PureInsight | March 8, 2004
[PureInsight.org] Mankind has the responsibility to preserve the world's natural resources. However, the rising population and concurrent rural development can be detrimental to our natural environment. Here I would like to discuss my view on the consumption and development of the forest resources.
At the beginning of human civilization, mankind's consumption of the forest resources was limited to clearing forestlands for agriculture, and using wood for fuel or for lumber. Of course mankind also hunts animals in the forests and gathers nuts and fruits, but these are not the main focus of this discussion. As the main source of fuel, firewood has been an important resource ever since the beginning of human civilizations. It also has played a major role in the large-scale development of coalmines during the Western Industrial Revolution. Firewood is required for cooking and heating, and for the early stage of metal smelting. Wood is also the lumber that has provided houses and palaces since ancient times.
Some people claim that using firewood as fuel has caused many environmental problems, including the loss of forests and damage to vegetation. If our ancestors had not used firewood for fuel, would they have been able to discover petroleum and natural gas as an alternative? If the ancient humans had not used lumber to build homes, I'm afraid that mankind may still be living in caves today!
In addition, a forest is capable of self-recovery in a sense that after a tree is chopped down; more trees will re-grow from the remaining trunk and root. However, self-recovery of petroleum, natural gas and coal take a very long time and special conditions and do not occur to any measurable extent over the short term. Based on today's consumption rate, petroleum and natural gas should only last about a hundred more years, while there might be enough coal to last for about five hundred more years.
Cutting down trees results in environmental damage. It is because when the rate of consumption of trees exceeds the rate of growth, the forest will have no time to recover. This results in severe ecological problems, such as massive loss of vegetation, soil erosion and land desertification.
Why would the loss of vegetation result in severe ecological problems? It is a very large topic but I want to focus on one small aspect of the situation.
Vegetation, especially trees, has a huge ecological effect on humans and on the natural environment. Tree roots stabilize the soil by conserving water and preventing silt buildup in rivers. Moreover, each plant is like a moisture regulator, which stores water when the weather is humid and releases water molecules to the air through evaporation when the weather is hot and dry. When the water in the air reaches a threshold and encounters cold air, it will turn into rain and return to the ground. One of the functions of vegetation is to absorb rainwater, and evaporate it back to the air. Therefore, the more vegetation there is, the more water there will be in the air through evaporation, resulting in more rain in that area. In other words, vegetation helps keep the weather humid and warm, which is a favorable climate for human habitation.
To illustrate this cycle, let us observe the tropical rainforests in Indonesia from an aerial view. Immediately after rainfall, one can observe that clouds hang directly above each island covered by forests. The cloud is formed by water vapor. Upon encountering cool air, the clouds will turn into rain and fall down to the earth. This constitutes a good water cycle.
Rivers and lakes are large bodies of water. Where does the water originate? Some people believe that the water comes from the mountains, but in fact it comes from the cycle of water formation. For example, the water in rivers and lakes nourishes and germinates plants. During dry seasons, the plants evaporate the water preserved in them, which eventually becomes rain and descends back to the ground. Then the water goes into brooks and converges into rivers and lakes. This is a water cycle. Of course, there are larger and greater water cycles. Here I just want to give one example of water cycle. Water has been going through such cycles infinite times to nourish everything on earth.
In areas where forests are destroyed, there are often floods after rainfalls, followed by drought. Without the plants, the water cycle is compromised. When there is a heavy rainfall, water will immediately flow to the lower ground and even cause floods because there are not enough plants to absorb the water and prevent all the water from flowing to the lower ground. When there is little rainfall and too few plants, which give off moisture into the air, there will be drought. Sometimes rivers will even dry up. If we personify the rivers, it is as though the rivers have died.
Therefore, protecting vegetation will bring far greater ecological benefits than building and maintaining dams. Dams have limited years of effective use and their actual efficiency depends on various variables and restraints. For example, the dam should release water during dry seasons, but some governments require that the water stay in the dammed area and use it as fishpond for economic interests. During floods, the government is supposed to hold water, but some governments release the water and cause greater flooding out of safety concern for the dam itself. A dam cannot hold more water than its capacity.
As mankind becomes increasingly selfish with the development of human civilization, they continually take from nature, resulting in destruction. Mr. Du Mu, a poet from the Tang Dynasty wrote in his "Poem about Afang Palace, "Make the Shu Mountain barren to build Afang Palace." The First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty cut down all the trees on the mountains in Sichuan Province to build his Afang Palace. The story proves that man's insatiable desires demand too much from nature. In order to satisfy ever-increasing desires, people have resorted to all means to take from nature. Man's consumption rate of lumber and other natural resources has exceeded nature's speed to regenerate them. Moreover, people's large-scale consumption, and chemical processing of petroleum and natural gas have caused various environmental problems.
