Biologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama are suggesting that the rain forests may not be doing so badly after all. While it's certainly true that original rain forest is being destroyed at an unprecedented rate, until recently biologists have ignored the effect of secondary forests, which are growing on land that was once farmed, logged, or destroyed by natural disaster. According to the New York Times, "By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics."
Environmentalists argue that this secondary forest is not as valuable as the original rain forest, but scientists at the Smithsonian and the United Nations point out that the new forests could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.
Farming lands have been abandoned as previously agricultural people seek higher-paying jobs in cities, and more efficient farming techniques that require less acreage to produce food means that more land can revert to its natural state.
The United Nations is undertaking the first global catalog of the new forests, which vary greatly in their stage of growth.
Photo by Tito Herrera for the New York Times