Emissions Reduction - Lessons from Failed Forestry Reform in BC
By Bill Henderson
07 Feburary, 2007

Canadians woke up to the reality of climate change in 2006. Weird weather and Al Gore's brilliant movie combined to push public opinion over a tipping point and as we start the new year climate change and the environment top the political agenda. But the inconvenient truth is that Canadians are still seriously underestimating the dangers from climate change and seriously over-estimating our ability to make necessary change to limit emissions effectively.

"The science is getting worse faster than the politics is getting better." -- British Environment Secretary David Miliband

Climate change is not a slow linear rise in temperatures; the build up of greenhouse gases is forcing change from a global climate equilibrium that has existed, with minor fluctuation, since the last ice age. This stable climate has been the cradle of civilization; humanity and the flora and fauna we recognize as nature today have co-evolved within this climate regime. As the global mean temperature rises as heat from the sun is trapped by greenhouse gases from our use of fossil fuels we should expect a non-linear jump to a new climate equilibrium that in all probability will not be nearly as favorable to humanity and could easily be extinction - for humanity as well as cute polar bears.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first part of it's fourth report. The IPCC is a United Nations committee and the report is a consensual document produced by thousands of scientists and national appointees and therefor innately conservative. Climate change is happening and is human caused. But there will also likely be controversial hypotheses and evidence from their deliberations (but not formally addressed in the report) that will be either leaked to the media or released in scientific literature over the next couple of months. 

Canadians will learn more about non-linearity and climate forcing and the probabilities of 'dangerous', potentially 'runaway', climate change. Leading climate scientists such as James Hansen have already warned about the danger of emissions exceeding 450 parts per million and a further 1C rise in global mean temperature.

Hansen's NASA climate science team has concluded that Earth is already as warm as at any time in the last 10,000 years, and is within 1 C of being its hottest for a million years and warns that "(f)urther global warming of 1 C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know."

There is now (almost) universal agreement that human caused climate change is a reality and with Canadians awakening (somewhat) to the suite of insidious dangers, reducing emissions is now top of the political agenda, if not yet the imperative to substantial reduction within this decade that Hansen and other climate scientists advocate.

But there remains little consideration or debate about our structural inability to make emission reductions of a scale necessary. In the ten Kyoto years Canada's emissions soared 24% and without governance innovation we will go another supposedly crucial turnaround decade without even curtailing emission expansion let alone making the substantive reductions necessary. 

Our present climate regime can be usefully understood as a point, an attractor, a system stability under pressure from the build up of greenhouse gases. The topography of both markets and policy change also has valleys and sinks. Path dependence severely limits change in markets and government's ability to even regulate properly let alone take decisive, interventionist action (except maybe when faced with a human enemy like a Hitler). Far from a level playing field where anything is possible, change is difficult and severely constrained down paths formed over decades in the past.

Our socio-economy has taken the fossil fuel path for generations. Reducing emissions quickly and at a necessary scale requires much more than mere incremental change within the present path. Getting to a clean energy economy requires a conscious choice of a new path and a plan to  escape the present path.

There are very pertinent lessons for Canadians concerned with climate change to be learnt from how in BC the needed change to an ecologically sustainable forestry was fudged and greenwashed in the supposedly 'turn around decade' of the 90's. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is far more difficult than it seems - learn from our previous green posturing, learn from our previous mistakes.

"(D)ecisions made when the sustained yield paradigm was established after the Second World War set the province on a path that has been and will continue to be extremely costly and disruptive to reverse." Cashore et al. Change and Stability in BC Forest Policy IN SEARCH OF SUSTAINABILITY

The implementation of sustained yield by the Sloan Commissions and the WAC Bennett governments in the Fifties and Sixties combined with ever increasing US and global demand for wood products lead to the expansion and development of our presently configured forest industry. This timber management framework for BC forests grossly inflated harvesting potentials which in turn became collateral for investment in harvesting and milling capacity that over decades became sunk costs in forestry dependent communities. When in the Eighties and Nineties this management framework became scientifically untenable, when redesigning forests for a flow of fibre was recognized as poor forestry and unsustainable, this approach to management and the promised volume of fibre had become so entrenched as to be almost impossible to change.

