Importance of Natural Resources

How to Actually Save the Rainforest


This episode of Real Science is brought
to you by Curiosity Stream. Watch thousands of documentaries for free for
31 days at curiositystream.com/realscience It’s been all over the news
lately. There have been a record-breaking number of fires ravaging the Brazilian
Amazon rainforest this year – manmade fires,
intentionally set to clear land for agriculture, which then spread
uncontrollably. The National Institute for Space Research says it has detected
more than 74 thousand fires between January and August. In comparison there
were fewer than 40,000 for the same period in 2018. It is shocking to see it
happening to a place many of us consider to be a pristine lush expanse. And most
of us looking on from thousands of miles away from behind our computer screens
feel helpless. Members of the G7 summit pledged 22 million dollars to help fight
the fires. And over the past decade Norway has donated 1.2 billion dollars
to help conserve the Amazon and Germany has contributed 68 million dollars.
However they’ve both stopped their contributions because of doubts over
Brazil’s efforts to reduce deforestation. Despite money pouring in over many years
to try to battle the problem, international campaigns, summits, and
boycotts, it just isn’t working. The recent fires are just a symptom of an
ongoing problem of unregulated and out-of-control clearing for agriculture.
Across the world, in South America, Africa, and Asia, the world’s rainforests are
being lost at a rapid pace. If current deforestation levels precede, the world’s
rainforests may completely vanish in as little as a hundred years. And there is
so much to lose. The diversity of plants and animals in the world’s rainforests
is staggering, especially in person. Seeing mist rise
above the canopy at sunrise while hearing Gibbon calls from miles away,
trekking through the forest at night and seeing alien like insects,
dodging snakes wrapped around branches, colorful ridiculous birds. The amount of
amazing creatures there is seemingly endless.
And the value that they have to the world is impossible to quantify. And so,
with all the terrible news stories we hear it’s easy to feel like there is no
hope. To see any animals losing their habitat is heartbreaking. However, despite
the headlines, all hope is not lost. There are things that can be done and people
who are doing everything in their power to ensure the rainforests survive the
recent onslaught of destruction. To understand what is being done and how,
let’s focus on one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, the
rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia, and in particular Borneo – home to recognizable
species such as orangutangs and pygmy elephant. Borneo’s natural forests
continue to be destroyed at a rapid pace. Between 1985 and 2005 Borneo lost an
average of 850 thousand hectares of forest every year. If this trend
continues, forest cover will drop to less than a third in coming years. And all
that deforestation has been devastating for wildlife. Nearly a hundred and fifty
thousand critically endangered Bornean orangutans died between 1999 and 2015 and there are less than 1500 surviving Borneo pygmy elephants. 10 to 15 percent
of the world’s unique plant and animal species live in this area and they are
all at risk of being wiped out entirely. And this is not to mention the
importance of the forest and its carbon storing abilities and how devastating
clearing it will be in the battle against climate change. It’s easy to
point out why deforestation is bad for biodiversity, and no one wants the
orangutans to die, so why is it happening? The answer to this question varies from
region to region and from year to year. In Brazil, cattle ranching is the leading
cause. In the DRC it’s largely due to unregulated or illegal logging for
timber. And in Borneo and the rest of Indonesia and Malaysia, the forests are
currently being cleared to make room for the most in-demand plant oil in the
world – palm oil. this huge demand for palm oil
can be traced back to the 1980s when the world learned the dangers of trans fats.
Food producers scrambled to find a suitable alternative – something cheap
with similar properties to trans fats but less damaging to human health. The
substance that ticked these three boxes was you guessed it, palm oil.
Then in the last few decades environmentalists ironically pushed for
an increase in biodiesel production to try to stop the release of carbon from
fossil fuels, not foreseeing the contradiction in their thinking. In the
US a law mandating that biofuels be incorporated into diesel promised to stop
the release of 4.5 billion tons of carbon over three decades. Biodiesel
production in the U.S. jumped from 250 million gallons in 2006 to more than 1.5
billion gallons in 2016. Like many well-intentioned plans this one did the
exact opposite of what it was supposed to and helped lead to the ongoing
decimation of one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks. By the 21st century the
palm oil boom was in full swing and thousands of square miles of lowland
forests across Borneo were planted with oil palms. Today Indonesia and Malaysia
supply 85% of the world’s palm oil, and whether we realize it or not palm oil is
in everything – pizza dough, lipstick, ice cream, laundry
detergent, soap, chocolate, instant noodles, fuel. It’s an extremely cheap and
versatile product and it’s nearly impossible to avoid in modern life.
Globally we each consume an average of 8 kilograms of palm oil a year. When you’re
in Borneo you can drive for hours and hours and hours and see nothing but palm
trees. And much of the forest you can see is under severe pressure with animals
being forced into smaller and smaller habitats. Trucks carrying the palm
kernels and trucks lugging out massive ancient trees zigzag across the
landscape. This leads to the hardest question of it all. What can be done
about it? There’s been a recent push to boycott palm oil products, like the
grocery chain Iceland is doing as explained in their controversial viral
ad. This kind of stuff feels nice and is easy for people to support. However,
Europe and the U.S. account for less than 14 percent of global palm oil demand. So
boycotts coming from these parts of the world are unfortunately not enough. Half
of global demand comes from Asia where within many of the developing economies
product price is what matters. And with palm oil accounting for 13.7 percent of
Malaysia’s gross national income and existing as Indonesia’s top export,
outright banning its cultivation is just not going to happen. The way to actually
save the rainforests is unfortunately way more
complicated. To save the rainforest we have to understand the rainforest. We
have to understand how it actually reacts to deforestation and degradation.
Obviously when an entire forest slashed and burned and logged, that ecosystem is
