People vs. the Planet
The age-old argument that the economic benefits of deforestation overrule our environmental impact no longer holds weight
Forests are indispensable to life on this planet. Nearly 1.6 billion people rely on them as sources of food, income, or shelter. Humans have altered over 75 percent of icefree land on the planet with agriculture, mining, urbanization, and industrialization. And around half of the world’s original forests have been cleared, fragmented, or degraded for human use. These are hard statistics to conceptualize, especially in Canada, where forest spans coast to coast. The boreal, which is the primarily coniferous stretch of dense forest that spans the northern hemisphere above the fiftieth parallel, is a complex landscape of vibrant biodiversity supporting not only the lives of flora and fauna but humans as well.
In total, Canada has 347 million hectares of forest, some of which has the capacity to absorb approximately six tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. In a 2017 study, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and TD Bank Group concluded that the cost to society of losing the ecological services forests provide would be between $5,800 and $46,000 per hectare per year.
Yet we find it almost impossible to factor this cost into our policies and industrial choices. The arguments against preservation are usually presented in economic terms—jobs created, communities sustained, and so on. Since 2003, when the BC government voided a provision known as “appurtenancy,” wherein a company’s ability to log forests on provincial land was contingent on it running logs through local mills, the export of unprocessed raw logs has dramatically increased. The number of forestry-processing jobs has commensurately shrunk. Between 2000 and 2017, as raw log exports grew, BC forest companies’ workforces shrank by nearly half.
There is an old-style, resource-based mindset in BC — or, at least, a cynical short-sightedness. In either case, it is a tragedy that less than 10 percent of old-growth forest remains on Vancouver Island. How do we shift this mindset? Other countries have shown leadership from which Canada could learn. In the mid-2000s, Guyana’s then president Bharrat Jagdeo proposed that the entirety of Guyana’s rainforest be placed under internationally verified supervision, with sufficient economic incentives to refrain from logging. In an op-ed for the BBC, Jagdeo argued that deforestation occurs because the global economy values wood products that can be sold after trees are killed rather than the services provided by trees when they are alive. The “frequent proposals” from investors to convert Guyana’s forests into land for agriculture or biofuels would
Clearcut #1 Between 1990 and 2005, 55 to 60 percent of all palm oil plantation expansions in Indonesia and Malaysia were planted on the land of former virgin tropical forest. palm oil plantation, borneo, malaysia, 2016
Clearcut #4 Vancouver Island’s old-growth temperate rainforests are being logged at three times the rate of tropical rainforests worldwide. vancouver island, british Columbia, Canada, 2016