Drop That Toothpick – Our Forests are Disappearing!

Clearcut land in Madagascar

Deforestation in Madagascar - Photo courtesy Wildmadagascar.org

We came across an alarming environmental report recently, and it’s enough to make you think that we humans, and especially Americans, are completely nuts; except that the wild sources of nuts themselves are disappearing too, so to speak.

We’re talking about trees. Forests in particular. They’re disappearing and we are the ones cutting them down. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (we know, when a title starts with the word “Proceedings,” it promises to be as exciting as egg whites) shows that between 2000 and 2005, the gross forest cover loss (GFCL) was more than three percent of the world’s total forest trees.

            The greatest total loss – surprise, surprise – was in North America. Let’s put this in real terms. The loss of forests during that five-year period was 1,011,000 square kilometers (Km2), about 390,000 square miles. How big is that? It’s almost 2 ½ time the size of California or almost 1 ½ times the size of Texas . . . Texas! That’s how much forest disappeared from the world in that five year period.

        And how is the U.S. performing? Of the countries with more than 1,000,000 Km2 of forest cover, we have had the greatest proportional GFCL. Brazil lost the largest total forest area. So what does all of this have to do with the objectives of this web site? Human behavior is the main cause of deforestation. We cut down forests, including extra-valuable rainforests for many reasons, including:

¨       wood for timber used in construction, furniture and the like;

¨       for making fires;

¨       clearing land for cattle grazing and for small and large farm agriculture;

¨       land for subsistence farmers who have nowhere else to live.

¨       Human-caused forest fires.

     According to Greenpeace, we are destroying ancient forests at a historically unprecedented rate.  Forest loss means a loss of the world’s biodiversity. “The current extinction rate of plant and animals species is around 1,000 times faster than it was in pre-human times and this will increase to 10,000 times faster by 2050.” This is likely to be part of the sixth major extermination event in the Earth’s history. Larger animals are disappearing. Sources of oxygen are being depleted. Even future wonder drugs may be nipped in the bud as we speak.

       We just had our kitchen refaced. That means we replaced drawers and cabinet doors and the framing of the cabinet fronts. We left the upper and lower cabinets intact. We did not commit to this minimal modernizing project without a sense of dread and guilt. How much, we wondered, did we contribute to the destruction of northeastern U.S. maple trees? We would like to get a new TV stand for our living room. Particle board is inexpensive and uses wood waste and glue. But it’s heavy and can chip more easily than wood. Wood looks authentic and has rich grain, and is usually the material of choice. But dare we? Aren’t we environmentally conscious consumers who want to lessen our impact on the environment? So here’s what we ask: Next time you think of acquiringsomething made of rosewood, or mahogany or some other exotic wood, think twice; next time you consider beef from Brazil or Argentina, think twice; next time you consider buying a product containing imported palm oil, think twice; and next time you consider adding to America’s expanding consumerist population, think twice.

       As humans proliferate and as those masses move into middle classes around the world, they will demand more “stuff.” That stuff includes wood; it includes roads to transport the stuff; and it includes meat, which may mean the clearing of more forests in order to graze livestock.

      All this while we disregard the world we leave for future generations. Generations that will be too large for the earth to accommodate.


  1. A million square kilometers? Wow, that is a heck of a lot.
    I was suprised a few years ago to hear about a forest in China that was about to completely dissapear due solely to the production of disposable chop sticks. No kidding. This is the kind you get in resteraunt that you break apart and then gets thrown away with the food scraps.
    I think it all boils down to business decisions: The resource is there. There’s no law against it. There’s money to be made.
    As we have seen in recent years, business can not be trusted to regulate itself. Some authority who is not beholden to business needs to stop greed from running the show.

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