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Opinions of Sunday, 27 June 2010

Columnist: Benjamin, Akyena Brantuo

Deforestation: A Threat To Human Survival....

The earth is fast becoming unsafe for human habitation. This is no longer a subject of speculation whispered among scientists and within government circles. Ordinary people are living the reality.

In fact, the danger is not so much of the depleting forests and its ramifications for Economic Dynamics, Mortality Rates and Global Warming, as it is about the lack of a decisive action to replenish the lost forest. As a wise man once put it, ‘the importance of trees becomes apparent when we imagine a world without them.’

Firstly, deforestation affects economic dynamics. ‘Damage to forests and other aspects of nature could halve living standards for the world’s poor and reduce global GDP by about 7% by 2050’. This is according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Bonn.

Until recently, utilization of forest products, including timber and firewood, has played a major role in human societies, comparable to the roles of water and cultivable land. Today, developed countries continue to utilize timber for building houses, and wood pulp for paper. In developing countries, almost three billion people rely on wood for heating and cooking.

It is beyond debate that forest products industry is a large part of the economy in both developed and developing countries. That notwithstanding, short-term economic gains made by conversion of forest to urban centres, or over-exploitation of wood products, typically lead to loss of long-term income and long-term biological productivity. As a result, West Africa, Madagascar, Southeast Asia and many other regions have experienced lower revenue because of declining timber harvests, not to mention the losses in billions of dollars illegal logging causes to national economies annually.

Not only that, deforestation also affects the economy through agriculture. Farmers continue to lament over the lack of rains during planting seasons, and the porous nature of the soil for planting. Deforestation reduces soil cohesion and the content of water in the soil so that erosion of the top soil, flooding and land sliding can ensue.

Conversely, the presence of trees help to disperse rainfall over a more even area. Leaves on the ground, keep moisture close to the ground, aiding growth and traps chemicals keeping them out of lakes and rivers.

The resultant effect is that there is a low yield, which does not only affect the individual farmer and his ability to fend for his family and repay his loans, but there is a rippling effect on the economy of that country.

Without mincing words, It will take magic for an economy to withstand the absence of trees and its derivatives, not to mention, other essentials of the economy such as agric, water, wildlife, oxygen, medicine, etc, which succeed because of the existence of trees. Indeed, the relationship between world economic crises and deforestation is direct and proportional.

Secondly, trees also affect mortality rates. The saying is true; when the last tree dies, the last man will die.

Media commentary and testimonies of first hand witnesses are replete with the wonderful healing prowess of indigenous people relying on various species of trees to heal diseases that modern science has been insufficient to cure. Aside from that, the world is not oblivious to the fact that many of the drugs in our hospitals are extracts from trees and people by merely moving from urban centres to the countryside have felt very healthy and de-stressed.

Again, human lives are largely supported by the benefits from trees atmospherically. How? Trees produce Oxygen and filter the air we breathe. For instance, a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year. Trees help cleanse the air by intercepting airborne particles, and absorbing carbon dioxide, which has serious environmental implications.

In addition, trees muffle urban noise almost as effective as stonewall since trees planted at strategic points in a neighbourhood or around your house can abate a major noise from freeways and airports. If not checked, sound pollution can impair your hearing and negatively affect your mood.

Also, trees protect water bodies which are great source of life: water is life and life is water. Regrettably, the drying up of lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and springs, because of deforestation, is to say the least pathetic.

Lest we forget, trees do not only save human lives but also of plants and wildlife. Forest provide habitat for wildlife and medicinal conservation. Forest biotopes are irreplaceable source of new drugs. Deforestation can destroy genetic variations irretrievably.

Quite alarmingly, it has been estimated that we are losing 137 plants, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation, which equates to 50,000 species a year. The world needs increase in biodiversity.

Thirdly, deforestation is a global warming agent. Whilst there is a raging debate on what factors actually cause global warming, there is certainty about the role of emissions from industrial activities, predominantly from the west and now China, and deforestation from tropical rainforest in developing nations, particularly Africa. On another platform, we can discourse the need for a perfected technology as an alternative to industrial carbon emissions resulting from industrialization to match up the insatiable desire of the west and china since the present regime is not sustainable in the long-term.

The fact remains that global warming is alarmingly heating the atmosphere and carbon emissions from deforestation is no less a contributor. Research has it that Tropical deforestation is responsible for approximately 20% of world green house gas emissions.

The point must be clear. Developing nations are justified to use the forest to guarantee their livelihood. But, can there be a justification why they will not engage in reforestation after benefiting from existing trees?

In this period of exacerbating temperature, we longed for trees to extract ground water through their roots and release it into the atmosphere for a much moist climate. We also yearn for the Shades from trees to reduce the need for air conditioning in summer and in the winter, break the force of winter winds and lower heating costs. Studies have shown that parts of cities without cooling shades from trees can literally be ‘heat islands with temperature as much as 12 degree Fahrenheit higher than surrounding areas.

Lastly, we need our trees to serve as carbon stores. During the process of photosynthesis, a tree absorbs and locks away carbon dioxide in various types of food they produce i.e. in the stem roots and leaves. Again, a forest is a carbon storage area that can lock up as much carbon as it produces. This locking-up process "stores" carbon as wood and not as an available "greenhouse" gas.

Sadly, anytime we burn wood or it decays, much of this stored carbon are released back into the atmosphere.

In conclusion, how can we talk enough about the importance of trees, when improvement in research methods keeps unravelling new uses and importance of trees previously unknown to man? Fishes might be uncomfortable and perhaps die without water but humans and other terrestrial animals will be worse in a world without trees.

To this regard, international efforts such as what happened in Copenhagen, which inter alia sort to green the world, is well intended, as it has brought international awareness to the problem, and started a dialogue aimed at finding answers. Only that, a problem of this magnitude will require more than good intention, grand international summits and lofty ideas that have moral instead of binding obligations on defaulting nations. We need an all hands and brains on deck approach that makes the ordinary man the centre of focus.

It is in the light of this that the upcoming ARBOR DAY celebration with the theme ‘PLANT A TREE TO GREEN GHANA FOR A HEALTHY LIFE” provides some respite, as it focuses on what ordinary people can also do to help. ‘One tree can make a difference’ is a wakeup call for individuals to learn about trees, plant trees, care for trees, and change their attitude towards trees, including holding to account their neighbours, big agencies and governments, who are irresponsible with the handling of trees and the forest.

May this year’s celebrations, in the spirit of its theme, be unique from all the previous celebrations since J Sterling Morton founded ARBOR DAY in 1872.


Akyena Brantuo Benjamin

Next Generation Youth League International (NGYL)