A review of Green Spirit: Trees Are the Answer

Published May 1, 2005

Green Spirit: Trees Are the Answer
by Patrick Moore
$20.00 paper, 151 pages; Greenspirit Enterprises Ltd., September 2000
ISBN 0968640400

I share a heritage with Patrick Moore, the author of Green Spirit.

In 1971, Moore helped found Greenpeace; he directed it for 17 years. More than three decades later, one fears the good this group did under his leadership is being overshadowed by the damage it is doing now by consistently attempting to impede the progress of mankind, through destructive and fraudulent battles against sound science.

Similarly, in the 1970s, I helped author all of our nation’s original environmental legislation intended to create a safety net against the further contamination of our air, water, and soil. While I submit that effort was needed then, I see today it has wrought a command-and-control government approach to environmental issues that now does more harm than good.

Moore grew up in a logging camp at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, following in the footsteps of his father, working for a logging company. Moore knew only this logging camp for his first 15 years before being sent off to a boarding school in the nearby woods, and then on to the University of British Columbia, where eight years later, still in view of the surrounding trees, he emerged with a Ph.D. in forestry.

Through his first-hand research among the trees, more than through his coursework, Moore learned of many destructive forestry practices and spoke out against them, often to the detriment of future career opportunities. That led him to form the activist group Greenpeace, where he worked tirelessly to save the environment from ignorance.

Move Toward Obstructionism

But one day in 1986 he awoke to realize Greenpeace had become an obstructionist and possibly destructive force. He chose to leave, and to return to forestry, where he could once again make positive and constructive contributions to the environment.

Since then, we all know what has happened to the environmental movement, but Moore describes it best:

“In recent years, this original broad-based vision has become increasingly threatened by a new philosophy of radical environmentalism. Faced with the widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of business and government, environmentalists had to choose between switching to working with their former ‘enemies’ or always adopting more extreme positions. Many chose to become more hard-line. … In the name of ‘deep ecology,’ much of the environmental movement has since taken a sharp turn to the ultra-left, ushering in a mood of extremism and intolerance. … Greenpeace in 1990 called for a ‘grassroots revolution against pragmatism and compromise.'”

In the following paragraphs I will touch the high points of this wonderful book, but I will not keep you in suspense over my conclusion regarding its value. Green Spirit is a truly amazing book. It reads like poetry from one who loves the woods and all they hold. It could be a coffee table picture book, with spectacular views of the forests. Each picture was taken with the eye of an artist by the author himself. Finally, while only 151 pages in length, it could be used as both a high school and college textbook on appropriate forest practices.

Exploiting Forests Politically

Radical environmentalists use forests as a sledgehammer in their efforts to stem human progress. Many convey the simplistic and incorrect impression that the choice is between preservation and devastation. We are told the trees that grow back after logging are inferior to the old ones.

In fact, the new forests that grow are as diverse and beautiful as the ones they replace. Moore explains how forests have recovered through time from fire, ice, wind, volcanic eruption, disease, and human disturbance.

He writes, “The only way to stop forests from growing back is by purposefully interfering with the process of renewal, by plowing the land every year and planting crops, by setting so many livestock on it they eat every tree seedling that tries to grow, or by covering the land with cement buildings.” A case in point: in 1900 Vermont was so heavily farmed that only 35 percent of its land area was covered by forests. Today, a full 76 percent of the state is forest.

Moore details the life cycles of forests and the waste of letting them die and rot of old age, and he even tackles the spiritual qualities most of us feel while in a forest. He concludes with precise opinions on forest management–including a brilliant explanation of the value of clear-cutting as a productive means of serving the industry, forest preservation, and mankind.

No one has ever tackled this taboo subject as well. Clear-cutting is good for the forest at the right time and place, safest for the loggers, and most productive for society. Trees do grow back, better than ever.

Explaining Biodiversity

Moore is very well-versed in biodiversity. He explains why it is too broad a term, better divided into genetic diversity (an indicator of the degree of variation in the genetic make-up of individuals within a species), species diversity (the number of distinct species in a given ecosystem), and landscape diversity (referring to the variety of distinct ecosystems in a given landscape).

He uses that technical discussion to lay a foundation for charging the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with blatant fraud in its well-orchestrated 1996 claims that 50,000 species go extinct each year due to human-induced deforestation in industrialized countries. WWF launched that campaign in complete disregard of reports by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which found that forest land acreage in industrialized nations was increasing every year thanks to the reforestation of land previously cleared for farming.

Extinction figures are generated by WWF computer models based on absurd assumptions, while no actual evidence of significant extinctions exists at all. Sadly, Moore reports, even the once-but-no-longer-reputable National Geographic echoed the false charges of WWF and, later, Greenpeace.

To put these lies into perspective, one need only recall the battle over the spotted owl in the Northwest states–a battle that came close to destroying the U.S. forestry industry. “The theory is that each pair of owls requires about 3,500 acres of old-growth forest to survive and that logging any old growth will result in a reduction in the population. As this contravenes the Endangered Species Act, it has been successfully argued in court that logging should be curtailed,” explains Moore.

The restriction on logging and the debate about the owl have resulted in a tremendous increase in research on the species. Contrary to environmentalists’ claims, it has been found that spotted owls are quite capable of surviving in second-growth forests as well as old growth. When it was irrefutably demonstrated that owls were not only living, but also breeding, in second growth, they were deemed to be “surplus owls” not viable in the long term. Today, though, it appears those owls are as viable as those that live in old growth. In some cases, logging may actually benefit the owl species.

