SUMMARY
INTRODUCTION

ENERGY MYTHS

ENVIRONMENTAL MYTHS

OPEN QUESTIONS AND OVERLOOKED REALITIES

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
APPENDIX


 

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL MYTHS

MYTH 8: LOGGING AND DEVELOPMENT ARE SHRINKING OUR FORESTS

As with air pollution, the public is inclined to believe that economic expansion impedes environmental stewardship. Fully two-thirds of respondents signaled that they believe one consequence of human activity, such as logging or development, is that America’s forests are shrinking.

In reality, our footprint over nature appears to be shrinking. One of the most positive environmental trends in the United States during the course of the twentieth century was the tendency to need smaller and smaller amounts of space to provide the necessities of life. At the advent of the twentieth century, machines began to replace work animals (and the food they require) on farms. Subsequent chemical innovations helped drastically increase agricultural yields. The result, as Rockefeller University professor Jesse Ausubel notes, is that “in the United States in 1900 the protein or calories raised on one Iowa hectare fed four people for the year. By the year 2000 a hectare … could feed 80 people for the year.”[12]

At the same time that we have needed less farmland while still growing more food, we have also required less wood. The U.S. population grew by over 250 percent during the twentieth century, but total timber consumption rose by only 70 percent over the course of the century, thanks to steel and concrete replacing wood for a variety of applications. The typical American today consumes only half the timber for all uses that he did a century ago.

As a result of these developments, the deforestation of the American continent that marked the pre-industrial period came to an abrupt halt early in the twentieth century. About 300 million acres of forestland were lost between 1630 and 1920. Most of that forestland had been cleared for agriculture. Yet despite significant increases both in population and in agricultural output during the twentieth century, in 2002 the Forest Service reported that “the total area of forestland has been stable for nearly 100 years.”[14]

The trend in recent years is even more encouraging. According to the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis program, we have actually witnessed slight reforestation, or over 5 million net acres since 1985.[15] We harvested roughly 80 million more acres of cropland sixty years ago than we harvest today; most of this land is on its way to reforestation. We have “re-treed” at least 10 million acres since 1987 alone.”[16] Between 2000 and 2005, the United States experienced the fourth-largest average annual net gain of forest area on the planet.[17]

For the first time in history, a Western nation has halted, and is now rapidly reversing, the decline of its woodlands.


 

 

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: MYTHS AND FACTS

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Press Release

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Clarice Smith
Deputy Director,
Communications
Manhattan Institute
(212) 599-7000

 

 


Copyright The Manhattan Institute 2007