More old-growth forests have been lost than the climate and biosphere can bear
An open letter/essay addressed to climate change luminaries Bill McKibben of 350.org and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club: After yesterday’s significant yet symbolic Keystone pipeline victory, not only must the climate movement demand an end to old-growth forest logging; it is time to speak of ending all natural forest logging to limit climate change and sustain the biosphere. Together with leaving fossil fuels in the ground, working for an end to industrial logging of natural forests will protect vital old-growth and allow dwindling natural ecosystems to age, recover, spread, reconnect, and sequester carbon in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change while avoiding global ecosystem collapse.
Again, loss and diminishment of terrestrial ecosystems are a critical component of abrupt climate change and are collapsing the biosphere. You both are well placed like few others to do something about it. – Dr. Glen Barry
Earth Meanders essays by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet, Honolulu, Hawaii
Dear Bill and Michael,
Congratulations to the climate change movement, 350.org and the Sierra Club, and yourselves for stopping the Keystone tar sands pipeline for now. Our own tiny EcoInternet was pleased to play a bit part with affinity actions since the beginning. I am writing once again to raise the issue of old-growth forests – and natural forest ecosystems in general – with you in regard to climate change.
Post Keystone, as the movement gears up to make sufficient demands to limit abrupt climate change and avoid ecosystem collapse, now is the time to address large amounts of emissions from natural forest logging – particularly of old-growth. While producing tar sands results in more carbon than conventional fossil fuel extraction, tar sands still account for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, various estimates place loss and diminishment of terrestrial ecosystems at 20% of global emissions.
This does not mean that tar sands should get a pass, as their emissions may yet grow considerably. But it does mean that at some point the climate change movement – to be successful – will have to consistently and vocally address the loss and diminishment of terrestrial ecosystems. Given the rapidity of ecosystem loss, efforts to protect naturally evolved ecosystems must ramp up with all haste.
I am writing this letter to plead with you to get the Sierra Club and 350.org’s vast resources committed to working for an end globally to industrial scale old-growth forest logging while allowing managed natural forests to regenerate and age. There is no path to global ecological sustainability, which includes limiting climate change, that does not include such a course of action.
Your organizations’ relatively narrow focus upon technological reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels fails to note not only the absolute amount of greenhouse gases released by terrestrial ecosystem loss, but also the critical role that natural ecosystems play in buffering the global ecological system from anthropocentric emissions. There are few feasible means to return atmospheric carbon levels to 350ppm that are as natural and non-risky as allowing remnant managed natural forests to undergo natural succession free of industrial disturbance as they regain a carbon-rich old-growth status.
Old-growth forests, including their biomass and soils, are one of the largest sources of resiliency to global change. And of course, the importance of biodiversity – from the gene, to species, through ecosystem and landscape levels – results cumulatively in vital ecosystem services that make Earth habitable. In a very real sense, life begets life.
Please forgive the passion, yet as an ecological scientist I recently published a scientific journal article provided to both of you entitled “Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse“. The peer-reviewed science concluded that 66% of terrestrial ecosystems must remain in a natural or semi-natural condition to maintain the biosphere. However, loss of terrestrial ecosystems has already crossed this tenth planetary boundary with 50% loss. Yet again, humanity has placed itself in a condition of ecological overshoot.
It is simply barbaric that scraping the land of millions of year old naturally evolved ecosystems for consumer products continues unabated and without the high-profile, coordinated protest of the climate change movement. Few have the resources, staff, and talent to do so other than the groups you head.
John Muir worked to protect all old-growth forests
John Muir assuredly shudders in his grave at the thought of the climate change movement’s glitterati failing to protect old-growth forests, relegating remaining natural forest ecosystems to a fate of carbon and biodiversity depauperate tree plantations or outright deforestation. We know where Muir, the vocal and sometimes cantankerous Sierra Club founder, stood on the protection versus conservation issue: choosing always to leave old-growth forests standing.
Virtually no major environmental groups’ work, including your own, focuses upon an outright end to old-growth forest logging as a keystone response to the climate, ecosystem, and biosphere crises. Most cling desperately to discredited “sustainable” logging of ancient naturally evolved ecosystems. In many cases old-growth forest products from such ecocide are marketed as “sustainable” by green NGOs in egregious and unforgivable acts of greenwash. No one needs old-growth lawn furniture or toilet paper.
Over the past decades, EcoInternet has consistently raised the issue of old-growth forest logging within the movement, despite obstruction and disinterest by you and others. Nonetheless, we and allies have enjoyed much success including recently achieving commitments from the Forest Stewardship Council to eliminate certification of what they term endangered forests.
After the tremendous Keystone victory, it is time for the climate movement to move beyond tokenism and develop and pursue a comprehensive strategy adequate to limit climate change and avoid biosphere collapse. This will mean a series of campaigns that must be pursued simultaneously and will certainly have to include as pillars both ending old-growth logging and the use of fossil fuels, as well as other initiatives that together are ecologically sufficient.