Back in the Zhou Dynasty of more than 2,000 years ago, the lists of gift exchanges among the feudal lord estates included rhinoceros and elephants, which could mean that the North Plain of China must have been far warmer and more humid than it is now because these animals require warm and humid climate in their habitation. [This assumes that the "gifts" came from this region.] What about now? Because of the destruction of forests, the Northern Plain of China is now extremely dry, a phenomenon that has grown increasingly obvious in the past 50 years. In the 1950's, the average rainfall around Beijing City and Tianjin City was around 650 mm, and now it has fallen to around 400 mm. At this rate, not only will the drought problem in Tianjin and Beijing become more severe, but also the whole Northern Plain of China might eventually become a desert. It is said that in the 19th century, a Swedish geologist came to China and studied the Lop Nur Lake. He recorded how the local residents caught tigers. It shows at that time there was not only water in the Lop Nur Lake but also grass, tress and small animals that were the prey of tigers living around the lake. Today, the Lop Nur Lake has completely dried up, and become a barren wasteland. Tigers have become extinct a long time ago in this area. Even the plants have a hard time surviving in this land.
This, however, does not mean that mankind should drastically reduce or stop the consumption of forest resources. As long as mankind maintains a reasonable consumption rate and treats the forests with benign care, we should be able to keep the replenishment rate of forest resources higher than the consumption rate of mankind. Thus, we will be able to keep a healthy cycle [of the natural resources], prevent permanent loss of the natural resources and improve our living environment.
Some people may criticize this solution and consider it as unrealistic: "Given the large size of the world's population and relatively small number of forests, we can't even stop illegal lumber harvesting, let alone adopt harvesting in moderation."
Actually, if people can grow trees in the vast expanses of the barren mountains and shrubs in the plains, the forests will provide people with economic benefits and some of the proceeds can feed the costs of forest conservation programs. Thus by conserving nature, man and nature can together form a benevolent relationship. We can help protect the natural environment and in turn, the environment will nourish us.
But how do we achieve this goal? The most fundamental step is to restore conscience and morality. When people improve their morality, and realize the danger of over-consumption of the natural resources, they will work together to conserve the forests on their own accord without having to launch any ecological crisis awareness programs. The restoration of forests will bring enormous ecological benefits. The natural environment will improve, the climate will become more suitable for human habitation and many natural disasters such as floods will be avoided naturally. The ecological benefits will also result in immense social and economic benefits, which will motivate people to be more dedicated to natural conservation. People will respect and appreciate nature, instead of wasting its treasures. After cutting down trees for lumber, people will plant trees equal in number to that of the trees that were taken down. Mankind's natural conservation efforts, combined with nature's strength to recover, will ensure that such tragedy as "making the Shu Mountain barren to build Afang Palace" will not be repeated. This is what I mean by restoring mankind's morality as the very foundation to build and maintain a benevolent relationship between man and nature. People with morality are bound to utilize natural resources sensibly and benevolently, and will not cause damage. This is one of the core values of ancient Chinese people: Man should be an integral part of nature.
Some may argue that it is one thing to advocate restoring conscience and morality but it is easier said than done. It may be difficult but not impossible. For instance, Falun Gong has improved over 100 million people's morality. What's especially remarkable is that Falun Gong practitioners will not give in to the evil persecution and give up their steadfast belief in the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance. They have displayed incomparably magnificent morality and courage. I believe that, in the near future, Falun Gong will restore people's morality.
But under the current circumstances where mankind's morality has deteriorated, how should we maintain and preserve natural resources?
Let's use China as an example. Since my academic background is in economics, I would like to address this issue briefly from the perspective of economics. In many areas in China, farmers lost their farmlands and factory workers have been laid off. Their living conditions became worse. What can we do to conserve the natural environment while improving the Chinese people's living standards?
First of all, restoring Falun Gong's reputation is the basic premise of all solutions. The current persecution against Falun Gong was launched by Jiang Zemin, former Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) out of his own jealousy of Falun Gong's popularity. The persecution is groundless and completely illegal. Further, the persecution has depleted a quarter of the national economic resources, and thus has forced a heavy burden on China's economy. From the basic viewpoints of economics, such a huge amount of money should have been put into productive use, but it has been used to disturb the regular life and work of millions of Falun Gong practitioners. It is a massive waste of the society's wealth. The economic losses to Chinese society caused by the persecution campaign can be calculated as follows:
A quarter of the national economic resources +
The economic losses from wasting a quarter of resources that should have been put into productive use +
The economic losses from interference with the productive work of millions of Falun Gong practitioners =
China's total economic losses caused by the persecution
These are only the upfront economic losses.
Secondly, advocate moral reconstruction in China. In a society where environmental protection has become a common practice and everyone is aware of his/her duty for society, environmental protection should not necessarily depend on financial fines. Self-discipline, based on moral values, is far better than external restraints. A man of morality has a sense of responsibility in his heart and does not need any external supervision. When everyone disciplines himself/herself according to moral standards, all of the expenses of administration, supervision, auditing, disciplinary actions, lawsuits, and execution of laws will be spared, and can then go to environmental protection. Indeed, it is applicable not only to the environmental protection but also to all aspects in society. Raising moral standards is the most economical solution to all social problems.
