Global and Green : Forests as an Ecological Chance ?

May 6, 2009


After decades of disputes between warning scientists and reluctant governments, there might be a chance to make the world a less disastrous place, this historic moment might help. Can a dynamic US government, a global crisis and conscience of the impending ecological disasters help nations to finally adhere to reasonable scientific propositions ? Or will rhetoric prevail again ?

Melting pole caps, dying oceans, progressing deserts : carbondyoxide is starting to change earth into neighboring Venus. Disputes rage about final proof, about remedies and of their impact on the holy cow – global economy. For us all, the recipe is simple : consume less fossil energy, build houses with better insulations, consume local products. Lets live in modesty for the sake of future generations. Effective and boring.

Are there slightly more exciting ways to save the planet ? Ways for mere mortals to have a certain global impact ? Here is a proposition for those who are looking for something off the beaten track.

How it began, with my sincere apologies to all creationists

Let’s look at our earth shortly after its formation, 4.6 billion years ago. It was extremely hot, due to intense meteorite bombardment and radioactivity, a glowing lava sphere, but gradually a solid crust formed. The first continents appeared at 300 million. In the following 1.4 billion years, they fused into larger plates, the cratons. After 4 billion years, this process was almost complete.

The first gases to be liberated through volcanic activities were water vapor, nitrogen, methane, ammonia and immense quantities of CO2, forming a dense, light-impermeable atmosphere. Overall cooling initiated intense, incessant rains for 40 000 years that led to the formation of oceans. Gaseous CO2 was washed out and formed solid carbonate, it’s water solute being Na2CO3. Thanks to the disappearance of CO2 from the atmosphere, the initial global warming diminished, permitting the formation of live in the oceans. The first cyanobacteria appeared 3.5 billion years ago. They introduced photosynthesis, leading to the production of oxygen and further decrease of the CO2 concentration. This is how the present atmosphere formed.

Forest, more forest, reforest

Until the period of the dinosaurs, earth was covered with dense vegetation and swamps. After the Dino’s disappearance, vegetation changed, allowing the emergence of mammals and finally the human species. 8 million years ago, we left the protecting forests and started walking upright.

The expansion of mankind was inevitably accompanied by deforestation. Unfortunately, populations living in forests have been almost wiped out. We have lost our original relation to the forest ambient.

Forest has become agricultural surface and it is menaced by ever increasing destruction.

Do we need forests for our oxygen ? They do transform CO2 into O2, but the main source of O2 is the oceanic plankton.

What is their function ? Apart from harboring a large part of biodiversity, they help maintain CO2 low, preventing global warming. They also stabilize the world-wide water household, they serve as water-reserves on the continents. The list is by far not complete.

Globalized markets

Traditional communities living in intact amazonian forests were described by Alexander von Humboldt and Claude Levy-Strauss.

Indigenous people had learned over the millennia to live in harmony with their natural habitat, sustainability, yes, they knew that. Before the conquista, complex societies had built towns within forests of central and southern America. In Cambodia, the Khmers built sophisticated urban centers with astute irrigation-systems inside of a dense rain forest, around 1000 AD. Their knowledge regarding this remarkable cultural adaptation is almost lost by now.

Since the renaissance, man has started to exploit nature on a global scale. Fortunately, he was less numerous and did not have efficient technologies, then. In the last 100 years, this has radically changed. While demand is increasing, prices make exploitation of all natural resources ( is everything a commercial good ?) economically lucrative. Since intact forests tend to be located in third-world countries ( Europe got rid of it’s woods during the roman empire) and their importance is not recognized by most if not all governments, there is a Darwinian selection of the most ruthless exploiters in the name of maximized profit, be it resources, plants or animals. Inhabitants of the forests are regarded as a nuisance ( often people offering forests for sale specify : indigenous-free area !). The price for Soja, tropical woods, biocarburants are the effective pacemakers of this ongoing destruction, another genocide. Our friends in Wall Street and a certain Mr. Bush have given forests a breath of oxygen, thanks to their global crisis.

What are we doing now and : is it helping the forests ?

Of course we live in urban centers, forests are for holiday adventures. Every respectable university is conducting forestation, botanical, zoological etc studies, knowledge about the consequences of deforestation is accumulating rapidly. Satellites are recording every burnt and slashed territory. Most researchers of course cultivate their forest reserve.

Is this stopping the logging, the burning and slashing ? It isn’t.

What can be done ? Many NGO’s are promising to plant one tree for every $ you pay. I tend to believe them, but it is a black box concept.

Many forest activists all around the world are conducting valuable projects. Others like FSC oversee the sustainable logging of forests. In Brazil and elsewhere, courageous people are fighting for forest protection and for the indigenous people at the risk of their lives ( Chico Mendes). Catholic bishops are informing the general public about the local reality. There are numerous complementary approaches. Every project helps.

International organizations are trying to create an effective legal basis for this purpose. Apart from having insufficient control over remote rural areas, local administration is often corrupt. They prefer a gain from foreign firms than helping an idealistic goal. All odds of reality are against forest protection.

