Rain Forests—Who Will Save Them?
ANYONE wanting to remedy the problems afflicting tropical forests must first treat the causes for them. What are they? The culprit is not simply the press of human overpopulation. The fertile regions of the earth can easily sustain the world’s population—and more besides.
In fact, governments in some countries are concerned about overproduction on farms, which causes food prices to sag. Some governments encourage farmers to change their land to leisure uses, such as campgrounds, golf courses, or wildlife parks.
Why, then, are the world’s forests shrinking? We must look to causes deeper than those we have mentioned thus far.
The Root Causes of Deforestation
Long before the present population explosion, many governments pillaged forests in their quest for power and riches. For instance, the British Empire’s need for timber to build ships led to the destruction of Britain’s own oak stands and then the teak forests of Burma and Thailand. The same empire denuded forests in India to fuel iron foundries. Other forests were cleared for rubber, coffee, and cocoa plantations.
After the second world war, however, chain saws and bulldozers made it possible to clear-cut forests on a new scale. More and more, fragile forests were exploited as a resource.
Large companies bought up huge tracts of fertile land and used mechanized equipment to harvest cash crops. Thrown out of work, thousands of rural people moved to the cities. Others, though, were encouraged to move to the rain forests. Such terrain was sometimes billed as “a land without people for people without land.” By the time people realized how difficult it is to farm in such places, it was often too late—a vast stretch of forest was gone.
Official corruption too has written death warrants for many forests. A logging permit is worth big money. For a bribe, some dishonest officials have been known to give short-term concessions to companies that plunder the timber with no regard for conservation.
The biggest threat to the wildlife in forests, however, is, not logging, but changing woodlands over to agriculture. When the land is fertile, in some cases such a changeover may be justified. But often, corrupt or incompetent officials have needlessly signed away forests that can never be recovered.
Criminals too damage forests. Illegal loggers clandestinely cut valuable trees, even those in national parks. Sometimes they saw logs into planks right there in the forest—a wasteful and illegal practice. Local people are paid to carry the timber out on bicycles or even on their backs. Then, to avoid checkpoints, trucks take it away on quiet mountain roads after dark.
Deforestation and loss of wildlife, then, are not the inevitable result of increasing population. They are often the result of mismanagement, greedy commerce, crime, and corrupt government. That being so, what hope is there for conserving the immense diversity of life that is found in tropical rain forests?
What Hope for the Rain Forests?
“Only a fraction of the world’s tropical forests are being well managed,” declares the book The Cutting Edge: Conserving Wildlife in Logged Tropical Forest. It adds: “At present, few (if any) forests are successfully managed in a sustainable manner.” Sustainable management is certainly possible, but the reality worldwide is rapid deforestation.
It has been said that a remarkable exception in this regard is Bolivia, with 25 percent of its tropical rain forest certified as being sustainably managed. However, worldwide the figure may be less than one percent—a discouragingly tiny fraction. Most tropical forests are ruthlessly exploited. Selfishness and greed are the true driving forces behind such destruction. How reasonable is it to hope that the world’s traders and politicians will stem the tide and turn to protecting mankind’s irreplaceable heritage?
The book Forests of Hope concludes with this ideal for mankind: “To discover and pursue a lifestyle that is appropriate for people the world over, and that does not ravage the earth and its resources.” That goal is appealing—but is it realistic?
What did our Creator intend for the earth and mankind? He commanded the first human pair: “Fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) So God does allow mankind to make use of creation. But “subjection” is not a license for ruination.
The question, then, is, Can mankind really change its life-style, on a global scale, to one that “does not ravage the earth and its resources”? Those words imply a level of love for neighbor and a respect for God’s creation that are rare in today’s world. To hope that mankind’s leaders will adopt and promote such a life-style is to hope in a fantasy.
Nevertheless, God’s Word foretells a time when the earth will be filled with people who love their fellow humans and their Creator. The Bible says: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” (Isaiah 11:9; Psalm 37:29; Matthew 5:5) Notice that it is because they have come to know and love Jehovah, the Grand Creator, that God’s people refrain from doing “any harm” or causing “any ruin.” There can be no doubt that such people would avoid ruining the earth.
This is no mere dream. Even now, Jehovah is gathering sincere people and teaching them. By studying God’s Word, millions earth wide have learned of a life-style that is based on self-sacrificing love for others. (John 13:34; 1 John 4:21) This journal, along with its companion, The Watchtower, is published to help people learn more about that life-style and how to adopt it. We invite you to keep learning. No subject could prove more rewarding.
[Pictures on page 10]
Man will tend the beautiful earth rather than ruin it