An environmental movement that was initially well motivated has taken a detour that could have devastating global consequences on the life and lands it was intended to protect.
As a founding member of Greenpeace and a scientist, I am dismayed by the attempts of some environmental leaders to claim the loss of the Earth’s forests and its biodiversity is due to forestry activities. Not only is this an inaccurate assumption, it is a dangerous one.
The causes for deforestation and the extinction of species can be traced to many sources. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 95% of deforestation is caused by clearing for human activities. Over the decades of this century, massive areas of land(s) have been cleared throughout the world and urban areas have sprawled into once forested regions. In contract, since the 1970s, the result of forestry activities has been reforestation.
The disappearance of forested areas has contributed to the extinction of certain species that depend upon forest biodiversity. Other contributors to the decimation of animal populations include the introduction of foreign predators and disease. To date, no one has been able to supply evidence of any one species becoming extinct because of logging activities. Unfortunately, that does not stop key personalities in the environmental movement from making such allegations.
Outside of the obvious negative affect of misinforming the public, I am very concerned that some proposed environmental policies will create conditions leading to the further degradation of the planet we share. Suggestions have been made by those opposing forestry activities that on first examination, sound like ideas worth exploring; reducing the use of wood for fuels, developing alternative building materials and the creation of “tree-free paper” products. However, a look beneath the surface of these proposals reveals a short-term agenda with long-term negative impacts. For example, the alternatives offered to wood in the production of paper include hemp, kenaf and cotton. These are annual, single-crop that will have to be planted on huge tracts of land—land where we could be growing trees. These vast field of crops would not support the bio-diversity of life that flourishes in our forest. And, as annuals, new crops would have to be planted each year. Trees, in contract, are grown over a period of many years.
A second piece of the environmental agenda is to reduce the use of wood as a building material by producing so-called “environmentally appropriate alternatives”. Currently, the only viable substitutes for wood building materials are steel, cement, plastic and brick. Each of these materials requires a great deal more energy to produce than wood and none returns benefits to the environment. On the other hand, wood is produced with solar energy. Its growth helps to clean the atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide (eliminating “greenhouse gases”). Trees provide a natural habitat for animals and, unlike the proposed alternatives, are a renewable resource.
These misguided efforts are part of the movement’s assumption that, if we reduce the use of wood, our forests and all its creatures will be saved.
This ignores the fact that 50% of all wood used in the world is burned to supply energy for cooking and heating. In these developing, tropical countries where people cannot afford fossil fuels, the unsustainable wood gathering for fuel is a major cause of deforestation. And, if these millions of people could burn fossil fuels, the result would be a significant contribution to greenhouse gases.
Ironically, the goals of environmentalists could be met by increasing forest cover and wood production, rather than reducing it. Our international assistance budgets could help developing countries grow sustainable supplies of wood for fuel from managed forests. Worldwide, if the millions of hectares of unused and inefficiently used farmland were returned to forests, biodiversity of species would be supported, and more of the excess CO2 in our atmosphere would be consumed.
Over the past 10,000 years, we have satisfied the growing needs of the human population by gradually clearing them with farmlands and pastures. We now recognize what devastating effects continued deforestation can have on our environment and we are obliged to honor the evidence—reduction in the use of wood will not save our forests, not he species that depend upon them for survival.
In preserving species biodiversity there is no crop better than trees which provide more habitat than any other environment. Faced with a need to affect our climate, trees are the greatest absorbers of carbon dioxide and critical to reversing the damage we have done with our use of fossil fuels.
It is very important that people look critically at proposals that promise (or threaten) to alter the future of the planet. Each action we take, will cause a re-action—producing building materials in factories instead of forests will create even higher pollution levels, for example. It is paradoxical that some of the remedies prescribed by the environmental elite, may be instruments of destruction.
To allow an issue that promises to outlive our generation to be politicized and orchestrated by self-appointed experts is to deny future generations their birthright. Our solutions must be based on logical, consistent, science-based information and planning if we are to restore and preserve a healthy environment. We have an obligation to come together to develop strategies that recognize the enormous responsibility we have inherited as we attempt to “manage” what used to be the sole domain of God and nature.
(Patrick Moore, Ph.D., is a founding member of Greenpeace and served as director of Greenpeace, International. www.greenspirit.com
This piece is excerpted from the California Forestry Association.)