Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012 4:44 PM
Europe’s great forests are largely gone, but there’s one often-overlooked country where lynx, wolves, moose, and wild boars still roam under dense tree cover: Latvia. Jeremy Hance reports in Mongabay on the Baltic nation’s richly diverse forests, and how they’re being endangered by an alarming logging spree during these strained economic times:
Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation’s forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
LVM’s lumber used to carry certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, but FSC booted it from the program in 2010, Hance reports. LVM is attempting to regain full certification, but many biologists are worried that its loggers are rapidly chipping away at Latvia’s incredible biological heritage. The country, at the crossroads of western Russia, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, is teeming with more wildlife than many people might realize:
The nation has the highest population densities of lynx and beaver in the European Union, and not long ago the highest density of black storks. The country is also home to wild boar, red fox, capercaillie, black woodpecker, white-backed woodpecker, and moose, and a few resident bears. In fact, unlike much of Europe, Latvia still retains self-sustaining populations of historic top predators, including 500-1,000 Eurasian wolves.
I visited Latvia in 1990, but it was a tumultuous political time preceding the breakup of the USSR, and I didn’t venture far from the tension-filled capital of Riga. I’d like to return one day to roam much deeper into the Latvian wilderness—if it stays wild, that is. Writes Hance:
It may not be long till the great forests of Latvia start to look like those of Western Europe: fragmented and fractured. Some forest species—like the lynx, the bear, the capercaillie, the moose, beaver, black storks, and the wolf—could vanish for good, while others may hang on in a pathetic state. In which case Latvia would have lost not only its splendid wildlife and ecosystems, but also its deep historical and cultural identity.
Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, October 23, 2011 4:53 PM
As I read OnEarth magazine’s no-holds-barred story condemning Canada’s past and present environmental record—billed on the cover as “Blame Canada: Our Rapacious Neighbor to the North”—I thought, wow, Canadians are going to be mad at the American who wrote this. Then I realized that the author, Andrew Nikiforuk, is a Canadian himself, and so are many of the harshest critics quoted in the piece.
Which makes the story a particularly tough pill to swallow for any Canadian who still harbors the illusion that his or her country is a beacon of environmental enlightenment. Sure, Canada has sensible gun laws, universal health care, gay marriage, and a refreshing lack of religious fanaticism—but, writes Nikiforuk:
Although Canada pretends to be a Jolly Green Giant, it is actually a resource-exploiting Jekyll and Hyde. Whenever global demand for metals and minerals booms, Canada takes on a sinister personality. And whenever export markets shrivel, the country temporarily retreats into a kindly figure with memory of the misdeeds of his alter ego. But for most of Canada’s history, the nasty Mr. Hyde has dominated the nation’s economic life as a hewer of wood, a netter of fish, a dammer of rivers, and a miner of metals.
Well, then. Canada’s current earthly plunder is of course the tar sands of Alberta, but Nikiforuk makes the convincing case that this is just the latest in a long line of environmental transgressions, tempered by a brief spell of admirable anti-climate-change moves, as one expert tells him:
“Canada used to be a leader in climate-change policy and action,” says Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria, one of Canada’s leading climate-change researchers. But that was before it became America’s number-one oil supplier. Now, Weaver says, “Canada has an ideological agenda all built around the export of one resource.”
Furthermore, it would be bad enough if Canada were simply destroying its own environment, but the country’s reach extends far beyond its borders thanks to the global nature of 21st century extraction industries, Nikiforuk points out:
When not digging up their own backyard, Canada’s energetic engineers and drillers are busy abroad, with almost half their investments concentrated in Mexico, Chile, and the United States.
It’s easy to take this blame game too far; we Americans are of course culpable in any environmental destruction committed to feed our insatiable needs for energy, food, and products. But perhaps it is time to see Canada in a more nuanced light.
One U.S. green activist, writes Nikiforuk, “ had a benign view of Canada as a forested country with funky rock bands such as the Barenaked Ladies.” This is much too narrow a view; to be fair, she should have remembered that along with Neil Young and Arcade Fire, Canada has also given us Celine Dion and Nickelback.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011 2:37 PM
Is that wood legal? Scan it and see. Liberia is putting barcodes on lumber in order to clean up its logging industry and preserve its rainforest. The U.K.’s Solutions Journal reports in its July-August issue on the innovation ordered by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which is part of a deal that clears the way for sales to the European Union.
Liberia’s landscape and recent history both factor into the new policy, reports Solutions:
Liberia has nearly two-thirds of West Africa’s remaining rainforest; it also has a history of corruption and illegal logging. The U.N. placed sanctions on Liberian “logs of war” after former President Charles Taylor was accused of using timber profits to buy weapons during the country’s 14-year civil war. The sanctions were lifted in 2006, but the country’s timber industry has not recovered. … Sirleaf is hoping the deal with the EU will stimulate growth and encourage foreign investment in Liberia.
