Weekend Postcards of Deforestation

I know the Weekend Postcards are normally devoid of argument and point making. But, I thought it would be fun to look at deforestation differently. To see that deforestation is not necessarily the result of logging (illegal or otherwise). Deforestation comes about from people using the land. Agriculture heads up the list of deforestation causes followed by wood gathering for heating and cooking [Source: Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010Key Findings]. Fires, slash and burn agriculture, mining, and hydro-electric projects also contribute to deforestation.

Agriculture and heating/cooking head the list of causes of deforestation.

Once the primary causes of deforestation are obvious, it becomes equally obvious that lowering the demand for wood (by using less wood or substitutes) will not make a difference in lessening world deforestation. It’s not the demand for lumber or paper that drives deforestation, it’s the demand for food and heating/cooking supplies.

Deforestation results from people trying to survive by eking livings from the land. “Some 350 million people in tropical countries are forest dwellers who derive half or more of their income from the forest. Forests provide directly 10 percent of the employment in developing countries,” says Jeffrey Sayer, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia, which researches better ways to manage and preserve existing forests. CIFOR is one of two CGIAR research institutes that specialize in tropical forestry. A 1996 report by the Consultative Group on International Research (CGIAR) states that:

[T]he main threat to tropical forests comes from poor farmers who have no other option to feeding their families other than slashing and burning a patch of forest and growing food crops until the soil is exhausted after a few harvests, which then forces them to move on to a new patch of forest land. Slash-and-burn agriculture results in the loss or degradation of some 25 million acres of land per year (10 million hectares).

This means that nearly 80% of tropical deforestation in 1995 came from subsistence farmers. (Source: FAO, Annex 6
Earlier global assessments, page 320

Vineyard. Alexander Valley area

Siskiyou county area

Wine grape Vineyard after snowstorm. Lake County, California

Corn field near Cooperstown, New York

Farms may appear idyllic, but they are not ideal from an environmental perspective

Vineyard, Napa County, CA. Agriculture is a primary cause of deforestation.

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Save Trees, Use More Paper

English: Third generation Amazon Kindle

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this year, Kevin Periera of G4 told Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal, the Amazon Kindle “is the savior to many, many forests in the future.” [Read it here]

As a licensed forester and certified treehugger, I don’t think so.

Trees don’t get cut down when you use electronic stuff, right? Well they may be, forever.

The argument that finding and using alternatives to wood will save trees ignores basic economics. Follow the money. Basic economics teaches the ‘law’ of supply and demand. That is the value of a product is based on its availability and the demand for the product. If people don’t use wood products, more wood is available, and the value (price) of wood falls. The result? More lovely forests? Woodland creatures frolicking contentedly? Not quite. Timber companies sell off their timberland and forests are converted to other uses. Most of the deforestation happening in the world is caused by forests being converted to farming.

The idea that going paperless will save trees is counter-productive. Worse, it may be quite hazardous to our planet’s health. Well, I’m a forester. You’d expect me to say something stupid like that, right? I’m not the only one. There are hidden costs to what is often termed green technology.

Tomorrow, if it’s not grown, it’s mined.

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