Silver Donald Cameron

Archive for October, 2010

The Forests of the Crown

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

October 24, 2010

Steve Talbot is right, I’m not a forester. I stand before you naked and disqualified.

Steve Talbot is the executive director of the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia. He speaks for the industry. He contends that – because I’m not a forester – my recent column on forestry “contained misleading statements about forest ecology, Nova Scotia’s forest industry and the Natural Resources Strategy process.”

In particular, I described the forest industry as dominated by a few large companies that have far too much power over both our forests and the people who work in them – and also over the government agencies that ostensibly regulate them. Not so, says Talbot. “The forest industry in this province is run and mostly owned by generations of Nova Scotian families” who “work in forests and mills, and in the companies and communities that support them. They’re your neighbours, friends and family.”

Well, yes and no. Mostly no.

Talbot is right that many rural Nova Scotians rely on the forest industries, and those people do indeed include my neighbours, friends and family. But the only reason they’re still working is that the pulp companies haven’t yet found a way to discard them. Between 2000 and 2007, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia shed 9,550 jobs in wood products and paper manufacturing. That doesn’t include similar job losses in the woods, where guys with chainsaws have been replaced by huge harvesting machines churning through the plantations of pulpwood, snipping off trees like dandelions.

Talbot says that the industry wants “sustainability, diversity, collaboration and transparency – grounded in informed decision-making.” Fine words – but describing clear-cuts and monocultural plantations as “diverse” or “sustainable” is sheer Orwellian double-speak.

Talbot is not alone, however. A woodlot owner in eastern Nova Scotia writes to say that government should “carefully consider the evidence of qualified people in the respective field and base decisions on facts, not emotion.” He further argues that “even if some of the public wants what you call a forest, it is the job of government to explore the issues, get input from various sources and consider the repercussions of any proposed action. Just because the public seems to want something, eg lower taxes, more doctors, better roads, more senior care beds doesn’t mean the government can or should do it.”

Hold on now. There used to be a theory that democratic governments were responsible to the people who elected them. What my critics are proposing instead is that governments simply rely on neutral, emotionless expert advice, although Talbot’s invocation of “neighbours, friends and family” contains a distinct whiff of emotional appeal itself.

Alas, expert advice is never neutral. It’s always rooted in values and assumptions. For a pulp company, value is measured in dollars. The experts know how to maximize the dollars. And if in the end the forest is mangled, too bad. If you’ve had a satisfactory return on your investment, who cares?

Buried in here somewhere is the assumption that humans actually understand the natural world well enough to manage it. But we don’t. Before the advent of foresters and “forest management,” the forest flourished. Even as late as the 1950s, woodlands covered 25% of the globe. By 2005, only 5% survived. In that same period, smug experts in the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans assured us that all was well even as they “managed” the cod fishery into extinction.

Through the recent consultations, Nova Scotians have asked for a diverse, resilient forest. As I wrote before, a genuine forest is a natural community, complex and diverse, full of complicated interactions. It performs vital services – carbon sequestration, erosion control, habitat – that we neither understand nor count, let alone value.

A real forest even yields more monetary value than a pulpwood plantation. Consider this fact: a single black walnut tree can sell for as much as $60,000 – enough to pay for a university education. How many acres of pulpwood does it take to produce as much as one walnut tree?

I am not a forester, no. But I am a citizen, and along with my fellow-citizens, I am an owner. Together we are The Crown. We believe that Nova Scotia needs a real forest, and we are entitled to be heard.

– 30 –

The Forest and the Trees

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

SUNDAY HERALD COLUMN – October 17, 2010 [HH1035]

THE FOREST AND THE TREES

by Silver Donald Cameron

Which is more important, the forest or the trees?

The trees, say the forest corporations. The forest, say the rest of us. That’s the clear message from the public consultations led by Voluntary Planning for Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Strategy Review, which started in 2007.

Let’s be clear about the terms. A genuine forest is a natural community, complex and diverse, full of complicated interactions. Soil fungi pass nutrients between plants, bears flip salmon ashore to nourish the trees, birds and insects distribute pollen and seeds. A living forest inhales greenhouse gasses like CO2, and exhales oxygen. It prevents soil erosion. It absorbs rainwater, filters it, and regulates its release into the streams. It nourishes the human sense of wonder, attracts visitors and supports recreational activities like hunting, fishing, birding and hiking. Its inhabitants pollinate our crops.

An industrial “managed forest“ is not a forest at all. It`s a plantation, a farm for pulpwood. Its trees are all the same species, all the same age, maintained by chemicals and grown to be clearcut by monstrous machinery. It resembles a forest about as much as a plastic turkey resembles a Thanksgiving dinner. But that`s what the “forest“ industries want, and that`s what they`ve created on vast tracts of the Nova Scotian landscape.

