SAVE JUNGLE – SAVE WORLD
The so-called ‘jungle’ of popular imagination, the tropical rain forest belt stretching around our planet at the Equator, has taken some 60 million years to evolve to its present state. It is, quite simply, the most complex, most important ecosystem on Earth.
Homo Faber, Man the Builder, has tragically always seen the jungle as something alien, an environment to be vanquished, replaced with his own constructions. In the past twenty years, the rate of pillage has increased alarmingly and huge tracts of verdant, beautiful forest – an irreplaceable treasure house of living things – has often given way to wasteland. The evidence is that Man will redouble his destructive efforts until the forest ‘system’ is smashed, and the jungle will function no more. Many experts gloomily predict that the tropical rain forests will finally vanish around the end of our century.
Well done, 20th century!
What are the burning reasons that drive men to destroy our monumental inheritance? Man seldom does anything for entirely rational reasons; usually, the less rational his ‘reasons’, the more he defends them with short-term economic arguments. That is one of the modern lessons in ecology.
“We need the land for people,” runs the argument. Well, many people already inhabit the tropical forest belt. There, native tribes have their own ‘low-impact’ life style, hunting, trapping, practising a little cultivation. Perhaps not idyllic, it is, nevertheless, a life style that does not endanger the forest ecosystem. We stress a little cultivation because, paradoxically, the forest soil is often infertile; trees and green plants thrive on the compost of their fallen foliage, which is rapidly broken down and recycled as nutrients.
So, when the jungle is cleared to plant crops, there is no means of putting fertility back into the soil. Many governments spend much time ‘resettling’ people in deforested areas as part of so-called forward-looking development projects, but the crop yield is meagre, and brief: the soil soon makes its point. Erosion and flooding also tend to follow deforestation.
“We need the timber,” continues the argument. Well, the forests have always been generous with their riches – so far as they are able. They are not limitless. They are being exhausted at ever increasing speed. Forest ecology, wisdom in planning and less greed could keep Man and the delicate rain forest relationship in balance indefinitely. This is our last great store house, our last wonderland.