© 1995, 2009
by Tony Medley
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that a
plant in the rainforest contains the cure for AIDS. The bad news is
that the plant very likely has been permanently destroyed by man without
ever being discovered.
Don't read this if you don't like to be scared by facts. Avoid
this article if you want to continue living in a serene, comfortable
world believing that nothing changes much and the earth will be our
pleasant home forever. Throw this away and burn it if you want to keep
your false sense of faith and security that you feel mankind shares in
safeguarding mother nature.
Why? Because our wonderful life is dependent on the earth's
ecosystems. And one of the most important, if not the most important,
of earth's ecosystems is the rainforest. And the rainforests are being
systematically destroyed by government action and torpidity. This is
akin to the destruction of the great Buffalo herd in the 19th century,
but the consequences for mankind are far more dire.
The rainforest ecosystem has been called an energy utilization
complex far more efficient than any energy conservation system developed
by man. Rainforests circled the equator in a green belt for 60 million
years - but man
would have cleared them within the next 20 years!
So what? This is where it gets really scary. This is where you
should throw this article away and go out to play golf if you don't want
So what? OK, I'll tell you. Twenty five percent of our
prescription medicine comes from 10% of the known rainforest plants.
But, fasten your seat belt, only an estimated 5-25% of all plant species
have been found. 1,300 of the known 2,000 cancer-fighting
plants come from the rainforests. But only 1% of the total number of
plants have been studied for medicinal properties!
So what? In existence for 60 million years, 40% of the primary
tropical rainforest has been destroyed in 50 years! And by the end of
the century, less than 5 years away, there will only be 25% of it left!
57 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute! Mankind
destroys 17 million trees worldwide every day (that's equal to an
area three times bigger than Switzerland destroyed every year)!
At last count there were approximately 2,700 man-made
fires raging in the Amazon alone.
So what? It's been estimated that almost a quarter of the
atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution comes from burning the
rainforests. This causes what is popularly known as the "greenhouse
effect." The problem arises because the plants in the rainforest absorb
carbon dioxide and store it in beautiful plant mass. When the trees are
burned, the carbon dioxide is then released into the atmosphere,
destroying the most efficient and beautiful waste container imaginable.
The rainforests by themselves contain an estimated 90% of earth's
plant and animal life forms, 80 million insect species, 11 million
different plants. The rainforests convert carbon dioxide into oxygen
@ 27 tons per
acre per year! Without oxygen, well, need I spell it out?
An area as small as 1,000 acres of typical primary rainforest
contains as many as 600 species of flowering plants, 280 species of
trees, 600 types of butterflies, 40 types of reptiles, and 24 species of
Rainforests are the primary gene pools for most wheats,
coffees, and other foods upon which we depend.
So, maybe you're beginning to get the picture. But I can go on.
We need the rainforests for the oxygen they produce. We need the
rainforests for the medicine they produce. How many medicine-producing
plants are made obsolete without even knowing they exist each day
by our destruction?
At the present clearing rate, plant and animal species are becoming
extinct at the incredible rate of one species per hour (some data
indicate that the rate of extinction is much greater, more than 100
species per day)! Life forms that have been evolving for millions
of years are being wiped out every few minutes. In the United States we
have an Endangered Species Act that, for example, has committed $250
million to preserve the Kangaroo Rat. Compare this action we have taken
upon the concern we have with nations that are taking no action to
prevent the destruction of one species per hour.
Now, maybe you're beginning to get a small glimpse of the picture.
If you're still reading, maybe you're a little bit concerned. Maybe you
think you have the big picture. Now maybe you want to know some
What does all this mean? How does it work? OK. Those are fair
questions. So let me get down and dirty. Let's talk about
"relationships." No, not the "relationships" of which you might be
thinking. These are real "relationships." And what's really important
isn't the "relationship," it's the interrelationship.
There are more than 100,000 different types of fungi living in the
rainforest. They live off of decaying plants, which create ammoniac and
methane, which are the food for the fungi. The waste product of the
fungi is, what? NITROGEN, just exactly the fertilizer the trees need to
exist and grow! The fungi create far too much nitrogen. If the
nitrogen wasn't somehow consumed, it would destroy the fungi.
But the fungi weave into a network-like shape around the roots of
their host trees. Thus when the fungi excrete the nitrogen, they are
transporting it directly to the roots. The leaves produce the canopy of
the rainforest. Seventy percent of all life forms come out of the
Wait a minute, I'm not finished. The leaves produced by the trees
using the nitrogen produced by the fungi engage in photosynthesis, which
means that they take up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon
dioxide is produced by us, by you and me. It's our waste. Carbon
dioxide is one of the primary gases that cause the "greenhouse effect."