Opinions are divided as to whether the new approach will in fact clean up Liberia’s logging industry; some observers worry that new markets will lead to corruption and actually increase unsustainable logging.
Fred Pearce at Yale Environment 360 recently traveled to Liberia to investigate, and while his report adds valuable historical and social context, he ultimately finds that political factors—most notably the outcome of the upcoming Liberian October presidential election—could undo any progress made by the new barcoding policy.
Still, it’s an interesting idea, and one worth watching. As one conservationist tells Environment 360, “Liberia has an opportunity to show the world how it’s done. They start from a fresh place.”
Sources: The Solutions Journal
(article not available online),Yale Environment 360
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011 4:35 PM
The steep rise of clear-cut logging in British Columbia and beyond can be traced to a single mechanical innovation, reports Chris Nikkel in Vancouver Review: The feller-buncher.
Nikkel ventures to a B.C. clear-cut site to profile logger Jamie Wiens and see the forest-munching machine, which can both saw down and gather several large trees in one fell swoop:
The feller-buncher is an automated tree feller, and looks to a treeplanter such as myself like an oversized backhoe. Instead of a bucket, mounted at the end of the hydraulic arm are four metal arms called collector arms, which grab the trunk after the saw blade cuts the tree a few inches above the roots. Each collector arm is controlled with its own button, located inside the machine cockpit that overlooks the blade. … The blade is the size of a kitchen table, mounted parallel to the ground, below the collector arms.
“The teeth on the blade go about 200 miles per hour,” Wiens yells above the roar of the engine. “The blade cuts the tree before the driver grabs it, so it’s a hard job to train people to do because the timing needs to be perfect—the first tree you cut needs to be like the millionth tree you cut.”
The introduction of the feller-buncher in the 1970s was so game-changing, writes Nikkel, that “forest-industry eras in the [B.C.] Interior can easily be divided into two categories: before the feller-buncher and after it. After its introduction, clearcuts rose to prominence as the most efficient way of cutting down a forest and turning a profit. By the 1980s, 90 percent of logging was done in the form of clearcuts, and B.C. led the way—not just in Canada, but around the world.”
Wiens tells Nikkel that forestry shows often feature virtual-training video simulations in which people can test their feller-buncher chops.
At this rate, I presume it won’t be long before an iPad user can log the entire Amazon on a feller-buncher app.
Source: Vancouver Review
(article not available online)
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Friday, August 13, 2010 12:10 PM
Roundup is one of the best-known herbicides, but it’s not just for farmers and groundskeepers—the logging industry also pours tons of the stuff on forests. Canada’s This magazine brings this issue vividly to light in a profile of Joel Theriault, a feisty outdoorsman, activist, and lawyer who is campaigning against herbicide spraying in Ontario’s northern forests. Writes Ashley Walter in This:
The most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide in forestry is Monsanto Canada’s Vision, more commonly known by its agricultural brand name, Roundup. Ninety percent of the forestry market sprays glyphosate-based products, affecting approximately 70,000 hectares [173,000 acres] of Ontario’s forests annually.
Mind you, that’s just Ontario’s forests. Glyphosate products are widely used in the United States as well, chiefly to suppress competing vegetation when replanting trees after clear cutting. Theriault, who was raised at a remote lodge, took up the issue while working as a fly-in fishing guide:
As a pilot he began to notice changes in the landscape. Once-familiar swaths of greenery, shrubs, and dense, dark forests took on a sickly yellowish-brown hue. From the air, vast clearcuts gave fallen trees the appearance of twigs strewn over patches of mud. Forests quickly became barren, marked by the occasional patchwork of brown brush. Theriault was horrified by the transformation and felt a personal responsibility to prevent its further destruction. “If you spend enough time somewhere … you start to claim some ownership over it,” he says.
Theriault believes that he and some friends were poisoned by eating wild game from sprayed areas, and in the 1990s many others hunters, anglers, foresters, and aboriginal leaders testified to damaging effects in a Canadian environmental hearing. But neither that case nor Theriault’s long, lonely battle has brought about significant change. He’s frustrated but still committed, he tells Walter: “I’m still plowing away at it.”
Source: This (article not available online)
Image by jesssloss, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 25, 2010 12:04 PM
Ecological Internet is the most radical green group you’ve never heard of, and for years it has been achieving “major successes … below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media,” writes Jeremy Hance on the rainforest conservation site Mongabay. The organization harnesses the power of the Internet to run online campaigns that have hindered or stopped unsustainable and/or illegal logging in the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, and it also provides IT services to other groups for “global grassroots advocacy.”
