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Civilisations will collapse if the last tree is felled

Forests should become a vital part of our national psyche as they have for both the Japanese and the Germans. Former German chancellor Kohl said they are “of inestimable importance for the water cycle, for our climate, for our health and for our recreation.”

Forests play a major role in the recycling of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Planetary rainfall and temperatures are regulated by forests. They tend to support greater stocks of biomass, and produce new biomass faster than other ecological zones. Trees, particularly from old growth forests, retain water in our soils.

Wet soils and dense tree cover attract rainfall by transpiring water back into the atmosphere. Deforestation not only reduces previous rainfall levels, but it increases desertification. In the tropics most of the ecosystems nutrients are held within the trees and so logging destroys the fertility of the ecosystem. When the trees are cut down, soils wash away, rainfall decreases and the habitat for animals, birds and insects are destroyed.

Deforestation has devastating impacts on the climate. “When vegetation is removed, solar energy, instead of being absorbed by the trees, is reflected from the bare ground increasing temperatures, drying the soil, creating dust in the atmosphere and helping to stop rain clouds forming.” Clive Ponting

In West Africa about 400,000 square miles of forest were cleared last century and since 1968 there has been constant aridity with below average rainfall, crop failures, and starvation.

Plato was one of many writers of Ancient Greece who watched the impact of deforestation on soil erosion. He wrote, “What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left … there are some mountains which now have nothing but food for bees, but they had trees not very long ago … there were many leafy trees of cultivated species and … boundless pasturage for flocks.”

“Moreover it was enriched by the yearly rain from Zeus … But the soil it had was deep and it even received the water, storing it up in the retentive loamy soil and … Provided all the various districts with abundant supplies of spring waters and streams …”

The Mediterranean landscape was originally a mixed evergreen forest of oaks, birch, pines and cedars. Deforestation and subsequent soil erosion have continued for thousands of years so that the term ‘Mediterranean landscape’ is recognition of the end result of deforestation!

Beech forest at Cradle Mountain Beech forest at Cradle Mountain

Australia is the continent with the least amount of forest, just 20% compared with other continents, and yet half our forest exports are not value added paper or valuable timbers, but wood chips which are exported at just $7 per tonne. Most of these wood chips go to the Japanese who convert them into paper which sells for $1000 per tonne.

Japan however, is the first world country with the highest concentration of land under forest – 74%, which is truly remarkable considering it is the most densely populated first world country. Japan’s people and its food production occupy just 20% of its land. Respect for the importance of forest to the Japanese economy, and its civilisation, is based upon its experience of the catastrophic impacts of deforestation 300 years ago.

In 1600, most Japanese buildings were made of wood. Wood was used for heating houses, cooking, making charcoal to produce the heat required to melt iron. Trees were cut down to provide more land, to produce food and to fertilise their fields. In those days 5-10 acres of forest was needed to farm just one acre of crops.

By 1710, so much accessible forest had been cut that its fertile soils began to erode. But instead of an Easter Island collapse caused by deforestation, the government launched a nationwide effort to plant seedlings and regulate the use of its forest. Gradually plantation forestry was developed as both the elite and masses recognised the importance of preserving their own forest. Today they take advantage of ignorant countries such as Australia by preventing logging within Japan and buying their timber needs from compliant corporate vandals who get rich quickly by threatening our very life support.

“Ecologically the Australian environment is exceptionally fragile, the most fragile of any first world country except perhaps Iceland.” Jared Diamond

Which is all the more alarming because Australia’s forest cover has dramatically declined since white settlement. Overgrazing, salination, soil erosion, water shortages and man made droughts are the sort of problems you would expect from more mature settlements.

Jared Diamond states “Australia is the most unproductive continent”, whose soils have on average the lowest nutrient levels, the lowest plant growth rates and the lowest productivity. As a consequence of low soil fertility, most of the nutrients in Australian forest are in the trees themselves. When we wood chip our forest we destroy the support system our life depends upon. As Jared Diamond argues in his latest book, Collapse, deforestation is the major cause of societal collapse of many civilisations such as Easter Island. If we continue to damage our forests, soils and climate then the same collapse will happen in Australia.

The most important decision a gardener makes

When you see a tree as majestic as a Gothic cathedral, 100 metres above the ground and weighing 1,200 tonnes, you have to be amazed that its ingredients are not cement, lime, clay or gravel scratched from the earth and built brick by brick on an ascending scaffold that takes 20 years to complete. It is basically water and an invisible gas, the very same CO2 that is now warming the planet.

This gas is blended with water and minerals and pumped to the tree top, perhaps 50-100 metres above ground by photosynthetic cells inside leaves that all started from a seed a fraction of the size of your smallest fingernail. The world’s biggest tree, a Sequoiadendron giganteum, weighs over 1,200 tonnes and started life before Christ was born and at least 1,000 years before cathedrals were constructed. However, that is relatively recent considering the oldest tree is aged 4,800 years. If this doesn’t create a sense of wonderment about the planet we live on, I guess nothing ever will.

Is it any surprise that many so-called ‘environmentalists’ have switched their allegiance from worshipping a dead prophet to protecting our wondrous existence?

To protect this planet needs the same environmental proselytising as the religious fervour that the early disciples of Christ showed, however we have only decades to resolve our climatic equilibrium, not the 2-3 centuries that Christianity took to establish.

In just 200 years of white settlement the forests on this continent have dropped from 33% coverage to about 16%. We commit the ultimate stupidity of cutting down our precious old growth forests (pictured above) that potentially regenerate our forests on a continuous basis and turn them into wood chips and export them to Japan.

The Japanese know a thing or two about the importance of trees. After all, about 68% of Japan is largely re-forested and yet they have a population six times ours and a history of settlement that goes back perhaps 2,500 years. It all changed about 300 years ago when their population reached 30 million and farmers could no longer rely on clean water continuously feeding their rice fields or wood to fuel cooking and construction. The villages then set about changing their unsustainable forest exploitation and switched to importing wood from ignorant suppliers such as modern day Australians.

Tree selection is a gardener’s most important decision for garden success and the mistakes in selection over the last 50 years need urgent correction otherwise our backyards will turn into heat islands just like our modern cities.

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