Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement…

Perhaps the most cynical aspect of the Greenpeace campaign is their assertion that forests are clearcut in British Columbia to make tissue paper and toilet paper for Europeans. They use the slogan “When you blow your nose in Europe you are blowing away the ancient forests of Canada” to imply that Europeans could save Canadian forests if they would stop buying tissue made from Canadian pulp. Everyone who has studied Canadian forestry, including Greenpeace, knows that the pulp and paper industry in British Columbia is based entirely on the waste products of the sawmilling industry. The forests are harvested to supply high value solid wood for furniture, interior woodwork and construction. Only the wastes from making lumber and those logs that are unsuitable for sawmilling are made into pulp. If we did not make pulp from these wastes they would have to be burned or left to rot as was the case in the past.

Rather than promoting unilateral boycotts that are based on misinformation and coercion, organizations like Greenpeace should recognize the need for internationally accepted criteria for sustainable forestry and forest products manufacturing. Through dialogue and international cooperation it would be possible to achieve agreement and end the unfair practice of singling out an individual nation for sanctions. Unfortunately they have now joined in the effort to spoil an International Convention on Forests. Their reasons for opposing a convention are not valid and amount to a transparent front for a strong anti-forestry attitude.


It is not reasonable to expect the environmental movement to drop its extremist agenda overnight. The rise of extremism is a major feature of the movement’s evolution and is now deeply embedded in its political structure. We can hope that as time passes the movement will be retaken by more politically centrist, science-based leaders and that the extreme wing will be marginalized. At the same time, we must remember that most of the larger environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council etc. do have many members and campaign teams that are reasonable and based on good science. It’s just that for the time being, major elements of their organizations have been hi-jacked by people who are politically motivated, lack science, and are often using the rhetoric of environmentalism to promote other causes such as class struggle and anti-corporatism.
The only way industry can successfully help to promote a more pragmatic and reasonable environmental movement is to prove that it is willing and able to avoid future damage to the environment and to correct past abuses. In other words, if your house is in order, there will be little or nothing for extremists to use as a reason for taking an essentially “anti-industry” position.

The challenge for environmental leaders is to resist the path of ever increasing extremism and to know when to talk rather than fight. To remain credible and effective they must reject the anti-human, anarchistic approach. This is made difficult by the fact that many individuals and their messengers, the media, are naturally attracted to confrontation and sensation. It isn’t easy to get excited about a committee meeting when you could be bringing the state to its knees at a blockade.

The best approach to our present predicament is to recognize the validity of both the bioregional and the global visions for social and environmental sustainability. Issues such as overpopulation and sustainable forest practices require international agreements. Composting of food wastes and bicycle repairs are best accomplished locally. We must think and act both globally and locally, always cognizant of impacts at one level caused by actions at another. Extremism that rejects this approach will only bring disaster to all species, including humans.

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