Reforesting Brings Rain

This month the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets in Kenya, with the effects of global warming in the developing world at the top of the agenda. To kick this conference off, the United Nations Development Program has published a report entitled “Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis.”

As dutifully reported in the world press, this report is filled with dire predictions regarding the impact of global warming on the developing world. Lead author Kevin Watkins says climate change “now poses what may be an unparalleled threat to human development.”

The impact of global warming in Africa is being particularly highlighted. As reported in the BBC in March 2006 “Africa could face more droughts,” Africa could be faced with 25% less water by the end of the century because of global warming. And the situation in Africa is already dire – the Africans are enduring their worst drought in over 100 years.

The solution however is not going to be found through most of the programs being kicked around this week in Nairobi. Africa’s drought, first of all, is having severe impacts because Africa’s population has increased at exponential rates with virtually no proportional economic development. In 1960 Africa’s population was 277 million. By 1980 it was 470 million, and by 2005 it was an astonishing 890 million.

If this population growth was matched by a proportional increase in railroads, power plants, industrial manufacturing, agricultural modernization, an efficient water distribution infrastructure, and a health and educational infrastructure, then Africa’s population growth would not be part of the problem. But this population growth has been accompanied by steady deterioration in infrastructure, mushrooming disease and tribal conflicts, deforestation and desertification. As a result, the impact of population growth on Africa’s economy and environment has been huge and entirely negative.

Africa has become the biggest welfare state in the history of the world, and the only thing there is to show for all this welfare is more misery than ever. If Africans wish to improve their lot, they will have to find the strength in their own communities, and via their own innovations. A very positive example comes from India, where a local community is “greening the desert” by channelling rainwater through drains to replenish groundwater.

The way to bring increased rainfall back to Africa is not through planting biofuel crops so western oil companies can earn “carbon credits.” This disastrous strategy will increase deforestation and in turn it will exacerbate Africa’s drought. In a study published by MIT entitled “Deforestation, Desertification and Drought,” the authors conclude “deforestation along the southern coast of West Africa (e.g., in Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast) may result in complete collapse of monsoon circulation, and a significant reduction of regional rainfall.”

There are other studies that point to similar results. Deforestation in the Amazon has reduced rainfall in that region. Deforestation in East Africa is the reason the glacier atop Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking. There is evidence that deforestation is not only the reason for droughts, but is also the most significant cause of the slight global warming we have experienced so far.

It is ironic and tragic that the global hysteria over global warming, and the virtual collapse of any credible public debate over the cause of global warming, may result in global warming and droughts getting worse. What if it isn’t anthropogenic CO2 that is the primary cause of global warming, but instead it is deforestation? Would we still want to chop down forests to plant sugar cane and oil palms for fuel?

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