“And here were forests ancient as the hills”, wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem “Kubla Khan”, recalling a time when trees covered much of the Earth. Today, they are rapidly diminishing.
Around 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihood. They are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% animals, plants and insects. They also play a key role in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Forests contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity in the air, protecting watersheds that supply 75% of freshwater worldwide.
Yet despite all these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate – 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Not surprisingly there is an International Day of Forests (21 March), so here are a few facts:
- Forests are home to 300 million people around the world.
- Forests contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air.
- Over 40 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced from rainforests.
- A tree releases 8 -10 times more moisture into the atmosphere than the equivalent area of the ocean.
- Forests protect watersheds which supply fresh water to rivers – a critical source of the water we drink and use in our daily lives.
- Tropical forests provide a vast array of medicinal plants used in healing and healthcare.
- Traditional forest-related knowledge accumulated over thousands of years is deeply linked with the cultures of indigenous and forest-dependent peoples.
- For the rural poor, access to food, fuel, water and medicine is vital; forest products often help meet these basic subsistence needs.
- 80 percent of the world’s forests are publicly owned, but ownership and management of forests by communities, individuals and private companies is on the rise.
- Many religions, faiths and spiritual traditions have links to trees, plants, and forests.
- Most of all – forests are beautiful!
The German novelist, poet and painter Hermann Hesse celebrated nature and the spirituality of forests in Wandering: Notes and Sketches (1972). He wrote:
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”