Deforestation, as a consequence of overpopulation, is an issue that makes the news fairly often, and it’s a prominent topic if you go to any environmental web-site. Here are just two headlines or statements you might have seen: “Forests: the global chainsaw massacre” from Time magazine; “…Deforestation has been accelerating in the last 30 years,” says Worldwatch Institute. Once again, such statements must be looked at objectively. According to UN global forest cover estimates, the overall area covered by forest has not changed much since 1950 (The Skeptical …, p. 111). Most people have this idea that forests are rapidly disappearing as people clear more and more farmland. In actual fact, since the dawn of agriculture, we have only lost 20% of the original forest cover—not quite the two-thirds claimed by the WWF (The Skeptical ..., p. 112).
One reason people worry about deforestation—particularly in the Amazon Rainforest- is because they have an idea perpetuated by environmentalists that the Amazon region acts as “lungs” for the earth. This is a myth—forests which are in equilibrium (where trees grow but other trees fall over keeping the biomass more or less the same) neither produce nor consume oxygen in net terms (The Skeptical ..., p. 115)!! What a difference a new perspective gives!
Many people worry that our paper consumption is resulting in loss of forests at an unacceptable rate. And why not worry when you read things like this from the Worldwatch Institute in 1998: “…the dramatically increasing demand for paper and other wood products…[is] turning local forest destruction into a global catastrophe.” Actually, our entire consumption of wood and paper can be supplied by just 5% of the current forest area (The Skeptical …, p. 115)!
Some point out that the only reason forest cover has remained more or less constant is because of tree plantations which have less biodiversity than natural forest. While this is partially true (plantations do not make up much of the overall forest area), you have to consider that such plantations exist to produce masses of wood which in turn protects the natural forests from being needed for such purposes! So the lack of biodiversity on the plantations themselves doesn’t change the fact that they protect overall biodiversity—a point seldom acknowledged by those that would have us scared of mankind’s progress!
Another fact rarely mentioned in mainstream media concerning deforestation is the fact that Europe and the US both benefitted tremendously from felling large sections of their own forests…so how can we begrudge other countries that choice? If indeed we do not want the developing countries to use their forests as we did, we need to make it worth their while! It needs to be made profitable for developing countries to exploit their forests in a responsible fashion—one possible way to do this would be debt-for-nature swaps wherein Western companies or nations redeem debts in return for the protection of important natural areas ( The Skeptical …, p. 117). Certification informing consumers that the wood product they are buying is from a forest being cultivated responsibly is another way to tie viable practices to the ability to make a profit…this is currently in practice to some extent, but the system is not without glitches.
Deforestation, then, is not the dire situation we may have been led to believe. Our forests have remained pretty constant since the end of World War II. Tropical forests are being deforested, but not at the rate that is generally feared (The Skeptical …, p. 117). Yes, this deforestation is sometimes being done in an irresponsible way, but the solution to this problem is more political and economic than anything—certainly it’s an issue that can be resolved!
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Life is good 🙂
If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.