A satellite image of a swirling hurricane Men with gas masks and protective suits on The planetary rover Sojourner A large group of refugees huddled together


Floods and

Ozone and



The weather is something that humans can’t do much about, at least not directly. But it is within the reach of people to control their own activities. Major causes of tree loss and the expansion of deserts are stripping land of its natural cover for firewood and for growing crops, poor farming techniques, over-grazing, large-scale commercial logging, and depleting groundwater.

Limiting these activities for the sake of keeping the Earth green, however, is rarely easy. Short-term emergencies caused by poverty and hunger often outweigh the longer-term demands of conservation in the political balance. In areas like Brazil and Indonesia, land is being stripped of its commercially valuable hardwood by powerful multinational business interests, often in collaboration with government officials.

Without a doubt, the cooperation of government and industry, along with efforts to mitigate the poverty that helps drive the destruction, are needed. Some advocate political activism and “green consumerism”—buying such products as recycled paper and boycotting others, such as hardwoods and hamburgers originating from ranches operating on land that once was rain forest.

Underlying such solutions is perhaps the most important first step toward halting the destruction of Earth’s forests and other green areas: heightening public awareness. Until more people know about the threats, the trees will continue to fall.

Click on satellite image of deforestation in Brazil to enter the Science’s photo gallery

Forests help filter pollution out of the water and protect against flooding, mudslides, and erosion.

By absorbing carbon dioxide, forests are thought to help reduce the rate of global warming.

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