Sunday, August 12, 2018
Recently on the BBC, Deborah Tabart from the Australian Koala Foundation noted that "85 per cent of the world's forests are now gone." This statement is incorrect. Moreover, due to afforestation in the developed world, net deforestation has almost ceased. While Tabart may have had good intentions in raising environmental concerns, far-fetched claims about the current state of the world's forests do not help. After searching for evidence to support Tabart's claim, the closest source I could find is an article from GreenActionNews, which claims that 80 per cent of the earth's forests have been destroyed. The problem with that claim is that according to the United Nations there are 4 billion hectares of forest remaining worldwide. To put that in perspective, the entire world has 14.8 billion hectares of land. For 80 per cent of the forest area to have already been destroyed and for 4 billion hectares to remain, 135 per cent of the planet's surface must have once been covered in forests.
GreenActionNews' claim not only implies that 5.2 billion hectares of deforestation occurred at sea, but that every bit of land on earth was once forested. Ancient deserts, swamps, tundra and grasslands make mockery of that claim. Amusingly, GreenActionNews' claims that "forest is unevenly distributed: the five most forest rich countries are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China." Country size and forest area do not always correlate, but it is hardly "uneven" that the five largest countries also hold the world's largest forest areas.
The reason why most people labor under a misapprehension about the state of the world's forests is that news stories often ignore afforestation. In about half of the world, there is net reforestation and, as Matt Ridley puts it, this isn't happening despite economic development, but because of it.
The world's richest regions, such as North America and Europe, are not only increasing their forest area. They have more forests than they did prior to industrialization. The United Kingdom, for example, has more than tripled its forest area since 1919. The UK will soon reach forest levels equal to those registered in the Domesday Book, almost a thousand years ago.
It is not just rich nations that are experiencing net reforestation. The "Environmental Kuznets curve" is an economic notion that suggests that economic development initially leads to environmental deterioration, but after a period of economic growth that degradation begins to reverse.
Once nations hit, what Ridley dubs the "forest transition," or approximately $4,500 GDP per capita, forest areas begin to increase. China, Russia, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are just some of the nations that have hit this forest transition phase and are experiencing net afforestation.
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