Peo­ple vs. the Planet

The age-old ar­gu­ment that the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of de­for­esta­tion over­rule our en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact no longer holds weight

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Ed­ward Bur­tyn­sky, Jen­nifer Baich­wal, and Ni­cholas de Pencier

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

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