Global Impact, Causes and Recommendations
Global Impact, Causes and Recommendations
The forests are the “lungs” of our land, purifying our air and giving strength to our people.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Start with the rising sun and work toward the setting sun. Take only the mature trees, the sick trees, and the trees that have fallen…and the trees will last forever.
-Menominee Oral History
Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests and woodlands. An issue high on the global environmental agenda for many years, deforestation remains a serious problem today. In the tropics and many other parts of the world, nations continue to lose their natural forests—along with valuable biodiversity, soil and water conservation, and climate regulation these ecosystems provide.
Over the past 30 years, the world has lost fully a fifth of all tropical forest cover. While deforestation has stabilized in most developed countries, only a fraction of primary temperate forests still stand. A more pressing issue in these countries today is the condition of the remaining forests. Even though virtually none of their primary forests remain, developed nations continue to allow their commercial exploitation. Meanwhile, pollution and fragmentation endanger ecosystems throughout much of the developed world.
BENEFITS OF FORESTS
Earth without forests is a picture that most of humankind presently could not conceive. Forests cover much of the planet’s land area. They are extremely important to humans and the natural world. For humans they have many aesthetic, recreational, economic, historical, cultural and religious values. Timber and other products of forests are important economically both locally and as exports. They provide employment for those who harvest the wood or products of the living forest. Herbalists, rubber tappers, hunters and collectors of fungi, nuts, bamboo and berries are able to utilize such resources. Other non-wood forest products come in the form of medicinal compounds, dyes and fabrics. There are many people who are dependent on forestland for their livelihoods. One-third of the world’s people depend on wood for fuel as a significant energy source (Dudley, et. al., 1995). Surveys in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Liberia found that forest wildlife accounted for 70 to 90% of the total animal protein consumed (FAO, 1993). Some indigenous peoples are completely dependent on forests. As well as providing a home for some people, the forest environment provides a popular setting for eco-tourism, which includes hiking, camping, bird watching and other outdoor adventure or nature study activities.
Protection from Natural Disasters
Trees protect the soil against erosion, and reduce the risk for landslides and avalanches. They may increase the rate that rainwater recharges groundwater, as well as control the rate that water is released in watersheds (FAO, 1993). They help to sustain freshwater supplies and therefore are an important factor in the availability of water, one of life’s basic needs. When rain falls, some may sink to the ground, some may run off the surface of the land, and flow toward the rivers and some may evaporate. Running water is a major cause of soil erosion. During heavy rains, flooding may occur, filling the waterways with eroded soil. The silt clogs these waterways, cutting off water sources for plants and animals during the dry season. Silt may also fill reservoirs created by dams, reducing its ability and future capacity to generate hydroelectricity and provide irrigation (McCrory, et. al. 1997). The removal of forests causes nutrient loss in the soil especially if the period between harvest isn’t long enough.
Scientists have recognized that trees can also serve as a tool in the reduction of storm water runoff. The incorporation of trees and other vegetation costs five to ten times less than using solely manmade storm water infrastructures. The leaves on trees keep large quantities of rain and snow from falling to the ground and tree roots absorb excess surface water, thereby stabilizing ground soil. Street trees provide the greatest annual benefit in avoiding storm water runoff by diverting 327 gallons of water compared with the 104 gallons averted by park trees (Encarnacion, 1999).
Purification of the Air
Forests affect the climate and are an important source of oxygen (O2), although they play a lesser role than once thought. (Anderson, 1990). Rain forests serve as an important filter for carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The Amazon region alone stores at least 75 billion tons of carbon (C) in its trees. When stripped of its trees, rainforest land soon become useless and inhospitable because the soil lacks the nutrients to support any kind of agriculture. Regeneration of a tropical rainforest may not be possible or, when it can occur, it may take hundreds of years (Dallmeier, 1994).
Research continually reveals that trees benefit urban communities in a number of ways. First with respect to air quality, trees remove damaging pollutants from the atmosphere, and replenish it with O2. Through the process of transpiration and photosynthesis, trees sequester grams of ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and carbon monoxide (CO) every hour, amassing several tons of carbon storage each year. This carbon sequestration process in turn reduces the harmful effects of these noxious gases that cause global warming as well as lung-related ailments. Researchers have also been able to quantify the value of this carbon removal through the use of a carbon storage and sequestration model called UFORE-C. In fact utilizing the figures economists employ to estimate the effect pollutants cost society, one research ecologist was able to compute carbon sequestration into a tangible “dollar-value.” (Encarnacion, 1999).
