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Trees of life

Saving tropical forests and their biological wealth

Makes the environmental, cultural, economic, and political dimensions of deforestation come alive for readers far removed from the jungles of Amazonia and Thailand.

Executive Summary

Tropical Forest Loss

         <p> Word of rapidly vanishing forests, particularly tropical                forests, can&#39;t surprise anyone who reads newspapers or watches  television. Widespread concern is deepening into conviction, even alarm, and with good reason. Half the world&#39;s tropical forests have  been cleared or degraded. Every hour, at least 4,500 acres fall  to chain saws, machetes, flames, or bulldozers, and another four  plant or animal species die out, most of them in the tropics. </p>  <p> When forests die, so do traditions and livelihoods. In Amazonia, for instance, a thousand peasants, rubber tappers, and other forest                dwellers have been killed in the past decade in violent conflicts                over forest resources and land. Throughout the tropics, forest-dwelling  peoples whose age-old traditions allow them to live in and off the forest without using it to death are losing out to cattle ranching,                logging, hydroelectric projects, large-scale farms, mining, and                colonization schemes. </p>              <p> Where land is truly well suited to agriculture or other development activities, some forest clearing makes sense. Certainly, not every  tree is sacred. But, at current deforestation rates, all but scattered remnants of tropical forest--and a quarter of the earth&#39;s species--could  be gone before today&#39;s preschoolers retire.</p>               <p> The real culprit in this massive assault on nature is rarely the person holding the chain saw or driving the bulldozer or torching                the tree that holds up the forest canopy. Looking deeper, it is                clear that the fate of the forest is written in population growth,                poverty, and the short-sighted policies of governments and international agencies, as well as decisions made by commercial interests and far-away consumers. Some of these policies invite business interests or settlers to convert forests to farms and ranches, or to log or mine or drill for oil. Certain tax incentives support massive projects that transform entire landscapes, and decisions like those on land tenure can make it impossible for poor people to make a decent living without invading ecologically fragile lands. The mighty forces of                national debt and international trade imbalances push some developing                countries to sell off their forest assets to pay their nations&#39;                mounting bills. <b>(See WRI report Backs                to the Wall in Suriname, Forest Policy in a Country in Crisis)</b>.                In industrial countries, commercial logging, especially of the few                remaining ancient forests, and pollution also take a toll.</p>               <p> These different kinds of blows to a forest can compound each other.                In the tropics, once choice timber has been logged off, the way                is open to clear forest land for farming and ranching. As one land                use leads to another, species losses accelerate.                Forests afire, or felled and decomposing, release gargantuan amounts                of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, amplifying the so-called                greenhouse effect and thereby the global                warming in store. If habitats are further fragmented while the                climate changes during the next century, extinction                rates will climb. In industrial countries&#39; forests, pollution                thickens the plot: a forest weakened by smog, acid rain, or other                airborne ills is more likely to fall prey to insects or disease,                not to mention the changed climate forecast for the future. </p>              <h3>&quot;Trees of Life&quot;</h3>             <p> These facts are painful to recite, but if you are tempted to despair                as you read <b>Trees of Life: Saving Tropical Forests and Their                Biological Wealth</b>, don&#39;t. The authors picked an upbeat title                for a reason. The loss of forests, species, and cultures at risk                isn&#39;t inevitable, for there are many things we can do to slow this                death rate. What matters most is what governments decide to do,                both at home and abroad, for whether forests live or die depends                largely on government policies. Tropical nations need to revamp                their policies on forestry, agriculture, population, and land tenure.                The industrial countries must get serious about controlling pollution                and must retool their policies on developing countries&#39; debt, international                trade, and aid, including strong initiatives to save America&#39;s own                old-growth forests.</p>               <h3>What You Can Do</h3>             <p> You can help, too. You can encourage government to keep our forests                alive and well and to provide the leadership and funds needed to                help conserve tropical forests while making economic development                more sustainable and equitable in tropical countries. Closer to                home, you can spread the word to friends and family, neighbors and                colleagues, helping to build a constituency for rescuing forests                and their creatures from extinction.</p>               <p> Fortunately, the steps to save forests dovetail with those needed                to solve many other nagging problems, from urban smog and acid rain                in the United States and other industrial countries to rapid population                growth and poverty in the tropics. A particularly compelling reason                for action <b>now</b> is that protecting forests will help combat                global warming, just as failing to act could invite climate changes                more disruptive than those now forecast. </p>

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