Saving the Trees of Life

Nobody can get through the day without using a product that comes from a forest. To a greater extent than most people realize, the paper we write on, the water that comes out of our taps, the medicine that heals us, the wood that builds our houses and furniture, all originate from forests. Forests provide the fresh air we breathe and habitats for endangered species. They also provide us with recreational opportunities, increasingly important in our complex world. Approximately 1.5 billion of the world’s rural poor directly depend on forests for basic needs like food and fuel-wood.

Yet deforestation continues. Every year, we lose 14.6 million hectares (56,000 square miles) of forests – an area almost four times the area of Switzerland. Irresponsible forest management, enhanced by poor governmental regulation and enforcement, and markets that reward illegal logging, are conspiring to denude the world’s most valuable and threatened forests. Once forests start to disappear, a host of environmental, social, and economic ills usually follow, affecting us all in some way.

Indonesia’s Sumatra Island is a good example. Pulp and paper companies are driving rampant and illegal destruction of forests that contain the richest diversity of plants in the world. It is likely that plants not yet discovered will disappear along the way, as well as such endangered species as the Sumatran rhino and elephant, as well as the orangutan. When Sumatra’s forests disappear, entire communities of people will also find themselves with no proper place to live and no decent way to make a living.

Moreover, the distortion to global markets caused by trading in illegally, cheaply produced products results in disadvantages for responsible corporate citizens. Developing countries are losing $15 billion in tax revenues annually due to illegal logging. To make matters worse, the demand for wood for reconstruction following last year’s tsunami is intensifying the already untenable demands being placed on Sumatra’s forests.