Paul Hawken, better known for his book, “The Ecology of Commerce,” has a new book out. It is called, “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World.” In the opening pages he describes his experience of traveling the world, giving presentations, and coming home with various business cards from members of the audience. He would throw them into a jar for safe keeping. Over time, he realized that there are ALOT of people working on issues of sustainable living. This short presentation gives some perspective on how big and diverse this movement is, even though there is no central leadership, nor is there any agreed upon ideology. It is almost happening on its own.
I don’t know if it’s possible to describe these forests. The tens of thousands of life forms embodied in these forests are so intertwined, so interconnected, it is as if they are a single massive forest organism. I was a visitor making my way through the interior systems of some ancient mythical being. Every square inch of every surface is densely covered with life. The ancient trees, 1000 years old or more, are spectacles towering hundreds of feet above you, with giant drapes of moss hanging from their rain-soaked branches. When these trees fall, new life springs from the fallen wood, including new trees that might be hundreds of years old in themselves. It’s not unusual to see new trees rising out of multiple layers of fallen trees, reaching to the canopy while grounded in layers of dead trees, each of which might be many feet in diameter laying upon each other, stacked well above our heads. The piles of fallen trees create little cavernous places, each of which have their own little microclimate, depending on how much light and water happen to be infusing into the space. The small cavernous spaces are so packed full of life that one could imagine entire landscapes within. I envisioned miniature birds, trees, animals living under the mushrooms and along side the lichen and moss. But, then, I’d back away, look up, and see the 300 foot tall Sitka Spruce tree looming above.
John Vaillant, in the opening pages his book “The Golden Spruce,” beautifully described the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest by saying:
“…for a stranger it is not a particularly comfortable place to be. You can be 20 paces from a road or a beach and become totally disoriented; once inside there is no future and no past, only the sodden, twilit now. Underfoot is a leg-breaking tangle of roots and branches and, every 50 feet or so, your way is blocked by moss covered walls of fallen trees that may be taller than you and hundreds of feet long. These so called nurse logs will, in turn, have colonnades of younger trees growing out of them fifty years old and as orderly as pickets. In here, the boundaries between life and death, between one species and the next, blur and blend: everything is being used as a launching pad by something else; everyone wants a piece of the sky. Down below, the undergrowth is thick, and between this and the trees, it is hard to see very far; the sound of moving water is constant, and the ground is as soft and spongy as a sofa with shot springs. You have the feeling that, if you stop for too long, you will simply be grown over and absorbed by the slow and ancient riot of growth going on all around you. It can be suffocating, and the need to see the sun can become overpowering – something you could easily do if it weren’t for all of those trees.”
It is an accurate description. His book, interestingly enough, outlines the complex relationship loggers have with the forest. These people live to be in this environment, yet they spend their entire lives destroying it. It takes a very particular person that can move efficiently in that world, one that really understands it, and one that loves it. It is so incredibly ironic that these people are willing to kill it.
The experience that has nagged me since returning from Washington, is that of driving in, and out, of Olympic National Park. The highway that circumnavigates the park passes across the park boundary many, many times, making it obvious the effects of logging has on this ancient forest. Long stretches of clear-cut forest, with grey stumps protruding from lifeless soil extend for miles, just before hitting the park boundary, where a 200+ foot tall wall of ancient green forest meets you. In other places, just outside the park boundary, there are replanted forests of various degree of age. Some fields of saplings, some 50 -60 year old trees. However, absolutely none of them even begin to compare to the complexity of life of the original forest.
When we destroy a forest, the least of what we kill is the trees. There are millions of organisms that live in an infinitely complex web of relationships to create the ongoing life that is the forest. To think that a logging company, or a mining company, can re-build, restore, or rejuvenate a forest that is hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of years old is completely absurd. It is laughable to even consider. It is arrogant to think humans, or worse, large industrial entities, have the capacity to do such a thing. Usually that is left to the gods. It is simply beyond words. The best they can afford to do is plant a few saplings and call it done. In the mean time, humanity has lost a life that has incalculable beauty and meaning. It is appalling.
