Tu B’Shevat is called the birthday of trees, but here’s a sobering fact to remember as we celebrate the holiday: the world tree canopy is disappearing.
According to Greenpeace, a quarter of the forestland lost in 10,000 years has been destroyed in the last 30 years. That’s a staggering rate of deforestation.
The U.S. State Department reports forested acreage “four times the size of Switzerland” is destroyed every year.
And NASA, which has taken on the task of documenting global deforestation, using satellite photos, has discovered devastating deforestation throughout Africa and South America. Indeed, according to the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank, 80 percent of the Earth’s natural resources have already been destroyed through deforestation. Some 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900, according to the WRI, while Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rain forest, are being thinned by logging and fires as land is cleared for agriculture or cattle grazing.
The loss is so extensive that National Geographic went so far as to label it a “forest holocaust.”
Deforestation doesn’t just affect the Third World; the impact also will be felt worldwide.
Trees consume carbon dioxide — one of the greenhouse gases whose buildup in the atmosphere contributes to climate change. Destruction of trees removes these “carbon sinks,” while tree burning and decomposition send yet more carbon dioxide, along with methane — another greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere.
Climate change is well established, as Pittsburgh native Adam LeWinter, field engineer on the award-winning documentary, “Chasing Ice” said. LeWinter set up the time-lapse cameras on glaciers around the world for the film, and he saw firsthand how much they are retreating.
“Many people still believe we’re not powerful enough to change our environment in such a profound way,”
LeWinter, told the Chronicle, “but we definitely are.”
Which brings us back to Tu B’Shevat — a holiday that reminds us how important the Earth’s bounty is in our lives, and why we must urgently preserve it for future generations.
But that requires Jews to put the message of our Tu B’Shevat seders into action. Climate change has taken a backseat in our national discussion for far too long. That’s dangerous, given the precarious state of the climate.
In his victory speech on election night, President Obama said Americans want their children to live in a country “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Amen. Now that his second term is under way Americans in general, and Jews in particular, should press him to back that statement with action.
Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, all share this planet, and so will their children. We’re equally responsible for saving it.
That’s the lesson Tu B’Shevat teaches.