In 2006, climate scientists first reported on the effects of volatile organic compounds called “monoterpenes” that are emitted by earthʼs northern evergreen boreal forests, also called the tiaga (Russian for "forest"). The subarctic forest is dominated by conifers, mainly pine, spruce and fir, that begins where the tundra ends. The boreal forest is the world's largest terrestrial biome, encircling the planet’s northern hemisphere. The tiaga covers 6.4 million square miles (11 percent of the world's land surface area) from Siberia to Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe and Northern Asia.
The boreal “tiaga” region
In addition to sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon, the forests exude a concoction of volatile aerosol compounds, including "monoterpenes," the fragrance we associate with pine trees.
Monoterpenes shield the earth from the sun in two ways. First, they rise from the forest into the stratosphere. The tiny droplets physically refract solar radiation away from the earth, effectively cooling the planet.
The monoterpene molecules also serve as condensation nuclei, “seeding” bright and persistent clouds, further shielding the earth from the sun. For thousands of years, atmospheric monoterpenes from the evergreen trees were a critical component of the fortunate alchemy between earth and sky.
At what cost, toilet paper?
The boreal forest is the world's most extensive network of pure lakes, rivers and wetlands that sequester and store twice as much carbon as tropical forests. Home to billions of migratory songbirds, tens of millions of ducks and geese, and millions of caribou, the boreal region is an irreplaceable global treasure. Regardless of its critical importance, the boreal biome is under increasing pressure. Recent studies show that boreal forests are being destroyed faster than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
Since 1950, more than half of the worldʼs boreal forests have disappeared, due to logging, fires, mining, oil and gas development, insect predation, global temperature increase, reservoir flooding and storm damage. About two-thirds of the trees that have been cut down were made into paper products including books, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, telephone directories, cardboard, tissue and toilet paper. Seven percent (7%) of the world population living in the U.S. uses fifty percent (50%) of the tissue paper products -- about fifty pounds per person per year. More than one million trees wind up in American mailboxes every year as “junk mail.”
Eighty percent (80%) of all forest products go directly to the United States. If Cannabis agriculture had not been prohibited in the U.S. for the past seventy-five years, all of the paper products could have been made better, cheaper and without harm to the environment from organically grown, biodegradable hemp. Hemp paper requires about one-seventh the chemicals needed to make paper from trees.
As it is today, warming temperatures in the northern latitudes have extended the breeding cycle of insects that infest the trees, eventually killing them. More trees are dying from insect pest infestation than ever before. Increasing UV-B radiation is broiling the trees, particularly at higher elevations, where the atmosphere is attenuated.
Changes in reflective properties of the earth’s surface and the composition of aerosols in the atmosphere over the past fifty years have substantially shifted the heat exchange profile of the atmosphere and the icy, snowy “cryosphere” greatly heating up global temperatures. Present climate conditions, epidemic insect pest infestation, more violent weather, volcanic and seismic activity -- along with an increasing demand for paper products -- do not favor recovery of the boreal forests. Unless the premier crop for paper production is reintroduced, the earth will broil to extinction under increasing intensities of UV-B radiation.
Relatively stable, homeostatic concentrations of atmospheric monoterpenes have historically determined the levels of solar ultraviolet-B (UV-B) mid-length wavelengths of sunlight to which life on earth has adapted very, very gradually over an inconceivably intricate span of moments, seconds, days, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia, and eons. With the relatively sudden catastrophic death of the boreal forest in just the past sixty years, monoterpene concentrations and cryospheric cooling of the planet have plummeted in what amounts to less than the “blink of an eye” on an evolutionary time-scale.
One of the most disastrous mistakes our species has ever made is a direct consequence of Cannabis prohibition. Being denied the natural, competitive selection process afforded by a truly free agricultural market, mankind is consuming 5,543 square miles (3.5 million acres) of earth’s stratospheric shield against the sun. Gaia’s most evolved masterpieces of creation are callously murdered unnecessarily each day, for toilet paper.
Earth is being subjected to an accelerating increase in “UV-Broiling” levels, contributing to further temperature increase. Inconceivable as it may be, the trees of the boreal forest continue to be cut at a rate of about five acres per minute. Expanses of forest the size of Connecticut are being clearcut each day.
Unless the monoterpene levels of our atmosphere are returned to the homeostatic concentrations established over thousands of years, the earth will eventually “UV-Broil” to extinction. Agricultural production of monoterpenes that Cannabis uniquely affords has become critical to our survival.
Links and resources:
International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition
FAO Forestry Department
Learning event on Agroforestry