According to the consultations, Nova Scotians want a real forest, not a plantation. Voluntary Planning’s first report accurately reflected those opinions, and its Phase 2 report massaged them into proposals designed
to shape the province’s new forestry policy – and, ultimately, its new forest.

But the forest corporations are desperately concerned that the provincial government may actually do what the citizens have called for – a truly horrifying novelty. Behind the scenes, they’re staging a veritable orgy of lobbying, spin-doctoring, bullying and arm-twisting.

Their scare campaign could very well succeed, says Wade Prest, a professional forester, woodlot operator and former president of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association. The three big pulp mills absolutely dominate forestry in Nova Scotia, and they have been strongly supported by the provincial Department of Natural Resources. In effect, the mills now control the whole provincial market in wood fibre.

A sawmill, for example, absolutely requires a reliable source of saw-log and a place to sell its waste products. A pulp mill can provide both – but the agreement binds the sawmill firmly to the pulp mill. By the same token, many woodlot owners feel they have no choice but to do the
bidding of the pulp companies, which diligently foster the illusion that they’re the only game in town.

And that’s how the companies got the clout they’re using to put pressure on Natural Resources Minister John MacDonnel – who, say Wade Prest and others, really does understand the desperate need for reform.

The Forest Products Industry Association of Nova Scotia, for instance, boasts over 600 members including loggers, truckers, “sawmill operators, pulp and paper manufacturers, small and large landowners, forest equipment operators, maple product producers, woodlot owners, Christmas tree producers, silviculture and harvesting contractors.” FPANS is calling on all its members to write the Minister opposing the Voluntary Planning report.

Why? The report’s recommendations, FPANS declares, “are not based on credible science and come from a few vocal people who would prefer to see our industry die. These people forget the forest industry is the backbone of the rural economy of Nova Scotia. Without a viable forest industry – we will see rural communities fade off the map.” Apparently the whisper campaign goes so far as to insinuate that the wicked socialist government intends to expropriate private woodlots.

Get a grip, lads. Who are these bogeymen who want the forest industries and the rural communities to die? The real enemies of rural communities are the pulp companies who have been mechanizing and cutting jobs for decades, who come and go as it suits them, whose forestry management” closely resembles the fisheries “management” that extinguished the cod fishery, and whose idea of democratic procedure is to bully its suppliers and employees – and, if possible, the government itself.

There’s a better way to do things, both in the woods and in the legislature, and the time to start is now.

– 30 –

The 10% Solution

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

At its best, British humour — the Monty Python dead parrot sketch, for instance — is almost unbearably funny. At its worst, British humour is flat, vulgar, and nasty. An example of that? The video recently released by 10:10.org, under the title “No Pressure” or “There Will Be Blood.”

In the video, climate-change evangelists urge groups of school children, football players and office workers to pledge that they will reduce their carbon footprints. No pressure, of course. But when the unwilling identify themselves, the advocates push a red detonator button, and the laggards are blown into strawberry jam.

And that’s it. That’s all that happens in the video. Loaded with laughs, eh?

The 10:10 carbon-reduction campaign was launched in September last year, based on a Climate Safety report’s claim that a 10% annual cut in the developed world’s emissions would give the planet a fighting chance of avoiding runaway warming. The plan was devised by Franny Armstrong, the director of the innovative environmental docudrama, The Age of Stupid. The idea was to sign up individuals, schools, companies and other groups to commit to reducing their carbon use by 10% by 2010 — and in doing so, to put pressure on governments to take action on climate change.

It was a brilliant idea, and it won the enthusiastic support of numerous major organizations, including Microsoft, Sony, the Tottenham Hotspurs, Adidas, the British Fashion Council, the Methodist Church, several universities and the Royal Mail. The organization also launched a “Lighter Later” campaign to advance British clocks by an hour permanently, giving more daylight at the end of the day, when people are awake, rather than early in the morning when many are still asleep.

The Guardian newspaper became a partner of 10:10, and over the ensuing months ran a series of stories about people who had taken up the challenge, and how they were coping. Its “1010 Honour Roll” describes a great array of actions taken by individuals and organizations — the London Underground turning off escalators late at night, a local council giving a discount on parking to hybrid car owners, Kyocera reducing its paper use by 29%, an historic steam train in Orkney converting from coal to wood waste.

By the beginning of October, more than 96,000 people in 44 countries had signed up, and more than 3000 organizations — including the new British government. And then came the “No Pressure” video, written by Richard Curtis, arguably Britain’s top comedy writer (Mr. Bean, Blackadder, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary) and by Franny Armstrong, the fireball writer and film-maker behind the whole idea.

