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Chapter 6

"The world's forests need to be seen for what they are: giant global utilities, providing essential public services
to humanity on a vast scale. They store carbon, which is lost to the atmosphere when they burn, increasing global warming. The life they support
cleans the atmosphere of pollutants and feeds it with moisture. They act as a natural thermostat, helping to regulate our climate and sustain the lives
of 1.4 billion of the poorest people on this Earth"

- Prince Charles


The estimated rates of global deforestation are astounding. Approximately 2.4 acres of forestland are cut down every second (the equivalent of 2 football fields). That figure equals 150 acres per minute, 215,000 acres per day (an area larger than New York City) and 78 million acres per year (an area larger than the nation of Poland).

Deforestation occurs primarily through the cutting down and burning of trees. Burning releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere helping to further promote the threat of global climate change. In addition, fewer trees means a lessening of the global forest's ability to absorb CO2.

Deforestation also leads to land degradation which diminishes the land's ability to catch, hold and retain rainwater, thereby causing increased runoff and flooding in the wet season and water shortages in the dry season. Nearly 60% of the world's temperate rainforests have already been logged. If current deforestation rates continue, scientists estimate that nearly all tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by 2030.

Global desertification is similiarily a serious global environmental threat. Some 30 percent of the Earth's surface today suffers from some form of desertification. More than 80 of the 110 countries in the world who are experiencing desertification are poor, underdeveloped nations located in the Southern Hemisphere of our planet- countries least able to cope with the encroachment.

The problem is most acute in western and southern Africa. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), drought and desertification threaten the livelihood of over 1 billion people in more than 110 countries around the world.

The ability of land to provide food and sustain life is being primarily affected by global climatic conditions and the loss of biomass in any given region today, but human activity is by far the major cause of desertification. Land permanently degraded by global desertification increases by 10 million hectares (the size of Nova Scotia) every year. It is estimated that global climate change will increase the total area of desert land on Earth by nearly 20% in the 21st century.

Both deforestation and desertification can only be reversed by profound changes in people's consumption patterns and behavior. The vulnerability, sustainability and maintenance of the global ecosystems that undergird our continued existence on Earth must learn to be respected and cared for on the most fundamental of levels. Step by step, changes must ultimately lead towards sustainable land use and the growing necessity to retain and insure food, water and climatic security for a growing world population on into the 21st century.

The majority of the rainforest cut down today is cleared for the growing of agricultural crops and for cattle grazing. Large cattle pastures often replace rainforest to grow beef for the world market. Commercial logging provides trees for sale both as timber and as pulp.

The 2 areas on Earth that are undergoing the most intense rates of deforestation are the Amazon basin region of South America and the vast territories of Southeast Asia, which include the nations of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Deforestation by a peasant farmer in many developing countries of the global South often is done to grow crops for self-subsistence and is driven by the basic need for food and sustenance. On the national level, governments sell logging concessions to raise money for projects, pay off international debt (which is often the case) and/or to develop industry. Most tropical countries are very poor by US standards.

Tropical forests store an immense amount of carbon. The plants, soil and biomass of tropical forests worldwide are believed to hold between 400-600 billion metric tons of carbon. Each acre of tropical forestland stores roughly 200 metric tons of carbon.

When a forest is cut down and replaced by cropland or pastures, the ability of those trees to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is lost. In addition, a portion of the wood as well as the debris that gets burned in any tropical 'slash and burn' operation is also released back into the atmosphere. As such, deforestation, especially in tropical forest lands, is second only to direct carbon emission releases brought about through the burning of fossil fuels by industrial society, in helping to fuel the threat that global climate change imposes upon the world's biosphere.

In regards to biodiversity, tropical rainforests are believed to harbor nearly one half to three quarters of all the millions of species of life on Earth, although they only take up roughly 7% of the planet's landmass. Deforestation practices are creating a literal "holocaust" of species in these unique habitats, millions of which have never even been seen, named or catalogued.

Commercial logging of a rainforest produces a range of results. Under selective logging practices, a relatively few number of trees are left standing to provide seeds and shade for a new forest to eventually grow back which may take anywhere between 20-50 years on average. Clearcutting practices do much more damage to a typical tropical rainforest. When all the trees are removed, bare ground is often left behind and very little can grow back on it. There are almost no nutrients left behind because all of the tree trunks have been removed.

Truely, the deforestation of tropical rainforests is a threat to all life worldwide. Currently, deforesting forest land in tropical nations is having profound effects on global climate change and is contributing greatly to the loss of biodiversity (life's gene-pool) as well as to the extinction of thousands of species annually.

Fortunately, stopping unsustainable deforestation practices in the tropics is becoming a growing international movement. Sustainable forestry practices and reforestation efforts are beginning to catch on, but still remain a secondary strategy behind the prime drive to acquire forest products as quickly and as destructively as possible.

As previously mentioned, the world's rainforests, in addition to the world's oceans, act as major carbon sinks for the sequestration of global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Known euphemistically as the "lungs of the earth", tropical rainforests play a very important role in regulating and maintaining the equilibrial stasis of Earth's climate. As such, deforestation is a major contributor to global warming. Tropical deforestation is responsible for approximately one third of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.

