Forests can be “cultivated” just like crops. The process is known as silviculture. More and more trees are being planted across the globe, and the area covered by such plantations is increasing by 6.9 million acres (2.8 million hectares) a year. These plantations—which are mainly to be found in China, Russia, and the USA—only represent 5% of the planet’s total forest cover, but they supply 35% of all wood harvested.
Plantations of fast-growing trees, all of similar age and all belonging to the same species, do not make a forest, however. They do not sustain the same level of biodiversity or ensure the same level of soil protection as a natural forest. Such plantations are also vulnerable to fire and storm damage, and they are less resistant to epidemics. Species poorly adapted to the environment may leach water from the soil—as the eucalyptus does—and others, like the pine, may alter the pH of the soil, making it unduly acidic. In addition, some systems of silviculture use chemical fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides; others use trees that have been genetically modified.
These vast monoculture plantations are generally designed to meet the needs of the highly polluting and energy-hungry paper industry. Our global consumption of paper and cardboard has quadrupled in the space of forty years and now stands at a million metric tons a day—an increase that is clearly problematic.
In 2005, each inhabitant of the USA used 655 lb (297 kilograms) of paper. The figure for China was 98 lb (44.5 kilograms), and for India 10 lb (4.5 kilograms), while in Somalia it was only 1 ounce (30 grams). The global average was 120 lb (54.5 kilograms), which makes the discrepancy even more telling. Not all paper industries use wood as their raw material. In China, the world’s second-largest paper manufacturer, 45% of the paper is made from agricultural waste products and 40% from recycled paper. But only a reduction in the consumption of paper (wrapping paper, printed materials, office paper, newspa?pers, etc.) by the world’s major consumers, linked with higher levels of recycling, will enable us to extricate ourselves from the current impasse.