Magazine article Geographical

Jungle: The World's Tropical Rainforests Have Provided Us with Everything from Rubber to Chocolate and Pharmaceuticals. by Chopping Them Down, Are We Throwing Away a Potential Future Bounty?

Magazine article Geographical

Jungle: The World's Tropical Rainforests Have Provided Us with Everything from Rubber to Chocolate and Pharmaceuticals. by Chopping Them Down, Are We Throwing Away a Potential Future Bounty?

Article excerpt

The jungle is the most complex place on Earth. Home to more than half of the world's pland and animal species, it plays a vital role in keeping the planet healthy and has sustained human communities for millennia.

Throughout history, we've had an ambivalent relationship with this most brilliant manifestation of the Earth's natural wealth. At various times over the centuries, we've viewed the jungle as a green hell and a green heaven, a place of exquisite beauty but also unimaginable horror, something to be both destroyed and treasured.

Today, we retain that ambivalence in a new form. We have renamed the jungle the rainforest and revere it as the heart and lungs of the planet. The great US biologist Edward Wilson resorted to poetry to describe jungles as "timeless, immutable". We go there searching for drugs to fight cancer and HIV or simply for recreation. And we wonder that there are still enormous unexplored areas-not on the ground, but aloft in the canopy, where most of the jungle's inhabitants still live, undisturbed. And yet at the same time we are destroying the rainforests for short-term profit. They are the last frontier.

In this month's dossier, Fred Pearce, author of Deep Jungle, takes us on a tour of the world's tropical rainforests, traces the history of humanity's exploitation of these biological treasure troves and questions whether our unsustainable harvest and the loss of traditional knowledge is going to deprive future generations of a significant pharmacological bounty. …

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