lost. But what about the surrounding forests, are they impacted by the
adjacent damage? Are any animals able to relocate? And if so, what kinds, how many?
What about partially degraded forests, or young forests that are being restored?
Can they support wildlife? Can some animals actually even live within the
palm oil plantations? Are wildlife corridors along rivers enough to promote
the movement of animals across a plantation landscape? How much forest can we actually lose before the damage is irreversible? These are the questions
that need to be answered to ensure the future of the Southeast Asian rainforest,
and in fact any threatened forest in the world. One group working on finding the
answers to these questions is a group of scientists nestled deep in the heart of
Malaysian Borneo at the SAFE project site. SAFE stands for the stability of
altered forest ecosystems and their goal is to research biodiversity and
ecosystem function change as forests are modified by human activities and to
learn whether preserving sections of forests within degraded landscapes can
protect biodiversity, and how much protection is needed to be effective. The
entire SAFE project experimental site has an area of 72 square kilometers
which is spread over existing palm oil plantations and untouched rainforest,
much of which is slated to soon be converted into palm oil plantations. The
site also contains a large virgin jungle reserve of 22 square kilometers which
will remain protected throughout the process. Within the total safe project
area the owners of the palm oil plantation have agreed to allow an
additional 8 square kilometres of land to be set aside as forest fragments.
These will be the experimental forest fragments that the scientists can study.
In addition to this Malaysian law prohibits the clearance of forests on
steep slopes and along rivers accounting for another approximately five square
kilometres. With this arrangement the scientists will be able to study the
effect of logging before during and after such forest conversion and can
also study the effects of forest corridors and reserves within damaged
forests. This type of experimental design is extremely valuable and
extremely rare. It is not often that scientists get to work with the
cooperation of the very people who are doing the damage that is being studied
and get to choose where their experimental sites are. In most cases
ecological research is carried out observationally, after the fact, which
does not produce as powerful of results as an experiment like this will. The
overall goal of the safe project is to determine the minimum critical size
forest fragments can be before they fail to operate as functional tropical
ecosystems. They are gathering data on animal populations, soil composition,
plant populations, hydrology, insect behavior, seed dispersal, everything that
a healthy tropical ecosystem needs and seeing how that changes in different
levels of forest destruction. And with this information the ultimate goal is to
find out the best way to sustainably farm palm oil – to find a compromise
between agriculture and conservation. And while this experiment is set to go on
for many years to come and the full results won’t be known until then, there
are already hundreds of papers pouring out of this research site and some of
the results already have big implications. One study for example found
that riparian reserves, the strips of forests that are protected along the
lengths of rivers, that have over 40 metres of natural vegetation on each
bank supported similar bird diversity to the control habitats found in continuous
protected forests. However to support equivalent numbers of birds of
conservation concern, reserves would need to be at least a hundred metres wide on
each bank. Another study concluded that over all mammal species richness was
conserved even in degraded forests, forests that otherwise might be thought
to be too damaged already to be worth protecting. And yet another study found
unexpectedly that there is no impact from land use changes on the biomass or
number of fish and small streams, suggesting that these fish could be a
sustainable food source for villages established in human modified forests or
in developed oil palm plantations. These are the types of results that SAFE wants
to use to inform how palm oil is farmed and in fact how any fragmented landscape
can be designed to best preserve the environment in the face of land-use
change. And once even more years of data have been collected the SAFE project
will inform relevant governments about the best land-use policy. For example, at
the moment governmental guidelines on the amount of
riparian reserves around rivers varies greatly. In Sabah, the law says that 20
meters of natural vegetation on either side of a riverbank has to be preserved.
In Indonesia it’s 50 meters, in other parts of Malaysia it’s 5 meters, and
other regions have different guidelines altogether. But as I mentioned before
some studies are already finding that maybe a hundred meters or more are
necessary to be sufficient wildlife corridors to preserve biodiversity.
Results like these will be funneled to policymakers and members of the round
table for sustainable palm oil to try to set up a system in which despite some
deforestation happening now, the rainforest can survive and rebound once
the local economies move on to other forms ofiIndustry one day in the future.
To really save the rainforest requires an unromantic often tedious compromise
between industry, ecology, and politics. None of it is easy, and with fairly
rampant corruption in many of the countries in question, undermining any
progress made, it can feel like an impossible battle. It will take years of
discussion from the decision-makers, long hours spent in the field, and integrity
from relevant politicians. But with all of these things working together, in
theory, there is hope for a future world still covered in rainforests. The subject
of deforestation is a massive one and there are many many things we need to
understand in order to save the world’s forests. Scientists everywhere are
tirelessly gathering data and discovering the answers needed to inform
conservation efforts. And while they are working to understand the rainforest, we
can work to understand their efforts and the ecology that surrounds the problem
by signing up to Curiosity Stream. Curiosity Stream has thousands of high
quality documentaries including many about environmental and ecological
subjects. You can learn more about the fascinating work being done to study the
impact of forest fires in the Amazon for example in the documentary called Amazon
Burning. It highlights the complex field work being done there and explains some
of the high-tech methods used for measuring carbon storage in tropical
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Reader Comments

