The Air We Breathe

 

Do us a favor. It’ll be quick and easy, we promise. You can do it from where you’re sitting right now. Here’s what we ask of you: take a breath. Yes, take a nice, deep breath and spend the next few moments pondering what you just did. Respiration is something that every living organism on the planet has in common; we humans do it every second of every day, and our existences are predicated upon our continual ability to do so. Yet, most of us very rarely take the time to think about the air we breathe – where it comes from, where it goes, what is in it. But, if we’re going to talk oxygen, we need to talk rainforests.
Misty rainforest horizontal view

At this time of rejuvenated interest in environmental issues, it is important to not only focus on the detrimental effects of Climate Change, but also on the myriad priceless services the natural environment provides. The full scope of ecological services that rainforests provide are yet to be fully comprehended by scientists and researchers. It is estimated that around 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients that are found in rainforests, yet less than 1% of the flora in these forests has yet been tested by scientists. When it comes to the air we breathe, there is a good reason that rainforests are called the “Lungs of the Planet”. The Amazon rainforest itself circulates over 20% of the world’s oxygen![1] Yet, as the equivalent of 48 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every minute, we must think about the astronomical costs we will face in the future when we must find ways to replace that invaluable service.

Not only do rainforests produce the oxygen necessary for our survival, but they also purify the air we breathe by removing many pollutants that accumulate in the atmosphere. As global climatic concentrations of carbon dioxide build up, so too can increasing amounts of toxic substances like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene be found in the air around us. Many plants, including common house plants, have the ability to take in pollutants and turn them into food, thereby preventing them from being re-released into the atmosphere[2]. Rainforests cover less than 3% of the world’s landmass, essentially functioning as a massive air purifier that extends around the planet. Tragically, though, it is estimated that around half of the world’s forests have been cut down, most in the past 50 years[3].

On June 22nd we celebrate the inaugural World Rainforest Day, a global effort to raise awareness for and take actions to protect these invaluable resources. We envision concerned citizens around the planet learning about the importance of rainforests, refraining from eating meat products, avoiding using products with palm oil, donating to organizations like Rainforest Partnership and others that work tirelessly in direct rainforest preservation work, and finally, and most easily, taking time out of their day to take a deep breath and appreciate the irreplaceable work that rainforests are constantly doing for the world.

 

A celebration like World Rainforest Day helps bring to the forefront of our collective consciousness the troubling image of a world without forests. How many air purifiers would it take to replace the Amazon Rainforest?

 

[1] “COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND FACTS.” Rainforest Foundation US. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2017.

 

[2] “Air Purification via Plants and Trees.” Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology. Wageningen University, 2 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.

 

[3] Bradford, Alina. “Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects.” LiveScience. Purch, 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 June 2017