Some firms like Shell ( petroleum products) have bought huge forest territories in South East Asia. Rich benefactors have created large sanctuaries : – congratulations. Yes, and even Sting has a forest. It is so good for the image and conscience.

I care for my car, because it is my car.

Why did the „real existierende Sozialismus“ fail so miserably ?

One important factor was the lack of incentive through property. The state functioned like one huge firm, owning everything. No one else could acquire anything, motivation for work, entrepreneurship, etc was gone.

People with a garden care for it. The others don’t understand what the heck they are doing out there.

In all capitalist societies the protection of property is very efficient. Laws, police, tribunals, prisons, the military can be involved.

No international ecological law is as strict and effective for the purpose of protecting forests as the one protecting domestic land property – it is a backbone of capitalism. I think that we should utilize this instrument in this context.

The concept : a sketch

Specialists from universities and other organizations form a preliminary panel. They should include forestry biologists, forest economists, hydrologists, zoologists, lawyers, all specialties needed for a complete assessment of the following project.

They elaborate a catalog of conditions needed to preserve a tropical forest or to reestablish it. These criteria are already well known and can be resumed with „ don’t touch it“.

This panel calls for a conference where a foundation is created with the purpose of mediating between owners / sellers of forests worldwide and philanthropists willing to buy those forests.

The foundation for the forests has several functions :

It provides a professional background and a reliable catalog of criteria to assess forests. The first task is to identify territories on sale regarding their size, location, hydrological, geologic conditions, how their potential regarding biodiversity is, larger context, political and other problems.

Potential buyers are then contacted. They don’t simply donate the amount, but become lifelong members of the foundation with the act of purchase.

After the forest has been bought, the foundation and the owner are responsible together for the protection of this territory, the cost is split. Ideally, both have an advantage.

The foundation can utilize the territory for any scientific project, for introduction of endangered species of plants or animals, for teaching etc. There has to be an organization on the ground to prevent illegal activities.

The owner signs a contract with the foundation, promising respect of the basic principles. If the territory allows it, sustainable exploitation and other activities may be allowed.

The baseline is that through the supervision and professional intervention of the foundation, the forest is being protected from the well-known damages. The owner accepts a certain limitation of his rights, but in compensation he knows that the forest will gradually improve and probably also gain in value. A growing investment. In my opinion, the present crisis should motivate people with sufficient financial means to evaluate this alternative possibility for a longterm investment that that is relatively immune from the fluctuations of international markets. Particularly organizations interested in ethic investments might find it interesting.

Of course, an intact rain forest is almost impossible to find. Usually people sell forest-territories, sometimes considerable areas ( 1 million hectares), because they need money or because the cultures are not profitable.

Brazil is allowing cutting of huge territories for Soja and sugarcane cultures. Large areas have been used for this purpose and are losing their soil, becoming infertile. Many areas are abandoned and cattle breeders or farmers move on into new forest land.

There are techniques of reforestation of such territories, but rapid action must be taken, before the soil is eroded.

Discussion and Outlook

This approach aims at guaranteeing a through scientific basis and control.

The foundation provides a longterm, transparent and non profit-oriented strategy. It provides the know-how and local infrastructure.

The buyer becomes a lifelong member of the foundation. He does not pay an additional overhead for the land, but contributes to the ongoing costs.

This approach is transparent for all participating parties. In this way there is a reasonable chance to receive support from international organizations, NGO’s, universities and most important, from the concerned governments. They are the stepping stone in this concept. International treaties and legislation exists. Since respecting such guidelines has no practical benefits for the local and central administrations, they tend to fall in the trap of illegal economic activities, corruption. It would be important to elaborate projects involving the local populations, offering them formation and jobs, soft tourism, help in schooling and elementary medical help in exchange with logistic and security help from police etc.

It is clear that such a concept must be discussed and elaborated by professionals competent in all involved areas. It should start as a pilot project. It should be as open and flexible as possible to allow it to adapt to all local conditions. Since time is running out, it should ideally be based on a light and fast organization.

The thought is rather simple and analogous to FSC : to guarantee a thorough quality standard for forest ecology and it’s protection, but without the foundation being the sole owner and administrator. A kind of franchising for forest owners with an ecological conscience. Let’s hope.

Counterarguments :

Yes, it takes 50 to 100 years for a forest to grow to maturity. How long does mankind intend to stay around ?

Is it sufficient ? Certainly not. It is intended as one measure among others. First, producing less CO2 is the cheapest and technolgically easiest measure. Just do it. Second, technology is offering ways to stock CO2 in the bottom of the sea, wood can be stored airthight in the soil, it can also pumped into space.

Where is the main problem ? Even so-called democratic societies are unable to develop effective strategies. Politics follows a logic of self-preservation that is totally undemocratic, I will elaborate on this. Economic interests in the short-term are easier to put into practise than longterm goals.

The alarming facts regarding CO2 emissions :


One Response to “Global and Green : Forests as an Ecological Chance ?”

  1. […] Global and Green : Forests as an Ecological Chance ? « Ziusudra’s Blog (tags: forest environment climate-change green sustainable) […]

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