Forests Can Heal People and the Planet

On this International Day of Forests, Let’s Embrace Deep Rooted Change

It’s the International Day of Forests, a day each year that has been set aside to celebrate the role that forests play in sustaining life on Earth. In times like these, hope can be hard to find. But we can find it in forests.

It’s not surprising that every article I’ve read in the last week on how to cope with the stress and anxiety of the Coronavirus pandemic says to get out in nature.

I’m fortunate enough to live in a forest with hiking trails in my backyard. One of my favorite spots is on the top of a big boulder my family and I call Picnic Rock. I went up there just the other day to escape. As I crossed a small stream, I could hear the water flowing over rocks and birds chirping. Once on top of the rock, I looked closely at the small budding leaves on a tree growing in a crack ready to burst into spring. I took a deep breath of fresh air. In the quiet and stillness of the forest, I felt my spirit calm, my body relax.

Danna Smith at Picnic Rock

Sitting on Picnic Rock away from all the chaos of the news and emails about the pandemic, I thought about how quickly the whole world responded to this crisis. In a matter of weeks everyone was washing their hands, practicing “social distancing”, and otherwise doing what the experts are saying.

If it’s possible to nearly shut down society in a few weeks, certainly we can stop the burning of trees for power, dial back our consumption of wood products, and scale up the protection of our forests. I left the woods feeling hopeful and grateful instead of anxious and worried.

Let’s all take his moment of pause to reflect on our situation.

This pandemic is a microcosm of a planetary health crisis. The large-scale destruction of nature, including forests, lies at the center of what ails us. We have forgotten that humans are a part of nature.

The Earth has a fever – it’s called climate change. Temperatures are rising, the ice caps are melting, and communities are flooding. Forest loss and degradation has played a major, yet often underestimated, role in the climate crisis. Habitat destruction is also causing massive extinction at a rate and scale on par with that of the time of the dinosaurs. Scientific reports link the destruction of forests and nature to the unleashing of many recent viruses, including possibly even COVID-19.

Not only has forest destruction played a major role in these global ecological crises, but industrial logging goes hand in hand with pollution, economic inequity, poverty, and a long history of racism. These factors combined have put low income communities and communities of color at greater risk to the economic and health impacts of the current pandemic. I’m concerned for the lives of my friends and colleagues whom I’ve come to know over the years who have suffered too long under an unjust system that puts the profits of a few ahead of their health and well-being.

Forest protection lies at the center of healing people and the planet.

Protecting standing, living forests can help us avert climate catastrophe, cooling the planet down and protecting communities from extreme flooding and droughts. Forest protection can help clean the air of pollution and purify the water. Through setting aside half of the Earth’s ecosystems for biodiversity, we can slow the rate of species extinction and avert future pandemics.

Scientists say we likely have less than a decade to reverse the trend on climate change. Look at what’s been done in a few short weeks to address the Coronavirus. It’s time for government leaders and corporate executives to embrace the science and take immediate action to protect nature.

Imagine instead of large-scale industrial logging and pollution dominated by a few corporations, communities were practicing permaculture, providing fresh, healthy food for everyone. Imagine children in the woods studying and caring for plants and animals. Imagine people building hiking trails and treehouses and creating art and music in celebration of the forest. Imagine the sun and wind providing local energy for local communities. Imagine forests growing old and species flourishing once again. Imagine rivers running clean and the air clear of pollution. Imagine a culture that cares more about the planet and each other than it does about the latest fashion or the newest cell phone model.

A healthy future is still within our grasp.

Justice First

More than 11,000 scientists and 1,400 jurisdictions have declared a state of climate emergency. The Green New Deal has already been written. A Stand4Forest policy platform has already been signed by over 150 organizations and 60 elected officials. A diverse movement of forest and planet defenders is growing by the day. Young people around the world are striking for the future, even if just virtually for the time being.

We are already pooling resources and uniting our efforts. At the forefront of our efforts are the communities who have borne the brunt of the impacts of environmental destruction for too long.

Together, we’re digging deep and working at the root of these problems.

We know what needs to be done. Rapid and far-reaching change is possible if we let go of fear, embrace hope, and come together. On this International Day of Forests, let’s commit to choosing the health and well-being of people and the living planet above all else. To do that we must hold government and corporations accountable to stop forest destruction. So tell your neighbors, family, and friends that hope lies in the actions we take today to defend and protect our forests. Through deep-rooted systemic change in how we are treating nature and each other, we can heal ourselves and the planet.

You can take action today: Sign the Stand4Forests pledge.

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