GOVERNMENT AND THE CLIMATE CATASTROPHE
This month’s issue of NHT continues to consider the deforestation that’s taking humanity down the road of self-destruction. We’ve reported on the eradication of trees both for profit and through wildfires, occurring at an unsustainable rate. How can we reverse this alarming trend?
How about replanting? A recent article in Science (July 2019) describes a study that “set out to assess how much forest the earth could support without encroaching on farmland or urban areas, and came up with a figure of 0.9 billion hectares, an area roughly the size of the US. The researchers concluded that reforestation is ‘the most effective solution’ for mitigating the climate crisis.” If we act now, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be cut by 25 percent “to levels last seen almost a century ago.” A bright ray of hope in these desperate times. Of course, just planting trees won’t suffice at this point. First, trees planted now will take decades to be sufficiently mature to sequester enough carbon from the atmosphere. Second, we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the meanwhile, and phase out the use of fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, immediate and massive tree planting is a positive, tangible, feasible strategy that could involve everyone. On the macro level, the Science article and other studies assure that that the planet has enough room to undertake the necessary reforestation to make a difference in slowing climate change.
Sadly, not every nation is on board. The administrations of presidents Bolsonaro and Trump forge full steam ahead in mowing down the great forests. In Brazil one football-field-sized swath of the Amazon disappears every minute to make way for ranching and farming. In the US, an estimated 3.5 to 7 billion trees are cut down each year. The World Wildlife Fund reports that the earth loses 18.7 million acres of forest per year (27 football fields per minute—and this figure was generated before 2019’s devastating fires in the Amazon, the Arctic, Indonesia, and Africa.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but the oxygen humanity needs to survive does. So let’s get busy replanting. Major reforestation campaigns are taking place around the world to build resilience and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. China replanted a whopping 78 million hectares of forest, but didn’t take biodiversity into account to rebuild healthy ecosystems. Many are making the mistake of using a single species (as in China) or trees that may not be the right species, as some claim is happening in Pakistan. But here in the United States, our wise government leaders will surely guide us forward in a reforesting mega-plan that might give hope for humanity. Right?
Don’t count on it. There are some great projects here and there, but consider Washington State, whose current leadership still operates under the paradigm that sees forests as cash, and not as an essential source of oxygen and a storer of carbon. Washington’s indigenous activists organized a rally at the capitol in Olympia a couple of weeks ago to invite “green” governor Inslee to declare a climate emergency with them, but he didn’t show up.
Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, in charge of the state’s Board of Natural Resources, has failed to respond to any queries from the Kitsap Environmental Coalition for the year we’ve existed. When KEC members spoke up during the allotted comments period at a BNR meeting Commissioner Franz chaired, she was as-if-by-accident called away from the meeting for those few minutes. Among the Board’s agenda items at a recent meeting was a land swap—a procedure for trading state trust land for other property that the Board considers a surer source of revenue to fund schools and prisons. The plan under discussion was to unload a 27-acre parcel of forest near Silverdale in exchange for a 1.5-acre plot in Arlington that includes a Bartell drug store. The forest property would be sold to the developer Evergreen Housing, who would raze the trees and put up condos. “We think it’s certainly a great opportunity for the trust to convert a [non-revenue-generating] property into a [revenue-producing one],” says Rich Scrivner, planning manager for the Department of Natural Resources—making plain as day that money is what drives the BNR. Need they be reminded what oxygen, clean water, and clean air are worth to our health and well-being? You can’t breathe dollar bills…
Washington’s DNR manages 3 million acres of such trust land. Forests are not a renewable resource. ”If this 27 acres goes, it’ll be gone forever,” said a Silverdale resident at the community hearing.
If this government doesn’t serve the people, the people need different government.
In September, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a group that educates and helps local communities organize against environmental abuses by government and corporations, held a two-day workshop in Poulsbo, (ironically?) called Democracy School. It was a crash course in history and government, concluding with the sad truth that government almost always sides with business and not the people. Remember Flint, Michigan, in 2014, when a cost-cutting measure ended up exposing 10,000 children to lead? Now that the media’s eye has wandered elsewhere, Flint’s residents still do not have drinkable water in 2019 and the death toll has reached twelve. Industrial pig farms in North Carolina create huge ponds of hog waste that seep into the groundwater and poison communities. This reaches the news after hurricanes cause massive overflow into streams and rivers, as in 1999 and 2018, and is still continuing unchecked, abetted by judges who rule in favor of business over residents.
Thousands of acres on the island of Kauai have been made into “experimental” farms where toxic pesticides are routinely sprayed, poisoning that once-beautiful paradise. CELDF cites many more examples that demonstrate that even when citizens affected by such corporate greed and brutal indifference organize and protest through legal channels, there’s not much hope. Corporations buy out elected officials, deploy armies of well-paid lawyers, insert themselves onto “environmental” boards, threaten economic consequences to citizens, and spread propaganda about being good neighbors. The deck is stacked—until the electorate acts.
The KEC has learned that our own elected officials are similarly bought out by the chemical and timber companies. Many of our officials continue to protect Pope Resources and other corporations that turn forests into GMO tree farms and spray toxic chemicals from airplanes to manage their “crops,” even though science tells us that such practices lead to the ruin of ecosystems and human health. What will it take to awaken Kitsap County, Washington State, and America? Political pressure from an educated and active electorate. True democracy comes from the people!
 Olivia Rosane, “Planting billions of trees is the best climate change solution available today, study finds,” EcoWatch, July 2019. Jean-Francois Bastin et al, “The global tree restoration potential,” Science #365, 6448 (July 2019), 76-79.
 See the BNR’s page at https://www.dnr.wa.gov/about/boards-and-councils/board-natural-resources for their members and routine business.