Monocultures, Invasive Species

Similar misconceptions exist regarding forests represented by a single type of tree, or “monoculture.” Monocultures are almost always deemed destructive by environmental zealots. In fact, however, it is often quite normal for an original forest to contain a single dominant tree species … and so it is perfectly reasonable to replace those forests with the same single species after logging. It is very misleading for critics of forest policy to complain about monoculture plantations.

I have been disturbed for some time over new efforts to play God with nature. First we decide that no species should ever be allowed to become extinct, then we mount an equally misguided effort to decide which species are acceptable. These are simply multiple ways of controlling society. Moore speaks to this issue eloquently:

“Now it is fashionable to favor ‘native’ plants and animals and to perceive exotics as undesirables that should be uprooted and otherwise driven from the land. The language employed is akin to that used by white supremacists and supporters of ‘ethnic cleansing’ to spread dislike of other races and cultures. Could it be that the campaign against exotic species is just another form of racism, in this case against other species rather than against different races and cultures of our own species?”

Old-Growth Forests

The fate of old-growth forests is second only to clear-cutting as a flashpoint for environmental controversy.

From the perspective of science, an old-growth forest is one made up of trees that have reached maturity–trees that could, in some cases, be less than 50 years old. But conventionally we think of old-growth forests as being more than 200 years old. Environmental advocacy groups have started using the term “ancient” to describe mature forests where they have economic value, in order to dupe the public into opposing any logging.

Moore offers an excellent tutorial that will enable readers to educate friends and family who might support, in a knee-jerk reaction, making all “old trees” off-limits.

We all love the tall, magnificent, redwood forests, and few have ever been considered for logging. But the no-growth, anti-industry, anti-capitalist environmental extremists will use any excuse to stop the harvest of timber. In so doing they end up reducing the health of forests. Moore describes the needs of forest health as follow:

“Why would periodic disturbance make a forest healthier? First, it tends to break the cycles of disease such as mistletoe and fungal root rot, and infestation by insects like bark beetles. Second, it allows new young trees to become established, replacing trees that have gone into decline due to old age. Third, it helps recycle nutrients from the old trees so they are more available to the new trees. It is almost as if forests have come to ‘need’ disturbance (like humans need a certain level of stress) because they have always experienced it. They are sometimes better adapted to survive disturbance than old age.”

There is no denying that many old-growth forests are very beautiful, provide important habitat, and in areas where fires are infrequent, live to be centuries old. There is also no doubt that young forests of every age can be beautiful, provide important habitat, and contribute to our material needs. The choice between the two is not an absolute choice between good and evil. There are actually many choices, and in many of those a balance among the positive features of both old and new forests can be found.

Fire in the Mountains

There are few issues regarding the environment in which the public finds itself more involved or better informed than forest fires. Moore does a brilliant job of explaining the role of fires in our forests. To always favor or oppose allowing forests to burn are equally untenable positions. The most reasonable approach balances forest health, timber supply, human safety, and property protection. In Moore’s words, “such a complex mix of factors, each depending on circumstances, cannot be reduced to a simple formula.”

Moore explains that the subject of tree disease is equally complex. Trees get old and sick, and there are limitations on what humans can do about it. The best solutions involve gaining a thorough knowledge of critical pest species and developing strategies to deal with their threats.

Wood Values

One of the greatest misunderstandings about forestry is the value of wood in the world’s economy. Each year the Earth’s population consumes 3.5 billion tons of wood. In North America we primarily use it for houses and furniture, but more than half of the Earth’s timber harvest supplies 2.5 billion people with their primary source of fuel because coal and natural gas are too expensive for them. Wood is a renewable resource and is really the best way to harvest solar energy.

Another misconception is that we deforest land to produce paper. We do not. Half the fiber for paper comes from waste wood obtained from sawmills that produce lumber, and the other half comes from pulp wood from tree farms.

It is not widely recognized how many material needs can be met by trees. They have been used for fuel and timber for thousands of years, and this remains the main reason for their consumption today. Recently, the byproducts from sawmilling and dedicated plantations have greatly increased the supply of pulp and paper for communications, packaging, and sanitary products.

Moore notes, “trees provide material and chemicals for a host of other products, and with the knowledge we have gained in working with petrochemicals, they could provide many more.” Wood cellulose is used to make rayon, cellophane, and explosives. Pine tree sap is indispensable for a wide range of products including dyes, synthetic rubber, adhesives, paints, and detergents. Lignin alone, which makes up 50 percent of wood, could form the basis of a new chemical industry as important as petrochemicals.

The greatest challenge for forests and foresters, which is becoming increasingly urgent, will be to provide for the rapidly growing demand for forest products while harvesting sustainable volumes of wood and maintaining protected areas of wilderness.

Communicating Fondness for Nature

Moore communicates on many levels in this book. He is able to explain the science and technology while increasing our sensitivity to the beauty of forests. Additionally, he has an extremely practical side. For those of us who may be directly involved in forest management, he offers a 21-point set of “how to” rules for managing our forests, with advice for foresters, environmentalist researchers, government regulators, and industries.

Moore’s love of his profession comes through on every page of his book, but so, too, does his concern over the distorted views of Greenpeace, the organization he left behind. As Moore himself summarized:

“Perhaps the most dangerous myth that has been created in the war of words over the environment is that human activity is somehow ‘unnatural,’ that we are not really part of nature but apart from it. Human intervention in nature is portrayed as fundamentally negative while other species can do no wrong. This gives rise to the perception that humans are not really part of nature, that we are like a cancer on the Earth. There could be no more unfortunate teaching for our children than to further alienate them from an understanding of their place in the natural world.”

Dr. Jay Lehr ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.