The Fight for the Forests

Public awareness of forest destruction has increased dramatically in recent years. Yet news of successful resistance to forest loss is often swamped by stories of ecological devastation, species extinction, human rights abuses and corruption. Faced with the threat of accelerating deforestation, indigenous peoples, local communities and environmental groups including Greenpeace are creating powerful movements for change. From nonviolent confrontations to the promotion of economic alternatives, their actions are achieving unprecedented results and inspiring new hope for the survival of the world's remaining forests. Greenpeace is working around the world to preserve the rich diversity of life in tropical, temperate and northern boreal forests, together with the people who depend on them for their survival.

Driving Deforestation

The planet's forests are being devastated by logging, bulldozed and burnt to clear land for agriculture and cattle, and replaced by commercial tree plantations. The quest for short term profit is having a dramatic effect on the environment, and is destroying the livelihoods of local and indigenous communities. In the tropics, vast areas of forest are opened up in search of internationally valuable species like mahogany. A network of logging roads accelerates the rate of deforestation as farmers and developers move into the area. In temperate and boreal forests, entire valleys and mountain sides are stripped of trees destined for timber and paper products. Escalating consumption of these products in industrialised countries is now the catalyst behind most large-scale deforestation. With campaigns in both producer and consumer countries, Greenpeace is exposing the links between consumer demand and forest destruction. The logging industry and the consumption of timber and paper products, are the main focus of Greenpeace's international campaigns to save the forests.

What's at Stake?

Biological diversity: It is estimated that over half of all the plant and animal species on earth are found in tropical forests, which cover less than seven per cent of the world's land surface. Deforestation is driving millions of these species to extinction. The unique ecosystems and species of temperate and boreal forests are no less threatened. For example, over one thousand species in Scandinavia are endangered by industrial forestry. At a global level, this devastation is propelling the planet towards an unparalleled ecological crisis. Species are being lost which could provide new pest-resistant crops or cures for diseases such as cancer and AIDS. However, the protection of forest species for their own sake, and for their role in maintaining a balanced environment, is more than enough justification for their survival.

Environmental balance: The large amount of rainfall characteristic of tropical forests is filtered through thick forest cover, regulating its impact on the local environment. Forest destruction leads to flooding and the loss of thousands of tonnes of top soil, often resulting in dramatic landslides. The siltation of rivers and streams endangers fish populations, threatening both the food of local people, as well as commercial fishing operations. Clearing forest for cattle-ranching, agriculture and logging also leads to the release of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, causing climatic instability and contributing to global warming.

Indigenous peoples: Worldwide, 200 million indigenous people live in and depend on the forests for their livelihood, food and medicine. In almost every country, indigenous people are at the forefront of the struggle to save the forests. In the Amazon, Indian lands are being illegally invaded by logging companies eager to extract mahogany for foreign markets. The lives of the Indians are shattered by contact with the loggers, who bring diseases and corruption to these small communities. Upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands is central to the struggle to protect the forests.

Economic options: Over a billion people who do not actually live in the forest, rely on its valuable resources. Harvests of fruit, nuts, medicine and rubber from intact forests offer viable economic options for local and indigenous communities. Foods we now take for granted such as cocoa, palm oil, coffee and corn originate from tropical forests. The potential for finding new foods is enormous; a wild species of caffeine-free coffee has only recently been discovered in the Comoros Island forests off eastern Africa.

What Greenpeace is Doing

Using nonviolent direct action, Greenpeace is: blockading and confronting major companies responsible for forest destruction. Greenpeace demands that they stop clearcutting and other destructive logging practices, protect biological diversity and respect the rights of indigenous peoples; educating both industrial and individual consumers about the environmental costs of deforestation, and the direct impacts of consumption levels on the rates of this destruction. Greenpeace is urging consumers to reuse, recycle and reduce their use of wood and paper products; lobbying governments for the regulation of the international timber trade. Greenpeace is lobbying for legally binding controls and international agreements to stop the import, consumption and production of ecologically unsound timber; supporting the struggle of indigenous people to protect their forests; campaigning against the conversion of natural forest to commercial forestry plantations for the pulp and paper industry; contributing to the development of an independent, internationally agreed set of principles for forest management.

What Can you Do?

Reduce your use of wood and paper products and where possible, buy recycled paper or second-hand wood. For guidance on which woods to avoid, and which are preferable, contact your local Greenpeace office. For example, don't buy mahogany, or wood from clearcut logging operations. Get involved in Greenpeace's Forest Campaigns: contact your local Greenpeace office for details about how you can help. Join Greenpeace and send a donation to support the campaign action.

Material supplied by Greenpeace. Thanks to Catherine Barr

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