Helping the Climate
Researchers have found that trees help the urban ecosystem by decreasing air temperatures. Studies indicate that a 10 percent increase in tree canopy cover results in a one to two degree Fahrenheit reduction in air temperature. In addition a one-degree decrease in temperature will reduce the possibility of smog by 6 percent. Furthermore, increased tree canopy coverage protects urban dwellers from harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation (Encarnacion, 1999).
Strategic planting of trees can also increase a city’s energy efficiency. Research conducted since the mid 1980s has quantified the energy saving potential of urban forests. According to the Energy Information Administration, household heating and cooling cost consumers 180 billion US dollars in 1987. Studies have found that a 25 feet tall tree could save 10 to 25 US dollars annually on these energy costs alone. Because trees release cool vapor into the air during photosynthesis, the need for artificial cooling devices is reduced. In fact, according to one study, the air-conditioning savings from a deciduous tree near a well insulated home ranged from 10 to 15 percent, while an 8 to 10 percent savings was reported during peak cooling periods. Landscape vegetation around individual buildings can also result in heat savings of 5 to 15 percent savings, and cooling savings of 10 to 50 percent (Encarnacion, 1999).
It has been observed that one of the largest energy fluxes at the earth’s surface is that due to evaporation by trees. Heat is absorbed by trees for transpiration of fluid, and later released into the upper atmosphere. The fluid involved is groundwater flowing up the trunk of the tree. Increased annual runoffs from deforested areas in the Amazon support this attribution (Bruijnzeel, 1996).
CAUSES OF DEFORESTATION
There are many causes of deforestation however harmless they may seem. So much damage can be done by even a single chainsaw, because behind those chainsaws are huge companies that care only about demand and profit, and forests are needed to supply this.
The first and most important cause of deforestation is wood extraction. Wood has always been a primary forest product for human populations and industrial interests. Since wood is an important structural component of any forest, its removal has immediate implications on forest health. Intensive harvests can lead to severe degradation, even beyond a forest’s capacity to recover. When the soil has been stripped of its nutrients, farmers move further into the forests in search of new land. Shifting cultivation is one of the most unproductive uses of farmland, and a major cause of degraded land where forests cannot regrow. In eastern India, this agricultural practice called “jhumming,” has laid barren previously fertile tracts of the hillside (Bhasin, 1991).
Timber is one of our most precious as well as used resource. We use it to build our houses, furniture and stock our fireplaces. This heavy demand fuels the destruction of our forests at an unsustainable rate. For every tree that is logged, 27 are killed or damaged in the process (http://www.geocities.com). In small doses logging isn’t too bad, and over 30 or so years the forest will grow back. But with today’s demand for wood the areas that are logged are too large, and this causes permanent destruction of the forests. The impact of the timber trade is generally greater than has been claimed in the past. The North plays a key role in many of the factors leading to forest decline (Dudley, et. al., 1995).
Commercial forestry is the leading cause of deforestation in the world’s temperate regions. The forces of large global markets for wood and wood products drive the scale of logging activities such as clearcutting. The source of demand is increased consumption by North America and Europe, not population growth. Again, transportation routes have a role, opening up new areas for natural resource exploitation. Privatization of natural resource industries has led to decreased regulations regarding timber harvesting. Multinational corporations dominate trade in wood. Most of these companies were organized in the US (Dudley, et. al., 1995). Multinational companies for whom improvement of forest practices is not a priority often export the timber in an unprocessed state out of the country of origin.
Mining for precious resources also plays a major role. There are many forests that hold fair amounts of Earth’s resources, such as iron ore, copper, oil and other precious metals. Many mining methods such as strip-mining and strong-force hoses break down the earth and cause major erosion. The mining sites are large and many trees need to be demolished to make way for them. When nothing is left to be mined, there is little chance of the forest growing back because of erosion and the lack of nutrients in the soil, which was churned out during mining.