The leaves take the carbon dioxide, convert it into oxygen, and release
27 tons of oxygen per acre per year into our atmosphere!
There's more. If there is not enough decaying mass to feed the
fungi, the fungi send out a chemical message summoning vast numbers of
specialized ants to come in and cut leaves. The ants can't eat the
leaves because they can't digest fiber, only protein. So they carry the
leaves to the fungi to feed the fungi.
Here's where it really gets cute. The ants then eat the fungi
because fungus is protein and that's what ants need for their existence!
That's what I call an "interrelationship!"
But, wait a minute. Haven't we all heard about getting terrible
diseases from the rainforest because there are so many different
bacteria to which we have not been exposed? Didn't AIDS come from the
rainforest? Didn't the Ebola Virus come from the rainforest? Right.
That's exactly where they came from. And that's one of the reasons that
the preservation of the rainforest is so important.
Bear with me. In a healthy environment, mutating bacteria and
viruses are kept under check and balance because the healthy environment
will produce a way to deal with the uncontrolled explosion of the
mutations. That's the wonder of the inventiveness of nature, and it's
what we are destroying forever.
It's only a destructed environment, a rainforest that has
been damaged by human activity, that causes these terrible diseases that
attack and may destroy mankind. In an unhealthy environment, one
that has been destructed, the environment is not strong enough to combat
the mutating bacteria and viruses, so they have more chance to take
over, resulting in terrible scourges like AIDS and Ebola.
Well, you might say, let's just replant. Great idea. However, re-forestation
cannot restore the vital primary rainforest and its bio-diversity.
Incidentally, the rainforests contain as much as 90% of the world's bio-diversity
in less than 8% of the earth's surface! Secondary forests need more
than 2,000 years to convert back to primary forests. But that's
assuming that the topsoil remains, and it doesn't. Once the trees are
removed, the topsoil disappears because it is only two inches thick.
So, once the rainforests are removed by man, they are gone forever.
There's a big difference between our moderate forests, with which
we are familiar here in North America, and the tropical rainforest. For
one thing, our moderate forests get about 80% of their nutrition from
the breakdown of minerals in the soil. The tropical rainforest, on the
other hand, with only a two inch thick strand of nutritiously poor
topsoil, needs to get 80% of its nutrients from above the soil in
a symbiotic relationship with every other life form in this ecosystem.
Second, a tropical rainforest reacts like a single biological
entity. A disrupted canopy, for instance, is conceived by the forest
like an open wound. Rainforests may pull back as much as 2 miles
from either side of a road being built through it, until it can "heal"
itself. The narrow ecological niches prohibit most life forms from
crossing roads, thus isolating huge sections of the rainforest from the
Third, three-fourths of the rain in tropical rainforests comes from
its own evaporation! This means that when the forest is gone the rain
stops, thus making it impossible for the rainforest to regrow.
The countries who are destroying their rainforests are misinformed
and acting directly contrary to their best interests. The countries
that preserve their rainforests are much better off, economically, than
those that destroy them. A tragic example is on the island of
Hispaniola that is home to the countries of Haiti and the Dominican
Republic. There is a picture of the rainforest along the border between
these two countries accompanying this article. The Dominican Republic
area is filled with a lush rainforest. The border is a line where the
rainforest ends and the devastation wreaked by Haiti begins, as Haiti
has cut down its rainforest for burning wood. Haiti has the worst
economy in the hemisphere, whereas the Dominican Republic is
Even though the easy answer is to condemn the countries that are
destroying the rainforest, that's not fair. Most of these governments
are under staggering debt, pay high interest rates for their money, and
are combatting mind-boggling poverty. They feel that their rainforest
is one of their most valuable assets and a source of quick access to
cash. Instead of condemning Haiti, Brazil (where one reason for cutting
down the rainforest is to plant the new style of coffee plants), and the
others, the United States should be concentrating on educating them,
showing them how they can utilize this extraordinary and irreplaceable
asset. Our challenge is not to criticize and condemn. Rather, we should
devote the time and energy required into showing them how their
rainforest can contribute to their economy by preserving and maintaining
it. That's the challenge we face.
How critical can we be, anyway, here in the United States, about
such destruction by foundering countries? Rafael Angel Calderon
Fournier, the former president of Costa Rica, put it perfectly, when he
If the world doesn't know that the rainforest is a
world community asset, how can anyone blame a developing nation if they
look at it as a national asset?
We, here in the United States, have the knowledge. It's up to us to
educate the world about the value of the rainforest and to show
developing nations how much better off they will be economically if they
preserve it instead of cutting it down for firewood and other transitory
The rainforests may contain the answers to many of our medical
problems. They should be pampered and developed instead of being cut
down and burned. And it's up to us to turn this around and make it
Dr. Walter Moseneder is, presently, the voice crying in the
wilderness to save the rainforest. Dr. Moseneder resigned from his
career as an international business entrepreneur to found the Operation
Rainforest Foundation, a non profit organization.
