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Forest futures in the Anthropocene: Can trees and humans survive together?

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The Futurist. 48(4): 34-39.


Foresters and futurists share a long-range perspective. The lengthy growing cycle of trees has compelled foresters to plan decades and even hundreds of years ahead, in contrast to the short-term view of most fields. The interconnected nature of forest ecosystems has also given foresters—like futurists—a systems perspective. As the American naturalist John Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." The world's forests range from sparsely populated wilderness to urban forests, from lush tropical rain forests to the vast boreal forests of the North. Thirty-one percent of the Earth's land area and 30% of the United States is covered by forests. Healthy forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services, natural assets that are vital to human wellbeing and livelihood. For example, forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere; contain about 90% of the Earth's terrestrial biodiversity; provide a home for wildlife; protect watersheds; regulate the water cycle; create scenic landscapes; provide cultural, recreational, and spiritual opportunities; and produce goods such as timber, fuelwood, fodder, and other non-timber forest products. The list of forest goods and services goes on ad infinitum. Despite their importance, the future of forests is by no means clear in what some have called the "Anthropocene," the epoch we are entering in which the impacts of human activities increasingly dominate Earth's ecosystems. The actions of people have always influenced forests, but the increased pace and magnitude of change in human systems poses many challenges for these ecological life-support systems. This article looks at some of the major issues and factors affecting forests in the decades ahead: defor-estation, mega-fires, urban forests and growing urban populations, the end of wilderness, and water. Potential "game changers" for forest ecosystems include bioenergy and wood-based nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and runaway climate change.


Bengston, David; Dockry, Michael J. 2014. Forest futures in the Anthropocene: Can trees and humans survive together?. The Futurist. 48(4): 34-39.

Last updated on: August 13, 2014