Dramatic erosion of world's last intact forests

Since 2000, more than 100 million hectares of the world's surviving intact forests have been seriously degraded -- by logging, road building, fragmentation, and other disturbances. 

That's an area three times the size of Germany.

Forests under assault...  (photo by William Laurance)

Forests under assault... (photo by William Laurance)

These are the conclusions of a new analysis and report by the Greenpeace GIS Laboratory, University of Maryland, and Transparent World, with help from the World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia.

The report focuses on "Intact Forest Landscapes" -- large expanses of remaining forest land that survive in pristine or near-pristine condition.  Key findings include:

• Since 2000, over 8% of the world's intact forests have been degraded

• Almost 95% of remaining intact forests are in tropical and boreal regions

• The largest areas of degradation were in the northern boreal forests of Canada, Russia, and Alaska, and in tropical regions such as the Amazon and Congo

• Canada, Russia, and Brazil contain nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining Intact Forest Landscapes, and accounted for over half of all forest degradation

Road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, was a key driver of forest degradation, with fires and forest clearing for agriculture having big impacts in some regions

The new maps on which these analyses are based can be analyzed using tools on the cutting-edge Global Forest Watch platform.  This is a dynamic, online forest monitoring and alert system that can detect changes in near real time.

You can read more about the main findings in this press release

Kudos to the groups that produced this report for a vital and timely analysis.


Will corporations save the Earth?

Guilty as charged.  That would be my plea if I were accused of "distrusting big corporations".  But in a provocative new essay, writer Alice Korngold argues that mega-corporations are the only thing that can save us.

Really, you can trust us...

Really, you can trust us...

It's a novel argument.  For as long as I can remember, the hand on the chainsaw and the driver of the roaring bulldozer has had a corporate face -- a face focused, above all, on maximizing profits.

Yet, Korngold asserts that multinational corporations have vast financial resources and a capacity to work internationally that governments just can't touch.  That's crucial, she argues, in an era in which many of our environmental and social crises are global in scope.

Clearly, a well-meaning corporation can have a big influence on its entire business sector.  For instance, we've seen a wave of forest-destroying firms declaring "no-deforestation" policies, following the pioneering declaration by the oil palm giant Golden Agri Resources. 

It's a herd-mentality thing, one surmises.  When everybody is suddenly turning green, who wants to be left behind?

Still, Korngold doesn't suggest all corporations are well-meaning or that they can save the planet on their own. 

The best outcomes arise, she argues, when mega-firms pair up with NGOs or nonprofits.  It's also important for corporations to embrace sustainability at the board level, engage with their stakeholders, and commit to accountability and transparency, she says.

I guess the take-home messages are two-fold.  First, we need to keep up the pressure on corporate bad guys -- so their reputations and market shares suffer, giving them a real incentive to improve their performance.

Second, we need to engage and work with enlightened firms, and those willing to turn over a new leaf.  Greenpeace's recent detente with Asia Pulp & Paper -- formerly the dark beast of the environment -- is one such example.

It's a brave new corporate world.  We hope. 

-Bill Laurance


Mega-corporation still destroying forests, despite green pledge

Does the mega-corporation APRIL -- which has cleared more than a million hectares of native forest in Sumatra, Indonesia -- speak with a forked tongue? 

Rainforest clearing in central Sumatra by APRIL  (photo by William Laurance)

Rainforest clearing in central Sumatra by APRIL (photo by William Laurance)

That certainly seems to be the case, based on recent photos of forest destruction in Sumatra, captured by Greenpeace.

APRIL made headline news earlier this year with a high-profile 'no-deforestation pledge'.  Many observers had doubts, however, including ALERT director Bill Laurance in this essay.

APRIL -- also known as Asia Pacific Resources International Limited -- is one of the world's biggest producers of paper pulp.  Much of this has come from clearing native forests in Sumatra -- turning rainforest trees into pulp and then planting exotic tree species in their place.

Rainforest timber stacked up outside APRIL's wood-pulp plant in Sumatra  (photo by William Laurance)

Rainforest timber stacked up outside APRIL's wood-pulp plant in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

APRIL has long been criticized for its forest-destroying ways -- see, for instance, this TV interview with Bill Laurance on Australia's Foreign Correspondent program -- but seemed to be turning over a new leaf with its no-deforestation pledge.

Alas, the doubting Thomases may have been correct.  APRIL claims the new, large-scale forest destruction is consistent with their pledge -- but 'no deforestation' means 'no deforestation', right?

Are the media blowing it on climate change?

When it comes to climate change, the popular media almost always dig up a skeptic whenever they interview a concerned scientist.  Fair or foul?

Fight fire with fire? (cartoon by Nick Kim)

Fight fire with fire? (cartoon by Nick Kim)

Writing in the leading journal Nature, Simon Lewis emphatically argues this is foul.  The skeptics being interviewed are very rarely scientists, Lewis argues, but are activists with an agenda.  

Lewis highlights a striking example of this: The BBC's recent interview of Lord Nigel Lawson, a leading climate skeptic, and pitting him against a leading scientist.  Lawson's qualifications?  He was formerly the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK--effectively the Minister of Finance.

Lewis says the media are blowing it: If they want to interview an activist climate-skeptic then they should pair him against an environmental activist, such as the head of Greenpeace.  

That way, there'd be no pretense of an unbiased or scientific exchange, says Lewis.  It'd be more a matter of standing back and watching the fur fly...