  1. We’re joining in to help YouTube plant 20 million trees by donating $1,000 to the Arbor Day Foundation. Head over to teamtrees.org to join the effort in planting 20 million trees around the world by January 1st, 2020.

  2. Another, long term, solution is to uplift these countries economically.
    A first world country is one that is able and more willing to address environmental issues.

  3. Ganges river area is the world's most "gone" rain-forest.
    The area was thick forested one, all the way up to iron age.

    Sorta like Germany, but even more so.

  4. The first couple minutes you should tell the truth. All that money was actually denied by the Brazilian president. It wasn't that it didn't do enough it's that it never got put to use.

  5. This seems like the most honest take on deforestation. I hate it when eco nut jobs deny the humanity of the local inhabitants saying that they shouldn’t do this or can’t do that and we’re going to stop them.

  6. Please add subtitel for other language.. I need this for all my Friend who doesn't care with Flores..

    Sorry for bad grammar 🙁

  7. How about stop buying crap that contains palm oil? It is said that this is nearly unavoidable. Untrue. More and more producers offer palm oil free products. Many consumers are deliberately ignorant, lazy or stupid. And please send biodiesel to hell.

  8. First of all, we must consider the actual economic situation of the mentioned countries. The capability to care for the environment is just tangible when a certain wealthy level is reached. For instance, I live in Brazil. Here, most of the people struggle to buy food, like rice and meat, and the agriculture/cattle raising industries are among the most important economic assets we have. Proposing more regulations, laws and intervention is not an option, we need freedom in order to grow, just like any "first world" country experienced at some point in history. Why don't you destroy your ridiculously carbon emitting cities and plant trees instead? We all know the answer. Just let these countries mind their own business, grow and then have the possibility to face these issues by themselves.

  9. A way to avoid deforestation would be to subsidize unused land higher than the revenues that a palm oil plantation would generate there.

  10. Great Video, but please use less superlatives and worlds like always/never when not accurate. You want to be a scientific youtube channel 🙂

  11. Glad to see that you don't oversimplify or skim on crucial details in order dumb down the content and get more views

  12. I love the pragmatic, clear, earnest, and calm presentation of this fascinating topic. It’s refreshing to watch a rainforest video without over-the-top panic or hype. Thank you for your work.

  13. Hi , I'm Indonesian here , what highlihghted in this video related to Rainforest in Borneo are true , our country is busy with it's internal political wars that seems never ending , and now our country decided to move it's capital to the Borneo …

  14. so this video focuses almost exclusively on Palm Oil when it also explains here 3:27, that Palm Oil is basically 1/3 of the issue.
    will there be another video addressing the cattle ranching and what must be done to counteract it?

  15. Any man-made ecology to reduce climate change will always be a fraction as effective and many times more costly that simply preserving what we had at the beginning. This is a really valuable video.

  16. Awesome video! Would be great to have a citation on the bottom right of the video when you’re talking about specific studies – I know they’re in the description but I’m not sure which you’re talking about! Love it!

  17. Thank you for the amazing content. Goes to show that you don't need millions of subs or $ to make professional and outstanding content! Keep it up, you will make it to the millions in no time!

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