It requires a lot of effort to achieve the twofold solution: promulgate the knowledge and information about environmental protection, and establish moral trends, which is founded on raising moral consciousness.
How can moral consciousness be upgraded? The political propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party will not work. In actual practice, it appeared to have advocated morality, but has actually done the opposite. They have set an extremely bad example for the Chinese people. Only a spiritual belief that is consistently truthful, righteous, and benevolent can people's moral standards be raised. Since the beginning of the persecution in 1999, Falun Gong practitioners have been consistent in disciplining themselves according to the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. Many have steadfastly persevered in their belief in the face of a deadly threat. Falun Gong has proved to be the most powerful factor in raising people's moral conscience.
Without moral conscience, no matter how big the investment or project, the profit will all end up in the pockets of greedy and corrupt government officials. Without moral conscience, no matter how large the forests are they will be depleted by people who will destroy the forests for short-term gains, or even exploited by the forest conservation staff. Without moral conscience, the environmental problems in China will not be solved.
Thirdly, invest heavily in tree planting and preserve vegetation to improve the natural environment. Developing the ecology is a feasible economic policy. Some say that the Chinese government has been talking about planting tress, but in fact it does no more than talking about planting trees. Heaven only knows exactly how many people have actually planted trees; how persistent their efforts are, if any; how many places they have actually planted trees; and how many trees have survived since the planting. In most cases, the nature conservation program begins and ends with a tree-planting ceremony where a Chinese government official poses as if he is planting a tree in front of the camera. That's it. The conservation program is deemed successful when such a photograph appears on the first page of a news article.
To prove my point, here's a case study about a local Chinese government's recent investment to boost local economy. I will hide the name of the city and the investment for the sake of discretion. A local Chinese government in the less prosperous mid-west China invested 10 million Yuan (approximately $1.2 million dollars) on a high-tech project. Because this city did not have the ability to manufacture the high-tech equipment for the project, they had to import the high-tech equipment needed for this high-tech project from foreign countries or buy them from China's east coast. Therefore, the only remaining business opportunities this high-tech project that came to the local industries were job opportunities for construction workers and purchases of bricks, sand, and pebbles. The major part of the business opportunities still went to other cities. This means that this investment has failed to boost the local economy and that the Chinese local government in this poverty-stricken region has invested the revenues of the local taxpayers to bring revenues to and boost the economy of other cities or even foreign countries. One can only hope that, after the high-tech project is completed, the local government will not lose more money on the business operations of the high-tech project.
How can the $1.2 million dollars be alternatively used to boost the local economy of a city destitute of modern technology? It is far more promising for this city to make an investment in building forests instead. First of all, growing trees does not require a large amount of modern equipment, as it is labor-intensive work. Besides, it does not require any special skill. Even the farmers can join in the task. Hence, it will create a lot of local job opportunities for a city that does not have high-tech professionals. The majority of the $1.2 million investment will pay the wages of farmers and workers while the remaining will pay for basic tools for the tree planting, such as shovels, handcarts, hoes, and trees. Most likely the city will not have to buy equipment from other areas and thus give away business opportunities to other areas. The local government will definitely spend the majority of the $1.2 million locally on purchasing tree-planting tools and hiring local farmers for labor. The local businesses and farmers' revenues will definitely increase, thus increasing the local tax revenues.
Forest industry is very profitable. Besides, foreign researchers have found that the forest's ecological benefits, such as improving the local climate and soil conservation, are five to ten times greater than its direct economic value. For a country severely destitute of forests such as China, the number should be closer to 10 times. This case study allows us to consider the economic benefits of nature conservancy. Investing in the forest industry will bring tangible revenues to the local government and its people. In addition, it is a good deed to conserve the world's forests.
I have a lot more suggestions on the sensible consumption of forest resources, but in this article I would like to direct people's attention to the following three suggestions:
1. Treasure nature and conserve the forest
We should consume natural resources with a benevolent mind, and should not diminish the natural resources malevolently. Man should be an integral part of nature. Damaging the life cycle of nature will bring disaster to mankind.
2. End the campaign to persecute Falun Gong and divert these funds to forest conservation programs
It is the foremost responsibility of the political leader in China to give back the Chinese people's Constitutional right to practice Falun Gong. This will restore the morality of the Chinese society and significantly reduce the cost of solutions to all social problems in China. The money invested in the persecution should be used for funding forest conservation programs. Falun Gong brings lots of benefits and no harm to any government or ethnic group in the entire world.
3. Big corporations should invest in forest conservation programs, thus increasing employment and improving the economy
I mentioned the case of the Chinese city as an example to explain the short-term and long-term benefits of protecting forests and conserving nature. When it is properly planned and organized, investing in the forest industry will bring economic, ecological and social benefits. It brings lots of benefits and no harm to any city or region. It is also a very good solution to the local economy and job market.
Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2004/2/13/25800.html