This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

More People Need More Forests

The Economist has a special section on forests--"the world's lungs." For the past 10,000 years we have been cutting down forests in order to clear the land for agriculture in order to support an ever larger (and generally better fed) population. More recently, we have intensified the "development" of land in order to raise cattle, and to grow plants for fiber and biofuels, not just food.

Across the world, forests and the soil beneath them absorb about a quarter of all carbon emissions.
This is an indispensable contribution to life as we know it, and forests offer many others, too. They house more than half the world’s species of animals, birds and insects...Indeed, the more that people learn about forests, the more perilous their mismanagement seems.
That forests regulate water run-off, mitigating risks of flooding and drought, has been recognised since ancient times. The ancients also understood that trees can increase rainfall and deforestation can reduce it. Cutting down trees leads to a reduction in evapotranspiration, which results in less downwind precipitation.
For these and many other reasons, the forests help to sustain life on the planet. Yet, there are significant threats to the forest. One is global climate change, and the second is closely related to global climate change--population growth and the demand for food and other agricultural products.
There are no easy fixes to the forest problem. It is hard enough to preserve what we have, much less to try to increase the fraction of the earth covered by forest back to something even a little closer to what it was a few thousand years ago. A small, but incredibly important part of the solution--a goal of the Economist special report--is awareness of the problem: Awareness of how huge an issue this is and that we are going to have to pay for it, whether we like it or not. The Economist opines that "eco-concerned consumers may want sustainable products, but they do not want to pay more for them." The marketplace does not work well when we can't quantify the true costs of what we extract from nature. 


  1. Forests are indispensable to the health of our ecosystems which effect our health as well. I often read about a clash between environmental interests and peasants in developing nations who are trying to clear lands to simply feed their families. You also see developing nations allow foreign companies to come in and degrade the environment for economic reasons. I'm not sure what "awareness" means to them. You can tell the poor wannabe farmer about the environmental impact of clearing forests, but he has immediate needs, namely how to support his household, which he will feel take priority over conservation.

  2. It is true that forests are of major concern for many, as we gradually watch them disappear from our planet. Forests are of great value to the planet, as noted above. Not only do they have great instrumental value to nature when it comes to storing our carbon and sheltering many creatures, they also has great economic value to humans. It seems today (for short term views) that forests are more "valuable" to humans when they are cut down used for resources, or cleared for land space. The price of paper (or other resources from forests) in the stores however does not necessarily reflect the "price tag" of creating oxygen, animal habitats, water filtration, or other ecological services that forests may provide. When we go to the store, we are solely paying for one ecological service: the paper, and not the cost of losing the forests and all other ecological services. Forests also have an intrinsic value to them. They are beautiful, and need to be preserved for future generations to enjoy them. Using the forests resources need to be halted and resumed with sustainable and clean practices. I agree that one way to help save our forests would be to educate the public on environmental issues with losing our forests. They are so important to humans in so many ways, and until people are educated with the facts and consequences about losing our forests, they will not be able to make conscious consumer choices to help save the forests one decision at a time.