There’s hope for the future in reforestation

Bill Liao's book, 'Forests: Reasons to be Hopeful' outlines the challenge we face preserving biodiversity but, crucially, emphasises that it can be done.

AT a family gathering in Cork City on a recent weekend, I walked through a Japanese garden, the owner of which is a dedicated cultivator of bonsai trees.

To wander amongst the less-than-knee-high specimens was as novel as strolling between forest giants at Fota Arboretum, the shape, style and foliage of which they replicate.

I was especially taken with a miniaturised vernacular West Cork sceac (also known as hawthorn). It flowers annually in May and, along with the other bonsais, one of which is 150 years old, seems to flourish in its uptight environment. I couldn’t ask it — as the song goes, “I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me...”

However, we all would do well to lend an ear to the sombre message the devastation of the world’s forests convey. 50% of rain forests have been lost in the last 60 years. The more trees felled, the less well can the planet’s ecology cope with carbon emissions. Global warming results, with droughts, floods and hurricanes. Forests are carbon ‘sinks’, absorbing CO2 greenhouse gases. We fell them at our peril.

After my brief romance with knee-high trees, it was coincidental that, upon arriving home, I found a book about the demise and renewal of forests awaiting me. Written by a neighbour, it is called Forests: Reasons to be Hopeful. The author is Bill Liao, and there is a foreword by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In 2009, Bill Liao founded WeForest.org, promoting reforestation as a way to combat global warming. WeForest is now actively engaged in projects across the world, with a stated goal of planting two trillion trees on deforested land by 2020. This is, indeed, hopeful. The book outlines the reasons for hope.

Liao his wife and their three children chose, some five years ago, to settle in west Cork. I have met him once, and have written in this column about a domestic wind energy system he set up at his home. His not-for-profit work concentrates on forest renewal and on the education of children in computer technology. CoderDojo, founded in 2011 with James Whelton, a 19-year-old Cork computer coding genius, enables young people to “learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and more”. Thus, they may contribute to mankind’s intellectual resources in solving the problems faced by our species.

SOSventures was founded by Sean O’Sullivan, an Irish-American inventor and entrepreneur, who also lives also in Cork.

Mr Liao’s book (and the WeForest website) presents, with great clarity and in accessible language, the facts about forests, and the sensible reasons for hope. It is impeccably clear 1in its arguments, and laudably sober in its assessments. It is not tree-hugging or airy-fairy. It presents facts, and makes a credible case. It argues, for example, that the engagement of ‘business’, including multinational companies “...presents possibly the greatest opportunity to solve our ecological challenges.

“Never before has there been in civilian life such well-organised groups of educated, technologically advanced human beings. [...] The trick is getting companies working in the right direction [having] a clear public plan that offers a rational course of action that will pay off in a reasonable time frame and not at some theoretical point in the very distant future. . .[They] all need to know that , when it comes to the bottom line, a healthy planet, healthy forests and bio-diversity makes business sense.”

WeForest projects to regenerate areas devastated by deforestation are in train in 14 locations across the world from Haiti to the Philippines and these are each documented and illustrated, as case studies. The book is full of informative graphs, photographs and charts.

Above all, it brings the good news that the barren lands can be rejuvenated by the planting of trees in cyclic ecosystems which will not only sustain the future of the native people (who have suffered most from the exploitation of their natural resources by outsiders) but give new hope to the Earth’s population as a whole.

* Buy Forests: Reasons to be Hopeful by Bill Liao (€29) at weforest.org or download the digital versions for Kindle or Apple devices. And please donate to WeForest if you can.


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