Deforestation contributes about 17% of the world's carbon dioxide
Plants have given
us the atmosphere that we animals can breathe. They take carbon
dioxide out of the air, store the carbon in their own bodies, and
exhale the oxygen. When cut, and very rapidly when burnt, they do
the opposite: they use up oxygen and pump out carbon dioxide.
Forests of course
do more than that. 1.2 billion people depend on forests for their
In Brazil, forests
are being destroyed at about 7,000 square miles a year. This started
in the sparser woodlands of the southeast and is working into the
taller and denser forests of the central Amazon basin, so the rate
of carbon dioxide emission is increasing.
The deep forest
that once made Borneo (the huge island divided politically between
Indonesia and Malaysia) almost unexplorable is being lost to illegal
logging at a square mile a day the world's worst rate. From
the 1960s to 2011 the primary forest has shrunk from 100% to 5%.
(Native peoples have been driven out, the bared ground planted with
oil palm for fuel, investigators threatened and expelled. It is,
according to former British Prime Minister George Brown, probably
the biggest environmental crime of our times.)
It's not only tropical
rainforests that are being destroyed, but also the boreal forests
that cover much of Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and Canada, and
account for a third of the world's remaining woodland. The destruction
is a network of feedback loops. Not only logging but mining and
damming destroy trees, as does the cutting of thousands of miles
of roads to reach these activities. The warming itself causes an
increase in forest fires and in destruction by insects. In Russia
forest fires are happening twice as fast as in the 1990s.
Could we, by planting
trees, extract from the air the amount of carbon dioxide we're now
putting into it? Yes, but only by planting every year a new area
the size of India.
and Costa Rica are among the few countries that have managed to
shift from deforestation to reforestation.