250,000+ Oppose USDA Proposal to Approve First-Ever Genetically Engineered Forest Tree

GR: Forest plantations are just another form of deforestation. A process that is harmful to nature and humanity. This is another telling example of a federal agency (the U. S. Department of Agriculture) favoring for-profit enterprises over nature conservation and protection of biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

“More than a quarter of a million people and 500 organizations submitted comments Wednesday rejecting the commercialization of ArborGen Inc.’s genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees, which, if approved, would be the first-ever GE forest tree approved in the U.S.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed approval in April 2017, releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) for public comment. This comment period ended on July 5. The GE eucalyptus trees are engineered to tolerate freezing temperatures in order to greatly expand their growing range. The approval of these GE trees could set a precedent for future approval of GE forest trees such as poplar and pine.

“In the dEIS, USDA downplayed or ignored the significant risks posed by these novel GE trees. The agency conservatively predicts commercial GE eucalyptus plantations would cover more than one million acres across seven southern states—from coastal South Carolina to eastern Texas. This would have devastating consequences across this region, which is home to a number of the poorest counties in the country, as well as some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. The region is already precariously threatened by climate change and sprawl.”

“GE eucalyptus plantations spread across the South would be a disaster,” stated Dr. Marti Crouch, consulting scientist for the Center for Food Safety. “Some non-GE eucalyptus species have already become invasive and are degrading natural areas. Plants and animals, including endangered species, will be unable to find suitable habitats within landscapes dominated by GE eucalyptus. Approving these trees is a terrible idea.”

“Just last month in Portugal, catastrophic wildfires that killed dozens were directly blamed on eucalyptus plantations that comprise more than one-quarter of Portugal’s tree cover. In January, Chile experienced the worst wildfires in its history. In both cases, eucalyptus monocultures—well-known for being extremely flammable and depleting ground water—contributed to dry conditions that combined with heat waves to create the perfect setting for wildfire. Already the U.S. South is experiencing frequent droughts and heat waves, and climate change forecasts predict more of the same. The dEIS made no mention of climate change impacts in its proposed approval of these GE eucalyptus trees.”

“GE eucalyptus is being pushed for commercialization to help feed the skyrocketing demand for trees for biomass electricity,” said Ruddy Turnstone, GE Trees Campaigner for Global Justice Ecology Project, and a resident of Florida in the region targeted for GE eucalyptus plantations. “But biomass is a false solution to climate change. Not only is it a major polluter, climate-stabilizing Southeastern forests are being decimated for the booming European biomass industry. GE eucalyptus plantations will only escalate this deforestation.”

“USDA’s assurances that GE eucalyptus will not escape into native forests are fatally undercut by the U.S.’s 30-year experiment with GE crops, which have escaped containment over and over again, despite industry and USDA claims they would not. GE trees are even more likely to escape and spread than GE crops, given their much longer lives, pollination distances and the unpredictable, changing conditions that can occur over the lifespan of the trees.” –Center for Food Safety (250,000+ Oppose USDA Proposal to Approve First-Ever Genetically Engineered Forest Tree)

Human Mistakes: Deforestation

Forests

Forests are long-lived communities of trees, shrubs, herbs, and wildlife. The communities form over centuries as birds and winds deliver seeds and spores to sites with sufficient moisture for big plants to grow. Across regions occupied by forests, the combined influence of annual precipitation and temperature usually varies from dry with small scattered trees to wet with dense forest with interlocked canopies.

Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee (Country Living)

As forests develop, soils form and a diverse assemblage of arthropods, amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles gathers to fill habitats from the ground up to the canopy. The animals interact with the plants, pollinating flowers, scattering seeds, and forming many novel alliances.

Forests and the litter that accumulates on the ground transform environments. They moderate temperature and they absorb and hold moisture from precipitation. They protect the land from extreme heat and flooding. Forests are much finer places to live than the bare rock and dirt upon which they form.

Landslide in Nepal (Navesh Chitrakar Reuters/Landov)

Forests exist in a dynamic equilibrium with the forces of nature. Across a forest, natural events, fires, windstorms, floods, droughts, and late freezes, are often annual occurrences. These create a mosaic of forest of varying age. In tropical regions with stable climate, forests are older and more uniform in age than they are in temperate regions with variable climate.

Harvesting the Earth: Deforestation

Over the past few millennia, humans have accelerated forest dynamics. We have cut and burned to destroy patches of forest at a higher rate than natural forces ever did. We are doing these things so often, the forests do not have time to recover. And in many instances, we create and maintain crops and plantations that insure the forests will never recover.

Loggers, ranchers, and farmers cut forests for lumber, and cut or burn forests for livestock pastures, plantations, and farms. In the U. S., the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and state forestry departments help timber companies maximize their profits by permitting clear cutting, and by building roads and erosion barriers. With the loss of trees and disturbance of the soil, flooding and erosion often increase. Habitat and wildlife are always lost.

