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Mole's Progressive Democrat

The Progressive Democrat Newsletter grew out of the frustration of the 2004 election. Originally intended for New York City progressives, its readership is now national. For anyone who wants to be alerted by email whenever this newsletter is updated (usually weekly), please send your email address and let me know what state you live in (so I can keep track of my readership).

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

I am a research biologist in NYC. Married with two kids living in Brooklyn.

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  • Help end world hunger
  • Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Trees: Fighting Famine, Fighting Global Warming

    I have written several times in the past about how important trees are for fighting global warming. In essence, the most cost-effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere is by planting trees. Now too often lumber companies do this by planting monoculture plantations, which actually have been shown to be counter productive environmentally. But a good tree planting program is an excellent long-term way to combat global warming.

    And I have emphasized that tree planting can have further benefits in terms of stabilizing soil, maintaining watersheds, and generally improving the environment of an area. Bangladesh is an example of what happens when deforestation is carried to an extreme. Bangladesh has lost all capacity to maintain soil and watersheds, so they have almost annual floods in the rainy season followed by drought because no water is retained in the soil. Furthermore, they have lost much of their best soil. These contribute to making Bangladesh one of the poorest nations on earth. In Jared Diamond's book Collapse, he uses the comparison between Haiti (severely deforested) and the Dominican Republic (which has maintained its forests) as another example of why trees are so important. Haiti has the same kinds of problems as Bangladesh, plus the loss of topsoil also leads to a destruction of offshore fisheries due to the influx of dirt into the fisheries. By contrast, the Dominican Republic maintains higher soil fertility, fewer droughts and better fisheries.

    Trees absorb carbon, protect soil and watersheds for agriculture, and, indirectly, protect downstream fisheries. All of this has led to my making reforestation a priority in my carbon offsets (e.g. through Trees, Water, People). But wait...there's more.

    An article on BBC News this week indicates that fruit trees can also be one of the most valuable buffers in times of famine, maintaining a food supply when all other food supplies fail. From BBC News:

    Food insecurity is a routine fact of life for many of the world's poorest people, Miranda Spitteler, chief executive of Tree Aid told BBC News.

    She said the West needed to recognise the important role trees could play in reducing the need for conventional aid.

    She also called for support for a local tree-based solution to food shortages...

    She said the fight against hunger, especially in drought-hit times, must target those at the epicentre of of world poverty - smallholder farmers in rural Africa.

    "They need support to adopt agro-forestry techniques, which boost soil fertility and provide tree food crops to supplement nutrition."

    Ms Spitteler added: "This approach can increase self-sufficiency for both rural communities and national economies. It can increase environmental security, diversify livelihood options and reduce the vulnerability of poor households to climate change and external shocks."


    You can help by donating to Tree Aid (they are British and hence the donation is in British currency, but that shouldn't be a problem if paying by credit card). Here is their mission statement:

    TREE AID was established as a charity in 1987 by a group of foresters in response to the famine in Africa, brought to public attention by Band Aid and Live Aid.

    They wanted to provide a long term solution once the emergency relief efforts ended. They believed that trees could significantly reduce the vulnerability of communities in rural Africa's drylands to drought and famine in the future.

    Our current strategy expands on the original concept, focusing on forest management and income, food and medicines from trees.


    Click here to find out about their current projects (currently in Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana)

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