By Guy Dauncey
The forest is one of Earth’s favourite mantles. If you could time-travel back to Europe, three thousand years ago, you would find yourself living under a cloak of endless trees, in a forest that reached from shore to shore. The gods and goddesses of the old religion were worshipped in sacred forest groves, where the spirits of the trees lent their energy to the occasion.
It was the same across most of North America, where the early white settlers stood in awe at the size and immensity of the forest, from New England to the Mississippi. It was the same across most of Russia, and the tropics, from India to the Amazon. When nature has her way, her favourite clothing is trees.
What will our ancestors say in three thousand years time, when they look back on our era? The World Resources Institute estimates that we are losing natural forest in the tropics at the rate of 40 million acres a year. That’s 110,000 acres per day, or 76 acres a minute. If an acre has 200 trees, the loss is an astonishing 22 million trees a day - and that’s just in the tropics. If you took the timber harvested each year in BC, loaded it onto logging trucks and parked them nose to tail, they would reach all the way around the world one and a quarter times.
I can hear the voices of our unborn grandchildren, seven generations ahead, asking "How will you stop this?". Can we picture a future in which all ecologically destructive forestry stops, and all of Earth’s forests are managed or protected in an ecologically sound way?
In Scotland, Alan Watson Featherstone and his colleagues are picturing the 21st century being declared "A Century of Restoring the Earth", hoping to win UN endorsement for their dream at the Johannesburg Earth Summit this September. At the local level, they are restoring Scotland’s ancient Caledonian pine forest. As soon as public sentiment is ready, they want to restore the beavers, wolves and bears that used to live there.
Success comes in many forms. In Clayoquot Sound, in 1993, inspired by the beauty of the region, 856 people were arrested for blockading the logging road, determined to stop the industrial logging the NDP government had approved for 70% of the forest – and they succeeded. Elsewhere in BC, the Sierra Club and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee work relentlessly to protect save our oldgrowth forests from the jaws of heavy timber-eating machinery.
Most of the destruction is caused by the sheer demand for timber, as Earth’s population grows ever larger. Some is burnt, to make way for farms, cattle ranches and rice paddies - and some is cleared by oil and gas companies.
In Costa Rica, the rainforests of the Caribbean Talamanca coastline are under protected status, but that didn’t bother the Texan oil company Harken Energy, which was determined to drill for off-shore oil, taking a chunk of the forest with it. With the Costa Rican government comfortably in bed, all seemed set for some happy eco-destruction.
Not so, however! The Talamancan municipal government stood firm, declaring Talamanca County an oil-free zone. Thirty local citizens organizations banded together, crossing all sorts of class and racial divides, and challenged Harken Energy, demanding that the government follow its own environmental laws. They reached out to an organization in Boulder, Colorado, called Global Response, whose members commit themselves to letter-writing on critical environmental issues. The pressure mounted, and in February 2002, a review panel rejected Harken’s environmental impact statements, calling the drilling initiative "environmentally unviable". The US Embassy was quick to complain, but Harken withdrew its investment. When local people stand side-by-side with international activists, the tidal wave of destruction can be stopped. (Thanks to Pamela White, Boulder Weekly)
The best long-term solution is eco-certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, based in Mexico. The World Wildlife Fund is working to develop eco-certification programs in the tropics - in Bolivia, 20% of the forests under concession have been certified. Britain has certified 100% of its state forests. Here in Canada, 0.47% of the productive forest (973,856 hectares) has been eco-certified…. well, it’s a beginning. With political vision and public support, we could have legislation that required eco-certification for all working forests. In the meantime, groups like the Rainforest Action Network and BC’s Raincoast Conservation Society are working to persuade the forest companies and the big stores to switch to all eco-certified timber. IKEA and Home Depot have agreed, demonstrating again that persistent public pressure brings results.
And then there’s us. If we all bought 100% recycled paper and eco-certified timber products, and lived more frugally, we would reduce the pressure on the forest. The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that if the top ten global timber companies were to adopt eco-certification, the world’s entire demand could be met with just 600 million hectares, an area the size of India, a fifth of the world’s forest. The destruction is proceeding – but Earth’s protective citizens are organizing, to draw it to a halt. One by one, we can tackle Earth’s various problems. Say it again, with me: "We can do it!".
Guy Dauncey is the author of the Nautilus award-winning
"Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change"
(New Society Publishers, 2001)
Global Response: www.globalresponse.org
Rainforest Action Network: www.ran.org
Raincoast Conservation Society: www.raincoast.org
Western Canada Wilderness Committee: www.wildernesscommittee.org
First published in Common Ground Magazine, June 2002