Reflections upon having taken on Greenpeace and other lesser FSC old-growth logging apologists over their greenwash of old-growth forest logging and winning, and why 66% is the next 350.
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“All we ever wanted was for the good-guys and to stop logging old-growth forests.” ― Dr. Glen Barry
Action Alert: Congratulate Greenpeace and FSC for Their Commitment to Stop Greenwashing Logging of Old-Growth Forests
Greenpeace does many things well, such as photogenic posing with celebrities and pithy slogans on banners. But this does not include admitting error or treating critics with dignity and respect. For the past decade my small organization EcoInternet has alerted the world to the fact that Greenpeace founded and for years directed the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – an organization that promotes industrially logging Earth’s last large old-growth forests – and spearheaded a global campaign to get them to stop. After years of stonewalling, turned slowing to embracing our policies, this week they promised to stop logging intact forest landscapes, potentially a substantial victory for the real forest movement.
After tens of thousands of people around the world have over the years protested NGO involvement in FSC old-growth logging, we have successfully pressured Greenpeace and FSC into taking the first step and admitting they have a problem. After twenty years of gorging themselves upon logging old-growth forests – by our measure destroying an area two times the size of Texas for consumer products such as toilet paper and lawn furniture – all while accepting money for forest protection (gotta admit they have chutzpah); this past Friday Greenpeace and FSC made vague promises at FSC’s general assembly to stop logging old-growth forests.
After years of ridicule and contempt directed at their critics, FSC and Greenpeace did exactly what we have demanded (without admitting to having done wrong) and pledged to someday really soon stop logging old-growth rich intact forest landscapes. Gandhi was oh so right on how crazy ideas – like forest protectors shouldn’t log old-growth – eventually, after much disparagement, end up becoming self-evident truths that can’t be denied.
At first our quixotic efforts to get FSC and Greenpeace to stop logging old-growth forests, waged mostly through essays, twitter, and online action alerts, were met with almost universal credulity and scorn. The sort of poorly informed, hipster progressive liberal that Greenpeace epitomizes reacted time and again with scorn and disbelief. Never mind as the campaigns leader over the past 25 years I have earned a doctorate in land resources, have worked for the World Bank in forest policy, lived in Papua New Guinea’s rainforests for many years, and pioneered use of the Internet for forest conservation. I was not part of the coolness of the Greenpeace tribe and so I was not worthy to question Greenpeace policy.
But slowly things shifted. Initial outraged denials of “Greenpeace would never be involved with logging old growth forests” gave way to “but can’t you see that the Forest Stewardship Council helps log old-growth so much more carefully?” But as truth is prone to do, facts just kept on accumulating, and the doublespeak behind claims of sustainably logging 60 million year old naturally evolved life-giving ecosystems for toilet paper became untenable.
The Science Is Clear: Old-Growth Forest Logging Must End
Over the recent decade ecological science has firmly established that first time industrial logging of primary and other old-growth forests is neither ecologically sustainable nor economical. Naturally evolved ancient forests are in fact decimated by logging – FSC certified or otherwise. While to the untrained Greenpeace eye trees still stand after selective certified logging – old-growth structure, function, composition and dynamics are inexorably much diminished or even lost.
My recently published peer reviewed journal article portends the end of old-growth forest logging. Entitled “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, my findings are that past a certain threshold, loss of terrestrial ecosystems threatens our and the Earth’s very existence. I present a tentative hypothesis of the threshold based upon percolation theory and what we know of ecosystem collapse at other scales – that 66% of Earth’s land must remain covered in ecosystems, 66% of which must be large and intact ecosystems (for totals of 44% intact ecosystems, 22% agro-ecological buffers, and 33% zones of sustainable development). Further information on this proposed tenth planetary boundary can be found here: http://bit.ly/MEQ_Biosphere
My History with Greenpeace and FSC
My love of ecology took focus in the late 1980 as I hitchhiked from Milwaukee to Madison each Thursday for a three day weekend of canvassing for Greenpeace, and later I did the same in Washington DC. It was my first environmental job. I was good at it, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for Greenpeace, and I learned to think on my feet, communicating environmental ideas on the doorstep of many a skeptic. Later as I interacted with, and was used by Greenpeace staff for my residency in Papua New Guinea, unease began to creep in.
As a Greenpeace campaigner would jet into PNG’s rainforests with top of the line gear for a few days, pull off a stunt as they pumped local movement members for information, and then issued press releases speaking of their victories; it suddenly occurred to me: Greenpeace is not about substantive ecology solutions. First and foremost, Greenpeace is about grandstanding. About getting the perfect image and looking cool, and not about crafting and implementing the difficult, ecological science based policies required for ecological sustainability.
