Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The human war on forests

The human war on forests

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Guardian reported that two and a half acres of forest – equivalent to two football fields – is cut down every second. ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP

The human war on forests

It was in discussions with Stalin on vital strategy during World War II in Tehran that Winston Churchill had famously said: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

This can be tweaked to make it applicable to an another war, one with far more horrific and destructive consequences than the two world wars – the war on the natural world.

In the words of environmental activist Vandana Shiva: “It is a war unleashed by the violence of the monoculture mind, which reduces nature to a raw material, life to a commodity, diversity to a threat, and views destruction as progress”.

We perpetrate assaults on the forest as if it were an enemy to be wiped out.

Such an assault leads to deforestation – the permanent removal of a forest or trees to clear the land for agriculture, or grazing or using the timber for fuel, construction or manufacturing. To perpetuate this war, politicians, corporate houses, the media, and corporate enterprises that deal with paper and timber refer to issue that appear to be true. But the truth is so awful that it needs to be blended with lies to pacify public outrage.

Robert Jay Lifton, an American Psychiatrist, has written in his crucial book The Nazi Doctor that it is hardly possible to perpetrate mass atrocities without first convincing everybody that the action is not harmful but rather beneficial.

Deforestation is always accompanied by catchy slogans – we are not killing trees, we’re creating more job opportunities; we’re saving trees from diseases; we’re preventing wildfires; we’re not killing forests, we are helping the local economy.

Even more effective and extensive lies have accompanied deforestation. In North America, around half the forests in the eastern part of the continent were hacked for timber and farming between the 1600s and late 1800s, according to National Geographic.

The forests are also in bad shape today almost throughout the world. Deforestation is extensive in the tropics. A 2017 report by scientists at the University of Maryland showed that the tropics lost around 158,000 square kilometres of forest in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh.

The Guardian reported that two and a half acres of forest is cut down every second. This is equivalent to two football fields. One hundred and fifty acres are cut per minute.

This works out to 214,000 acres per day, an area larger than New York City.

Seventy-eight million acres are deforested each year, an area larger than Poland. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46 per cent of trees have been felled globally, as per a 2015 study report published in Nature.

Old-growth forest is called “biological desert”, even though extensive scientific research has established that natural forests provide habitat for most of the world’s threatened species.

Particular animal species are chosen as “indicator species” so that the entire forest ecosystem of interdependent species does not have to be considered as a synergistic whole. Ancient trees are called “decadent”, in the hope that there would be less outcry over the loss of something already decaying than over the loss of something that was born long before our civilisation and its war against nature.

Deforestation is essential as we need roads and logging to put out forest fires. The forests need to be cut to provide jobs as well as to create healthy forests. However, to reveal the truth the “bodyguard of lies” needs to be busted. Contrary to the popular propaganda, the adverse impact of deforestation renders the forest soil unusable for plantations.

For example, when the rainforest is cleaned in tropical areas, nutrient availability goes down considerably. This means that farmers will have to use fertilisers and artificial stimulants to make the land fit for cultivation.

The wood and paper industry and its markets are now global, with only a handful of companies left to compete. Over the past generation, employment has gone down as production has gone up. Forests are the backbone of life forms and the life on the Earth is sustained through them.

We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use. As well as providing habitats for animals and livelihood for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change. Yet, despite our dependence on forests, we are still allowing then to disappear [WWF].

The economic value of the services provided by forests worldwide is estimated at $16.2 trillion. Forests pump out oxygen we need to live and absorb the CO2 we exhale. A single mature, leafy tree is estimated to produce as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.

While phytoplankton in the oceans accounts for at least half of the earth’s oxygen, forests play a key role. After oceans, forests are the world’s largest carbon sink.

We have been the obedient servants of Gilgamesh for 5,000 years. We have cut a path of destruction, ignored the spreading deserts, disregarded the disappearing animals, the foul air and water, the warming planet.

We have destroyed most of the earth’s natural forest cover, and we pretend we can live without it.

The story goes that Gilgamesh defeated the forest protectors and the forces of civilisation won the battle for the forest, but it is not true.

We can hardly afford to ignore the warning of the Brazilian indigenous Kayapo chief Tacuma: “The world is in great danger. When the trees die, the Earth dies. We will be orphans without a home, lost in the chaos of the storm.”

Jaydev Jana is a retired Indian Administrative Service officer

THE STATESMAN (INDIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon