Soon to Be Halted! THE PLUNDERING OF EARTH'S FORESTS
Clayton D Steep
Surprising steps will soon be taken to halt and remedy man's destruction of the world's forests.
LIFE as we know it would be drastically different if all forests disappeared in the next 12 months. The good news is that they won't disappear in the next 12 months. But the bad news is that at the rate man's current war on trees is proceeding, the world's primary forests will not last another half century! Whether you live in a sprawling city or in a lumber camp, you are about to feel the effects of rapidly vanishing forests. You will not only pay higher prices for all the products derived from trees — including fruits and nuts. You will also feel whatever effect the destruction of forest areas will have on worldwide climate and weather patterns.
Chances are the building you are sitting in is constructed mostly or at least in part of wood or wood products. Likewise your chair. The Sunday edition of the large metropolitan newspaper you may receive could well contain more wood pulp than many families in some nations can gather in a day's searching. Way more than 4,000 different manufactured products in the industrial world today come wholly or in part from the forests. For example: adhesives, dyes, paints, plastics, sugars, resins, wallboard, veneers, oils, disinfectants, alcohols, toilet tissue, napkins, paper bags, drugs, corks, charcoal, soaps, roofing materials, stains, animal foods, explosives. Then there are the many items made of wood itself — musical instruments, matches, telephone poles, toys, fence posts, barrels, railroad ties, coffins, firewood, broom handles and everything else from boats to stereo speaker cabinets. Today's crisis is the end of a long trail of human selfishness in managing the earth.
Trail of Destruction
For thousands of years, one of the marks of civilization's expansion has been the disappearance of trees. At one time significant highland areas of the Arabian Desert were far from being a vast expanse of wasteland. The Bible mentions the "forest in Arabia" (Isaiah 21:13). Arabia was at one time known as "Arabia Felix" — "Arabia the Happy" — hardly a description of endless sand dunes and blistering heat. When ancient Israel went in and possessed the land of Caanan, it was a plush land, full of "vineyards, and olive-yards, and fruit trees in abundance" (Nehemiah 9:25) — a land flowing with milk and honey. That's not the way it has been for centuries, though limited attempts have recently been made in reclaiming land through reforestation and irrigation. Who has not heard of the famed cedars of Lebanon? They were, until World War I, a rich stand of stately trees growing along with pine, fir, juniper and oak. Over centuries, the Phoenicians, the Pharaohs, the Babylonians, the Israelites, the Romans, and especially the Turks in World War I, decimated the forests of Lebanon. Goats and firewood traders and British troops in World War II put finishing touches on what was left. Elsewhere the story has been the same throughout history. Down the forests came, whether for building materials, for ships, for use in warfare, or as firewood, or making room for agriculture. Sometimes just because they were "in the way." In the Near East and the Mediterranean, overgrazing by goats and other domestic animals has stripped off the remaining ground cover. In nonagricultural areas herds of goats also played a significant part, eating away at the bark and sprouts of trees. Finally the last scrub tree in an area fell victim and then there were none. The result: move on to fresh ground or else try to survive on deteriorating land. The human factor is still to be blamed for currently expanding deserts in parts of the world. Not that all land once stripped of its forest covering becomes desert. In the British Isles the proportion of natural forest still extant is estimated at about 2 percent of what it once was. Enough rain falls to prevent the formation of desert. Still, the land has become increasingly less productive. As for the United States, farming, logging, industrial exploitation and fires have leveled hundreds of millions of acres of forest. Erosion has made useless for crops much of this deforested land. What once seemed like limitless woodlands is now in need of careful management. While some in the lumber industry claim there is still up to 75 percent as much forestland in the United States as when Christopher Columbus arrived, some conservationist groups dispute that figure, insisting only a small fraction of the original forestland exists. Part of the difference is probably in terminology. Timber companies counting their replanted tree farms as "forest." The conservationists counting only virgin forest. The lumber industry has been accused of using deceptive terminology to mask the ongoing decimation of America's forests. Conservationist groups are adamant that virgin forest once cut down can never be adequately replaced with the tree farm methods used by the industry. The original landscape they point out, is destroyed, streams are ruined, fish killed, wild life disturbed. And the uniform trees that are substituted for the original forest look like so many stalks of corn: same species, same height, same age, same shape, same distance apart. Not at all natural forest. What is more, even with the help of fertilizers and pesticides, intensive tree-farm methods work only until the soil is worn out and supports growth no longer. In Europe the situation is somewhat different. The bare hills of southern Europe show little evidence of the extensive woodlands that once existed in these regions. But western Europe has apparently managed to stop the uncontrolled devastation of its forestlands, thanks in part to the accessibility of timber from northern Europe. For how long are any forests of the temperate zones safe? Many may be "off limits" to developers and still be wasted by man-made forest fires, air pollution and acid rain. The increased cost of fuel is putting new pressure on them. Search is underway for a practical way to convert woody cellulose into sugars that could be fermented into ethanol to power automobiles. A new method of making wood pellets promises to do for many homes what coal once did at the expense of the forests. Undoubtedly, the biggest factor now slowing the saw in the temperate zone forestlands is the availability of large imports of timber from northern Europe, the Soviet Union and especially the tropical moist forests of the world.
