An alarming new study has shown that the world's forests are not only disappearing rapidly, but that areas of 'core forest' -- remote forest-interior areas critical for disturbance-sensitive wildlife and ecological functioning -- are vanishing even faster.
Core forests are disappearing because of the tsunami of new roads, dams, power lines, pipelines and other infrastructure rapidly slicing into the world's last wild places, opening them up like a flayed fish to deforestation, fragmentation, poaching, and other destructive activities.
Most vulnerable of all are forests in the tropics -- which sustain the planet's most biologically rich and environmentally important habitats.
The collapse of the world's forests isn't going to stop until we start to say "no" to environmentally destructive projects.
Damn the dams
Those who criticize new infrastructure projects are often accused of opposing direly needed economic development, or -- if they hail from industrial nations -- of being hypocrites.
But when one begins to look in detail at the proposed projects, an intriguing pattern appears: Many are either poorly justified or will have far greater costs than benefits.
For example, in a recent essay in Science, ALERT member Philip Fearnside argues that many of the 330-odd hydroelectric dams planned or under construction in the Amazon will be more trouble than they're worth.
Many of these dams will have huge environmental impacts, argues Fearnside, and will dramatically increase forest loss in remote regions. Furthermore, much of the electricity they produce will be used for smelting aluminum, which provides relatively little local employment.
Fearnside asserts that mega-dams planned for the Congo Basin and Mekong River will also will cause big problems, with limited or questionable benefits.
Roads to ruin
The explosive expansion of roads into the world's last wild places is an even bigger problem. Indeed, Eneas Salati, one of Brazil's most respected scientists, one quipped that "The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads."
Current projections suggest that by 2050, we'll have an additional 25 million kilometers of paved roads -- enough to encircle the Earth more than 600 times.
ALERT director Bill Laurance has led two major studies of planned road expansion, one for the entire planet and one for sub-Saharan Africa. Both studies show that many planned roads would have massive impacts on biodiversity and vital ecosystem services while providing only sparse socioeconomic benefits.
The bottom line: Many infrastructure projects are being pushed by powerful individuals or corporations that have much to gain themselves, but often at great cost to the environment and developing societies.
Just say "no"
There is a very active coalition of pro-growth advocates -- including corporate lobbyists, climate-change deniers, and die-hard proponents of 'economic growth' -- that immediately decry any effort to oppose new developments.
But the path we're currently following isn't just unsustainable. It's leading to an astonishingly rapid loss of forests, wildlife, and wilderness. From 2000 to 2012, an area of forest two and half times the size of Texas was destroyed, while a tenth of all core forests vanished.
If we're going to have any wild places left for our children and grandchildren, we simply can't say "yes" to every proposed development project.
For those that will have serious environmental consequences, we need to start saying "no" a lot more often.