Perhaps the worst culprit of deforestation, at least in the Brazilian Amazon, is cattle ranching, accounting for 38 percent of deforestation in this region. Cattle ranching involves hundreds and thousands of cattle grazing on expansive areas in and near forests. Because the forest soil isn’t adapted to these conditions, it isn’t long before the area becomes unproductive. So cattle ranchers expand their grazing area, leading to more destruction. After the grazed land is left, the forest is very unlikely to grow back due to the stripping of the soil. Cattle ranching each year in this manner destroys an estimated 5700 square miles of rainforest alone. The Brazilian government subsidizes some of the cattle ranches that exist on converted forestland. The land is unproductive. Much of the demand for the beef comes from the fast food hamburger market, which is more concerned with quantity, than quality farm raised meat. (http://www.davison.k12.mi.us).
People destroy or degrade forests because, for them, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. Underlying causes include such issues as poverty, unequal land ownership, women’s status, education and to some extent, population. Immediate causes are often concerned with a search for land and resources, including both commercial timber and fuelwood. In many areas, rural households rely solely on fuelwood collected from the forest for their domestic energy supply (Wallmo, et. al., 1998).
The roads that are built into the rainforest encourage and provide access for settling activities. In north-east India road building is often wrecking havoc on the forests. A road is cut through a hill face and the first loss is of the trees along its trace. The debris is thrown down, destroying the trees below, leaving a trail of dead or wilting trees in its wake. This debris enters the valleys, pushing up the levels of streams and rivers, causing siltation and floods (Bhasin, 1991).
There are many government agencies with policies that are uncoordinated in nature. Long range planning is not undertaken; and the Amazon is greatly affected by forces outside of the region. Some of the causes of migration to the tropical forests are population growth and political persecution. The settlers clearing and cultivating the land do not have the knowledge and experience of indigenous peoples of the forests and are unable to utilize the land effectively or sustainable. The process of shifting cultivation is accelerated and as a result the forest doesn’t have enough time to recover. Tropical rainforests are truly under the assault by humans (Anderson, 1990).
Monocultural forestry simplifies the ecosystem, leaving it vulnerable to disease and other environmental factors (EPA, 1999). In the tropical forests of the world, the clearing of land for agriculture and livestock are the primary activities resulting in deforestation. The main cause is unequal distribution of land (Anderson, 1990). 4.5 percent of Brazil’s landowners own 81 percent of the country’s farmland, and 70 percent of the rural households are landless (Anderson, 1990). It seems that these conditions cause people to encroach on, penetrate and modify the forests. Governments have an important role in these processes.
In many countries in Asia and Africa, where family farms are still prevalent, the breakdown of large joint-families is causing uneconomic divisions to existing farms. These inefficiencies, in turn, put pressure on farmers to sell their land for development, and it turns whole farming comminutes into new developments (Bhasin, 1991).
Poverty and Inequality
Another cause of the ecological crisis of the present is social inequality. Gender inequality is one of the more powerful forces at work, which exists in virtually all of human cultures. The natural world is often portrayed as feminine, in terms such as “Mother Nature,” “virgin forest,” “exploitation” and “rape of the valley” that are used to describe elements and uses of nature and serve to perpetuate this harmful attitude. Human society’s attitude with regard to the status of women makes an important contribution to environmental degradation and deforestation (Hui, 1997).
Although it is easy to assume a strong connection between population growth and deforestation (Preston, 1994), some research indicates that the problem is more complex. It involves non-demographic mechanisms resulting from credit and capital market failures, lack of suitable mediating institutions securing property rights, wretched poverty, uneven land distribution, consumption patterns in developed countries, greedy multinational companies, ignorance and bad management by colonist or frontier land, and so forth (Gillis and Repetto, 1988; Bilsborrow and Ogendo, 1992; Myers, 1984; Palloni, 1994).
One of the underlying causes of human exploitation and consumption of forests and other natural resources is human tradition and beliefs. One source of such belief is Christianity, whose dominance in the Americas and Europe has important consequences for natural resources. Christian’s attitudes are of anthropocentrism. The dominant power on the planet is humankind. The first human, Adam, gave the animals their names, shows this kind of dominance (Winton, 1997). Modern science and technological changes began in the name of Christianity. These beliefs created the attitudes, traditions and activities that enable us to be responsible for the destruction of nature that is occurring in the forests and the rest of the world (Attfield, 1994). It is then possible that if certain Christian beliefs were different, human attitude towards nature would be that of conservation not exploitation. Such contrasting beliefs could include a god or gods that exist on Earth or even in trees, or that humans are reincarnated as plants and animals (Winton, 1997).