The Tropical Moist Forests
All the forests and jungles in the world put together cover less than one fourth of the earth's land surface. The highest percentage of forested land is in South America, followed in order by Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. Fifty percent of all forestland is comprised of what is called "tropic moist forests." They are located principally in the warm tropical belt extending across Central and South America, Africa and Asia. A chorus of voices of alarm is being raised about what is now taking place in these areas. Here the chain saws and bulldozers of commerce, combined with the slash-and-burn agricultural methods of local farmers, are tearing away at earth's fragile skin. In the tropical forest regions, at least 140 million persons survive by practicing slash-and-burn agriculture. That is, they clear away an area of forest by cutting and burning. They cultivate the land for a few years. And then they move on. The reason they move on is that tropical soil is unable to sustain for more than a short period the kind of cultivation being required of it. The cycle is all too familiar. The trees are burned or otherwise taken out. Then too many people try to farm too small an area, making every effort to wring the last bit of good from the soil. Methods commonly used in more prosperous parts of the world — such as the utilization of fertilizers, pesticides and high-yielding grains — are considered too expensive. (It goes without saying that truly beneficial practices, such as building up the soil with fertilizer and/or compost and letting the land rest periodically, are not followed either) Finally, heavy tropical rains pour down on the cleared land, eroding away what good dirt there is. And so the already delicate tropical soil is quickly depleted. The farmers leave behind the worn-out land, advance into the forest, slashing and burning anew, and the cycle starts over.
The "Hamburger Connection"
Slash-and-burn farmers do an estimated two thirds of the total worldwide damage to tropical forests. In South America, however, the forests suffer more damage as a result of commercial activity than from farmers. In other tropical areas of the globe, commercial interests play a lesser, but a growing, role. Cattle raising is an important factor, especially in Latin America. The high price of beef in the developed world has led to the creation of huge cattle ranches where trees once stood. "In one case, a... multinational [corporation] burnt down a million acres of forest in the Amazon basin for a cattle ranch in one single vast conflagration. The fire, which wiped out all wild life, was so big that it was reported by a weather satellite as an impending volcanic eruption" (October, 1980 "Report of the Food Industries of South Africa"). Supplying meat to the fast-foods chains in North America — hence the name "Hamburger Connection" — leads to immediate high profits. But many ranches become unprofitable within 10 years because the man-established pasture deteriorates just like the plots of the forest farmers. Then the rancher must try to obtain another section of forest. Also gnawing away at the forests of the tropics are other multinational corporations and lumber companies. Ninety percent of the timber in the tropical moist forests is hardwood. These hardwoods are much in demand in the developing nations, since the hardwoods of the temperate zones are either depleted or not accessible. With advanced technology it is possible to penetrate deep into the tropical forests, cut down and extract the choice trees, leaving a path of destruction in the wake. Compounding the overall problem is the critical need three fourths of the world's people have for cooking fuel. (See the accompanying article) Other lesser factors are the highways and the oil and gas pipelines. Although they too have required the clearing of millions of acres of tropical forest land. An area of tropical forest the size of Great Britain is being destroyed every year. That may not seem like such a big portion of the globe, but it is a significant part of the tropical forest left.
Why Be Concerned?
What do all these problems have to do with you? For one thing there are the economic factors. As the trees disappear, the price of wood products and derivatives — from your daily newspaper to lumber — will continue to escalate. Non tropical forests will fall victim to pressing worldwide needs. Even more ominous is one especially menacing effect of deforestation: the altering of worldwide weather patterns. "The president of the Brazilian Academy of Science warned that Amazonian forest- was being destroyed at the rate of 2,700 meters an hour and would be totally gone within 35 years, possibly affecting forever the world's weather system" (ibid). It is estimated that the devegetating activities of man and his domestic animals have already drastically altered 20 percent of the total area of the continents, with a resulting change in the heat and water budget. Combine the damage man has done to the environment down through the centuries with the current onslaught in the tropical forests and there is a real cause for alarm. The balance of nature depends partly on a certain percentage of the earth's surface being covered with trees. In a way, there is a parallel with the skin of a human being. A person can tolerate the loss of a certain percentage of his skin and survive. But let that critical point be surpassed and the whole life-system fails. Likewise with the earth's forest covering. It plays an essential part in the global recycling of water, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, as well as influencing the wind, temperature and humidity. Scientists studying the situation are divided in their predictions as to whether it will become warmer or colder as the result of deforestation, plus the smoke of slash-and-burn agriculture. A slight change either way will be sufficient to upset the weather patterns as we have known them.