Reducing emissions from tropical deforestation and degradation (REDD) in developing countries has become an important component in regulating global greenhouse gases. Current deforestation practices, both within the developed and developing nations, also contributes mightily to regional and global water shortages. As trees are cut down and removed, soils no longer are able to hold in and retain moisture. This contributes to a number of downstream flooding and shortage problems during alternating seasons of the year.

Today, developed nations utilize timber primarily for building homes and wood pulp for making paper products. In the third world, 3 billion people (roughly 1/2 of the world's population) rely on dwindling supplies of wood for all their heating and cooking needs.

Overall, there is a general consensus that the destruction of the world's rainforests remains a serious global environmental issue. Up to 90% of West Africa's coastal rainforests have disappeared since 1900. About 90% of South Asia's rainforests have been lost and much of what remains in the Amazon rainforest basin, which covers nearly 4 million square kilometers, is rapidly disappearing.

At the recent UN COP-15 global climate change convention held in Copenhagen in 2009, an accord was reached with a collective commitment by developed nations for new and additional resources, including investments through international organizations that may approach $30 billion US dollars, to assist tropical nations to manage and protect their rainforests more effectively.

A major condition for adopting a sustainable forest management systems involves reforestation efforts. In many parts of the world, reforestation and afforestation efforts are increasing the world's area of forested land. The amount of woodland has increased in 22 of the world's 50 most forested nations. Asia as a whole gained 1 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2005. Based on these trends, it is projected that global forests will increase by 10% (an area the size of India) by 2050. This is all the more needed as the planet also experiences an increase in areas affected by the threat of global desertification.

Desertification is the degradation of land primarily in arid and dry sub-humid areas due to climatic variations and human activity. It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss, drought and a loss or exploitation of a region's biomass. Human factors such as overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices all contribute to the spread of desertified lands.

Desertification has become a major global environmental problem directly affecting approximately one third of the Earth's total land surface. Up to 1 billion people who depend on land for most of their subsistence needs in over 100 countries worldwide are threatened. Although desertification affects the continent of Africa the most, up to 1/3rd of the land in the mid-western USA is threatened by increased desertification trends. In China alone, sand drifts and rapidly expanding deserts have destroyed 700,000 hectares of cultivated land, 2.3 million hectares of rangeland and some 6.5 million hectares of forestland. Worldwide, some 70% of the 5.2 billion hectares of land cultivated for agriculture are already degraded and are threatened by further desertification. This trend will no doubt escalate due to a rapidly warming planet brought on by the effects of global climate change.

Desertification is at the root of many of today's political and socio-economic instabilities and poses a substantial environmental threat to the peoples and nations of the world. Some 60 million people are expected to migrate from desertified areas of sub-saharan Africa to north africa and europe in the next few decades. The chief cause of desertification in the Sahel is slash and burn farming in which soil degradation is increased due to constant winds removing unprotected topsoil. The sahara desert is expanding south at a rate of 48 kilometres a year.

The central asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also affected. More than 80% of Afghanistan's and Pakistan's land are subject to soil erosion and desertification as are a large portion of land in the nations of Mexico and Brazil. Combating the encroachment of desert land has taken the form of refixating degraded soil in terms of planted tree and grass belts, woodlands and windbreaks. Windbreaks are made from trees and bushes and are used to reduce soil erosion and evapotranspiration. Enrichment of the soil and the restoration of its fertility is often done with plants. In order to solve the problem of cutting down trees for personal energy requirements in arid environments, solutions such as solar ovens and efficient wood burning stoves are often advocated and employed as a means to reduce pressure upon the local environment.

On a much larger scale, a "great green wall of China" is being built in north-eastern China which will eventually stretch more than 5,700 kilometers in length, nearly as long as the traditional great wall of china. This will, in theory, be used to protect the nation against further encroachment of desert lands now ravaging the continent. The nation of Senegal is also erecting its own form of a "green wall".

Both the threats of deforestation are desertification remain profound international security threats to the future of human civilization. Reforestation efforts are needed now on a global scale to counter both the removal of trees from forestland and the loss of productive land due to the rapid increase in desertified land areas across the globe. Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and founder of the international greenbelt movement in Kenya, has been a leader in the global reforestation campaign. Her methods have been adopted by many countries as a means to promote sustainable development and environmental stability in lands both threatened by deforestation and desertification.

A eugenics perspective will conclude that the current rate of biomass extraction from the world's finite forestland and the further degradation of vulnerable arid and semi-arid lands will damage not only the environments on which millions of people depend, but will further denigrate and destroy their ability to regenerate into stable and sustainable ecosystems. Truely, this is not a preferable outcome if we wish to avoid the large scale suffering and harm that will accrue to large numbers of poor peoples if present trends continue. Another world is possible.

Its time to stop the clearance of forestland for cattle grazing and help promote a diet that does not rely on the consumption of large amounts of beef for fast food restaurants in the rich nations of the northern hemisphere. A diet for a new world is one that must emphasize ecological responsibility and vegetarianism, which will, in turn, conserve and protect our precious rainforests worldwide. In order to help solve both the deforestation and desertification phenomenon's, we also need immediate world population control measures which will limit the infringement and damage done to growing fragile arid and semi-arid areas on the planet. Both the comprehensive management of precious water resources and the mitigation of global climate change must similiarily become paramount priorities in an overall integrated strategy to protect our forest and desert lands for future generations.


1. Rainforest Action Network

2. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

3. Wangari Maathai/International Greenbelt Movement