So needed change was fudged and then just greenwashed. We still have Timber Supply Areas and Tree Farm Licenses; clearcutting, grappleyarding and trucking over extensive roadbuilding; raw commodity forest products instead of a value-added forest industry.

Whereas cutting levels we're reduced to less than ten percent of the existing Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) in Clayoquot Sound - the only forest tenure area actually freed from SY timber management due to the recommendations of the Clayoquot Scientific Panel,  the provincial AAC has soared while the overcutting timber management schedule remains the forestry framework in every BC forest district.

Is this not THE pertinent lesson for those concerned with climate change and with formulating emission reduction policy? Grossly inflated harvesting levels were the main problem, but a meaningful reduction of cutting levels meant getting out of the existing and legally tenured timber cutting schedule and would have meant extensive and radical restructuring of the BC forest industry and the wider BC economy. This was and continues to be impossible in our present governance system even though the forest science was clear, and sustainability was supposedly agreed to be the common goal by all stakeholders. And so there was just an illusion of change behind a beauty strip of greenwashing language and this is what we should expect regarding emission reduction over the next crucial for humanity decade.  

Emission reduction of a necessary scale will require an extensive reconfiguration of our socio-economy within a short timeframe and this is impossible without governance innovation. Re-committing to Kyoto, emission reduction targets, hard caps and trading, tax shifting favoring renewables: all are laudatory policies that should be implemented as part of the solution, but without radical restructuring of the Canadian socio-economy that has co-evolved with cheap fossil fuel energy, these policies will just produce the illusion of needed change and we will waste another decade. Like variable retention and landscape unit planning these policies will be easily subverted.

Tailpipe tack-ons to our car economy, a greening of the tar sands, and plans for carbon sequestering are equally promising illusions that the Canadian public would love to believe in just like it was a relief to know that we could still log but do it sustainably. Mark Jaccard is the Jerry Franklin of sustainable use of fossil fuels, but both ecosystem-based forest management and carbon sequestering work far better in academic papers then they do in very competitive global markets.

There are other climate change policy lessons from BC's failure to escape from harmful timber management. It is very easy for the present stakeholders to use increasing returns from short term exploitation to subvert needed change. Government ministries are resource production ministries co-evolved with the industry they supposedly regulate. Economic considerations,  especially in economic downturns, always take precedence so when push comes to shove expect the emission reduction regs to be practically if not openly waived.

And just as there are energy industry paid climate change skeptics, forestry in BC had it's Burson- Marsteller created Forest Alliance with Jack Munro and Patrick Moore as co-chairs of a public relations campaign to confuse the public about what changes were necessary and then to greenwash continuing business as usual. There will be no shortage of 'balanced' approaches to emission control advocated by business lobbies.

And forest companies and woodworking unions had environment officers - environmental containment officers - to talk the green talk while being well paid to relentlessly protect business as usual from needed change. In his photo-op walking through Stanley Park the new environment minister John Baird gave every indication that he will be a Conservative environmental containment minister. Everybody loves trees in Stanley Park and he linked the storm damage to climate change saying what the environment minister should have been saying out loud for education reasons ten years ago.

'Global warming hurts trees and we have to do something about it by 2050.' But don't expect Mr.Baird to educate about positive feedback from changes to the Earth's albedo from the melting Arctic ice cap and from methane and CO2 released from permafrost and how possible runaway climate change is a mortal threat to each Vancouver family. And don't expect effective emissions control any time soon.

There are also legislators and civil servants that should be able to inform the climate policy debate with lessons learned from these past mistakes in forest policy change and help evolve abilities to be effective in regulating emission reduction:

Mike Harcourt: why did you mandate that needed biodiversity protection could only impact harvest levels by less than seven percent? Because the health of the forest industry as presently configured was more important than the long term health of forests we depend on? Isn't this fudging of needed change exactly what we should expect over the next crucial decade from the relentlessly politically motivated?

Stephen Owen: what happened to Special Management Zones? How come we still have Tree Farm Licenses and Timber Supply Areas? Wasn't CORE exactly the type of well meaning failure we should expect from governments that will not confront the fundamental reality of a profoundly energy wasting car culture? the trucking industry, suburban sprawl, the fossil fuel industry?  