EFFECTS OF DEFORESTAION
Rates of resource harvesting and waste generation deplete nature faster than it can regenerate…as the world becomes ecologically overloaded; conventional economic development actually becomes self-destructive and impoverishing. Many scholars believe that continuing on this path might put our very survival at risk. (Goulde, 1997).
Deforestation results in rapid degradation of nutrient rich topsoil. Heavy rainfall and high sunlight quickly damage the topsoil in clearings of tropical rainforests. When these rainforests are cut-and-burnt, nutrients are released in the form of ash. This allows for a year or two of good crop on the newly cleared “virgin” land, but eventually the nutrients will be washed away by the heavy tropical rain. Uncovered soil erodes 15000 times faster than soil that retains some plant cover as the trees anchor the soil (http://www.geocites.com). The precious mineral and salts are literally drained out of the ecosystem, into the streams and rivers, leaving vast areas of unusable land and causing a rise in the water level where it lands. During this time, rain is left free to erode the bare soil that is no longer protected by the roots of trees causing much of the topsoil to be washed away. The soil left behind is barren. The clearing of forestland results in increased erosion and landslides. Soil from areas of reduced forest cover can fill reservoirs created by dams causing a dam’s ability and future capacity to generate hydroelectricity and provide irrigation to be significantly reduced (Bhasin, 1991). Surviving under these conditions is difficult at best. After a while it may become impossible for the forest to regenerate and the land will not be suitable for agricultural use for quite some time. A rise in water level may cause flooding which may further lead to loss of biodiversity.
Loss of biodiversity
Why does biodiversity matter? Because it contributes to resiliency. We are losing species whose benefits to humankind are unknown. An estimated 75,000 plants have edible parts, many thousands of others have medicinal benefits, like the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar, which is the basis of an effective Hodgkin’s disease treatment. The birth control pill has its origins in the Mexican yam.
Thomas Lovejoy of the Smithsonian Institute sees preserving biodiversity as a critical issue in the next decades. “Much of this century has been dominated by the physics and information revolutions, the next and those to follow will be the centuries of biology,” he writes. “To reap the benefits, and for a healthy and productive society, we will need biodiversity.” The new Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is a testament to the growing importance and awareness of biodiversity.
The range of tree species could shift with respect to altitude and latitude as a result of global warming. Furthermore, the stress of such environmental change may make some species more susceptible to the effects of insects, pollution, disease and fire (FAO, 1993). When forests are replanted, their replacement can mean a loss of quality and diversity. Genetic diversity may decrease and areas of trees may be lost. Rising sea levels brought on by global warming have the potential to threaten the locations of many major cities, much fertile agricultural land, the purity of fresh water supplies and the survival of some nations. Forests play a crucial role in the management of fisheries. Logging has directly and indirectly damaged spawning grounds, blocked river channels, raised water temperatures and caused water levels in streams to fluctuate dangerously. Therefore, the removal of trees can reduce the viability of fish stocks in their watershed and downstream environments. With all the present and predicted problems, it was estimated that one acre of Canadian forest was logged every 12.9 seconds in 1995 (McCrory, et. al., 1997).
Deforestation affects biological diversity by the destruction of natural habitats, which forces species out of their native areas. Isolation and/or fragmentation restricts their range, forcing them into unnatural and restrictive habitats, which may lead to their extinction. Temperature changes caused by loss of the protective canopy of the forest also contribute to this. Deforestation through clear-cutting creates a patched look to the landscape. Not only is this unpleasant to the eye, but it is terrible to the local wildlife. The absence of forested corridors within a landscape hinders movement for some species (Harris, 1988) while the altered shape and size of forest patches influence both, biotic and abiotic processes (Van Dorp and Opdam, 1987). For other species, fragmented landscapes become population sinks that are sustained by immigration from nearby forest tracts (Robinson and Wilcove, 1994).
