February 1, 2009
You can see the smoke from space, as Earth’s rainforests burn in the Amazon, central Africa, and Indonesia. As well as destroying precious ecological habitats, a host of unknown life-saving herbs and medicines, and the ways of life of their indigenous forest dwellers, the fires are producing 20% of the CO2 emissions that fuel global warming.
Since the start of the human adventure, we have cut down 80% of Earth’s forests, but 20% remains, covering 12% of Earth’s land area, storing 40% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. As a result of our assault by bulldozer, chainsaw and fire, we are losing 40,000 hectares every day. People and businesses are destroying rainforests to raise cattle, soybeans for Europe’s cattle, monocultures trees for pulpwood, palm oil plantations for biodiesel (“deforestation diesel”), and to cut the valuable tropical hardwoods (often illegally). Andrew Mitchell of the Global Canopy Program says, “Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change”.
What should we do? Costa Rica has made it illegal to convert forest into farmland. The Paraguay government placed a moratorium on deforestation in the eastern half of the country in 2004, using satellites to keep a check and sending in forestry officials and police when they spotted a problem, reducing deforestation by 85%.
Where the political will is strong, deforestation can be stopped. In Peru, the government has reduced the loss of forest in protected areas to less than 0.2% a year, using a combination of protected parks and indigenous reserves, the titling of native territories to the forest people who live there, the sanctioning of long-term commercial timber production in chosen areas, and satellite monitoring.
Providing locally enforceable rights over forest management to local forest communities is key. India recently brought in a law returning the bulk of its forests to local communities for management, and is one of the few countries where there is a net increase in forest cover.
Globally, we need either a large Global Forests Protection Fund, financed by a global carbon tax, which would be used to purchase threatened forests and give them permanent protection, or a system of “avoided deforestation” credits under the Kyoto Treaty which would give villagers, councils, tribes, and nations an incentive to protect their forests. See www.mongabay.com.
First published in EcoNews: A monthly newsletter funded by your donations that dreams of a world blessed by the harmony of nature, the pleasures of community, and the joys of personal fulfillment, guided and protected by our active citizenship.