Worldwide conservation of the rainforest can only be assured
through increased knowledge and awareness, which is directly
proportioned to the amount of research into the rainforest. There are
no facilities in the rainforest. No Hilton Hotels or Motel 6. No
airports or taxis. No travel agents. No roads. There is no
Dr. Moseneder has directed his energies to the primary issue of
finding out more about the rainforest. Right now we know virtually
So he has designed and is building, on a non profit basis, a unique
living facility, called a Mobile Base Camp (MBC) to facilitate
rainforest Research and Conservation. The MBC is designed to support 2
scientists for period of up to 4 weeks without contact with
civilization. If required an MBC can sleep up to five people. A
shortwave transmitter, combined with satellite communication
capabilities, ties the MBC to a central monitoring location for position
reports, supplies, emergencies and protection. They can be trucked in
or helicoptered in, and left in place (or moved). They provide the
facilities that don't exist otherwise to support the people who have to
do the research.
However, when located within the confines of the rainforest itself,
the MBC, or any camp, it totally incommunicado with the outside world
because the canopy of the rainforest prohibits any sound communication,
which is dependent upon line of sight.
Without Dr. Moseneder's MBCs, which cost an average of
$30,000-40,000 each, the alternative camps must be custom built with
costs exceeding $80,000 for the basic cabin and an additional $90,000
for the necessary truck. The MBC provides the opportunity for
sophisticated research in the rainforest itself without the numbing cost
of custom built living facilities.
How, you may ask, will an MBC help maintain the rainforest? Good
question. To understand this it's necessary to explain how the
scientific community works, and, specifically, how scientific research
has anything to do with the preservation of the rainforest.
If you've followed me this far, you understand the vast
biodiversity of life in the rainforest, and how much of it is
undiscovered. Scientists drool at the thought of being able to examine
the rainforest. A good example is Dr. Moseneder's son, Christian, who
lives in Austria.
The MBC provides Christian with exactly what he needs for his
research. Christian is an expert on flower beetles. He will collect
and study them in the African rainforest, setting up a base camp at the
perimeters of the forests to conduct study around the base camp,
including long term observations with the wallCmounted
cameras of the MBC.
Further, he can use the MBC after a walking expedition to determine
and package specimens, enter collecting and observation-data
in the on-board
computer, and get a good rest for his next hike into the depths of the
forest. The vital features of the MBC will provide him with elaborate
filters and refrigeration system (which is also suitable for his vials
serum). The MBC will allow Christian to extend his stays in the
rainforest almost indefinitely, due to its comfort and mobility.
The MBC contains a built in Satellite Global Positioning System,
which can pinpoint locations within a few feet. As a result, location
of all of Christian's discoveries will be known and saved on computer so
that it may be instantly located at any future time by anyone who is
interested. No guesswork.
Another aspect of the MBC is that it has an optionally available
Satellite Communication equipment through which Christian's observations
may be sent to researchers around the world. Thus, this equipment can
immediately process vital information and even direct him to other
Christian's research, like that of other scientists using the MBCs,
will help enlarge the small window of information we presently have on
tropical rainforests. More information of biological processes in these
biotopes leads to a higher recognition of its immense value for mankind.
Most important, as more information is learned about what is
available in the rainforest, the rainforest-rich
countries will eventually recognize the value and protect their most
valuable natural resource for the countries' long term enrichment.
Other scientists with other specialties will use the MBC to study
their interest. With enough MBCs available, the rainforest will be much
more open to scientists exploring its secrets. This is truly the new
frontier for exploration, not the ocean floor or space, but the
rainforest. Eventually, if we can save the rainforest, one by one,
little by little, the vast treasures of the rainforest can be
discovered. From these discoveries, new miracle drugs can be developed
that could make penicillin look like a mild sedative.
These are the things that we must show the host countries, that the
rainforest has value far and beyond the value it provides in the form of
firewood or places to grow coffee trees. We must show then that the
rainforest is their most valuable asset. The MBC is the vehicle for us
Dr. Moseneder formed Operation Rainforest to build and distribute
the MBCs. Operation Rainforest will solicit Fortune 500 corporations to
provide the funds to acquire MBCs at cost. The MBCs will then be
designated with the sponsoring corporation's name prominently displayed,
and will then be deployed in selective locations worldwide to further
research and protection of the rainforest and the education of the
public. Operation Rainforest will own the MBCs and will rent them to
qualifying scientists at a rent that will be equal to the operating
expenses of the MBC.
Operation Rainforest could be the rainforest's last, best hope for
survival. We cannot remain silent while this irreplaceable asset of
incalculable value is destroyed.