There is the possibility that the basic elements of potential medical treatments, cures and vaccines may lie undiscovered within these environments. The key active ingredient in one-fourth of the world’s prescription and non-prescription drugs come from plants growing in tropical rain forests. Fewer trees translate into an insecure future for forest workers. Some indigenous peoples’ way of life and survival are threatened by the loss of forests. Among these groups are the Waorani of the Amazon’s tropical rainforest, the Sami of Lapland’s taiga and the Kyuquot of Vancouver Island’s temperate rainforest (Dudley, et. al., 1995). Often, the stakeholders associated with forest areas are not always consulted before clearcutting occurs. This has sometimes lead to non-violent and violent confrontation and fueled bitter rivalries between area residents, the forest sector and environmentalists. Consequently anti-environmentalism has intensified and environmental activism can be dangerous.
Deforestation can cause the climate to become more extreme in nature; the occurrence and strength of floods and droughts could increase. The loss of forestlands is connected to desertification, a widespread phenomenon. Scientists estimate that 54% of the total rainfall in Amazonia is derived from the evapotranspiration by the trees in the forest (http://www.geocities.com). If these areas are deforested, the amount of rainfall would significantly decrease, resulting in widespread droughts and desertification. Forests store large amounts of carbon that are released when trees are cut or burned. It is projected that deforestation and the burning of biomass will be responsible for 15% of the greenhouse effect between 1990 and 2025 (FAO, 1993).
There may be a loss of future markets for eco-tourism. The value of a forest is often higher when it is left standing than it could be worth when it is harvested (Dudley et. al., 1995). According to one calculation, a typical tree provides US $196,250 worth of ecological benefits in the form of O2, reduction of air pollution, soil fertility and erosion control, water recycling and humidity control, wildlife habitat, and as protein for wildlife. Sold as timber, the same tree would be worth only US $590 (Dallmeier, 1994). As an attraction for eco-tourism, forests and their natural inhabitants are also worth more intact than denuded.
The major greenhouse gases and their sources/causes are:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) Fossil fuel, deforestation, animal respiration.
Methane (CH4) Cattle, rice paddies, gas leaks, termites, mining.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) Air conditioning, solvents and chemicals used in refrigeration.
Ozone (O3) and other trace gases Car exhaust, power plants, photochemicals.
Geologic evidence shows that levels of CO2 and other naturally occurring greenhouse gases (so called because of their heat-trapping “greenhouse” properties) have remained relatively stable on Earth for the past several thousand years. Since the Industrial Revolution started in England about 1750 (and about 100 years later in the U.S.), levels of greenhouse gases have been increasing. Greenhouse gases are produced from the burning of fossil fuels, rice cultivation and cow pastures needed to feed the world’s growing population, fertilizers, air conditioning and refrigeration, motor vehicle emissions and photochemical processes.
Global temperature is also rising. Different studies have shown the world’s average temperature has risen by 0.5o F-1.0o F on an average since 1600. The rise in the mean surface air temperature over the past hundred years supports this long term estimate. It is unknown whether the rise is part of Earth’s natural climate cycle or a result of the increase in greenhouse gases from human activity (Svarney, 1995). However a study in Canada, analyzing ground surface temperature, has found a one to two degree increase in ground surface temperature at the time of deforestation at each site (Lewis, et. al., 1998).
The Carbon Cycle
The buildup of greenhouse gases is having a profound effect on the hydrosphere. Of the greenhouse gases released by anthropogenic (human caused) activities, CO2 has received much attention (http://www.members.eb.com). Studies have shown present atmospheric concentrations are nearly 25 percent higher than in the late 1700s. Much of this increase is due to CO2 released to the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil, gas, and wood and from the slash-and-burn activities that accompany deforestation.
The component of the hydrosphere most greatly affected by this emission of CO2 is the ocean. Before human activities had substantially effected the carbon cycle, there was a net flux of CO2 from the oceans through the atmosphere to the land, where the gas was used in the net production of organic matter and the chemical weathering of minerals in continental rocks. Because of fossil fuel burning and land use practices, the net transfer from the ocean to the land has been reversed, and the ocean has now become an important sink of CO2. The oceans are currently gaining 2,340 million tons of carbon per year. The net chemical reaction of adding CO2 to the ocean (provided there is no reaction with carbonate solids) is:
CO2 + H2O + CO32- (carbonate ion) = 2HCO3-
This lowers the pH of the surface seawater. Such a pH effect has not been observed but conceivably could occur if CO2 continues to be released to the atmosphere by human activities.