Upon my return to Minnesota, I learned that Republican Chip Cravaak, Representative of District 8, put before the House Committee on Natural Resources a bill that has the potential to both allow Minnesota’s education system to capture (what is billed to be) badly needed money and open additional lands for logging and mining, at the expense of the Boundary Water National Forests that are now protected. There are a number of places to read about the bill, and I strongly encourage you to do so. I’ve listed a number of websites at the end of this post that will orient you to the various opinions and policies surrounding this issue. However, they all miss a very important point.
The political/economic system that we attempt to place upon nature is irrelevant. Nature does not recognize it. The politicians, financiers, and figure heads have gotten themselves into a man-made pickle about who actually controls the fate of the BWCA. There is no appropriate vocabulary in the discussion regarding saving this ecosystem simply because we do not value it for its amazing complexity and beauty. You see, nature doesn’t get to come to the bargaining table. It doesn’t explain, in legal-speak, its monitary value to our economic situation. The millions of species in the BWCA ecosystem are lumped into one category, called Natural Resources, and represented by humans that barely understand the infinitely complex set of relationships that make the web of life work. It is appalling that an organization can buy up vast expanses of land and forever change them to whatever suits their (industrial) needs. Land that has been in existence for millions of years can be destroyed in an instant, with no responsibility to the thousands of future generations of people who might want to learn from, experience, love that natural landscape. Nor do they have responsibility to the species of micro-organisms, insects, wildflowers and animals that are not yet in existence. It seems trite to say such things, but these are the scales that the universe operates in. We are essentially destroying ourselves by our pervasive indifference to nature’s wealth of knowledge and beauty. Humanity must realize that there are only a few things that we, have, that no other species have, that define our purpose in the web of life. We have opposable thumbs which allows us to make tools (read technology), enormously clever brains capable of designing solutions to complex problems and we have risen to a level of self-awareness, allowing us to emotionally appreciate the beauty and power of the universe. As Edward McCord says in his book, “The Value of Species,” it is ironic that we are the we are the only species capable of appreciating the power of nature, yet also the only ones that are systematically destroying it.
Be aware of this. Take action.
In closing, I’d like to offer the democratic opposition comment to the bill, by Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake. He said a bill under consideration would violate the state constitution. He said a simple exchange of land would work better. He then made the extraordinarily hateful comment that,
“That land in the wilderness should belong to the federal government,” Dill said. “We should do it in accordance with the constitution, and then we should mine, log, and lease the hell out of that land that we get in the change.”
For more information see:
I came across this image a number of months ago while looking through the USGS website. It resonated with my visually oriented brain, and with other information I’ve read about regarding the volume of accessible fresh water on the planet. It is frighteningly little. Images taken from space represent our planet as having beautiful blue water covering about 70 percent of the surface. It is deceptive though. The oceans, at their deepest, are only a few miles deep, which amounts to an insignificant water volume when one considers that there is another 4,000 miles to the core of the planet. The planet is about 8,000 miles in diameter, while the average depth of the ocean is only about 2.65 miles (14,000ft). It is simply a very thin water membrane.
The website: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html provides much more information, but my quick summary will tell you that the largest of the three spheres represents all the water on earth. It would include the oceans (which captures 96.5% of all the water), the ground and atmospheric water, and all the water in lakes, rivers, and streams. The middle sphere represents all of the liquid freshwater available on the planet. Note that 99% of that freshwater is in underground rivers, aquifers, and the like. It is, for the most part, not easily accessible. Finally, the very small blue sphere over Atlanta, Georgia, represents the volume of accessible freshwater that is essential for life to humans and millions of other species throughout the world. The diameter of this sphere of water is only 34.9 miles. Amazingly small, considering its enormous importance to most living things on the planet.
Looking at the oceans, and the thousands of lakes and rivers throughout the world, it would seem that there is an endless supply. In the Midwest and East of the US, rich vegetation and frequent rain storms reinforce this notion. However, that is not the case of much of the rest of the world. Many people have argued that the wars of the future will be about water. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/06/2011622193147231653.html Global climate change exacerbates the issue by increasing the intensity of the droughts, and by creating less frequent, but stronger storms that generate extreme water events whereby most of the water that falls from the sky runs off, and away from the crops that need moisture deep into the soil. (Slow steady rains are better than gushers)
Be aware. Take personal and professional responsibility for a sustainable healthy future.