Hey Mr. Green,
How many trees do people cut down per year?
--Crystal in Fort Myers, Florida
This is a traumatic question for me, because I was once a teenage logger who thrilled to the roar of a McCulloch chainsaw and the groan of a splitting log in the otherwise silent Wisconsin winter.
To answer your question: I've seen estimates as high as 11 billion trees worldwide each year, or about 1.62 trees per person per year.
But it might be more useful to consider other numbers, like the increase or decrease in forest cover. In the first half of the past decade, the world lost more than 28,000 square miles of forest, about 0.2 percent of the total, to logging and fires. Although some of this loss was a product of greed and waste, much of it resulted from poverty and underdevelopment. Poor countries often have the highest rates of deforestation, while western Europe is actually gaining forest. Burundi, for example, lost more than 5 percent of its woods between 2000 and 2005, Afghanistan more than 3 percent, and the Philippines more than 2 percent.
Increasing populations and inefficient agriculture force people to clear land, while a lack of fuel or cleaner energy forces them to burn vast amount of wood. In fact, a greater volume of wood is burned than is used for timber or paper, even though all this wood contains less than 2 percent of the amount of energy in the world's annual oil production.
All of which explains why it's so important that we drastically cut consumption of both oil and forest products. In other words, recycle this magazine and get thee to a carpool. Meanwhile, I'll be looking into a more mysterious but largely overlooked source of wasted paper: the 2.1 percent annual growth in the North American tissue market.