Today’s blog post is from John Bacher, author of Two Billion Trees and Counting.
Since human cultures became dependent on agriculture around 4,000 years ago, climate stability has been very important for civilization. Increasingly this is threatened by the spewing of carbon into our atmosphere. What is not widely enough understood is that much of this is caused by deforestation. The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization, estimates that 25 to 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses, some 1.6 billion tons, are caused by deforestation.
Like our oceans, forests in the past have been a carbon sink, not a source of emissions. For both oceans and forests this is changing. The causes are water pollution, the burning of forests and the massive dumping of junk such as plastics into our oceans.
While abuse of our oceans are more difficult to stop because of confusing national jurisdictions and the lack of a trained scientific managers, (have you heard of an oceaner?) this is not the case with forests. We have had scientific managers of these ecosystems called foresters protecting these lands on a national basis for centuries. This goes back to 12th century France when the first national forest management agency was formed. University courses in forest management began in Germany in the 18th century. France in 1827 formed a national forest school for the training of foresters. Gifford Pinchot attended this school in Nancy. Pinchot was able to bring scientific conservationist management to forests, when his friend, Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1901. Immediately afterwards Pinchot sent out an appeal for more foresters, which resulted in Edmund Zavitz choosing this profession and bringing conservationist forestry to Canada.
In democracies forests because of the heroic work of prophetic figures such as Pinchot and Zavitz are managed under foresters guided by public input and participation. This tragically is not the case in dictatorships which contributes to much of the carbon spewing out on the earth.
Russia is the world’s largest controller of forests, accounting for 22 per cent of this ecosystem on he planet. Since Vladimir Putin took charge here in 1989 he has waged a war both on forests and the environmental movement that seeks to protect them. Typical of his reign of terror was the fate of two journalists who exposed corruption in schemes to build an expressway through old growth oak forests in what in the past, had been Moscow’s Green Belt. These journalists Oleg Kashin and Mihhail Beketov, were beaten so badly by thugs in pay of the powerful that they will have to spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. Despite such assaults brave eco-democracy activists continue to camp out in the threatened Khimki Forest to protect trees from cutting.
What is horrifying is how dictatorships fail to take the most simple measures to prevent deserts from expanding, such as stopping livestock grazing in vulnerable areas. This is the case in the Sahara desert in south eastern Nigeria in a region called the Tassili N’ Ajjer Plateau. Here some 233 endangered Sahara Cypress cling to life. The Sahara Cypress, resistant to drought and severe heat once blanketed much of what is now the Sahara. It is now threatened because livestock grazing causes its young saplings to be eaten. The same threats existed to the forests of southern Ontario but these were stopped by Zavitz’s team of dedicated foresters. They got the cattle out of the woods so they could again be regenerating forests instead of piles of shifting sands.
What is astonishing is how now in Ontario many of the forests that Zavitz planted in his efforts to stop spreading deserts and stop the spread of floods are now threatened by urban development. One is in Richmond Hill and surrounds for 150 acres the former David Dunlap Observatory. Why does not the Occupy movement take up the example of Moscow’s ecologists and occupy this forest to prevent its destruction?
Photo 1: Photo of threatened David Dunlap Forest. Photo taken by Mary Lou Bacher
Photo 2: Few blades of grass in photo were being grazed upon by cattle when Zavitz took this photo in 1915. Area is now Sandbanks Provincial Park.
John Bacher received his Ph.D. in History from McMaster University in 1985, and has taught at McMaster and the University of Toronto. A co-author of Get a Life: An Environmentalist’s Guide to Better Living, Bacher is a passionate supporter of environmental preservation.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.