The Fruits of Civilization (72-6-2) Forests continued


The 17,000 islands of Indonesia, totaling 1.9 million km2, were once lush forests; along with Amazonia, home to some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. By 2016, logging and land clearing for farms and plantations had wiped out over half of the forests that once carpeted Indonesia.

During the summer dry season, smoke from Indonesian fires to enlarge plantations blacken the skies throughout southeast Asia. The pall is a severe health hazard.

Air pollution generically, and particles specifically, are carcinogens. That would also be the case with smoke from wildfires, from the burning of vegetative matter. ~ American physician Jonathan Samet

Madagascar is a large island off the east coast of central Africa, nearly 600,000 km2, almost as large as Alaska. Once heavily forested, and with a vast array of unique life, the island is under intense deforestation. The assault began 1,000 years ago, when early settlers burned the lush forests to promote the growth of grass for cattle fodder. This practice has greatly accelerated in recent decades. Deforestation has not been decently monitored, but by 2015, Madagascar had lost ~90% of its original forests.

Americans gaining control over the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War illustrates the development of modern logging. The Americans set up a forestry bureau within 2 years, and commercial logging commenced in 1904. At the time, 80% of the virgin forests were intact. By the early 1950s, half of the remaining forests had been destroyed. In 1980, 30% remained. By 2000, just 3% of the original forests were still intact. In 2018 only 1.5% remained.

Today’s deforestation practices in economically developing countries are simply more of the same, beginning with the Levant on the cusp of civilization 9,000 years ago, through Eurasia and the Americas from medieval times into the age of industrialization. The problem now is only more severe because of what has already been lost.

Tropical forests and the animals they harbour are being lost at alarming rates. ~ English ecologist Marion Pfeifer in 2017

China is now the top culprit of deforestation. (China is the world’s largest importer of wood. The US is 2nd.) The country began restricting commercial logging in its own natural forests at the turn of the century. To feed its rapacious demand for wood, China pays to denude the remaining forests of foreign lands, including Siberia (in Russia), Peru, Myanmar, Mozambique, Borneo, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

If the Chinese come, nothing will be left. ~ Siberian resident Marina Volobuyeva

Clear-cutting accelerates the demise of remaining forest. The bare land of deforested areas is scorched by the Sun, creating hot spots that alter heat flow through a landscape.

Low air pressure in cleared areas pulls the cool, moist air out of the forest and feeds hot, dry air back in. This vegetation breeze is a scorching breath of death.

The cleared areas get all the rain and the forests gets sucked dry. This is like climate change on steroids, and it happens over much more rapid time scales. ~ American ecologist Kika Tuff

8.6 million hectares of forest continue to be lost worldwide each year, mostly for industrial agriculture. As of 2015, over 90% of South America’s Atlantic forest, which extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, has been destroyed. What remains are scattered wooded patches averaging 60–70 hectares. Deforestation there continues.

Fragmentation of forest ecosystems has critical and ongoing impacts that erode biodiversity and ecological processes. ~ Marion Pfeifer et al

Small fragments are the future. ~ American Australian ecologist Bill Laurance

 African Baobab

Climate change is performing its own deforestation. The African baobab is the biggest and longest-living angiosperm tree. A baobab may live 3 millennia. A 2005–2017 survey of African baobabs found the trees dropping like flies.

Such a disastrous decline is very unexpected. These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought. ~ Romanian ecologist Adrian Patrut

Having survived the climatic tribulations of the past 2,000+ years, baobabs cannot cope with the weather now.