Spotlight on the UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors

Seeing the Forest Through The Trees

by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Which environment on Earth is home to the largest number of life forms, relases incredible amounts of oxygen into the air that we breathe, plays an essential role in the water and carbon cycles, nourishes and protects the soil, has an impact on climate change, is the sole means of subsistence for hundreds of millions of people, and is the source of many of our medicines?

The answer isn’t necessarily obvious – because few of us are able to see the forest through the trees. For many, the forest is a source of raw materials, energy, and food, as well as land that can be cleared and cultivated. The disappearance of forests is not something that moves us. Yet it is imperative that we open our eyes to the world of the forest, that we consider the whole and not just the parts. Our individual and collective survival depends on it. We must experience the forest; we must love it.

My house stands on the edge of a big forest. Every morning I walk there, sometimes at a leisurely stroll, sometimes at a brisker pace. The forest is a world of sensations that captures my senses, where all things human seems to disappear. Yet I am aware that the forest around Paris all bear the mark of man. But their tranquility and beauty, freshness and fertility express for me something else, something that contributes to my physical and mental well-being. And do not think I am alone in this.

We come from the forest. It was in the trees that we developed binocular vision and opposable thumbs. Perhaps this is why I feel the need to return to it from time to time. To reconnect with my humanness.

Everywhere, the forest is overexploited. Half the forest in the world have disappeared, replaced by towns and villages, pastures, crops and fallow fields. Only one-tenth of primary forests remain – and these are the most precious of all, for they have been spared human intervention. Deforestation was carried out for many years in developed countries; now it’s happening in forests all over world. Europe is the continent that has proportionally lost the most forests; there are barely any ancient forests remaining. Today, Africa and South America are experiencing the highest rates of deforestation.

The images of deforestation are the same everywhere – sadly, always the same. It would serve no purpose to show them all. With this book, the GoodPlanet Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), for which I am a Goodwill Ambassador, aim to go further than the plain observation of facts; their goal is to open up new avenues of exploration.

Fortunately, nothing has to be as it is, and no problem is insoluble. It is simply a question of overcoming ignorance and prejudice.

The destruction of forests will continue as long as we fail to understand that living trees are worth more than felled trees, that animals are essential to the equilibrium of forests, that the time scale of forests cover centuries and millenniums, not years or even decades. The future of Earth and the human race depends upon our forests. And the protection of forests depends upon us.

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