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An environmentalist makes a stand

5/31/2006

Editor's note: Patrick Moore grew up in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest — and holds a doctorate in ecology from the University of British Columbia. A self-described "radical environmental activist," he was one of the founders of Greenpeace, and one of the most radical eco-extremists.

In recent years, however, former Greenpeace friends have branded Dr. Moore as an "eco-Judas." Why? Because he came to realize that the positions taken by Greenpeace and other groups in regard to forests and forestry were actually "anti-environmental."

Since breaking with Greenpeace in 1986, Moore has spoken out tirelessly in defense of a more sensible appreciation of the environmental benefits of sustainable forestry. Here, reprinted and edited with Dr. Moore's permission, are excerpts from a recent speech.


The international community remains in complete confusion regarding global policy on forests and forestry. I believe this is because the environmental movement's position is misleading, illogical, and most important, inconsistent with their more reasonable policies on climate change and biodiversity. In fact, their forestry policy is an anti-environmental policy.

The environmental movement's opposition to forestry is squarely based on their contentions that it is the main cause of forest loss (deforestation) and loss of biodiversity (species extinction). They are wrong on the facts on both these charges.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, which is responsible for both agriculture and forests, defines deforestation as "the permanent removal of forest cover and conversion of the land to another use such as agriculture or human settlement." They estimate that 95 percent of deforestation is caused by clearing for farms and towns, not forestry. This only makes sense as the whole purpose of forestry is to grow trees, i.e. to keep the land forested. Forestry causes reforestation, the opposite of deforestation.

Both the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have stated that logging is the main cause of species extinction. Yet they are unable to provide the Latin name for a single species that has gone extinct due to forestry. The truth is, species extinctions are generally caused by deforestation, hunting, and introduced species of predators and disease, not by forestry.

Less wood? Not good

Based on these two false assumptions, the movement has adopted a policy that would see a major reduction in the use of forests as a supply of wood. They argue, unfortunately with apparent logic, that by drastically reducing the use of wood, the forest will be saved along with all the creatures that live there.

The environmental agenda for wood-reduction is two-pronged. First, they want to stop making paper from trees and to use "non-wood fibers" to make "tree-free paper." Some of the candidate crops are hemp, kenaf, cotton and wheat straw.

This may sound good at first, but there is a serious problem. Where will we grow all these exotic, annual, monocultural farm crops, enough to provide 300 million tons of paper per year? Unfortunately, we would have to grow them where we could be growing trees.

The second prong of their agenda is to reduce wood use as a building material and substitute it with so-called "environmentally appropriate alternatives."

Just what are these alternatives? The only viable substitutes for wood as a building material are materials like steel, cement, plastic and bricks. All of these require a great deal more energy to make than wood. Why? Because wood is renewable and is made mainly with solar energy in a factory called the forest. All these substitutes are non-renewable and have severe negative environmental impacts of their own. Most significantly, because they require more energy, they inevitably result in more carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and are therefore contributors to climate change.

All resource use has environmental impacts, but wood is the most renewable material we use - and forestry is the most sustainable of all the primary industries that supply us with our materials. It is time the environmental movement recognized the basic contradictions in their policies on forests and forestry.

There is no doubt that, from the point of view of preserving biodiversity, trees are the best of all crops — because forests provide more habitat than any other environment. There is also no doubt that when it comes to making a positive contribution to climate change, trees are the best, both because trees are the greatest absorbers of carbon dioxide and because using wood results in lower carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

The simple solution

There is a simple way to bring the environmental movement's policy on forests in line with their policies on biodiversity and climate change… take the focus off reducing wood use and put it on increasing forest cover and wood production.

What thinking people will eventually come to realize is that the present policy of most of the environmental movement on forests is, in fact, an anti-environmental policy. Movement leaders are entrenched in its position, partly because they are very shallow in forest science, and partly because it has proven so effective as a fund-raiser.

A major effort is needed to give the public and our political leaders a more logical, internally consistent, science-based perspective on the issue of forests. I intend to be part of that effort, and I know I've got my work cut out.

For a wider sampling of Dr. Moore's views on sustainable forestry, visit his website: www.greenspirit.com.