Based on projections it is possible that CO2 concentrations may double their late 1700s level by the years 2030-2050. Along with other greenhouse gases (e.g., CH4 and NOX). This will give rise to global mean surface temperature increase of anywhere between 0.5o F to 2.0o F. This projected temperature increase would be two to three times greater at the poles than at the equator, and greater in the Arctic than in the Antarctic.
How much does the accumulation of greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2, CH4, CFCs, NOX) in the atmosphere from anthropogenic activities actually change the global climate? There is no dispute that greenhouse gases are more concentrated in the atmosphere today, than in the pre-industrial age. The general outline of the carbon cycle as it moves between the atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere and oceans, is well known (Detwiler, 1988). However, major uncertainties still exist in the magnitude of carbon pools and in the direction of fluxes. Presently, it is not known whether the feedback of oceanic CO2 in response to the CO2-induced climatic warming will, on the whole, be positive or negative. The rate of exchange between the oceans and the atmosphere is regulated by the exchange of CO2 gas between the atmosphere and the surface layers of the ocean, and the exchange of water between the upper and deep layers of the ocean. Each of these processes is affected by climatic changes, including temperature, evaporation, precipitation, wind, and cloudiness. The partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in the surface ocean water and that in the atmosphere is expressed as:
F = E[(pCO2)air – (pCO2)seawater],
where F is the net CO2 flux from the air to the surface ocean water and E is the gas transfer coefficient for CO2. The value of E is insensitive to small changes in ocean temperature but is quite sensitive to wind speed over the surface. Most of this increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere for which the ocean is serving as a sink is thought to come from deforestation, especially dead and decaying trees and vegetation (Pastor, et. al., 1988).
Changes in global climate due to increased atmospheric CO2 will alter carbon cycle processes on land and over the oceans, which will in turn affect the atmospheric CO2 concentration. It is not fully understood how increasing amounts of CO2 and the limited capacity of the oceans to absorb it will affect global climate in the future.
Global warming could further affect the hydrologic cycle by the melting of ice and snow in the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps and glaciers, resulting in transfer of water to the oceans. This process, together with thermal expansion because of global warming, could lead to a slow rise in sea level of about 2 feet over the next century. Furthermore this reduction in sea ice might lead to increased evaporation from the ocean and increased low-altitude cloudiness, which would reflect solar radiation and cause cooling.
Plants are important in the transfer of atmospheric CO2 into the ecosystem through their leaf and root systems. In regions where the primary mineral supplies are depleted, plants are more likely to play a greater role in biocycling and production of organic acids (Kelly, et. al., 1998). As greater deforestation depletes soil and atmospheric conditions, it is not fully understood whether the remaining plant life would adapt or cause further harm.
Loss of soil nitrogen due to deforestation has been, in general, observed to be higher than for organic carbon (Brown & Lugo, 1990). Such nitrogen losses have been related to initial nitrogen content (Allen, 1985; Brown & Lugo, 1990) and soil texture (Aguilar et. al., 1988; Parton et. al., 1988). Ellert and Gregorich (1996) observed a reduction of 19% in nitrogen levels in some Canadian soils while Allen (1985) noted that such reduction is more pronounced in the tropics.
The Ozone Layer
Ozone is produced by a photochemical reaction involving oxygen (O2) and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun: The radiation splits two-atom oxygen molecules into two separate atoms; the single atoms seek out other two-atom molecules and create ozone (O3), a three-atom oxygen molecule.
Ozone occurs in small quantities in the Earth’s lower troposphere, around areas where pollutants are prevalent, especially in city smog. Surface ozone can reduce the yield of agriculture crops and damage forests and other vegetation. It is responsible for $500 million reduced crop production in the U.S. each year (EPA, 1997). Ozone, in combination with sulfur dioxide, can have a more severe effect on human health than either pollutant can separately.
