China gets into the act too.
If a man is not to live by bread alone, what is better
worth doing well than the planting of trees?
-- Frederick Law Olmstead, founder of American landscape architecture & co-designer of New York’s Central Park.
Trees and forests, their decline, recovery, and the many benefits they offer to human beings and the environment, are gaining attention these days. This is due not just to concerns with the loss of biodiversity or carbon sequestration in the Amazon, or floods and erosion in China, but also a growing appreciation of the paramount role arboreal resources play in the protection and preservation of land, air, and water.
Even the preeminent bird-guide author and illustrator, David Allen Sibley, has moved into the tree business with a new contribution, The Sibley Guide to Trees (2009).
“Perhaps no other group of organisms has been as profoundly affected by humans as trees,” writes Sibley. “Only a few thousand acres of virgin old-growth forest remain in the eastern United States, the rest has been cut, and most of the eastern forest has been cut down many times. What the average person thinks of as ‘mature forest’ is usually fifty- to seventy-year-old new growth, covering land that was open pasture or farmland less than a hundred years ago.”
Still, this is much better than abandoned, rocky, infertile farm land in New England or cut-over, burned-over landscapes in the Upper Great Lakes states as was common decades ago. Even in their reduced state, recovering forests bring with them a generous increment of environmental improvement in terms of air and water quality, not to mention habitat. The regeneration of forests in the eastern United States is a magnificent thing to behold.
Another Earth Day has arrived, and your writer will attempt, counter-intuitively, to look for the proverbial silver lining through the clouds of environmental doom that engulf so much commentary on such matters.
I first offered TAS readers these sunnier reflections on conservation and the environment for Earth Day 2006 and have done so ever since. Fortunately, good things continue to happen that are deserving of more attention than they normally get.
In last year’s column, I recognized the towering accomplishments of the late Nobelist Norman Borlaug in bringing about the “Green Revolution” in world agriculture. While his work on high-yield, high-input agriculture is not without its environmental critics, Gregg Easterbrook has pointed out that it not only fed a growing population but also protected countless hectares (equal to 2.471 acres) of forest that would have to be cut down in order to expand production in the absence of such techniques.
The state of the world’s forests is perilous indeed, but there are signs of improvement. The Economist, a magazine that blends a free-market outlook with a lively interest in all things environmental, has been following this issue closely. In February it reported that the Food & Agriculture Organization, a UN body, estimates that the world’s forests covered 4.03 billion hectares in 2010.
“Although the world as a whole continues to lose forests, the annual rate of deforestation in the past decade has fallen to 5.2m hectares, compared to 8.3m hectares between 1990 and 2000,” stated the Economist. “Some large countries, including China and India, increased their forest cover between 2000 and 2010.” China’s increased at an average annual rate of 1.6 percent, India’s by 0.5 percent. Then there is Nigeria which “has been chopping its forests down at a rate of 3.7% a year.” Only one-tenth of its land remained forested.
In September of last year, the Economist also noted that Brazil, which razed 2.8m hectares (10,700 square miles) of the Amazon in 2004, only leveled 750,000 hectares in 2009. The magazine has attributed this decline in the rate of deforestation to Brazil becoming “the first tropical agricultural giant and the first to challenge the dominance of the ‘big five’ food exporters” (America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union).
Nevertheless, the outlook for the Amazon is “grave.” Eighteen percent of the rainforest has been cleared. It will be necessary for Brazil and other nations, with the support of the international community, to change their policies. “The cost of failure would simply be too great,” argues the Economist.
The magazine also ran another item that highlighted the functional benefits of trees and forests to a key artery of international trade-the Panama Canal, through which passes 5 percent of world commerce. In December the canal closed for the first time since the U.S. invasion in 1989. Evidently, heavy rains had resulted in massive, disruptive mudslides in and around Panama.
Generally, a steady supply of water from the surrounding hills is crucial to the canal’s operation. “Too much water and the canal stops as gates are opened to allow the flood water to subside. Too little water, though, and there is not enough to operate the locks and allow ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”
If the canal’s watershed is well-forested, “this evens out the water supply throughout the year,” observed the Economist. “Cut the trees down, and there the variability in the water supply rises. And the canal needs reliability, not variability.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?