Ecological Internet leader Glen Barry and his group earn their “radical” tag in part because of their unsparing criticism of greenwashing in wood certification programs, especially the widely used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and of the green groups who support FSC, such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. Ecological Internet estimates that 60 percent of FSC-certified products come from primary forests, the most ancient and biological diverse type of rainforest. “The FSC, for its part, has not released data related to this issue,” writes Hance.
Barry tells Mongabay:
“[The] whole idea of certified forestry was completely usurped and the term made relatively meaningless, much like sustainable development has become, by the industrial logging as usual […] FSC logging is still the first-time logging of primary forests that are ancient ecosystems that contain the genetic and biodiversity materials that are very important for our and all species’ survival,” explains Barry, who has seen the process firsthand while working as the Papua New Guinea World Bank rainforest specialist for four years.
“I just reached a point personally where if I was going to work on this for any longer, I was going to work to end this desecration of 60-million-year-old rainforests for, in some cases, toilet paper and lawn furniture.”
Mainstream environmental groups like the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network “embraced” the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, says Barry, “and then the sort of dirty secret that no one would ever talk about is that FSC is primary forest logging. We challenge Rainforest Action Network, we challenge Greenpeace, to sit down and have a debate on this.”
Barry says Ecological Internet takes a “deep ecology, or biocentric approach” and describes what drives the group:
“[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention in this forum that Barry says he was the first blogger. Take it from him:
“I was the inventor of blogging. I was the first person to comment upon other web materials, link it, and then list it reverse chronologically. There is some debate over who the very first one was, but I maintain that I am. It’s still on the web, and has been there since 1995; it’s very clearly there. But if not the first one—there may have been someone musing about their personal lives—at least I was the first political blogger: the first instance of an individual citizen harnessing the power of the internet for political commentary, and being able to publish that just like any large corporation could.”
Sources: Mongabay, Ecological Internet
Image courtesy of Ecological Internet.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 12:49 PM
The rainforest is a recurring theme in lots of green-themed children’s literature—yet many publishers of these same books are using paper that contributes to the destruction of rainforests. That’s the upshot of a recent report (pdf) by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which found that nine of the 10 leading publishers of children’s books are selling books manufactured on paper that is unsustainably harvested from Indonesia’s rainforests.
To find this out, RAN went shopping for 30 randomly selected books—three from each of the nation’s top 10 children’s publishers—then submitted them to an independent testing laboratory to determine whether they contained fibers from rainforests or from acacia plantations, which are being grown on razed forest land. Nine of the top 10 publishers were implicated, despite that five of them have publicly stated paper procurement policies.
Part of the problem is China. How is that? According to RAN,
With the rapid growth of book printing and manufacturing being outsourced to China, the U.S. book industry has become increasingly vulnerable to controversial paper sources entering its supply chain. China is the top importer of Indonesian pulp and paper, and much of the Chinese paper industry is linked to or controlled by highly controversial Indonesian pulp and paper suppliers, Asia Pulp and Paper and Asia Pacific Resources International, which together account for 80 percent of Indonesia’s production. From 2000-2008, Chinese sales of children’s picture books to the U.S. ballooned by more than 290 percent, averaging an increase of more than 35 percent per year.
RAN’s sample was admittedly small, but the results are enough to give book buyers pause. What’s a book-loving parent to do? Given the apparently widespread nature of the problem, perhaps it’s best to revisit one of the three R’s in sustainable thinking—reuse—and get our kids’ books secondhand from garage sales, library sales, thrift stores, friends, and relatives. Or else we may have some ’splainin’ to do.
UPDATE 6/10/10: RAN has now released a list of 25 children’s books that are “rainforest-safe,” having been printed on paper that is recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. See the list of rainforest-safe children’s books here. RAN plans to add more books to the list.
Source: Rainforest Action Network
Image courtesty of Rainforest Action Network.
Thursday, April 08, 2010 11:11 AM
Attention firearms enthusiasts: The U.S. government is not going to take away your weapons, as you might have heard. But it is going to make sure that the stocks of new rifles and revolvers are made from legally sourced wood.
The 110-year-old Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to ban the trade of illegally logged wood products. Rules went into effect a year ago for goods including flooring, plywood, sawn timber, and caskets—and now the law’s scope has expanded further. The environmental blog Mongabay reports on the new level of scrutiny:
April 1, 2010, marks the beginning of U.S. enforcement for basic transparency requirements under the Lacey Act for guitars, revolvers, hand tools, pool cues, and certain furniture. This requires manufacturers of such items to declare basic information about where their wood comes from and how it is sourced.
