“The Last Hours of Ancient Sunshine” by Thom Hartmann winds through history, pre-history, our modern age (thirteen years ago) and where we are headed. His introduction talks about how all life on this planet is directly from sunlight. “Sunlight radiating heat, visible light, and ultraviolet light is the source of virtually all life on Earth. Everything you see alive around you is there because a plant somewhere was able to capture sunlight and store it.” Until recently all life, including humans, were limited in their population by the amount of sunshine that was able to be captured by the plants in their local area in each growing season. This all changed when humans found fossil fuels.
Today I am quoting from the chapter The Death of Trees.
“A fully grown pine or hardwood tree has a leaf surface area that can run from a quarter-acre to over three acres…. rainforest trees… can run as high as forty acres per tree. Through this enormous surface area, sunlight is used as an energy source to drive the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen and plant matter (using the “C” which is carbon). Trees literally breathe in the CO2 through that enormous leaf area after we exhale it as biological waste, and they exhale oxygen as their own waste. With out trees, our atmosphere would most likely become toxic to us…”
According to Hartmann a rainforest tree will pump up to three million gallons of water up it’s trunk and out through it’s leaves over it’s life time. All this water is sent into the atmosphere as water vapor. This water vapor then floats downwind to later become rain. Hartmann says “on our continental landmasses, only trees effectively cycle large quantities of water back up into the atmosphere.” To demonstrate a comparison, the water that evaporates off a forty acre lake is equivalent to the water vapor pumped through the leaves of a large tree.
When a mature forest is clear cut then replanted with all saplings a break is developed in the water vapor sent downwind causing a drying effect that can lead to desertification. “According to a 1996 study….funded by the World Bank and the United Nations, 72 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute“.
“Drinkable water falls from the skies as rain and soaks into the ground…At deeper levels, the water has often acquired (from the soil) high concentrations of dissolved minerals, particularly salts. Trees reach….into the earth and draw up moisture from just above this salty water and pump it up into the atmosphere, using the minerals to harden the wood of the tree. This removal of water…creates a downward draw, into the soil, for the fresh water raining down from above. This circulation keeps the soil healthy.” If a forest is cut the salty water level then rises. Hartmann says that when the saline water gets within a few yards of the surface any remaining trees become immune damaged and then die from fungus or beetle infestation or some other infection.
A rise in salinity of the ground water of course negatively effects the health of those drinking the ground water as well. “Most major U.S. and European cities have water that is, at best, unpalatable. Dissolved salt levels of 1300 ppm… are the point where people begin to become sick and dizzy from drinking water: in many cities levels now exceed 1000 ppm.”
“Forests are imperiled world wide.”
Most of the rainforest clearing is being done to create pasture land for beef. While doing a presentation for a high school group last summer I came across the statistic that over forty percent of the beef in this country is imported, by one of four companies. We can a make a difference to the rainforest directly by boycotting fast food beef and supporting local, sustainably raised meat. The forests of the earth, especially the rainforests are the lungs of the planet. If we care for life we must become more aware of our impact through our day to day decisions. Our dollar is our vote. Let’s make it count.
Plant a tree.