An Earth Without Forests—Is That What the Future Holds?
VAST areas that for millenniums were covered with luxuriant tropical rain forests are today becoming barren. Once the habitat of exotic birds and animal life that took refuge under the prolific umbrella of millions of species of plants and trees, some towering 200 feet into the sky, these beautiful, green, pulsating places of the earth are rapidly becoming wastelands.a
With destructive efficiency man is ravaging the mountains with the ax, the saw, the bulldozer, and the match. He is reducing them to denuded, scarred, scorched lands of abandoned wildernesses. This inexorable destruction of earth’s tropical forests is being waged at the shocking rate of 50 acres per minute, or over 100,000 square kilometers a year—an area equal the size of Austria.b
By the year 2000, according to some experts, about 12 percent of the tropical rain forest that remained in 1980 will be gone—no small accomplishment for man, even with his reputation for destruction. Gone, too, will be the exotic birds, the animal wildlife, and the varieties of plant life that cannot be found in any other climatic areas of the earth. Man is destroying a part of the very intricate ecosystem so vital to his life and which provides him with incalculable benefits.
More than half the medicines man uses come from plants, a great many from tropical plants. What would industry do without the source of rubber, turpentine, rattan, bamboo—all indigenous to the tropical forest—plus a galaxy of fibers, resins, dyes, and spices? Blindly and indiscriminately, man is destroying a treasure of immense value.
From these great forests, vast amounts of life-giving oxygen are produced. Some scientists warn that this massive reduction of oxygen-producing forests may well intensify the feared greenhouse effect, causing sea levels to rise to catastrophic heights.
Deforestation has already had a severe and immediate impact on much of the world. Nations such as Brazil, Indonesia, and the Philippines have seen the rapid conversion of their lands from dense jungle to virtually barren wastelands. “In Southeast Asia as many as 25 million acres of once-forested land now bear only tenacious and useless sawgrasses that provide neither food, fuel, nor forage,” reports the World Resources Institute.
The felling and selling of tremendous tracts of trees guarantees the deforestation of Fiji within 20 years, of Thailand by the turn of the century, and of the lowland rain forest of the Philippines by 1990, Science Digest reports. In Australia the devastation of its forests is widespread—two thirds of its rain forests entirely gone! India is losing 3.2 million acres of forests yearly to the ax.
“As of the mid-1980s,” reports the magazine Natural History of April 1986, “every country in Africa is losing tree cover. Indeed, forest deficits are now the rule throughout the Third World.” In 63 countries 1.5 billion people are cutting wood faster than it can grow back, creating a deficit that can only lead to forest and fuelwood bankruptcy. Experts expect the deficit to double by the year 2000.
Forest destruction touches at the very heart of man’s ability to exist—agriculture. To begin with, when man fells the trees on mountains and hills to plant his seed, without vegetation to hold the soil in place, the soil is quickly washed away. Also, in countries where fuelwood is scarce, “an estimated 400 million tons of dung are burned annually . . . This burning of a potential fertilizer is estimated to depress grain harvests by over 14 million tons.”
Are the great forests of the earth really doomed by irreversible forces? Or will this generation leave much of earth’s resources and beauty for its children? It talks lots, writes reams, but does little. So, what future will it leave its children? Time will tell, and little time is left.
a 1 ft = 0.3 m.
b 1 a. = 0.4 ha.
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In 63 countries 1.5 billion people are cutting wood faster than it can grow back
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Nations are changing dense jungles into barren wastelands