Evolving priorities

April 29, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates (From The Global Classroom)

A commonly used expression, the only constant in life is change.  Nowhere is this more appropriate than in the field of resource management initially based on the profit motive but now more related to the relationship between the earth’s ecology and the human race.  As the economy has changed so also has terminology.

Western society developed on the basis of ‘deforestation’.  Forest Industry capitalized on the wonders that nature freely provided for centuries, harvesting trees on thousands of acres of forest.  Technically in Canada this was on crown land, publicly owned and controlled by government but licensed to industry to produce profit with little consideration for people.   Initially cutting trees provided employment for thousands as well as boosting the economy.  Eventually elimination of costly labour was replaced by more profitable mechanization.  The harvesting of trees for wood products has changed to the clearing of forests by heavy equipment, a more profitable strategy for industry.

Government further supported industry through establishment of tree nurseries and the planting of over 35 million trees annually, ‘reforestation’ helped to ensure profitable harvesting for future economic benefit for industry in perpetuity.  That, as well as ‘afforestation’ of desert and marginal lands of southern rural Ontario for example, has contributed to increased prosperity as marginal lands were converted to greater productivity.  Contribution to provincial ecology was valuable for the nation with new forests developing to provide improved ground water levels hence reducing flooding of communities and ensuring stable ecology, providing adequate season-long moisture for agriculture.

Currently the greatest input forests can provide is climate stability.  

For several decades scientists have been warning us of dangerous changes in the environment as industrial activity and growing populations have become ever more dependent on energy causing production of greenhouse gases resulting in rapid increase in weather-altering carbon emissions in the atmosphere.  Blockage of heat escape from the earth’s surface radically causes excessive changes in climate with massive fires, rising tides, drought, landslides, etc. The end result is a distinct change in the value of trees, the largest of plant species.  Now the most essential resource product is forest ecosystems.  Establishment of new forest cover is a valuable strategy for long term future carbon sequestration but rising global warming is an immediate hazard requiring urgent action in the short term.  Reduction of CO2 already existing in the atmosphere is the even greater priority now.

In the 2018 IPPC report (International Panel on Climate Change) Scientists warned of ever-increasing global warming causing even greater climate calamities in the years ahead.  Forests worldwide are seen as having the greatest impact on absorbing and storing carbon emissions hence policies protecting existing stands.  

‘Proforestation’, is the most promising strategy available today.  Countries around the world are changing ecological priorities from harvesting to increasing global forest cover through tree planting.  The more urgent priority is reduction of carbon existing already in the atmosphere, a policy lacking in terminology. In the short term this is best achieved by protecting forests which are currently absorbing atmospheric carbon while at the same time reducing society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels.

Strangely enough current economic policies favour maintaining the status quo.   Production of fossil fuels still emphasizes profitable production of atmospheric pollutants and economic benefits from over harvesting, i.e. ‘deforestation’.  Coal mining and export is basic to Australia’s economy, while providing oil to the States and China is a mainstay of Canada’s prosperity, only two examples of economics trumping the real needs of the world.

But the major failure in progress towards solving the problem of global warming lies in inability to reduce removal of CO2 and other green-house gases in the atmosphere.  Various scientists have noted that vegetation has served this purpose for thousands of years.  A Greenbiz article reads, “The push for standing forest protections in U.S. climate policy” (Kate Petersen 2021) used ‘pro-forestation’ as the most effective strategy, protecting forests already in place to achieve carbon capture and storage.

The author quotes Global Forest Watch noting that current ‘deforestation’ is costing society the loss of 78,000 square miles of forest annually, lost capability to reduce emissions in the atmosphere.  In a Canadian context it is essential that short term economic policies of clearing forest land must change to protecting forest cover for future generations by maintaining and enhancing existing standing tree cover for posterity.

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