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Canada, a ‘small’ country?

February 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates

What does small refer to?  Normally one considers this as an adjective describing size but small is a word which only has meaning to the one who uses it.  ‘A small world.’ Someone who is seen as being ‘small minded’.  ‘A small income.’  Certainly the second largest country in the world can’t be considered ‘small’ even though its population, at the 35 million level puts it far below China and only a tenth that of the U.S.

From the point of global warming, Canada, despite being highly ranked as highly industrialized, produces a fraction of atmospheric emissions of ‘larger’ countries. However, being a forested nation, the nation plays a major global role in its effect on climate change.  Ontario is estimated at having about 87 billion trees, each with a canopy absorbing carbon in the process of photosynthesis.  Each produces an annual ring of wood, stored carbon, every growing season.  Though Canada’s production of greenhouse gases is relatively ‘small’, movement of winds carries pollution from the much larger emitting nations, i.e. China, India, and even the U.S. industrial west ensuring that carbon-laden air constantly travels across the nation.  It has been estimated by some scientists that trees store between 20 and 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases.  De-contaminating the atmosphere is a role to which Canadian forests are contributing and can increase by improving ecological management of land, private and/or public.

Despite being a ‘small’ country it is endowed by a disproportionate volume of the world’s fresh water, about 20%.  Being a forested nation tree crowns intercept a significant proportion of precipitation, root systems directing it into aquifers, acting underground reservoirs.  Later water is released in a regulated way to surface rivers, lakes and streams.  Maintaining forest cover helps restrict evaporation from the soil and purifies water of pollutants.  Water is considered fair dumping ground for industrial wastes as well as assisting the run-off of chemical pesticides and fertilizers used on farms.  Failure to maintain water quality has resulted in contaminated water supply for many communities and particularly aboriginals living on crown owned but industrially managed forest reserves.  Currently Canada has 80 such communities living with boil-water advisories.

Conservation of ground water is basic to agricultural productivity.  We are seeing more and more often the relationship of forests to ecological sustainability hence economic and social prosperity.  Creation of the Great Green Wall of Africa is the outstanding current news item.  After years and years of working toward reduction of poverty on that continent, the establishment of a tree barrier to slow the encroachment of the Sahara Desert is producing unexpected social benefits for local populations.  Ground water levels are responding to ecological changes causing increased productivity of food development.  Renewed availability of food is starting to show up as a source of revenue for local communities. 

Water power has been the most important source of energy in past history.  The Sir Adam Beck power plant, diverting water to produce electricity, was at one time the biggest contributor to the province’s social and economic prosperity.   Unfortunately with the rise of the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have become this ‘small’ country’s primary source of energy, eliminating many smaller water-based energy sources across the province while creating untold wealth for leaders at the top.  Money, basic for ensuring industrial profit, is useless for direct consumption.

The role of forest cover in this geographically huge country, providing the basic components of life required by humans for breathing, drinking, eating and warmth, has been undervalued over the years. The number of Ontario trees is estimated as roughly 3% of the global population.  By simple arithmetic  (87 billion x 100 / 3) there are about 2.9 trillion trees on the planet.  Each tree, even in this ‘small’ country, whether in cities, rural areas or the boreal forest, contributes to absorption and storage of carbon from the atmosphere yearly.  Each adds to conserving ground water aquifers enhancing resource productivity basic for human prosperity.   Community controlled ecological management of forest lands throughout the world has shown that trees can be managed for both economic benefit, production of forest products, and performance of many ecological functions needed for mankind’s consumption. 



         

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