It is time for a united message from the climate change movement on protecting old-growth and natural forest ecosystems. Global ecological sustainability and averting worsening climate chaos depends critically upon going back to the land with a focus upon old growth forests, organic permaculture, and ecological restoration.
Given terrestrial ecosystem loss has almost certainly already surpassed an ecological planetary boundary, all industrial logging of natural forest ecosystems must end. Such a policy allows existing large forest ecosystems’ continued existence, and provides fragmented and diminished forest ecosystems a chance to rest and recover old-growth characteristics, required for a habitable Earth.
We can’t continue to mow natural life-giving ecosystems and expect an operable climate – much less to sustain water, soil, clean air, pollination, species persistence and so much more. Logged forests in a climate changed world are proving susceptible to apocalyptic wildfires of never before seen proportions. The climate movement is dreadfully failing by focusing nearly exclusively on emissions cuts from combustion while excluding maintaining and recovering natural ecosystems. It is enough to lead one to question the ecological knowledge and credentials of the climate movement’s leadership.
As I have expressed often, I am profoundly disappointed that the climate movement in general, and particularly the Sierra Club and 350.org, are not doing more to protect old-growth forests. No one likes to sow discord in the environmental movement, but when the message being propagated by the 800 pound gorillas are wrong, they need to be confronted. There is no partial solution to climate change and ecosystem collapse, from this point forward together we simultaneously pursue numerous sufficient ecological policies, or humanity faces abrupt climate change and potentially the end of being.
The global biosphere which makes Earth habitable is collapsing and dying as natural ecosystems and the climate are overrun. Large and connected natural ecosystems surrounding human communities are a prerequisite for sustainable well-being for all. When natural forest ecosystems are heavily logged, yes some trees grow back, but the functions of forest ecosystems are repeatedly diminished with each harvest. This includes carbon stock, soil integrity, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the potential for sustained local well-being and advancement.
From this point forward, if you and your organizations are unwilling to stake out positions on all of the ecological issues that really matter for the climate, with solutions for each commensurate to the threat, we might as well give up now and go home and enjoy our last days. I encourage you both to refer to planetary boundary ecological science for a comprehensive vision if you choose to do so.
This open letter renews EcoInternet’s demand that the Sierra Club and 350.org, and both of you individually, take a rigorous position on ending industrial old-growth and natural forest logging. Failure to do so in a timely manner will result in a grassroots ecological advocacy campaign against your large bureaucratic organizations as we successfully did against Greenpeace and FSC, changing their old-growth forest policies.
Frankly, deforestation, biodiversity, extinction, and terrestrial ecosystem carbon emissions have gotten short thrift as your Keystone campaign sucked all the oxygen (and funding) out of the room. It appears you have been swindled by claims of certification which cover very little – about 10% – of the market’s ill-gotten old-growth timbers and legitimizes the rest. Even as trees are planted, natural forest ecosystems continue to be industrially mowed.
Again, loss and diminishment of terrestrial ecosystems are a critical component of abrupt climate change and are collapsing the biosphere. You both are well placed like few others to do something about it.
Global ecological sustainability depends critically on ending fossil fuels as societies protect and restore old-growth forests. Many fragmented natural forests could return to old-growth status, expanding and reconnecting to once again surround humanity and continue to make life possible, if given a reprieve from additional disturbance. Certainly community based eco-forestry in natural forests has a role, but industrial logging with bulldozers and roads must end if abrupt climate change and biosphere collapse are to be avoided. Period.
EcoInternet will be re-launching our long running campaign to ensure terrestrial ecosystem loss ends and is reversed, emphasizing ending old-growth and natural forest logging to protect and restore forest ecosystems. Where do Sierra Club and 350.org stand on such matters? What is your position on old-growth and natural forest logging? How can you take such rigorous positions on ending coal and tar sands, yet not call for ending old-growth forest logging? Are you a part of the the grassroots forest protection movement as a keystone response to climate change or not?
We demand a clear written response to these concerns by the end of November; so you can then begin to work on development of climate policy demands in the forest realm, including campaigns by your organizations to end industrial old-growth and natural forest logging. I am available to assist you in formulating a joint campaign to end old-growth forest logging.
From your perches high above the climate movement, I am sure demands expressed by an old-time forest activist that has to work a day job to make ends meet must appear easy to continue to ignore. Yet rest assured I am not alone in my concerns, and you do a disservice to the environment by suggesting so. Let’s hope we can overcome past animosity to such ideas and each other, and get this done, as ecological science truths are unforgiving, and standing and regenerating old-growth forests have a vital role to play in limiting climate chaos and maintaining the biosphere. It is time to act to protect forests as a climate solution.
Dr. Glen Barry
 Barry, G. (2014), “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563.