Although there are temperate rainforests, questions in the GCSE geography are usually about the tropical rainforests as they are so important to the well-being of our planet. Your studies should enable you to discover how humans use this incredible resource and the reasons behind it. You also need to know the possible benefits and drawbacks.
Humans have been exploiting the tropical rainforests for thousands of years but the problem is that during the twentieth century, globalisation led to a huge increase in demand for products from rainforests. Also, the discovery of valuable minerals (e.g. gold) meant that countries could export these, earning foreign exchange and paying off debts to other countries. These minerals could also be used in local industries to increase their output and help towards becoming a MEDC.
But it doesn't always work out that way. Often, exploitation of the rainforest is carried out by companies based in MEDCs so most of the profits go there and not into the local economy. As well as these economic reasons, there have been political and social reasons too.
Human uses of the rainforest usually involves some degree of clearance of the land. The native tribes will clear areas for their villages whilst commercial exploitation involves clearance for building roads and then large scale clearance to obtain the required resource. Mining requires large areas to be felled in order to establish the mines and the processing plants. Hardwoods such as teak are sought after for making furniture and for building. The useful teak trees are the largest and oldest but to get to these and to fell them requires that many hundreds of other trees must be felled around them to allow access.
Clearance leads to deforestation as replacement trees are not planted for the ones removed. Deforestation puts an increased pressure on forest ecosystems, which change. It is not known how many species have become extinct because of human deforestation and it is only relatively recently that we have started to become concerned with it. Some countries have placed restrictions on how rainforests are used in order to ensure that any exploitation is sustainable, but these laws are not always enforced. Many countries have also established reserves which are protected areas that are maintained as natural environments.
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