During my Peace Corps stint in Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s, and later as the World Bank’s Papua New Guinea rainforest specialist, I was an avid supporter of FSC. This is when FSC was still being presented as small-to-mid scale community eco-forestry under a rigorous ecological management plan. I have always supported indigenous peoples carefully selecting individual trees to mill and process in their communities for finished high-end products. Indeed, I helped to set up and support several such schemes (more difficult than it sounds, but the only social and ecological justification for logging old-growth). But by the late 1990s as pressure to meet market share for “sustainable” old-growth timbers intensified, FSC began certifying slightly improved business as usual industrial heavy logging of old-growth forests.
Over the past decade on several occasions tens of thousands of forest conservationists sent millions of emails to Greenpeace and FSC allies through Ecological Internet’s campaign. We logically presented the case of how logged primary forests are no longer primary, how these large intact old-growth forests power the biosphere, and how building markets for old-growth toilet paper – and claiming it as a campaign victory – exacerbates the problem of their loss. And despite EcoInternet’s global campaign being ridiculed by RAN and Greenpeace as “spamming by one blogger”, we know there is no doubt that FSC and Greenpeace would not have reformed themselves on their own.
Never once were we substantively acknowledged or responded too. Now granted we are not Emma Thompson looking for a virile mate. But we made a good faith effort to establish dialogue regarding the efficacy of claiming old-growth forests can and should be destroyed with claims of sustainability, and we could have logically expected some sort of response and policy debate. Greenpeace’s mates at the Rainforest Action Network went so far as to disavow our protests by claiming I was crazy (yeah, crazy like a fox, thinking forest groups who take money for protecting forests shouldn’t be logging them).
But that is not how insular, bureaucratic Greenpeace works. They are a business, committed primarily to their fund-raising and empire building. FSC never took the time to engage or debate on their logging of old-growth forests, though individuals clearly were sympathetic and connected through various social media channels. I could make similar observations about the bad conduct of other forest movement luminaries – foremost the Rainforest Action Network – and serial press release rewriters Mongabay. But neither are serious forest movement participants worthy of the effort.
Instead, resisting our calls to resign from FSC, Greenpeace set out to reform the organization from within. Despite having founded FSC, and holding the Director’s position of the international board for years, apparently keeping FSC from logging old-growth forests had not occurred to them previously. Suddenly Greenpeace decided logging old-growth forests was not so good after all. And so after being pressured by some way less cool and powerful forest conservationists, Greenpeace embraced getting FSC out of the business of logging old-growth forests.
And to their credit, Greenpeace’s resulting intact forest landscapes campaign has been well run and a success. This past Friday Greenpeace got 90% of FSC members to vote to commit to not logging intact forest landscapes. Those that have followed the campaign know there is no way this ever would have happened if EcoInternet had not demanded FSC and Greenpeace stop logging old-growth. As the vote was taking place, hundreds of thousands of protest emails from EcoInternet’s global network were streaming into participants, effectively sealing the success of a decade long campaign.
EcoInternet Victorious in FSC Campaign
EcoInternet and I hereby declare victory in our campaign to get FSC and Greenpeace out of the business of logging old-growth. We will remain vigilant and monitor their commitments, as we now look towards other logging certifiers to do likewise. We will continue our overall vision of ending old-growth forest logging as a keystone response to sustaining our one shared biosphere, by targeting all that profit from continued ecocide. Now that the purported good guys have committed to ending their destruction of old-growth forests, we can work on getting all others to stop as well.
It is too early to see whether FSC can survive without profiting from greenwashing the pillaging of ancient old-growth forests. But they are now on record as committing as an organization to no longer certifying forest products from intact forest landscapes. Whether this has meaningful planetary ecological benefits depends on whether this is interpreted as FSC certifying products as being old-growth free, something we will continue to demand.
As for me, I have learned that taking truth based principled stands can succeed in achieving so much more than gimmicky campaigns. Despite all my snarkiness after years of ridicule, and running this campaign on personal finances while going into debt, we have gotten what we wanted all along: an acknowledgement that legitimate forest protectors don’t log old growth forests.
EcoInternet and I will now move forward in our campaign to protect and restore enough large, intact, and connected natural ecosystems to maintain the biosphere. Letting bygones be bygones, we sincerely hope that Greenpeace and their pals in WWF, the Sierra Club, and even RAN join us. Let’s together make 66% the next 350.
Please continue to congratulate Greenpeace and FSC on their commitment to stop logging intact forest landscapes, pushing them to define this as ensuring all FSC products are free of old growth, at http://bit.ly/FSC_Greenwash
And please donate to EcoInternet’s campaign to protect and restore enough old-growth forests to sustain the biosphere. Our coffers are bear and we need money for programmers and Internet servers at: http://forests.org/shared/donate/