This seemingly far away jungle actually helps each and every one of us get through the day.
From that first cup of coffee in the morning to the chocolate in your dessert, chances are a part of what you consume originally came from the Amazon. Besides giving us food to eat, the world’s largest tropical rain forest is also home to some of the traditional plants that have been developed into modern medicines.
If that weren’t enough, Amazonia brings rain showers and fresh water to cities and farms across the entire continent and cleans the air we breathe by removing immense amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Put simply, Amazonia plays its part to keep us and the world climate in balance.
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At least for now. Most of Amazonia is healthy today. Its lifeline, the Amazon River, pours millions of gallons of water into the Atlantic every second and is wide enough for large ships to navigate deep into the region's heart.
Three of every four of the 40,000 types of plants known to thrive in this wilderness are found only here. The Amazon is home to more primates than anywhere else; scientists discovered five in the past decade. The same can probably be said for insects. A single Amazonian tree was found to have about the same number of ant species as all of Germany.
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But these forests, full of life, are falling by the acre. Cutting and burning has transformed 20 percent of the Amazon. Where towering trees once stood, cattle graze, crops grow and cars speed. More roads are potentially in the works.
South American countries are now considering new highways and other infrastructure that would cut the Amazon into pieces and speed up its loss dramatically.
Parts of this vast jungle are safer thanks to conservation leaders in governments and indigenous communities. Yet a great deal is easily accessible and ripe for harm. By bringing better planning and careful development we could prevent the worst case scenario of losing the world’s greatest wilderness.