Thursday, May 15, 2003

A monologue about the forest

In Sac Bee letters to editor today, NC residents Barbara and Alan reacting to
Tom Knudson's account of Bill Libby's account of reception of Libby's talk at the Conversation about the Forest symposium we had up here last year. Personal connection of sorts - the first college class I ever took was from Dr. Libby, an excellent teacher then and now, challenges you, is provocative, makes you think.

His talk was based on a deliberate misprision of "sustainability" (as how we could manipulate supply to sustain the existing demand) - so he could point out that California's demand for lumber is so great that you'd pretty much have to turn the entire Sierra into tree farms to meet it (and in future even that wouldn't be enough), and that protecting trees here just shifts the cutting elsewhere, to potentially more fragile environments.

What's lousy about the situation, and I think is in large part what drove the audience up the wall, is that it's just plain not a problem that we as consumers can solve - I can go live in a rebar teepee clad with Hefty bags and preach until I'm blue in the face, but the hordes of Home Despot customers are just going to keep on buying, there's no way they're going to be converted to Living The Simple Life, or as was brought out at the symposium, no civilization in history has ever voluntarily reduced its standard of living. There are empirical laws that apply to group behavior, and no amount of individual effort is going to repeal them.

So - an analogy - we the audience were in effect being told "no matter what you do, somebody's kids are gonna be sacrificed, and if you protect yours, then you're causing the death of someone else's (who are cuter, smarter, make a more important contribution to society, host more endangered species etc). And the negative audience reaction was to being told that, whatever we do, we have child blood on our hands - we'd prefer that kids not be sacrificed, but the sad fact is that the sacrificing is a problem that we can only worsen (by using child labor to build our homes), not prevent (by getting everyone to reduce child labor).

And we have to face it, as individuals with too many square feet we are part of the problem. We just aren't enough of it that our actions can solve it.

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