Old forests including tropical rainforests are the ultimate expression of life, evolution and ecology. Here untold co-evolved species and genetic diversity exist and interact with each other and their environment to provide ecosystem services – water, nutrient and energy cycling – required for a habitable Earth. All intact terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are important, yet rainforests are disproportionately so, given their tremendous species numbers and carbon stores. Few rainforest activists fully understand their ecological importance to continued being, or they would work only for full old forest protection and restoration.
When primary rainforests are lost, it is inevitable that local ecological and social conditions deteriorate, regional weather and species distributions deviate, and the global biosphere and its ability to maintain conditions for life are weakened. Rarely if ever do viable ecosystems remain to provide the same amount of ecological and development benefits as the intact standing old forests that were destroyed for the profit of the national and global elite. Virtually no one benefits from rainforest logging other than small numbers of loggers and “green logging apologists” who falsely say it can be done well.
The rainforest movement is dangerously underperforming. For some 25 years efforts made to reduce both rainforest deforestation and diminishment have achieved precious little. What started out as a grassroots movement to fully maintain intact rainforest ecosystems and societies has degenerated into a business based upon rhetoric suggesting that ancient rainforest cathedrals can and should be “sustainably” logged and otherwise brought into markets. By the same logic, if we just cut little pieces off the Mona-Lisa, this work of art remains intact too. Sadly, that is not how the biosphere, global ecology or art works. For these, truth and beauty lies largely in the whole.
In the 1990s, as a global ban on the tropical timber trade appeared possible, leading NGOs and foundations decided “certified” industrial first-time logging of primary forests could in fact save them. If just we log these tens of millions of year old ecosystems more carefully, we can have our money and old forests too. We now find ourselves in the position where there are not enough intact old rainforests to power the global ecosystem and meet local needs, yet virtually every conservation organization in the world espouses “certified, sustainable” logging of 500 year old trees found in primary and old-growth forests.
In general the existing political actors advocating for rainforests are more concerned with money than ecology – to fund bureaucratized NGOs, and to create a well-paying market for ancient timbers. The status quo rainforest movement engaged in such activities lacks a sense of urgency, and are playing it safe building empires, rather than responding with ecologically adequate policies to an emergency situation. There is little to suggest in the rainforest movement’s rhetoric that if we fail, and large intact, contiguous and connected expanses of primeval rainforest cease to exist; that the global Earth System will collapse. Yet this is exactly what is happening.
Rainforest loss and diminishment is simply scraping Earth of its life-giving mantle, meaning no amount of market driven rhetoric makes it less ecocidal. That’s why I and others think it is so important that the forest/environment/climate/ecological sustainability movement commit itself to ending primary forest logging and protecting and restoring old forests. Slogans like “protect and restore old forests” are so much more meaningful, and able to be easily elaborated upon, than certification’s talk of “well-managed, sustainable forest management”. Besides being more ecologically truthful, an emergent old forest revolution differs from the dying rainforest movement in the following ways.
What do we need to do for Mother Earth?
RAINFORESTS NOT A BUSINESS, BEWARE OF MARKETS
Large, intact primary rainforests will only continue to exist to the extent they are kept out of global markets. The corporate market based rainforest campaign model continues to fail and is inappropriate, for both organizing the movement and proposing solutions. Rainforests have been here for tens of millions of years, capital markets for a few hundred.
Those touting market campaigns that name and shame a company’s actions, while leaving the targeted company’s and society’s systematic context of over-exploitation and consumption of everything mostly unchallenged, are greenwashing the larger rainforest destroying mindset. Such market campaign victories are essentially useless as there is very little improvement in the state and condition of standing rainforests. Markets are based upon endless growth which can only destroy itself. The growth based industrial economic system is the greatest threat to rainforests, not in any manner their savior.
LOCAL LIVELIHOODS FROM STANDING FORESTS
It is critical that the old forest revolution get out and work with rainforest communities, to help find ways to improve lives from standing primary and regenerating forests. Many rainforest peoples now being pushed into industrial development of their rainforest legacy would very much like to maintain their forests intact, if only they could find alternative means to meet basic needs such as food, education and a road to carry local produce.
We need a global old forest movement that links local advancement with protecting and restoring standing old forests over entire bioregions. Given business enterprises have become the primary cause of rainforest loss, this is going to require standing with rainforest dwellers in opposition to well-known rainforest destroyers. We must build local and global networked “people forest power”, while being willing to take to the forests to take revolutionary action.
OPENNESS, DIALOGUE AND COMMITMENT
Those espousing rainforest or any type of ecological policies have to be willing to defend them. Secrecy, lack of openness, and refusal to dialogue with critics has no place in an old forest revolution that is equally committed to justice, equity and sustainability.
Many rainforest organizations entering their third decade of existence have shown they are unable to change with the times and revealed ecological knowledge. There needs to be mechanisms to allow these big NGOs to change strategies without necessarily considering their efforts to date as being a failure. And we all, myself included, would benefit from less polarization and long-time-ago personal vendettas. We must unite around ecologically sustainable, just and equitable rainforest solutions sufficient to keep old forests standing and expanding.