Mongabay notes that the law isn’t messing around: Last year, federal agents raided the Nashville headquarters of Gibson Guitars after being tipped that it was using illegally logged Madagascar rosewood in its instruments. I assume they’ll be even more heavily armed if they approach the headquarters of, say, Smith & Wesson to serve a summons. (I think it goes without saying that they’ll pass a “This Property Protected by Smith & Wesson” sticker on their way in.)
It’s got to rankle many an NRA diehard to think that the weapon he once thought would have to be pried from his cold, dead hands might actually have the tree-hugger stamp of approval on its wood parts.
Image by ~Steve Z~, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 07, 2010 11:59 AM
The recession has put a big crimp in the timber industry of the Northeastern United States—which is good news for the trees, right? Not necessarily, writes editor Stephen Long in the Winter 2009 issue of Northern Woodlands, a magazine targeted toward forest land owners in that region.
Long points out that unlike the West, little Eastern land is publicly owned, and most of the region’s rich forests are in private hands. Many of the individuals and families who own these timber stands sell off logging rights to make some of their income, and the associated “forest based manufacturing” industry is the primary rural economic engine in New York and northern New England, contributing $14.4 billion to the region’s economy. But the recession has taken a huge hit on this engine, and Long worries that “if the forest industry fails, there’s nothing standing in the way of a wholesale sell-off of forestland.” The result, he contends, would not be good for the region or the environment:
It’s a time-honored rural tradition to sell off a building lot when the going gets tough, because land is often a person’s only savings account. … This ordinary rate of parcelization, however, will progress geometrically if we all lose the opportunity to sell timber. Parcelization is a cause, and fragmentation is the effect. As parcels are developed, driveways and dwellings fragment the natural system. All of the ecosystem services that accrue in an intact forest are compromised in a fragmented landscape that becomes not rural but suburban. The process would also quicken the erosion of the culture and backwoods ethos that is cherished by those born here and has been a drawing card for many who’ve moved here.
Bit by bit, as we learn how interconnected all of the parts of the system are, we come to an ever-expanding definition of sustainability. It’s not really a paradox—though you’d be forgiven if you thought it one—that the people who cut down trees and turn them into products are the single most important and effective means for keeping this forest intact.
Source: Northern Woodlands
Friday, September 11, 2009 4:17 PM
Environmentalists are butting heads over the fate of the ancient Maya Forrest in Guatemala, according to Earth Island Journal. A confusing patchwork of governmental regulations is creating animosity and disagreement on how best to protect the 3,000 endemic species of plants and animals, the priceless artifacts inside the park, and the economic rights of the people who live there.
The government has given permits to locals for low-level, sustainable logging in the area in an effort to curb the massive deforestation inside the park. Some environmentalists insist that including locals in this way is the best way to proceed, because it gives people a stake in the environmental sustainability of the area. Others insist that stricter regulations are needed to promote international ecotourism, an effort that has been cast as “a misbegotten colonialist effort to strip Guatemalans of their jobs working the land, forcing them to drive buses and change bedsheets in tourist hotels.”
Either way, most people agree that the current path for the Maya Forrest is unsustainable. The Rainforest Alliance, for example, estimates that a quarter of the forest could disappear by 2025.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Image by Willem van Bergen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 06, 2009 11:50 AM
Greenpeace gets in people’s faces—especially the faces of polluters, politicians, illegal whalers, and others whose actions damage the environment. The environmental group is well known for such stunts as intercepting whaling vessels and scaling high-profile targets such as smokestacks and Mount Rushmore to hang banners. It also publicly shames corporations: Its Kleercut campaign targeted Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark for using virgin timber in its tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper, and in June the group issued a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that called out shoe makers including Nike and Timberland for using leather from cattle farms that are cutting into the Amazon rainforest.
If you think that such tactics are old hat and too confrontational to do any real good, think again: Kimberly-Clark, Nike, and Timberland have all responded to Greenpeace’s prodding in recent weeks and in fact are now working with the group to reform their ways. These successes are a good reminder that it often takes both a stick and a carrot to effect real change.
Is there some good old-fashioned ass-covering going on here? Surely. Any corporation with sense knows that bad PR can hinder profits—especially if, like Timberland, you loudly trumpet your environmental credentials as a selling point and are outed for being less than green. But there are also many other factors at play: Perhaps the company has internal pressures that keep it from greening up its act. Perhaps it was not aware—as Timberland and Nike claimed—that its supply chain was suspect. And perhaps it simply hadn’t felt enough heat from consumers until Greenpeace turned it up to an uncomfortable level.
Greenpeace has gotten pretty good at making the transition from foe to friend, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of awkward. The group put out this hilarious video to capture the next phase of its relationship with Kimberly-Clark:
Sources: Treehugger, Greenpeace, Grist
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