Last week, I began to review some of the major implications, as I saw them, of the Jaakko Poyry report on the future of New Brunswick Crown forests. In that column, I focussed on what seems to be an intentional contradiction between those values which promote conservation and increased fibre production.
This is a well written, rather impressive document. It promotes its arguments skilfully and attractively, and much of what it says seems only to make good sense. Sometimes, though, those contradictions do appear, and I want to return to the one which I broached last week, for a bit of further discussion.
Behind the report is one of the most persistent economic "laws" of the twentieth century: the economy, or any sector of it, can only survive if it continues to grow. Stasis is synonymous with stagnation, and stagnation with death. The report makes several recommendations which, it argues, will result in a vital forest industry, producing almost double what it produces today.
This brings several questions to mind. For the moment, though, the one that I want to focus on is: what will be the argument in eighty years when, once again, the industry will have reached stasis? Will it be
necessary to find ways to double production again? According to the logic of the persistent argument, the answer would have to be "yes". That can only lead to the inevitable: just how often can something be doubled before possibility disintegrates into a logical and physical absurdity?
Growth, whether it be economic or biological, is finally governed by the principle of balance (stasis). We have witnessed the effects of explosive growth on an environment; sooner or later, the expanding agent
reaches a point of collapse. It then has a very simple choice; it retreats to a point where its life is sustainable, or it proceeds blindly on to its own destruction. Periodic outbreaks of insect infestation, virulent diseases, and industrial expansion all have this in common; there is a point beyond which they can no longer expand.
Many of us are familiar with the lily pond analogy. Imagine a pond in which a lily pad grows. In due course, it doubles in size, and then, because its climate is optimal for such growth, it doubles again, each
week. By the end of the tenth week of summer, this one plant has expanded to cover half the pond. How much will it cover one week later? What will happen to it two weeks later? Does anyone seriously imagine a New Brunswick of several hundred years from now so completely covered with spruce and fir trees that nothing else can grow, including human beings? That is the logical, and logically absurd, outcome of this preoccupation with growth above all else.
I would like to offer another proposal. Let's assume that the current balance between forest product production and the other, non exploitative, uses of the forest are in some sort of balance currently (or can be
brought into that state relatively easily). Is there anything wrong with the argument that says that, for example, 15 000 people are employed in the forest today - and that projections are that 15 000 will be in eighty years? Or with the one that says that our current forests produce a given quantity of "product" now and will continue to produce that quantity in eighty years? This is what I have always understood by the concept of sustainability.
The Jaakko Poyry argument that investors will only put money into potential growth projects is dissembling. The prospects of long-term stability and a modest return based on the principle of sustainability is increasingly attractive to many people who have begun to realise that the grand promises of ever-increasing wealth of the twentieth century were little more than fantasies, if not cruel lies.
Next week, in the final kick at this particular cat for now, I want to have a look at the biological implications of some of the more disturbing proposals coming from this report.
This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column.
It is reproduced with Mike's permission.