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Living Green - Change can happen; forests are recovering.
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Friday, July 10, 2015
Living Green frequently features gloom and doom stories because it is important to be aware of the crises we face.
If we don't know about the problems, how can we address them?
But the problem with gloom and doom is that eventually we all start to feel overwhelmed; like the problems are insurmountable, but they are not.
The efforts we make as individuals, and as communities; both locally and internationally, do make a difference. Like this story about deforestation demonstrates.
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Twenty years ago, the world's forests were in bad shape. Brazil, the country with more tropical trees than any other, was cutting down an area of forest two-thirds the size of Belgium every year. Roughly half of all the planet's once-luxuriant tropical forests had been felled and the further degradation of the Earth's green spaces seemed inevitable.
It would be too much to say that forests have made a full recovery. Worldwide, over 5m hectares of jungle are still being felled or burned down each year. But the crisis is passing and the prognosis is starting to improve. Fears that the great forests of the Congo would be cleared have proved unfounded so far. Brazil and Mexico have reduced their deforestation rates by well over two-thirds. India and Costa Rica have done more than reduce the rate of loss: they are replanting areas that were once clear-cut.
Over time countries trace a "forest transition curve". They start in poverty with the land covered in trees. As they get richer, they fell the forest and the curve plummets until it reaches a low point when people decide to protect whatever they have left. Then the curve rises as reforestation begins. At almost every point along the line, countries are now doing better: deforesters are chopping down less; reforesters are replanting more.
This matters to everyone, including rich countries in temperate zones, because of the extraordinary contribution that tropical forests make to mitigating carbon emissions. Trees are carbon sinks. If you fell and burn them, you release carbon into the atmosphere. If you let them grow, they squirrel carbon away in their trunks for centuries. Despite decades of destruction, tropical forests are still absorbing about a fifth of emissions from fossil fuels each year.
Encouraging countries to plant trees (or discouraging them from logging) is by far the most effective way of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. If Brazil had kept on felling trees as rapidly as it was cutting them down in 2005, it would, by 2013, have put an extra 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That means that over those eight years it managed to save six times as much carbon as ultra-green Germany did in the same period through one of the world's most expensive renewable-energy regimes. As a way of helping the environment, protecting trees is hard to beat. It is in everyone-s interest to find out which forest policies work--and back them.
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