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August Editorial



It was on the BBC Radio 4 news - so it had to be true.
It’s official, fully 25% of all species of insects and birdlife have become extinct in the UK since 1900. A study in woodlands in the North of England (using records kept for well over a century shows that many species have disappeared in the face of pesticides, monoculture food production, extensive housing and industrial development - your basic human expansion. (Wouldn’t genetically enhanced crops that don’t needs pesticides help this situation by the by?)

Well so what? Less bugs and birds means more for us doesn’t it? Isn’t that how naturally selection works? Darwinism reigns supreme, oh and thanks Charles for all the sketches of creatures we are never going to see again. Who misses creepy crawly things anyway? Well the birds and animals who eat them might and the things that eat them might. Today we learn that organic phosphates have killed out the water-voles in our streams and the fish and frogs that used to be there.
Rachel Carson where are you now?

This news comes on the day I happened to meet a local carpenter who was complaining about the lack of good timber these days. No good pointing out that eighty percent of our woodlands have also disappeared since 1900. In fact, since 1700 (preindustrial revolution) when most the country was covered in trees - including Cornwall, there is less than ten percent of the original tree cover left.
Does it matter? Do we miss them? Well in year 3000 when Amazonia is down to is last tree gasping for breath in a toxic desert wasteland we might worry.

Europe was once a vast forest with just a few million people in it. Now greater Europe is some 600 million people and the trees and the minority struggling to coexist with industrial pollution (acid rain) the car exhaust fumes and us in general.

What I would very much like to know is what is the critical mass for trees to actually surrender, be overwhelmed entirely.

Think on this. We are a planet of 6 billion and growing. By 2050 we could be 11 billion souls. Very hungry souls who will demand more and more space for crops to feed them and less space for trees, which in in the main will be considered as potential firewood. So what is the curve, the ratio of trees to mankind before we dismantle the ecological balance between us, them and the planet itself.
Is it possible to live without trees altogether? We are well on our way to a world without fish or an Africa without wild animals. Does bio-diversity actually matter?

Is anyone working this stuff out? The rate at which trees disappear and the rise of human numbers. The rate of disappearing species world wide. At what point does it all come crashing down? The trees, the bugs, the fish, the birds, the animals. The whole food chain.

*The strange thing is that we aren’t getting rid of cows. Cows eat so much grain, that costs a fortune to produce (water, fertiliser, processing) that the meat and milk they produce is working against mankind. If we killed all the cows, people would probably never go short of food again. Cows are actually causing world poverty.

So the when the wind rages at a constant 150mph, will we then think about the missing trees? At least in Canada they replant as they harvest trees. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma (No I will not call it by it’s new name until they free Su Yi and install her as President). In Thailand, all over the far east they literally burn trees to clear the land for crops or grazing cows. They treat the trees like inconvenient weeds. Beautiful hardwood trees are shipped to resource hungry Japan and Korean and turned into chipboard for god’s sake. The haze that hangs over all of Asia at this time of year is proof enough of this calumny.

This month alone the Western States of the USA have lost 4.3 million acres (As of August 10th) of trees to raging forest fires. Trees are rapidly becoming an endangered species. Our climate may be changing and these trees we are losing may well be all that is between us and an eternal gale.
Trees are a fantastic resource that few will value until it is way too late. Like the fish, we shall miss them when they are gone - along with the air we breathe.

© Sam North August 2000

*What is being done:
The Global Observation of Forest Cover stategy.
Using Earth Observation satellites the GOFC are compiling data of the worlds forest reserves, monitoring fire outbreaks, soil depletion, erosion, hurricane activity, forest biophysical state of health, all the things that affect the life of forest cover and putting together data that will show just what state the worlds’ forests are in.
The people involved are the World Forest watch (INPE) Brazil), Landsat Pathfinder (NASA, US) TREES (Joint Research Centre, Europe), IGBP 1km land cover (NASA, NOAA,JRC, USGS/EDC), Forest Resource Assessment (FAO,UN), GLobal Rainforest Mapping (NASDA,Japan and JPL, US).
This is a five year project (involving repeated space surveys to allow for extensive cloud cover problems) This project will provide seasonally sensitive global SAR coverage on a 5 year cycle and forest baseline information.
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