NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Someone Please Define "Rain Forests?"

July 10, 2000

In all the hype about "saving the rain forests," there has been little or no attempt to define what a rain forest actually is, some scientists observe.

Moreover, the notion that rain forests are being eaten up by development and will soon disappear is not validated by the facts.

  • The Times of London recently carried an article describing the overhyping of rain forest statistics -- accompanied, experts state, by a colored map which purported to identify rain forests, but actually bore no relationship to reality.
  • Even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization cannot define what a rain forest is, and prefers the meaningless term "tropical moist forest."
  • Extreme environmentalists predict that rain forests will be gone in 10 or 20 years, but there is no baseline for their predictions -- in other words, no year in which there was the "right" amount of rain forests.
  • The fact is that despite 12,000 years of human use, there are still more rain forests now than at the end of the Ice Age.

New research in Brazil suggests that only 12.5 percent of the previously mapped area of the Amazon has been deforested -- and one-third to one-half of that is fallow or in the process of regeneration. Thus, at any given moment, around 94 percent of the Amazon region is likely to be intact or in the process of regeneration.

Recent studies by anthropologists in West Africa have shown that the estimates of tree loss there are probably exaggerated by as much as two-thirds

Source: Philip Stott (University of London), "The Rain Forests Don't Need Saving," Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2000.


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