Deforestation Keeping Pace with Population Growth


Forests are being destroyed at a pace even with the rate of human population growth. Unless something changes soon, by 2030 we will only have 10 percent of the natural forests that stood on the planet when we started paying attention[1]. Locations rapidly losing their forests are diverse:

Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Laos, Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and the Cote d'lvoire have lost most of their rainforests, according to the biologists of Chicago’s Field Museum. Ninety percent of the forests of the Philippine archipelago have been cut[2]. In the last 30 years, the Rotary Foundation’s Fellowship for Population and Development estimates that two-thirds of the forests of Central America have been cut down. That’s two-thirds of the forests in Central America in just 30 years cut down by local people who need farmland and household firewood[3]. The same basic pattern holds all over the tropical world. If we look at the earth as an island — an island surrounded by outer space — then the experience of tropical islanders is unnerving. When we started keeping track, 60 percent of Haiti was forested. When the International Conference on the Reforestation of Haiti convened in 2007, less than 1 percent remained. The conference’s report is eloquent: “Haiti has become an environmental catastrophe and a human catastrophe ... With the forest cover gone, floods ravage the country at each rainfall. Topsoil washes into the sea. And since the only hope of Haitians for feeding their families is the soil and small scale farming, it is a terrible humanitarian disaster.”[4] 

In Haiti deforestation is both a symptom of overpopulation and a root cause of human suffering. Haiti is an example of what can happen when too many people have too few natural resources in a limited environment. Food for thought.

And in Haiti, as around the world, deforestation is mostly a local phenomenon driven by local needs. There are a few places where big timber companies are driving the process, but not many. In most places, local folks need the space and need the fuel. The wood is going into the fireplace or, tragically, being piled up and burned simply to make room for more poor farmers.

[1] Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. 2003, Vintage ISBN 0-679-76811-4
[2] Field Museum. The Lost Forest. 
[3] Rotarian Fellowship for Population & Development. Population & Deforestation. 
[4] International Conference on Reforestation and Environmental Regeneration of Haiti. Reforest Haiti. 

3/2/2009 12:41:13 PM

Good article. Destroying the environment means the human population suffers as well. We need to plant more trees, conserve all resources (especially potable water, the rarest and most valuable substance in existence) and reduce the human population explosion. The gag order has been recently lifted meaning more people, worldwide, will be able to get birth control. More birth control means less poverty, less disease, less starvation. Its a simple enough equation and it benefits everyone.

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