26 August 2009

102 Days - Forests: Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don't

"What will we do in the future without wood? The end of the forests has come."
The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability

Another of those eerie twists of email fate: two messages about forests and their role in combating in climate change came in yesterday - one happy, the other immediately cancelling it out.


The World Agroforestry Centre, based in Kenya, has discovered through detailed satellite imagery that although agriculture, particularly in the developing world, is often associated with massive deforestation, almost half of all farmed landscapes worldwide include significant tree cover.

The press release from UNEP says: "This is the first study to quantify the extent to which trees are a vital part of agricultural production in all regions of the world. It reveals that on more than 1 billion hectares - which make up 46 percent of the world's farmlands and are home to more than half a billion people - tree cover exceeds 10 percent."

Dennis Garrity, the Centre's Director General, says "The problem is that policymakers and planners have been slow to recognize this phenomenon and take advantage of the beneficial effect of planting trees on farms. Trees are providing farmers with everything from carbon sequestration, to nuts and fruits, to windbreaks and erosion control, to fuel for heating and timber for housing. Unless such practices are brought to scale in farming communities worldwide, we will not benefit from the full value trees can bring to livelihoods and landscapes."

Trees on farms are useful in several other ways:
  • fertilizer trees improve crop yields and enhance soil health
  • fruit trees enhance nutrition
  • fodder trees feed livestock
  • timber and fuelwood trees provide shelter and energy
  • medicinal trees provide remedies
  • other trees provide global commodities such as coffee, rubber, nuts, gums and resins
  • trees also contribute to erosion control, water quality and biodiversity
Garrity goes on to say that investment and developments in agroforestry over the next 50 years could contribute to the alleviation of climate change, removing significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Poor Mr. Garrity doesn't realize that we don't have 50 years.)


In a 24 August 2009 Associated Press article, Beetles, Wildfire: Double Threat in Warming World, by Charles J. Hanley, it becomes very clear that bad things are happening much faster than good things. (I think we'll need a new word for this phenomenon.)

The vicious circle of warmer weather allowing more insects to kill more trees in the boreal forests around the northern hemisphere, which then absorb less CO2 and add to carbon emissions through wildfires, is worsening year by year.

On the southern edge of the Siberian forests, warmer, drier weather is stifling regrowth of burned-out areas, turning them to grasslands.

Are we looking at peak wood? An Armageddon of insect-infested, burnt-out landscapes? What have we wrought? "The end of the forests has come."


  1. See the many environmental education resources www.freenetwork.org and http://forestinfo.org/ have available.
    F.R.E.E. network: This site is for teachers and students at all grade levels who want to learn more about forests and the management of forests. Within this site are:
    • research resources
    • lists of teaching resources categorized by topic and grade level
    • list of teaching units by topic
    • downloadable PowerPoint slides that can be used in computerized presentations or converted to overhead transparencies
    • an environmental quiz that has been administered to thousands of students and adults nationwide
    • links to other forest-oriented information sites
    The goal of Forestinfo.org is to be a leading source of information on natural resource issues and options.

  2. Thanks for pointing educators to these forest-related resources.


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?