The Earth Needs Trees—
Now, More Than Ever
“The debate is over. Global warming is upon us—with a vengeance.”
—Time Magazine, April 3, 2006
|The destruction of tropical forests causes more CO2 emissions than all the world's automobiles. Reforestation is an important but overlooked way to reverse global warming.|
Complex forest ecosystems cover nearly 30% of the earth's land surface. They provide livelihoods for some 1.6 billion people, and subsistence for 60 million indigenous inhabitants. These forests are incredible centers for biodiversity, sheltering more than two thirds of all known plant and animal species. Forests also protect watersheds by filtering excess nutrients from the soil, produce soil, and purify the air we breathe.
These are regional environmental concerns, but scientists now know that forests play a critical role in the climate worldwide. Forests moderate air temperatures, rainfall distribution, and wind and ocean currents. We also know that they are responsible for absorbing billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere each day. Much of what makes our planet livable, we owe to the earth’s forests.
Despite their critical importance, we continue to destroy them at an appalling rate. A UN report released in 2005 estimated that the world loses about 13 million hectares of natural forest each year… an expanse the World Wildlife Fund says is equal to 36 football fields every minute of every day.The Special Role of Tropical Forests
Central and South America contain Earth's largest concentration of tropical rainforest. Tropical forests are the most biologically rich ecosystem on the planet and they store more greenhouse gases (especially carbon) than any other terrestrial ecosystem. Deforestation—a byproduct of abusive agriculture, logging and development—has already claimed 50% of the world's tropical rainforests.
When tropical forests are destroyed or poorly managed, they release carbon into the atmosphere, which accelerates global warming. In fact, according to Conservation International, the burning, cutting and degrading of tropical forests accounts for as much as 20-25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than twice the amount produced by all the cars and trucks in the world. In other words, we will not be able to stop global warming simply by driving more fuel-efficient cars or switching to efficient light bulbs. We must also stop the destruction of tropical forests. And by reversing deforestation—by replanting forests and managing them responsibly—we may be able to take an important step toward reversing climate change.
In 1999, I became involved in an effort in Costa Rica to restore a section of "dry tropical forest." This unique ecosystem stretches from Panama north to Arizona, and is characterized by its two-season climate: a six-month drought followed by six months of heavy rain.
Much of the dry tropical forest of Costa Rica was cut down during the 20th century to create pastureland for cattle to feed U.S. demand for cheap hamburger. Reforesting these cleared lands with a diversity of native and non-native species has been underway for several decades now.Teak Furniture as a Catalyst for
Social and Environmental Change
I now spend part of each year in Central America, working on various tropical reforestation initiatives. Establishing markets for sustainably-managed tropical forest products—especially teak—has been a particular focus. In Costa Rica, I founded a company called Reforest Teak to design and manufacture teak products for export to the US. This is an exceptional line of forest-friendly teak furniture and furnishings unlike any others I've seen on the market. For more on Reforest Teak, see the related articles Choosing a Better Teak and Teak That's Good for the Environment .