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Deforestation – Man’s Original Sin

Updated: May 22, 2019

Forests are the world’s air-conditioning system—the lungs of the planet—and we are on the verge of switching it off. —Prince Charles

Bible cites that the first original sin that man committed was to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge.

Environmentalists disagree.

The first original sin that man probably committed was to cut the tree irrespective whether it gave him knowledge or not.

Deforestation is nothing new to us. Civilizations rose because of deforestation. Man had to cut down trees to build cities. When population grew he needed more space… more space could be made only by cutting down forests…but now the situation is that of a serpent eating its own head. We needed space to live so we cut down trees but without these trees we cannot live.

Let’s move back and look at what we have done in the name of creating space. They say that we gain perspective when we look at things from afar so here are a few photographs taken by NASA from outer space that would give us a sense of damage that we have done to this planet.

The state of Rondônia in western Brazil. Left from 1975 and right from 2012.

The Paraguay-Parana River before and after the construction of the Yacyreta Dam in 1985, which displaced 15,000 residents.

Cancún, Mexico, seen in 2009 and 1979

Etosha National Park in Namibia. The white area is the Etosha Pan, a salt-encrusted lake bottom. The dark brown area shows where a fire burned in June 2012.

Yes. Our original sin is fast catching up with us and if we do not stop at our tracks now we might as well look for another planet to settle down.

Raging Deforestation

I saw a Kannada movie called Cheluvi, many years ago. Helmed by eminent dramatist, theatre and film artist Girish Karnad, this movie had a profound message against Deforestation.

Cheluvi is a simple village girl with mystical powers. She can transform into a tree that bears the most beautiful fragrant flowers. When she becomes the tree, her sister plucks these flowers, makes beautiful garlands and they earn their livelihood thus. One day, they meet Kumar, young man who falls in love with Cheluvi and coaxes the secret out of her. They get married and would have lived happily but for some rogue children in Kumar’s family who learn her secret. They force her to transform into the tree and then proceed to break the branches. Cheluvi transforms back partially but can’t become a human again because her branches are missing. When her husband learns of her fate he tries to get her branches to complete the transformation but is unable to get them back because the entire forest is being cut down. Cheluvi remains a tree for the rest of her life.

A simple beautiful story and yet with a powerful message! Don’t you think so?

If only we can imagine each tree that we cut down to be a person, then there would be no more deforestation in the world.

Disappearing Rainforests

Rainforests are called as ‘jewels of the earth’ with good reason. Here are some quick facts about Rainforests –

Rainforests receive high amount of rainfall high amount of rainfall and they help to regulate weather in the areas where they are located.

Do you know Rainforests cover around 2% of the earth but 50% of plants and animals live in these forests?

Do you know a fifth of fresh water is found in tropical rainforests in Amazon Forests?

About 1/4th of natural medicines are discovered in rainforests and 70% of plants that are used to treat cancer are found in these rainforests.

What was 6 Million square miles of rainforest earlier is less than half of it today!

Today we lose over 80,000 acres of tropical Rainforest everyday to deforestation. Research indicates that since 1978, 750,000 square kilometers of Amazon Rainforest has been destroyed due to deforestation. Vast areas were cleared away to built cattle ranches, soy farms, dams or mined for minerals Rainforests in Brazil are fast vanishing. The apathy of this situation is that we are not just cutting away trees we are destroying an entire ecosystem. There are different types of animals that can survive only in the Rainforests. Here are a few animals that have already gone extinct –

Greater Short-Tailed Bat

Titanoba

Piopio: Extinct Birds

Researchers say that over 135 plant and animal species every day and this translates to over 50,000 species every year thanks to deforestation.

Implications of Deforestation

Today, around half of the world’s tropical forests have been cleared. NASA predicts that if we continue to cut down tree at the present rate, there won’t be any trees on the face of the earth in little over than 100 years.

Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Congo are among the many countries where rampant deforestation has been observed. The situation in Indonesia is so grim that over 15.79 million hectares of forest land has been lost to deforestation.

Deforestation is one of the biggest contributing factors to global climate change. When the quantity of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere they can enforce a climate change as they absorb thermal infrared radiation.

Trees absorb Carbon dioxide and release oxygen providing us with fresh air and cool environment. By cutting down trees, all the stored carbon dioxide that is inside the gets released in the environment. According to Global Forest Resources Assessment deforestation releases billion tons of Carbon into the atmosphere every year.

Apart from the increase in carbon dioxide, deforestation also has an impact on the water vapor, which is considered to be a greenhouse gas. Micheal Daley, Associate professor of environmental science in Massachusetts says, “The impact of deforestation on the exchange of water vapor and carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the terrestrial land surface is the biggest concern with regard to the climate system,”

A study published by National Academy of Sciences has said that the global vapor flows from land has decreased by 4%. While this looks like a slight change, the implications of this decrease in vapor flows can disrupt weather patterns significantly.

Apart from the loss of an eco system for indigenous species of plants and animals deforestation effectively ruins the water cycle. Trees absorb rainfall and produce water vapor that gets released into the atmosphere.

Soil erosion is yet another inevitability of deforestation. Roots of the trees anchor soil in one place and when the trees are cut the soil is lost. WWF estimates that one third of the world’s arable land is lost to deforestation since 1960 due to soil erosion.

The way forward

Voices have been raised against deforestation for many decades now. 2015 was in many ways a historic year for the world because of the extreme climate change anomalies that were noticed world wide. This prompted a Climate Summit in Paris – a first of its kind meeting of world leaders where they discussed and debated the various possibilities through which they could commit to reducing carbon footprint.

Following this, Norway became one of the first countries in the world to commit to zero deforestation!

Nils Hermann Ranum, the head of Policy and Campaign at Rainforest Foundation Norway, said, “This is an important victory in the fight to protect the rainforest. Over the last few years, a number of companies have committed to cease the procurement of goods that can be linked to destruction of the rainforest.

“Until now, this has not been matched by similar commitments from governments. Thus, it is highly positive that the Norwegian state is now following suit and making the same demands when it comes to public procurements”.

This resolution was also a victory for the Rainforest Foundation in Norway that had campaigned for years to secure zero deforestation.

I believe that this is the way forward. No single individual today can rectify the damage that we have inflicted on the earth. It now falls upon each one of us to take it up and more importantly the governments of countries – whether it be small or big to take up process of planting more trees.

One can take a leaf out of Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck to do this. When the Royal Prince of Bhutan was born, the couple undertook a program to plant 108,000 trees across the Himalayan nation to celebrate the birth. A simple act that had many profound dreams in its wake.

Here is some food for thought.

Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world but its commitment to conservation of nature is one of its top most priorities so much so that it is mandated in their constitution that 60% of its land must be under forest cover!

If only every country in this world could have such a mandate, we might be leaving a better place for our children.

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