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The equatorial rainforests represent one of the planet’s most diverse and productive ecosystems, but deforestation has destroyed more than half of the Earth’s rainforests. Tropical forests once covered more than 14 percent of the planet, but only grow over about 6 percent of the Earth today. If current rate of clearing continues, these critical habitats could disappear from the planet within 100 years.

Economic reasons fuel most deforestation. Governments often grant logging rights and low prices to wealthier nations that demand tropical woods for furniture, flooring and other items. Power plants and industries rely on the trees to produce electricity, and local citizens are encouraged to expand farmland by clear-cutting forests. Paper companies reduce rainforest trees to pulp, and the cattle industry slashed and burned over 10 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest alone since 1996 to make room for ranches. Forests are also cleared for agricultural pursuits, most commonly by the soy industry and subsistence farmers. Governments clear the forests to provide space for transit and service roads. Hydroelectric projects flood the forests, and mining operations clear-cut them to make room for industry.

These and other reasons have caused the destruction of billions of acres of lush rainforest. In the 20-year span between 1960 and 1980, nearly a third of Asia’s rainforests were destroyed. Over 90 percent of all the rainforests in West Africa have been completely cleared, while the Brazilian Amazon rainforest was reduced by 91.4 million acres between 1980 and 1990.

Currently, approximately 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed every day. As a result, an estimated 135 insect, plant and animal species disappear from the planet daily. That equals 50,000 species per year as deforestation rages on.

Deforestation is not the only issue affecting the Earth’s rainforests. Climate change will likely have a significant effect on the ecosystem’s future. Rising temperatures and droughts caused by the emission of greenhouse gases may kill off up to 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest. The loss would exacerbate climate change because these forests, like all others, act as a carbon sink to soak up greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some researchers believe that a die-back of the Amazon rainforest due to global warming has already begun; further, they believe that the damage is irreversible.

The future of the Earth’s rainforests depends on humans. If deforestation continues at current rates, there will not be enough rainforest left to sustain the present rate of cutting in the next 15 years. If global warming continues, the world may lose its rainforests forever.