Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
When God created the Earth, the Almighty has given man dominion over it. But the man did a lousy job. Instead of taking care of what rightly belonged to him, he opted to ruin it. From two people during the Creation (that is, from the Christian perspective), the world is now home to approximately 7.5 billion, despite all efforts to stop the demographic explosion.
Before 2050, the global population is feared to swell to 10 billion, according to the US Council on Environmental Quality and the State Department in a three-year study entitled, Reconnaissance of the Future Global 2000.
“More inhabitants mean greater needs,” said Ulrich Kronberg, a German national who is the president of the Davao-based Mama Earth Foundation. “This has led to an increase in demand for raw materials, which are being extracted from the earth to the hilt.”
If this trend continues, Kronberg opined, the world “might collapse.” In our conversation, he believed that mitigation of the trend is needed to reverse the impending disastrous effects. “There are no simple solutions. The connections that keep organisms on Earth alive are too complicated,” he said.
He considers people as the “fulcrum” in the entire scheme of things. “First of all, people need at least 10,000 liters of clean air daily for breathing,” he explained. “Clean air takes precedence over all other needs. Crystal-clear water and abundant meals are worthless without adequate breathing air.”
To produce oxygen required for aerobic respiration, plants and trees are needed to process carbon dioxide that humans emit. “Trees and forests produce abundant oxygen, so we need more of (them),” he said. “A full-grown tree can supply at least 10 people with breathing air.”
He got that idea from Dr. Jorn Wittern, a German professor, who said: “A broad-leafed tree produces 2 kilograms of oxygen in 1 hour. A person consumes 2 kilograms of oxygen per day. Every liter of gasoline which powers a motor or a turbine consumes 2 kilograms of oxygen.”
Unfortunately, man continues to cut forests at an alarming rate. “A few hundred years ago, at least 95 percent of the Philippines was covered by rain forest; only a few patches of open woodland and seasonal forest, mostly on Luzon, broke the expanse of moist, verdant land,” noted Dr. Lawrence R. Heaney, an American curator who holds honorary appointments at the Philippine National Museum.
By the time the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, scattered coastal areas had been cleared for agriculture and villages. Three hundred years later, the rainforest still covered about 70 percent of the country.
Today, the Philippines is almost devoid of its forest cover. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25.7 percent or about 7,665,000 hectares of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares is forested. Of this, 11.2 percent (861,000) hectares) is classified as a primary forest.
Between 1990 and 2010, the Philippines lost an average of 54,750 hectares or 0.83% annually. “Most of the (Philippines’) once rich forest are gone,” said the FAO publication, Sustainable Forest Management. “Forest recovery, through natural and artificial means, never coped with the destruction rate.”
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the principal cause of the decimation of the country’s forest cover are logging (both legal and illegal), forest fires, natural calamities (like an earthquake), as well as conversion to agricultural lands, human settlements, and other land, uses brought about by urbanization and increasing population pressure.
Additional threats to Philippine forests come from mining operations – which also cause pollution – and the collection of fuelwood (85% of meals in developing countries are cooked over wood or charcoal).
The removal of forest cover makes the Philippines susceptible to various environmental catastrophes. “Most of these were not seen in such intensity and magnitude before our time,” said Jethro P. Adang, the director of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center Foundation, Inc. “The signs cry out for immediate, nationwide attention.”
Oftentimes, deforestation is equated with calamities like landslides and flash floods. Without trees in the uplands, deforestation brings too much water to the lowlands. “Rain which falls over a bare slope acts differently,” Gifford Pinchot wrote in A Primer for Forestry. “It is not caught by the crowns nor held by the floor, nor is its flow into the streams hindered by the timber. The result is that a great deal of water reaches the streams in a short time, which is the reason why floods occur.”
As a result of the continuous deforestation, the world now has less forest cover to protect itself from the scorching heat of the sun. With rapid industrialization, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which binds more heat and leads to rising temperatures.
Climate change, as scientists call it, is caused by greenhouse gases, primarily water vapor and including carbon dioxide, methane, and man-made chlorofluorocarbons. “As a result of rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the global mean temperature has increased 0.8 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels,” explained a World Bank report. “Most warming has occurred since 1970, with the rate of warming in the past decade being nearly double that of the past century.”
To counter climate change, Mama Earth is batting for reforestation as “every tree counts.” In fact, Kronberg considers forests as “air conditioning systems.” They make this planet conducive for living.
Now, let’s listen to Kronberg: “Any individual, who drives 10,000 kilometers yearly with his car that consumes on average 8 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers, burns 800 liters of gasoline. This results in 1,864 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year.”
To balance the carbon dioxide emissions, that person needs to plant 133 trees every year, according to Kronberg.