Will Our Rain Forests Survive?
AT THE beginning of this century, the passenger pigeon of North America became extinct. It was possibly the most numerous bird that had ever existed. Ornithologists calculate that two centuries ago its population numbered between five billion and ten billion!
However, within a hundred years, an apparently inexhaustible supply of inexpensive bird meat disappeared in what is described as “the most dramatic decline [of a species] of all time.” The monument to the passenger pigeon in Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin, U.S.A., reads: “This species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.”
The fate of the passenger pigeon reminds us that even the most prolific of earth’s creatures are vulnerable to man’s assault. Avarice and thoughtlessness are still rampant. And today it is not just one species but an entire ecosystem that is in jeopardy. If the rain forests go, all their inhabitants—about half the species of the planet—will go with them. Scientists say that such a cataclysm would be “the greatest biological disaster ever [perpetrated] by man.”
True, we have greater knowledge of the environment than we had a century ago. But this insight has not sufficed to stem the relentless tide of destruction. “We are destroying something that is priceless,” laments botanist Manuel Fidalgo, “and we don’t have much time left. I fear that in a few years’ time, the only forests left intact will be those that are situated on mountain slopes inaccessible to the loggers.”
Naturalists are alarmed because the rain forests are so difficult to restore. The book The Emerald Realm: Earth’s Precious Rain Forests frankly describes reforestation as “slow and expensive, . . . a last-resort response to rain forest destruction.” At best, replanting would probably involve only a few species of tropical trees, and the saplings would need constant attention to prevent weeds from choking them.
Whether a forest could ever regain its former splendor would depend on the nearness of the replanted area to virgin rain forest. Only close proximity would enable the reforested area eventually to be colonized by the tens of thousands of species that make up a true rain forest. Even then, the process would take centuries. Some areas abandoned a thousand years ago when the Mayan civilization collapsed have still not fully recovered.
“A New Internationalism”?
One scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., proposed that 10 percent of existing rain forests be set aside for posterity, to safeguard as many species as possible. At the moment about 8 percent are protected, but many of these reserves or national parks are parks in name only, since there are neither funds nor personnel to protect them. Clearly, something more must be done.
Peter Raven, a spokesman for rain-forest conservation, explains: “Efforts to save the rain forests call for a new internationalism, a realization that people everywhere share a role in the fate of the earth. Ways to alleviate poverty and hunger throughout the world must be found. New agreements between nations will need to be developed.”
His recommendation makes sense to many people. Saving the rain forests requires a global solution—as do many other situations facing mankind. The problem lies in getting “agreements between nations” before a worldwide catastrophe occurs and before the damage done is irreparable. As Peter Raven implies, the destruction of the rain forests is closely related to other intractable problems of the developing world, such as hunger and poverty.
So far, international efforts to address such problems have met with limited success. Some people ask, Will nations one day rise above their narrow and conflicting national interests for the sake of the common good, or is the quest for “a new internationalism” just a dream?
History does not appear to give grounds for optimism. Nevertheless, one factor is often ignored—the viewpoint of the rain forest’s Creator. “It should be borne in mind that we are destroying part of the Creation,” points out Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson, “thereby depriving all future generations of what we ourselves were bequeathed.”
Will the Creator of the earth allow mankind to destroy his handiwork completely? That would be inconceivable.* Rather, the Bible predicts that God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) How will God impose his solution? He promises to establish a Kingdom—a supranational heavenly government—that will solve all earth’s problems and that “will never be brought to ruin.”—Daniel 2:44.
Not only will God’s Kingdom bring an end to man’s abuse of the planet but it will also supervise the restoration of earth’s natural beauty. The whole earth will eventually become a global park, just as our Creator intended at the beginning. (Genesis 1:28; 2:15; Luke 23:42, 43) People everywhere will be “taught by Jehovah,” and they will learn to love and appreciate all of his creation, including the rain forest.—Isaiah 54:13.
Describing that blessed time, the psalmist wrote: “Let all the trees of the forest break out joyfully before Jehovah. For he has come; for he has come to judge the earth. He will judge the productive land with righteousness and the peoples with his faithfulness.”—Psalm 96:12, 13.
Happily, the future of the rain forest does not hinge on the concern—or the avarice—of man. The Bible gives us reason to be confident that the Creator himself will intervene to save our tropical forests. In God’s promised new world, future generations will see the glory that is the rain forest.—Revelation 21:1-4.
Interestingly, conservationists who aim to save as many endangered species as possible describe their ethic as the “Noah principle,” since Noah was instructed to admit into the ark “every living creature of every sort of flesh.” (Genesis 6:19) “Longstanding existence [of species] in nature is deemed to carry with it the unimpeachable right to continued existence,” argues biologist David Ehrenfeld.