International Day of Forests: A Paved Paradise

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Joni Mitchell, the iconic composer and songwriter, wrote this way back in 1970. In her own words, she recounts her first visit to Hawaii. Waking up to a beautiful morning, she drew the curtains aside to see lush green mountains in the distance, but sullied by a sprawling, dusty parking lot in the foreground. That striking contrast depressed the woman brought up in the prairies of Canada and gave birth to the song called ‘Big Yellow Taxi

It doesn’t stop there. She picks on the insane practise of chopping trees to create concrete jungles. 

They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see them
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Half a century ago, Joni Mitchell was concerned about the health of the forests and the environment. And sadly, they continue to be of concern. We have lost as much as 10% of the forests globally in just the last 20 years. That is equivalent to 2.5 times the size of India. Even now, the world is losing forests, the size of the state of Bihar, every year. Only 10% of the world is left as forest cover. 

The importance of forests in ensuring the health of the planet and its beings is not lost on anybody. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its State of the Forests (SOFO) report of 2022 states, “There is no time to lose – action is needed now to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 °C, reduce the risk of future pandemics, ensure food security and nutrition for all, eliminate poverty, conserve the planet’s biodiversity, and offer young people hope of a better world and a better future for all.” 

India’s last report on the state of its forests in 2021 is telling – of what it doesn’t say. According to experts, orchards and plantations are now being counted as forests. And so are trees in urban areas. In other words, people like us, to give credibility to this report, would need to be called forest dwellers! However, these urban trees do not come under the Forest Conservation Act, and so can be hacked with impunity for urban development!

Is afforestation a remedy? After all, India has promised a forest cover that can absorb 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2030. According to a report, compensatory afforestation initiatives often end up being monoculture plantations, adding as stated above, falsely to the claim of increased forest cover. They lack the essential element of any mature forest – biodiversity. Availability of suitable land is another problem. It’s usually of poor quality and hugely fragmented. It’s like building a house with its kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms situated in different locations and therefore creating a dysfunctional home. 

Have people’s perceptions changed towards forests? Goa’s Save Mollem movement offers a clue. The Save Mollem Campaign, launched in June 2020, is a citizen’s movement to raise its voices against the three alleged destructive projects – double tracking of railway line, Tamnar power project and national highway expansion – passing through the Mollem National Park and the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. 

It was a sterling example of the power of the collective. The campaign won the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service award in 2021. Lauding the effort, the award recognised how

“ordinary Goans got together to resist the destruction – students, doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, fisher folks, architects, hoteliers, small business owners, teachers, farmers, artists, and scientists. Petitions and online talks highlighting the value of Mollem continue to be organised even today. Young Goa rose as one to attend public hearings, rallies and flash mobs. Movingly, creative solidarity emerged from strangers. Films, songs, stories and art amplified the movement.”

Sadly, for over two weeks now, forest fires, allegedly man made, have been raging in these Goan forests. Ecology is once again on the altar of sacrifice to pave way for “concretisation” in the name of development. 

It is the International Day of Forests and Joni Mitchell can be heard singing, 

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Chandru Chawla is a freelance writer and satirist, who writes at night to keep his insanity intact.

Featured image: Donald Giannatti / Unsplash