The primary lesson from failed forestry change in BC for those concerned with climate change is that in our present governance system business as usual will marginalize intended incremental change. Governance innovation  is needed - a wartime-like coalition government with a mandate to radically restructure the Canadian socio-economy, for example - if we are serious about making emission reductions of a meaningful scale to keep temperature increase below an increase of 2C from the norm over the past millenia - the bottom line.

It is possible to envision a future healthy clean energy socio-economy and market-based policies will surely help get us there. But first we have to get off the path we have taken utilizing cheap fossil fuels with organization innovation that is both stabilizing and yet allows us to get to this new socio-economy as quickly as possible. 

Of course, even if this radical restructuring was accomplished in Canada, global emission reduction requires an equally almost impossible restructuring in every other major global socio-economy. But if we don't no other country will either and we're toast - so what alternative do we have but to join countries like Sweden and lead? Or do we just cross the bar mouthing green platitudes, kidding ourselves?

Some relevant quotes:

“From the onset, the potential for environmental advances was restricted by certain fundamental realities. Most of these could be linked to policy legacies, and particularly to the accumulated momentum of what we have called the liquidation-conversion project. As Robert Putnam reminds us, institutions and policies have historical trajectories: ‘History matters because it is “path dependent”; what comes first (even if it was in some sense “accidental”) conditions what comes later. Individuals may “choose” their institutions, but they do not choose them under circumstances of their own making, and their choices in turn influence the rules within which their successors choose’. The liquidation-conversion project gathered momentum as more and more workers, investors, suppliers, and governmental officials acquired a stake in maintaining or increasing timber harvesting rates. This momentum increased as workers set down roots, as businesses designed to serve forest companies and workers sprouted in forest dependent communities across the province, as logging contractors mortgaged their future to purchase rigs, as investors poured dollars into expanding logging and milling capacity, and as governmental bureaucracies set themselves up to monitor and facilitate the whole operation. The resulting pattern of dependency, and the associated political pressures, structured the policy space, established the boundaries between the politically feasible and unfeasible.”
Jeremy Wilson, Talk And Log,

"(Emission reduction policies) challenge the political and economic power of many entrenched interest groups, from oil companies and car manufacturing unions to lobbyists for the coal-mining industry. Even market-based strategies for dealing with carbon dioxide emissions (like systems for carbon-emission quotas, as provided for in the Kyoto climate treaty) will require - if they are properly implemented - reams of government regulation and elaborate national and international institutions that will intrude into every niche of business. Global warming, in other words, raises huge difficulties for laissez-faire versions of capitalism."    Thomas Homer-Dixon    THE UPSIDE OF DOWN

The problem, of course, is that regulations require governments with the courage to enact and enforce them. It took a horrific and unprecedented depression to push even the enlightened administration of FDR to switch from a laissez-faire to a highly regulated modus operandi. By the time the impacts of global warming hit home (and they will punish the disenfranchised and powerless poor of the world first) it will be too late. Monbiot concludes his book by trying to convince us to get off our collective butts, stop reading and chatting about the unfolding crisis, and do something. But his prescription is mostly actions for government, and we know too well how little our collective citizen/consumer voice counts in the minds of governments wined and dined and bribed to do the exact opposite by the most wealthy, powerful and organized corporatist lobby in history.
Dave Pollard review of Monbiot's HEAT http://www.energybulletin.net/22176.html

"If we do not have an economy capable of valuing in particular terms the durable goods of localities and communities, then we are not going to be able to preserve anything. We are going to have to see that if we want our forests to last, then we must make wood products that last, for our forests are more threatened by shoddy workmanship than by clearcutting or by fire.
"Good workmanship - that is, careful, considerate, and loving work - requires us to think considerately of the whole process, natural and cultural, involved in the making of wooden artifacts, because the good worker does not share the industrial contempt for “raw material". The good worker loves the board before it becomes a table, loves the tree before it yields the board, loves the forest before it gives up the tree."     Wendell Berry from "Preserving Wildness"

bill@pacificfringe.net


 

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