World of Hope Episode 6: The Forest

How Many Forests Are Remaining In The World?

Compared with 10,000 years ago, it was estimated that today in biomass terms there is only 11% of the forests remaining today. In reference materials, it is often indicated that about 30 to 40 percent of the Earth’s land area is forested. There are two challenges with this statistic.

  • First, for an acre to be considered forested, it used to be assumed that an acre contained more trees than is now specified.
  • Second, 10,000 years ago, most of the trees in our forests were mature. Now, a large majority of them are recently transplanted saplings. Obviously, in terms of biomass, saplings and mature trees are not the same thing.

What Can Each of Us Do?

If each person in the world planted 20 trees annually for five years and nurtured these trees to maturity, there might be as many trees on the planet in biomass terms as were here ten millennia ago. It is that simple and that difficult! The challenge is that people need wood for fuel, building, furniture and even fodder. Still, we can begin. Also, if you have resources to contribute, but not time or land, there are organizations, such as that will plant trees for you for just $2 a tree! (for more resources like this, see my Arbor Day post)

Since there are about 6,700,000,000 inhabitants on the Earth, we need to plant 670,000,000,000 trees! Let’s get started!


Richard St. Barbe Baker, an English forester who lived 91 years, is reported to have inspired the planting and/or having planted as much as 26 trillion trees during his lifetime. Johnny Appleseed was very active in the U.S., but in comparison Richard made him appear to be “asleep at the wheel”. To continue the tree planting momentum, St. Barbe also formed an organization called Man of the Trees, an organization with chapters in many countries. He was twice called into court in California to save pristine Redwood tree groves, because he was the only person with sufficient knowledge about the redwoods to make a persuasive case for not cutting them. After successfully defending the Redwoods the first time, St. Barbe was called back 30 years later to convince those in a new generation of the ancient trees’ importance.

There are many wonderful stories of St. Barbe’s accomplishments. For example, before Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President of the U.S., he was Governor of New York; at that time, New York was the only state that had a reforestation program. Richard arranged a meeting with FDR, and told him that he knew that he (FDR) would become the next President. St. Barbe asked that he initiate a national reforestation program after the election, and the new President did just that under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps. A manual, CCC Forestry, resulted from this project and was published by the U.S. Government Printing Office. Among many topics, this publication describes in detail how to set up small tree nurseries.

In a lifetime of planting and promoting the well-being of our forests, St. Barbe wrote 32 books about his activities and initiatives in forestry, including Sahara Challenge and Sahara Conquest plus an autobiography, My Life, My Trees.

Under FDR’s national tree initiatives, tests were begun on honey locust trees, which have the potential of producing up to four times the calories, calcium and protein per acre that wheat does. Other advantages of the honey locust include the production of some building material, firewood and a leaf canopy of thousands of small leaves that, because of their density and placement, let some sunlight through to the ground underneath them. This allows understory crops to be grown below the tree for increased total productivity per unit of area.


Suggested Reading:

  • The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness by Jean Giono. Account of a one-man tree planting program. Inspirations. Possible.
  • Man of the Trees: Selected Writings of Richard St. Barbe Baker edited by Karen Gridley. Some of his best writings.
  • Man of the Trees video about St. Barbe. Available from Music for Little People.
  • The Man Who Planted Trees video. Excellent Academy Award-winning animated adaptation of the Jean Giono’s classic story. Available in English and French from Direct Cinema, P.O. Box 69799, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
  • On the Edge of the Forest video. Excellent video of Dr. E.F. Schumacher, author of the best selling Small Is Beautiful. A key perception about agroforestry as often practices and trees. Available from Bullfrog Films.
  • Forest Farming by J. Sholto Douglas and roberta A. de J. Hart. Excellent. Available from London: Intermediate Technology Publications.
  • Tree Crops: Key to a Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Classic work on an important concept. Available from Devin-Adair.
  • Plant a Tree by M.A. Weiner. Excellent. Macmillan.
  • Tree Bibliography section in How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Though Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons.

Come back tomorrow for Episode 7:”How Long Do We Have To Make a Qualitative Difference-A 29th Day Parallel?”

Copyright © 2008 John Jeavons. All Rights Reserved.
Illustrations for “A World of Hope!” by Judy Chance Hope


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