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Hug A Tree - It May Be Your Last Chance
June 17, 2000

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If the forests continue to be destroyed, there will be no village left by the time these girls have grown up
When you see a tree in a park, at school, or in your yard, do you ever have the overwhelming urge to hug it? This may seem like an odd question, but if we continue to destroy these natural resources at the rate we're going, this may be your last chance to do so.

The decline of forests is not a modern phenomenon. What is unique today, however, is the rate and extent of global deforestation. Earlier in this century, forests covered around 40 percent of the Earth's total land area. Today, that forest cover is down to 27 percent - a loss of roughly one third. In developing regions, like India and Bangladesh, where pressures of population growth have forced even higher rates of clearing for agricultural use and fuel wood, that loss is estimated to be nearer to one-half.

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for larger view
The river plays an important role in transporting goods, but it is becoming clogged with silt
Your hugging pleasure is not the only reason we need to preserve these resources. Deforestation poses a number of environmental problems. Forests help regulate the amount of carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. As forests are cleared, not only is the Earth's ability to absorb carbon reduced, but the carbon retained in the trees is also released into the atmosphere. Forests also help stabilize local and global weather. Large-scale deforestation is linked to changes in weather patterns, as well as to soil erosion and the clogging of rivers by silt.

From the peak of the plush green mountains near Shillong I could see out over a valley that seemed to go on for miles. That valley is Bangladesh. Because it lies at such a low elevation in the northeast of the Indian sub-continent, more than 200 rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna, pass through the country. A land flowing with water is usually a blessing, but when one tampers with the balance of nature, the results can be fatal.

That fatal blow has been the massive flooding caused by deforestation in the Himalayan Mountains, where many of the sub-continent's rivers begin. According to the United Nation's Human Development Report (1999), an average of 10,000 people are killed in Bangladesh by so-called natural disasters each year. Recent disastrous floods in China and Honduras are also linked to deforestation.

The fact is that the flood disasters are not natural at all! Rather, they have been caused by deforestation in the Himalayas and cultivation methods in Bangladesh and those countries bordering it that increase sedimentation and silt levels in riverbeds. It seems like an easy connection to make. If you chop down the forests in the mountains above, the consequences trickle down into the valleys below. The catch is, people rely on the products of the deforestation to live. Moreover, increasing numbers of people means increasing demand for wood products, and thus increased deforestation.

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A vicious cycle: forests are cleared so tobacco can be grown and sold so villagers can earn money to sustain their families
I walked through the village in awe at how different the way of life here is from ours in the West. I realized that a lot of what we call necessities, like toilet paper (and toilets for that matter) are indeed luxuries. Life is basic here. There is no electricity, no running water, no telephones, and believe it or not, no malls or drive-thru restaurants. (They would have little business since cars are scarce.) From the straw mat on the floor of the bamboo hut where I slept, to the dinner we fished from the river, and the bamboo raft that we used while fishing, these people have created all that they own from natural resources.

The bottom line is that these resources give us the ability to care for ourselves. That in turn fuels population growth, which then becomes a burden on the very resources that helped it to grow. So while the specific reasons for deforestation vary from region to region, the underlying cause is simple - extensive study by the United Nations show that 79 percent of total deforestation between 1973 and 1988 was a direct result of population growth. This is as true for the village of Hat Mawdon as it is for the bustling metropolis of New York City.

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Not only do we have to hug our trees we have to protect them!
By far the greatest cause of forest loss was clearing for agricultural purposes in developing regions. The second greatest cause was harvesting wood for fuel in those regions - especially in Africa, where 90 percent of the population relies on wood products for cooking and heating. Not all the blame for this problem can be laid on less-developed regions, however. Even though deforestation rates are greatest in the developing world, over half the wood harvested is consumed by industrialized countries. In the developed world - where forests are falling to loggers' saws at rapid rates - timber harvesting is the primary cause of deforestation.


deforestation - cutting down trees
agricultural - relating to farming
consumed - used

The consumption patterns of industrialized nations - especially the United States and Canada - drive this harvest. The US alone consumes over one-third of the world's total paper supply, the majority of which goes for packaging and advertising. Huge amounts of wood are also consumed by the construction industry. Some of this is to build more facilities to support growing populations, and some is in response to the growth in spending and consumption. Americans now live in homes almost twice the size of those they lived in 50 years ago, and occupy two-and-one-half times the residential space per person. More than 10 million Americans own two or more homes, and there are more shopping malls than high schools in the US. The building supplies for much of this extravagance come guessed it...our natural forests.

Test your eco-knowledge by answering the following questions:

If you saved up all the unwanted junk mail for one year, the United States would save how many trees in a year?
a. 100,000
b. 100,000,000
c. 1,000,000,000
d. Paper isn't made from trees.

2. How many bags a year would we save if just 25% of U.S. families used 10 fewer plastic bags a month?
a. 250,000
b. 2,500,000
c. 2,500,000,000
d. Don't worry, I only use paper!

3. Every ton of recycled office paper saves how many gallons of oil? Choose...
a. 12
b. 135
c. 380
d. I thought we were saving trees, not oil!

4. How many hours could the energy saved from one recycled aluminum can operate a TV set?
a. 3 hours
b. 5 hours
c. 5 days
d. You can't plug a TV set into a can!

5. Americans consume how many trees a year through commercial paper? Choose...
a. 150,000
b. 250 million
c. 850 million
d. I don't know - I haven't eaten a tree yet.

Question 1: The correct answer is b. 100,000,000 trees would be saved if all unwanted junk mail was recycled.

Question 2: The correct answer is c. 2,500,000,000 would be saved!

Question 3: The correct answer is c. Now that's a lot of oil!

Question 4: The correct answer is a. That's three more hours of MTV, all from one recycled can!!!

Question 5: The correct answer is c. That's a lot of trees, and that's just in America!

Deforestation is just a small part of our struggle to preserve our planet. As we grow in number we are consuming more resources and introducing more and more environmentally hazardous waste into our world. You can make a difference by learning more about the ways YOU contribute to the destruction of our planet and living an eco-friendly life. Actor and environmental supporter, Ed Asner said it best when he said "We all moan and groan about the loss of the quality of life through the destruction of our ecology, and yet each one of us, in our own little comfortable ways, contributes daily to that destruction. It's time now to awaken in each one of us the respect and attention our beloved mother deserves."

You can click here to find out some practical "Ways To Help The Environment." But don't just read them, Make A Difference by taking action!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Kavitha - Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part I - The Mysteries
Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part II Monkey-Headed Gods and All
Team - Making a Difference: Wanna Go To Burma? Think Again!
Team - Life in Tibet Could Be Better

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