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VOICES: Deforestation increases threat to humankind’s future

In Hawaiian culture, Laka is loved and respected as goddess of the forest and along with Lono’s blessings they inspire the forest to grow and thrive. Forests have been revered in perhaps all cultures and offer a place of solace.

There is spectacular and incalculable value trees provide to humans and all life on our planet. Science explains the essential exchange of oxygen trees provide as they extract and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Tree roots create water sheds, preserving water and stopping soil erosion into our waterways; their foliage is home to half of terrestrial biodiversity; and trees sequester and store the carbon dioxide in their fibers, roots, in the soil and the vegetation that clings to all parts of the tree from its branches to its base. An old growth tree, such as the spruce of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, can hold 12 metric tons of carbon and its roots, and the soil below another 1.4 tons according to Earthjustice. The Tongass Forest is said to hold the equivalent of 9.9 billion tons of CO2 — nearly twice what the US emits from burning fossil fuels each year. Trees and forests are essential to our planet and our very existence.

As the threat to forests through deforestation increases so does the threat to the future of humankind. Trees viewed as ‘our natural resources’ are commodified and clear cut and sold to the highest bidder. When not valued as shared commons, vast areas are cleared for industrial agriculture, or fuel for burning in biomass plants, or livestock, or development, or mining and drilling. It is estimated that plant biomass has declined twofold in recent centuries. Deforestation has increased over the past decades, even as we are aware of the consequences, as countries clear land, legally and illegally. It is estimated that over fifteen million trees are cut down each year, according to Meg Lowman in her book “The Arbornaut.” In a dastardly feedback loop, fires sparked by climate change and dry, hot conditions are burning more acreage every year. An estimated half of the world’s primary forests have been completely destroyed since 1950.

All three major world rain forests, referred to as the lungs of our planet, including southeast Asia, the Amazon and the Congo Basin, are rapidly shrinking due to human activities. Our remaining fragments of tropical rain forests are storing less carbon now than twenty years ago, in part because we remove the old growth which sequesters the most, and replant seedlings which have trouble surviving, especially in exposed, cleared areas.

Deforestation of tropical forests is largely driven by the consumerism of developed nations like the US who buys tropical timber, soy, imported tropical fruit, beef and palm oil. At present many places in the US subsidize the burning of wood for energy, classifying it as ‘renewable.’

The most important action is saving big trees. Secondly, we can plant new trees, for the sake of the next generation, as it will be a 20 years before they will begin to sequester carbon. On Kaua‘i, Capture the Carbon, a committee of Kauai Climate Action Coalition (KCAC) has been doing monthly tree seedling plantings. Citizens Forestry has been inventorying trees in public places on Kauai and around the state. Understory Alliance is a nonprofit on Kaua‘i with plans to plant forest sanctuaries in public places.

To learn more about the impacts of burning trees for energy tune into the KCAC zoom forum on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2002, at 6 p.m. (bit.ly.burningissuesforum). For more information or to come plant trees with us (Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022), email kauaiclimate@gmail.com.

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Laurel Brier is co-founder of the Kaua‘i Climate Action
Coalition.
Source: The Garden Island

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