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The Ungreening of the World

Everyone I meet claims to love trees -- I mean really love trees -- yet collectively the human race behaves as if it abhors green things. If you take a step back from whatever biome you are in at the moment and look at the entire Earth and its forests through recorded history, you will see that the relationship between humans and trees looks Strangely Like War (the title of a recent book on forests by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan).

The exact extent of the damage is difficult to discern, because for many years records were not kept, but the estimates are that 75% of the world’s original forests have been logged or burned by humans. Some of them have grown back of course, or have been replanted, but it is thought that we now have only half of the amount of forest land we once had on this planet.

In some places, particularly the drier places of the globe, the deforestation was so severe, and was followed by such intense grazing, that forests have not been able to grow back. The landscape has been permanently altered.

When you imagine Greece, Italy, and Iraq, it is likely that you imagine a dry landscape with open views, the way they look today. Historical records indicate, however, that these places were once covered by dense forests. The forests fell as civilizations flourished, so the earlier a place became “civilized” the sooner it became deforested.