Out on a Limb with "Super-trees"?
Some see a note of optimism in what they hope can be achieved through the use of "super-trees," winged beans and other hardy, rapidly growing plants. So-called super-trees (most of them actually are large legumes) may reach a height of more than 20 feet in one year — and even the foliage is edible. Capable of slowing erosion and adding nutrients to the soil, they are a source of pulp, paper and firewood. Meanwhile the winged bean is a smaller plant almost entirely edible, including its roots. It is hoped such plants can be "farmed" where forests once stood. But it costs money to put such plants where they are needed. And a lot of convincing has to be done all the way from the highest levels of various governments to the forest farmer whose set pattern of doing things is often hard to change. Besides, these fast-growing plants can never really replace a natural hardwood forest. It's not unlike tearing out a flower garden and sowing a fast-growing, edible weed instead. The weeds may prevent erosion, they may be prolific and even provide food. But the weeds are not flowers!
The Trunk of the Tree
A tree, whether part of a forest or standing alone on a city lot, ought not to be taken for granted. Of course there is a proper way and time to harvest timber and forest products. No one is saying there isn't. But the wholesale and indiscriminate destruction of forests and woodlands is wrong. When God created the first man and woman He put them in an ideal environment — a garden with plenty of trees. Adam was told to dress and keep the garden (Genesis 2:9, 15). That meant responsible stewardship. That is exactly what is needed now over the forests and woodlands of the earth. But who is going to decide what constitutes responsible stewardship? The lumber companies? Multinational corporations? Developers? Cattle ranchers? Poverty-stricken farmers? Scientists? Conservationists? Bureaucrats? Someone has to be in charge, but who? Just as to the other problems plaguing mankind — there is only one real solution to the growing crisis concerning earth's forests: fair, responsible, incorruptible world government. The kind of government Jesus Christ is going to bring to this earth. Ever since the days of Cain, there have been people who have tried to "force" the earth — attempting to wring more out of it than it can give. Forgotten has been the fact that God has not blessed some portions of the earth to where they can sustain large numbers of people and animals. It is a mistake to try to surpass the limit of what the land can do. The problems posed by the millions of forest farmers who themselves are victims of circumstance — those who need firewood in order to survive, those whose animals overgraze the land, the profit-hungry commercial and industrial interests and all others who, combined, are ravaging the world's forestlands and killing off the trees — these problems can only be fully resolved under the Government of God. Here's how it will occur.
At Last — Reforestation the Right Way!
One of the specific policies to be put into effect in the coming World Tomorrow, of which we speak, is a gigantic reforestation program. If one is needed now, there will really be a need for one by then. The reason is that one third of all trees still remaining will be burned up in the cataclysmic military events bringing this age to a close (Revelation 8:7). God revealed His reforestation program to the prophet Isaiah in these terms: "I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together" (Isaiah 41:19, RSV). Notice that in God's reforestation program there will be a variety of trees planted together. He will not follow the "tree farm" approach where single species are planted over vast stretches with the quick-profit motive in mind. Nor will He rely on "super-trees." The way of greed, which is really at the base of the present-day problem, originated with Satan, a great fallen archangel. Isaiah 14 speaks of this being, using the "king of Babylon" as a type. One of the characteristics of his rule is the indiscriminate cutting down of trees! The Bible pictures the trees as rejoicing when Satan's rule is overthrown: "The cypresses rejoice at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, 'Since you were laid low [note the pun!], no hewer comes up against us' " (verse 8, RSV). This is not to say that in the World Tomorrow no trees will be cut down. To the contrary, Isaiah 60:13 and Ezekiel 41:22 show there will be a right use of beautiful woods. Material resources will be wisely employed. For one thing, there will not be a need for paper to print all the useless books and publications that are printed today. What is printed in the World Tomorrow will be worth printing. And when society is set up and run God's way, there may be many uses for wood that seem essential in today's world, which then just may be obsolete. There may be better ways of fulfilling these needs. The Bible gives a remarkable description in portraying the peace that will prevail in the world soon to come. When all nations are at peace, "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid" (Micah 4:4). If each household has its own fig tree, there is no reason to assume it may not also have other fruit- and nut-bearing trees, as well as trees for shade and beauty. When God's government is ruling the world, there will be no more wasteful plundering of earth's natural resources. Instead there will be wise use, development and conservation combined. The Bible pictures the trees at that time as shouting for joy (Psalm 96:12-13; Isaiah 44:23). Then the hills will indeed be alive with the sound of music, for "the mountains and hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off" (Isaiah 55:12-13).