Is forest economic growth imperative or impossible?

The forest industry, like many other modern industries, has become a global institution.

The forest industry, like many other modern industries, has become a global institution. The growth of corporations along with modernization of mills seems to be necessary to compete in the world markets. Is it possible and desirable to choose a minimal or no-growth approach and survive? Richard Heinberg has written extensively on the limits of growth and how we might cope. In his article Two Realities he describes the political and physical realities and how we could deal with inevitable limits to growth.

The following is a small excerpt from his article.

“Our contemporary world is host to two coexisting but fundamentally different—and, in at least one crucial respect, contradictory—realities. One of these might be termed Political Reality, though it extends far beyond formal politics and pervades conventional economic thinking. It is the bounded universe of what is acceptable in public economic-social-political discourse. The other is Physical Reality: i.e., what exists in terms of energy and materials, and what is possible given the laws of thermodynamics.

“For decades these two realities have developed along separate lines. They overlap from time to time: politicians and economists use data tied to measurable physical parameters, while physical scientists often frame their research and findings in socially meaningful ways. But in intent and effect, they diverge to an ever-greater extent.”

Heinberg goes on to say economic growth and climate change forces the question of at which they differ to the point of outright contradiction.

In previous books Mr. Heinberg describes how the fossil-fueled industrial revolution contributed to the world of consumerism, globalization and financialization and how governments came to expect high rates of growth in order fulfill extravagant promises.

He also said when any public person (writer, economist, scientist, whatever) demonstrates a disconnection from political reality by questioning the desirability or possibility of continued growth, mainstream media turns their attention elsewhere, adding that what is needed is another choice or path that minimizes human suffering, averts the worst environmental impacts, and yields the best ultimate outcome of sustainable and thriving human cultures in functioning, stabilize ecosystems.

Some of his suggestions for achieving the contraction approach are the following:

“Start by putting effort into building a stronger consensus for action among those in the “physical reality” camp. Then pursue strategic alliances. There is a spectrum among those wedded to political reality, with denial of climate change and biological evolution at one end. Open a wider dialogue with those at the more physically realistic end of that spectrum, calmly insisting on the primacy of limits to growth while seeking common ground. Then help these reasonable folks work from the inside to transform political reality until it more closely resembles physical reality.

“Dedicate major funding to a public education program in critical thinking. An Inconvenient Truth and Cosmos were helpful first volleys, but what is needed is something on a far larger scale; maintained over several years; encompassing classroom materials as well as television, YouTube, and social media; and addressing the population-consumption growth dilemma as well as numeracy, ecological literacy, and climate change.

Fund major culturally informed and targeted family planning campaigns throughout the world, with a special emphasis on nations with high birth rates.

There are already several movements aiding individuals and communities to adapt to a post-growth, post-carbon economic regime: localism, Transition Towns, the organics movement, Slow Food and Money, the voluntary simplicity movement, and more. These need far greater support.”

We already have some of these movements in our community which unfortunately are supported by a minority of the population. Perhaps if each of the physical reality converts took one issue and promoted it with all of their energy we could make a collective difference.

For example I will continue to promote alternate uses of forest residue from logging rather than burning it. We should also encourage discussions around alternate forest tenures.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.