The stratosphere, extending from about 7 to 30 miles, also contains a diffuse ozone layer concentrated at a height of about 15 miles called the ozonosphere. This layer extends around the Earth and protects living organisms from ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Damage to this protective layer can have immediate and devastating effects on life on Earth. This is why it is increasingly important to restrict the most harmful chlorofluocarbons and fossil fuel emissions, which are most damaging to the ozone layer.
The destruction of the forests has a very wide range of effects, which lead to the destruction of something else. The planet and all its components were meant to function as a whole, each part balancing the other. The human race seems to be destroying this balance because of its desire to sit above all other forms of life. Both loss of biodiversity and global warming have become such clear dangers to our biosphere that they have been addressed in international treaties such as the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Also Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio in 1992 (UNCED) addresses loss of cultural diversity associated with global deforestation.
Certain citizen activist organizations such as the Indonesian Environmental Forum, and the Chipko Movement and the Silent campaigns in India have also achieved remarkable success in fighting deforestation and promoting replanting of trees. Even industries are realizing that forests are not an endless resource. A pharmaceutical company, Merck & Company signed a contract with an institute for biodiversity to receive samples of tropical plants and leaves to determine whether they are medicinally of use. In order to do this the company will purchase and preserve vast areas of rainforest, saving them from destruction.
Following the failure of bans and boycotts to significantly influence commercial logging practices, many independent organizations, like the Rainforest Alliance’s Smart Wood Program, 1990, have launched “good wood” programs to create markets for timber obtained from sustainable sources. Big wood product retailers such as Home Depot and IKEA seek to offer consumers “good wood” products. Harnessing such positive economic forces offers more promise than fines and punishments have. Government support is needed to make these fledging efforts viable and widespread.
Some of the recommendations made for sustainable management of the forests made by the World Resource Institute and other agencies are:
1. Implementing existing international agreements to managing rather than mining forests, and alleviating pressures on forested areas from agriculture and the extraction of non-timber products.
2. Respond effectively to today’s rapidly changing global timber market. Demand from industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere drives the ever-expanding rush toward deforestation. Reducing demand is key to reducing the pressure on the supply.
3. Revamp forest concession policies. In most countries, both temperate and tropical, policies governing how forest concessions are awarded, taxed, and enforced encourage highly destructive logging practices. Low fees paid by most loggers also mean that governments fail to capture even a fraction of the full value of their forests. This is potential revenue that could be channeled back into sustainable forest management.
4. To increase the rent they capture from public forests, governments might establish an auction system. Concessions could be awarded to companies offering the highest bid above a predetermined minimum or floor price.
5. Responsible logging could be encouraged by a system of incentives and awards. Encouraging management schemes that involve local communities as principle stakeholders or as partners in joint ventures.
6. Award “forest management” rather than “logging” concessions, which include responsibilities toward the watershed, and using low impact harvesting techniques.
7. Make annual release of the next block of forest contingent upon industry performance in the previous block.
8. Set aside some of the revenue collected as an “environmental fee” for forest conservation and management.
9. Establish programs for valuing forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity prospecting and the non-timber products they provide. Forests have a greater value intact, than the cut timber.
10. Encourage areas to be replanted and forested instead of new areas being cut down. Regrowth prevents erosion of the soil and nutrients.
Most of the world’s remaining forests are owned by national governments. It is up to these governments and the local people to decide on suitable solutions that suit the problem of the country at best. But very few governments have the necessary means, including manpower and funds, to manage their forests effectively. For example Guatemala could not shut down all its mines as this would drastically effect its economy. Economic sustainability, where the preservation of the forest is profitable and beneficial to competing interests, is the key to its success.
The ecological balance on Earth is a very fragile one, and not fully understood. Our planet has been remarkably resilient until now, adapting to unprecedented assaults on this balance since the industrial revolution. When will the destructive effects of deforestation and the resultant increase in greenhouse gases reach a point of no return, with the Earth no longer able to absorb any more and remain habitable? Will man’s capacity for great industry ultimately destroy him, or will we be able to reason and evolve into a more ecologically aware species, and help us, the Earth, and all living things survive on a better planet? On the eve of the new millenium, these questions beg an answer. As a bumper sticker reads, “We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children.”
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