The film was released on the morning of October 1 — and withdrawn, with apologies, that afternoon. In the wake of the fiasco, Sony and Kyocera withdrew from 10:10, as did 350.org, the climate-change organization headed by respected author Bill McKibben. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, right-wing columnist James Delinpole called the film “ugly, counterproductive eco-propaganda” in which “the environmental movement has revealed the snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy beneath its cloak of gentle, bunny-hugging righteousness”.

So there.

There’s some truth in what Delingpole says. The environmental movement does have an element of misanthropy and authoritarianism. But so do some of its critics. Why are we surprised? From al-Queda to Dick Cheney, from Nazism to Stalinism, from the Crusaders to Nova Scotia’s own Governor Cornwallis, lots of people have believed that they have The Answer, that the end justifies the means, and that the people who oppose them are less than fully human.

Agreed, the video was a horrible blunder that played right into the hands of the environmental movement’s opponents. But here’s the irony: I hadn’t heard of 10:10 before the video. I think it’s a great idea, however, so — in the face of the video — I joined, just in time for the big event of 10:10′s first year.

Today is October 10, 2010 — 10/10/10. At 10:00 this morning I’ll be at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, ready to start on one of 6300 Climate Change Work Parties in 187 countries around the world. Want to be part of a team of wicked, homicidal misanthropes viciously planting trees around the city? Come and join us.

– 30 —

Dayenu: Losing Irving Schwartz

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

October 3, 2010

“We have a useful expression in Hebrew, Dayenu,” said Ron Caplan. Tall, grizzled and warm, Ron is the publisher of Breton Books in Wreck Cove, Cape Breton.

“It means, ‘it would have been enough,’” Ron continued. “It’s what comes to mind when I think of Irving Schwartz. It’s from a vigorous song sung at Passover. God brought us out of Egypt. Dayenu: it would have been enough. He didn’t have to part the Red Sea as well. But when He did part the Red Sea, Dayenu. That would have been enough.

“Irving did so much for so many people. Even a small part of what he did — Dayenu. It would have been enough.”

“The Canadian International Demining Corps,” I said, remembering Irving’s outright joy at being able to create an organization based in Sydney, Nova Scotia to remove some of the tens of millions of land mines buried in war zones around the world.

“Exactly,” Ron nodded. “If the demining were the only thing he’d done, Dayenu, it would have been a wonderful contribution for anyone to make, all by itself. But Irving did so many more things, started them from seed or gave them support. Some of them were in public, public service, fundraising, things like that. But I’ll bet you he did 500 other things that we’ll never know about.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said.

Irving Schwartz was an exceptionally gifted businessman who literally learned about business at his mother’s knee. Rose Schwartz was widowed young, and at 13 Irving was travelling to Montreal, buying for the family store in New Waterford. He was rooted in the furniture business, and he became an iconic figure in Cape Breton for appearing in his own commercials, ending each with his trademark slogan, “I guarantee it!” As he prospered, he branched out into high-tech, cable TV, travel agencies, health-care and more.

His community service work was legendary — everything from Children’s Aid and Junior Achievement to the Lions Club, the regional hospital and Cape Breton University. That commitment to service runs in the family; his sister, Ruth Goldbloom, is a celebrated philanthropist and humanitarian in Halifax, the driving force behind the transformation of Pier 21. Her achievements, like Irving’s, have been recognized by the Order of Canada.

I spent a lot of time with Irving in the mid-1980s, when we were both trying to develop Centre Bras d’Or, an arts organization in Baddeck, into an east-coast analogue of the Banff Centre. The idea was good for Cape Breton, so Irving gave it his full attention. Early on, the Board decided to organize a world-class summer performing arts festival. One Board member realized with horror that we’d have to sell tickets. How would we do that?

“How do you sell anything?” cried Irving. “Nothing down! No payments till next year! I guarantee it!”

Then he turned to me and to Dr. Donald F. Campbell, “Father Donnie,” the president of the university in Sydney.

“You fellows get out and raise $10,000 for Centre Bras d’Or in Sydney,” he said. “I’ll raise $10,000 in Baddeck.”

With Irving’s coaching, Father Donnie and I raised about $8000 from Sydney businesses in a couple of weeks of diligent effort. And Irving?

“I raised mine one Saturday afternoon on the main street of Baddeck,” he said gleefully. “And I sold 40 television sets and two fridges too.”

I loved a lot of things about Irving Schwartz — his humour, his generosity, his intelligence, his thoughtful analyses of people. A visit to his modest office at the back of the furniture store was among the great pleasures of Sydney. But perhaps what I loved most was his zest, his delight in being able to make good things happen, his joy in his life, his family, his community.

He died early on September 18, aged 81, having spent his morning at the store and his evening at the synagogue. When I heard, I was heartbroken. I wept like a child. Dayenu: a tenth of what he accomplished would have been enough. But no matter how long he had lived, it would not have been long enough for me. Or for Cape Breton.

– 30 —