By Peter Holmgren
The Indian tale about the blind men and the elephant is well known. The poet John Godfrey Saxe told it like this:
It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation, might satisfy his mind.
Each of the men checked out a different part of the elephant – leg, tusk, trunk, ear, tail, side – which resulted in different assessments of the creature and consequent disputes. Of course, not one had a full picture or holistic perspective; each had to rely on his own limited observations.
Godfrey Saxe concludes:
And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
tread on in utter ignorance, of what each other mean,
and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!
This week we have the opportunity to compare different assessment of the world’s forests. FAO presents the results of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 (FRA 2015) at the World Forestry Congress in Durban. Global Forest Watch has released new global satellite observations of tree cover reductions in 2014. And Nature has published an article describing over 400,000 field plots from national forest inventories that were used to count all of the world’s trees.