friends, it is likely that we are entering this new week having cherished the time we spent with those we love. Now is also a good time to take a minute to ponder some of the things that we should be most thankful for, but that we most likely take for granted. And, yes, if you’re guessing that I’m talking about rainforests and the ecological services they provide, you’re absolutely right.
If you happen to be from Sao Paolo, Brazil, then there’s a good chance that you are very consciously thinking about how grateful you are for the Amazon rainforest right now. Residents of that city saw their reservoirs drop to about 5% of total capacity two years ago. The effects of that catastrophic drought on the ecology, infrastructure, and population were devastating. It was only thanks to drastic measures taken by the local government and water utility, and some climatic good fortune, that the looting, violence, and theft was put to an end. Sabesp, the water company that supplies all 21 million inhabitants of the city, has put into place some longer-term solutions to prevent shortages of that scale from reoccurring. A key measure has been the reforestation of over 45,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest (*1). Seeing as almost all of the rain that Sao Paolo receives comes from the Amazon, the direct link between deforestation and decrease in water supply is irrefutable. So, for the citizens of Sao Paolo to be able to drink clean water, flush their toilets, and take a shower, they have the rainforest to thank.
On the other side of the planet, residents of cities like Bihar, India, are spending this holiday season feeling thankful that the rains they’ve been seeing have subsided. For centuries, the agrarian population of Bihar enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the monsoon season: every year the 90 days of rain they received would replenish the paddies and reinvigorate their farming cycles. For the past 3 decades, though, the city has come to view the rainy season, once such a boon to the local economy, as a catastrophe of epic proportions. This year alone over 500 people were killed during Bihar’s monsoon season, and millions were left homeless and jobless (*2). As river waters run down from the Himalayas, the heavy deforestation the mountain range has seen over the last 40 years has meant that the foliage is no longer able to absorb run-off from riverbeds. The increase in soil erosion also means that floodwaters contain an excess of silt and sediment, creating a snowball effect as the water cascades down the mountainside. To try to rectify the situation would require reforestation on an absolutely massive scale.
Regardless of where in the world you live, now is as good a time as any to reflect on what our planet’s rainforests do for billions of people worldwide. If your neighborhood hasn’t flooded in the past year, you have trees (and infrastructure and city planning) to thank for that. If the area in which you live hasn’t faced crippling drought, there’s a strong chance that the natural vegetation that surrounds you has had a part to play. The reality of the situation is that the effects of climate change and deforestation on your life, family, and home are more immediate and apparent that you may care to believe. So, this holiday season, please don’t forget that one of the greatest gifts you could ever give is to help protect the trees and forests that keep you and those you love safe.