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    United Nations Biodiversity 2010 Targets are in Jeopardy

    “A culture is no better than its woods.”—W.H. Auden

    “Almost half of all life on earth may exist in the world’s forest canopies. They may also play a vital role in maintaining the planet’s climate…”
    Biologists now believe that the 6 percent of earth’s land surface that tropical rain forests represent contain more than fifty percent of all species. Many primate species live in these forests. The International Primatological Society’s twelve year study that was just released in Edinburgh shows a disturbing picture of our forests: of the known 634 primate species and subspecies, 50 percent are threatened with extinction in the next ten years! Primates in Asia face a 70 percent extinction rate.

    Habitat destruction is the main cause for this terrifying tragedy, but there are other drivers such as climate change, invasive species and the human population which is moving towards at least nine billion by 2050.  If we add the destruction of coral reefs where the diversity of life is almost equal to our forests, it is not difficult to see that humanity can be thought of as the AIDS to the planet’s immune system.
    Most nations have agreed to abide by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. (Please see Unfortunately, a new report in Nature magazine warns “that its effectiveness is being undermined by the increasing dominance of politicians and professional negotiators.”
    The Convention decided in 2002 to have a Strategic Plan to stop the loss of biodiversity and create a 2010 Target, but with only a year and a half to go it is becoming clear that humanity may fail to meet its 2010 targets. Perhaps the coming change in “leadership” in the United States will turn this around. Canada also lags in its commitment.
    It should be mentioned that by having a significant reduction in biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation would help meet the 2010 Target.  Maintaining ecosystem integrity supports human well-being.
    Two books that were recently written for the general public give some insight into both the celebration of life in old growth forests and the centuries old greed that has created such a crisis in our western forests. Richard Preston’s “The Wild Trees: a Story of Passion and Daring” tells the story of scientists who do research in the redwood forest canopies of Northern California and Oregon. It is the last part of the book that is most fascinating. These ancient trees are worlds onto themselves. Not only do the redwoods go back at least 190 million years but a trip into the canopy, which is often over 300 feet from the ground, will find salamanders, evergreen and red huckleberries, currant bushes, elderberry bushes bearing fruit, spiders, copepods that are usually found in the oceans, all sorts of bonsai trees and of course endless kinds of lichens and mosses. It turns out that the redwoods hold huge amounts of water in their canopies. Birds find refuge there as well. And this is only the beginning!
    The book is a passionate plea for us to recognize the enormous diversity of life found not just in the west coast canopies but also around the world. A trip to Australia’s and Scotland’s large trees finds the same astonishing diversity in their canopies.
    Your autumn reading list should include “The Golden Spruce: A True story of Myth, Madness and Greed” by John Vaillant. The book is in part a history of the wanton destruction of British Columbia’s old growth forests, the pauperization of the Haida Nation and the decimation of the Sea Otter. It culminates in the cutting down, just a few years ago, a 300 year old golden Sitka spruce that was revered by the Haida. Along the way the reader learns a little about the logging industry and its loggers, our government and certainly about ourselves: throughout human history it appears that we can’t help destroying what should be held to be sacred. The only problem now is that in 2008, with our technological prowess and outrageous hubris, we are able to ravage the planet faster than any other generation, and hence 50 percent of our primates are near extinction.
    Mr. Vaillant ends his book with some interesting information: “It takes approximately 550 cubic metres of wood to produce a week-end edition of the Globe and Mail, in addition to 13 million litres of water and 7.5 billion BTU’s of energy.”
    If you are over 30 it’s time to stay put and read the Toronto Star and Globe on- line. By intensifying your own authentic actions insist that we leave something for those being born today. Instead of giving in to our insatiable need to consume perhaps we can finally be protective of our woods and our commitment to a vibrant culture. Mr. Auden would be happy.

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