Do the Forests Have a Future?
ON EASTER ISLAND in the South Pacific, great stone heads loom over grassy hillsides, staring blankly out over the sea. The people who built them dwindled away centuries ago. In the western United States, the ruins of ancient buildings in lonely wastelands are the only relics of a people who disappeared long before white men ever ventured there. Some Bible lands where civilization and commerce once prospered are now windswept deserts. Why?
In all three cases, part of the answer may be deforestation. Some experts feel that people had to abandon these areas because they wiped out the forests there. Without trees the land turned barren, so man moved on. But today man threatens to do the same to the entire planet. Will he? Can nothing stop the process?
Many are trying. In the Himalayas, women have reportedly hugged trees in desperate attempts to prevent loggers from felling them. In Malaysia, tribal forest dwellers have formed human chains to block oncoming loggers and their heavy machines.
The two hundred million people who make a living from rain forests have a very personal stake in the crisis. As civilization advances, native tribes retreat ever deeper into the forests, sometimes until they meet colonists advancing from the other side. Many tribes are wiped out by the outsiders’ diseases. Others, forced to adapt to the outside world, end up among the urban poor—alienated and dissolute. But the world is waking up to their plight. A mood of environmentalism has begun to sweep the globe.
Can Environmentalists Make the Difference?
“Both the knowledge and technology exist to save the world’s tropical forests,” begins the book Saving the Tropical Forests. The point has been demonstrated in parks around the world. Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica is dedicated to replanting vast tracts of forest. Trees have been planted by the millions in such countries as Kenya, India, Haiti, and China. But planting trees is not quite the same thing as restoring forests.
Sometimes “reforestation” is actually the commercial planting of a single species of tree, later to be harvested. This is hardly the same as the complex ecosystem of a rain forest. Besides, some say that a moist tropical rain forest can never be restored in its original complexity. No wonder that many environmentalists insist that preservation is better than restoration.
But preservation is not as easy as it sounds. If a tract of forest is too small, it won’t survive. Some environmentalists suggest that at least from 10 to 20 percent of the world’s rain forests should be set aside in reserves if they are to retain their wealth of diversity. But at present, only 3 percent of the rain forests of Africa are protected. In Southeast Asia the figure is 2 percent; in South America, 1 percent.
And some of those areas are protected only on paper. Parks and reserves fail when they are poorly planned or managed or when corrupt officials siphon park funds into their own pockets. Some even make money by granting logging concessions on the sly. Manpower is scarce too. In the Amazon, a single guard was assigned to protect an area of rain forest the size of France.
Environmentalists also urge that farmers be taught how to farm without depleting the soil so that they wouldn’t be forced to move on and fell more forest. Some have tried growing a wide variety of produce mixed in a single field, which discourages pests who feed on a single species. Fruit trees can shelter the soil from the tropical rains. Others have revived an ancient technique. They dig canals around small garden plots and shovel mud and algae from the canals onto the plots as nutrients for the crops. Fish may be raised in the canals as an additional food source. Such methods have already met with great success in experiments.
But teaching people “how” costs time and money and requires skill. Tropical nations often have too many immediate economic problems to make that kind of long-term investment. Even if technical know-how were widespread, however, it would not solve the problem. As Michael H. Robinson writes in Saving the Tropical Forests: “The rainforests are being destroyed not out of ignorance or stupidity but largely because of poverty and greed.”
The Root of the Problem
Poverty and greed. It seems that the deforestation crisis runs its roots deep into the fabric of human society, far deeper than the rain forest trees run their roots into the thin tropical soil. Is mankind capable of uprooting the problem?
A 24-nation summit meeting at The Hague, Netherlands, last year proposed the creation of a new authority within the United Nations, to be called Globe. According to the London Financial Times, Globe would have “an unprecedented range of powers to establish and enforce environmental standards.” Although nations would have to give up some of their cherished national sovereignty in order for Globe to have any real power, some say that it is inevitable that such an organization will emerge one day. Only a unified, global agency could address global problems.
That stands to reason. But what human government or agency can eradicate greed and poverty? What government ever has? All too often they are based on greed, so they perpetuate poverty. No, if we are to wait for some human agency to solve the deforestation crisis, then the forests have no future; nor, in fact, do humans.
But consider this. Do not the forests give evidence that they were designed by an immensely intelligent being? Yes, they do! From their roots to their leaves, the rain forests declare that they are the handiwork of a Master Architect.
Well, then, will this Great Architect allow man to wipe out all the rain forests and ruin our earth? An outstanding prophecy in the Bible answers this question directly. It reads: “But the nations became wrathful, and your [God’s] own wrath came, and the appointed time . . . to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”—Revelation 11:18.
There are two remarkable things about that prophecy. First, it points to the time when man would actually be able to ruin the entire earth. When those words were written nearly two thousand years ago, man could no more ruin the earth than fly to the moon. But today he does both. Second, the prophecy answers the question of whether man will completely ruin the earth—with a resounding no!
God made man to take care of the earth and cultivate it, not strip it bare. In ancient Israel he set limits on the deforestation his people carried out as they conquered the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20) He promises that all mankind in the near future will live in harmony with the environment.—1 John 2:17; Jeremiah 10:10-12.
The Bible offers hope, hope for a time when man will cultivate the earth into a paradise instead of bulldozing it into a desert, mend it instead of mauling it, tend it farsightedly instead of greedily milking it dry for a moment’s gain. The forests have a future. The corrupt system of things that is ruining them and all the earth has none.
[Picture on page 13]
Deforestation here on Easter Island may have caused a civilization to vanish
H. Armstrong Roberts