Seeing the Forest for the Trees

In the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate change summit, Maine writer Bernd Heinrich has a provocative op-ed in Saturday's New York Times attacking the concept of carbon-trading. As the author of The Trees in My Forest, Heinrich is an unapologetic tree-hugger, but he thinks the push towards "reforesting" the planet (the idea would be to create more carbon sinks to soak up our increasing outputs of carbon dioxide) is essentially a corporate-backed ruse:

The world’s forests are a key to our survival, and that of millions of other species. Not only are they critical to providing us with building material, paper, food, recreation and oxygen, they also ground us spiritually and connect us to our primal past. Never before in earth’s history have our forests been under such attack. And the global-warming folks at Copenhagen seem oblivious, buying into the corporate view of forests as an exploitable resource.

Heinrich distinguishes between true forests, which are self-sustaining eco-systems, and managed industrial timberlands, and he criticizes his fellow environmentalists who don't appreciate this distinction or the enormous downside to carbon trades.

In the end, what was originally intended as a mechanism for slowing global warming has created huge economic pressure for ecocide. And there will be no objections from easily duped bleeding- heart “environmentalists,” who absolutely love tree planting because it sounds so “green.”

To preserve something it first has to be valued, and the most effective means of valuing it is to have a practical use for it. If the discussions in Copenhagen were any indication, mankind sees little value in forests, but much in tree plantations. (On the other hand, I admit that those of us who really do care about forests have not exactly been helpful. We have not encouraged selective harvesting from naturally occurring stands, which may be necessary.)

Like Heinrich I care a lot about forests and agree that environmentalists who oppose selective harvesting from biologically diverse stands are naifs. We don't need more trees; we need more forests. But first, we should get serious about energy conservation and fighting overpopulation.