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Screw you, environmentalists

Paul Bunyan Or Big Timber

All too often in the media we see loggers and environmentalists at odds with one another. Where the environmentalists see the machinations of Big Timber, they lash out at the loggers, and thereby catch their blue-collar counterparts in a complex quandary - like my father, perhaps they don't support clear cutting and realize that, without working more towards sustainability, this will lead to the ultimate destruction of their own livelihoods. But all too often the immediate needs outweighs concerns for the future - they need work and Big Timber provides their jobs. Perhaps both environmentalists and loggers should meet halfway, like my father and I did, and promote sustainable logging, jobs for loggers, and a more responsible timber industry that works for people and not solely for profit.

This article gives a nice synopsis of the way Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative serves the needs of the logging industry under the guise of serving the needs of the environment and communities vulnerable to fire. It closes with the nice paragraph above reminding us that often (though not always) the people directly engaged with the environment understand how to care for it, even if they can't do the right thing because of larger political and economic structures.

The article also raises the point that current logging practices are not sustainable. This is bad not just for the environment and the loggers, but by extension the logging companies as well -- which raises the question of why they would push for something that enables them to ruin themselves. One possibility is simple shortsightedness. I don't think that's the whole story, since the loggers at least seem to see the long term, so you'd think it would have occurred to the higher-ups as well (one of the advantages of old-fashioned vertical promotion, instead of the increasingly popular horizontal movement between similar jobs at different companies, is that management would always have the experience and perspective of one of the grunts). And it would be in the company's best interest to take such a perspective -- if company A carefully husbands its resources, it can blow companies B and C out of the water once they waste all their resources on unsustainable practices.

The counter to that is that perhaps companies B and C would run company A out of business through their unsustainable practices, so that it wouldn't last long enough to reap the rewards of its stewardship. This is a sort of "ruthless cutthroat logic of capitalism" argument. I'm not so sure that this is the whole story either. It seems that in this case it would be in any company's interest to have environmental standards in place across the board that would restrain both themselves, and their competitors, from being unsustainably ruthless. This kind of thing seems quite possible in the US (though not in some other country where you'd always have to worry about your competitor getting a special deal from their cronies in the government), especially if the timber companies have some sort of industry council that they can work collectively through.

I think an element in the question is the nature of the timber company versus environmentalists debate. Just as environmentalists get tricked into seeing loggers as the enemy even when they're not, timber companies and those who try to support them can get tricked into being more anti-environmentalist than pro-logging. They start to assume that whatever the environmentalists want must be bad for logging. This kind of thinking works fine in most political issues, when the two sides want directly opposing things (e.g. no access to abortions versus lots of access to abortions). Environmentalists* oppose not logging (or any other industry environmentalists oppose) per se, but a side effect of logging. But so long as the two sides are seen as head-to-head, neither is able to see the insights the other has to offer about pursuing their goals together. Moreover, they begin to do things more to strike a blow at the enemy than to advance their real interests. I think the ethos of "those environmentalists can't tell us where we can and can't log/drill/mine" is sometimes as important in shaping environmentally destructive practice, particularly legislatively, as is rational economic calculation. Sustainable forestry comes off as capituation to environmentalism rather than a practice that's good for both the timber industry and the environment.

*An important thing to note about the environmentalists in my post and the original article is that they're of the pragmatic anthropocentric-conservationist bent, which makes up the bulk of environmentalists. Hardcore biocentrists and ecocentrists would be less able to make the kinds of reconciliation at issue here.


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