16 November 2009

for treedom!

It's tree-pruning time at my house and I watch intently as they saw mighty branches in systematic rhythm . The tree surgeon shouts out a caution before the branch falls with a thud and a cloud of dust rises. I feel a strange sort of emptiness. This is one tree, one branch that interfered with an electric line. I then imagine thousands of trees being felled and stand paralyzed with the images in my head. Yet is it happening. Deforestation is a way of life in many countries.

Indonesia is now the fourth major emitter of carbon, not because of industrialization but because of illegal logging. Almost 50% of Indonesia is covered in forests - forests hosting an enormous amount of biodiversity. Because the archipelago spreads across two bio geographic zones, many species found here are not found anywhere else in the world and there are still others waiting to be discovered. Indonesia hosts 31% of endemic animal species and 60% of all its plant species are endemic as well. It is home to the Orangutan - one of the great apes and most endangered animals - scientists predict will be exist by 2012 if deforestation is not curbed.

The forests are being degraded and destroyed by logging, mining, argicultural activities, fuelwood, paper manufactor etc. Much of the rainforest that is left is logger-over and degraded. The loss of forest cover affects river flow, contributes towards soil erosion and decreases yield from forest products. Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of tropical timber generating more than US$5 billion annually - this means that loggers are moving deeper and deeper into virgin forests and destroying entire ecosystems. Legally harvested timber affects 700,000-850,000 hectares of forest per year but widespread illegal logging boosts this to 1.2-1.4 million hectares according to statistics taken in 2004. This not only hurts the legal timber industry, it also makes conservation and education measures difficult.

The demand for illegal timber with China and Australia being the biggest buyer, fuels the industry. Awareness on both sides of the divide is crucially essential. Within Indonesia several grass-roots NGOs are working towards educating the people against the detrimental effects of illegal logging and are working with them to build alternative lifestyles. The EU has recently called for stricter laws in order to prevent the influx of illegal timber.

The corruption and poverty within Indonesia does provide a conducive environment for illegal logging to thrive however, consumer pressure can work to curb this. This destruction of their forests is not only their national problem, it takes international effort to stop it. Forest logging contributes to much larger global problems like increase in temperature and loss of species. As long as there is demand for illegally logged timber and as long as there are no rules in place to stop the trade of the same, supply will continue. Work to make sure the paper products you are using come from sustainable forests or are recycled.

A recent Greenpeace campaign demonstrated the power of public pressure. Unilever is one of the world's biggest buyers of palm oil, most of which comes from Indonesia and this is a contributing factor towards deforestation. This oil was being used in Dove soaps. The campaign against Dove was designed to ensure that the palm oil for their soap came from sustainable resources. After staggering public pressure Unilever and Dove agreed to protect the Paradise Forests in Indonesia. Never underestimate your voice as a consumer. Do your bit.

Trees are the Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening Heavens above
- Tagore

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