Clearcut forest in Oregon.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than half of all animals on Earth have disappeared during the past 50 years (WWF 2016). Deforestation and other human activities are responsible.

Government agencies build roads to ease removal of the forests, and they pay ranchers to build fences and stock watering ponds. Sometimes they attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of tree removal by cutting terraces into the soil to slow runoff and by planting replacement trees. In few or no instances do the agencies give the planted trees enough time to regenerate the original forest before they are cut again.

Global Deforestation

A peatland forest clearing for a palm oil plantation in the Leuser ecosystem, South Aceh, Indonesia. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Deforestation is ongoing around the world as cutting and burning convert forests to pastures, farms, and plantations. For example, Arthur Neslen of the Guardian reports, “Europe’s contribution to global deforestation may rise by more than a quarter by 2030, despite a pledge to halt such practices by the end of this decade, according to a leaked draft EU analysis.

“An estimated 13m hectares (Mha) of the world’s forestland is lost each year, a figure projected to spiral in the next 30 years with the AmazonGreater Mekongand Borneo bearing the brunt of tree clearances.

“But despite signing several international pledges to end deforestation by this decade’s end, more than 5Mha of extra forest land will be needed annually by 2030 to meet EU demand for agricultural products, a draft EU feasibility study predicts.” –Arthur Neslen (Source: Europe’s contribution to deforestation set to rise despite pledge to halt it | Environment | The Guardian)

Justifying Deforestation

People sometimes justify removing the forest as the unavoidable costs of human progress toward a better life of increased comfort and security. In most instances today, however, for-profit companies remove forests with little concern for people’s lives or the consequences for soils and wildlife.

The counter argument that the forest, every tree, and all the animals of the forest have value independent of humans is rarely heard. Here’s how Judi Bari put it:

“Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans. Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans. And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life.

“These principles, I believe, are not just another political theory. Biocentrism is a law of nature, that exists independently of whether humans recognize it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we view the world in a human centered way. Nature still operates in a biocentric way. And the failure of modern society to acknowledge this – as we attempt to subordinate all of nature to human use – has led us to the brink of collapse of the earth’s life support systems.” –Judi Bari (Revolutionary Ecology)

Humans have cut and burned forests for thousands of years. The delightfully moderate environments created by forests, the opposite of urban heat islands or the monotony of farms, are disappearing. In our own special way, we are fouling our nest, but unlike the birds, we are not cleaning up after ourselves.


You can expand on this rambling introduction to deforestation by reading more posts on this blog or by reading many of the fine books available on Amazon.

Previous Posts (84) in this blog describe events and consequences for sites around the world.

 

Judi Bari: Revolutionary Ecology and Biocentrism

GR: Judi Bari (1949-1997) wrote clearly and passionately about nature conservation. Her explanation of biocentrism is excellent.

Headwaters Forest Reserve

Biocentrism Definition of Nature Conservation

Judi Bari shows a photo blowup of Headwaters Forest as she speaks at a March 28, 1995 rally for Headwaters at Fisher Gate, near Carlotta CA. Photo (neg. A-22) by Nicholas Wilson, PO Box 943, Mendocino CA 95460.

“Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans. Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans. And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life.

“These principles, I believe, are not just another political theory. Biocentrism is a law of nature, that exists independently of whether humans recognize it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we view the world in a human centered way. Nature still operates in a biocentric way. And the failure of modern society to acknowledge this – as we attempt to subordinate all of nature to human use – has led us to the brink of collapse of the earth’s life support systems.” –Judi Bari (Revolutionary Ecology)

Judi Bari read widely and used her knowledge to formulate a working definition of nature conservation. This is what she had to say about Marxist theory:

“According to Marxist theory, profit is stolen from the workers when the capitalists pay them less than the value of what they produce. The portion of the value of the product that the capitalist keeps, rather than pays to the workers, is called surplus value. The amount of surplus value that the capitalist can keep varies with the level of organization of the workers, and with their level of privilege within the world labor pool. But the working class can never be paid the full value of their labor under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting surplus value from the products of their labor.

“Although I basically agree with this analysis, I think there is one big thing missing. I believe that part of the value of a product comes not just from the labor put into it, but also from the natural resources used to make the product. And I believe that surplus value (i.e., profit) is not just stolen from the workers, but also from the earth itself. A clearcut is the perfect example of a part of the earth from which surplus value has been extracted. If human production and consumption is done within the natural limits of the earth’s fertility, then the supply is indeed endless. But this cannot happen under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting profit not only from the workers, but also from the earth.

“(Author’s note: At this point, Marxist scholars always object, citing Critique of the Gotha Program to say that Marx did recognize nature, as well as labor, as a source of value. But Marx makes the distinction between use value, which he says comes from nature and labor, and exchange value, which he says comes from labor alone. It is this point with which I am disagreeing. It seems obvious to me that use value, supplied by nature, helps determine exchange value. For example, redwood and fir trees grow side by side in the same forest, and at a similar rate. Yet the same amount of labor applied to cutting and mining a 600-year-old, 6-foot diameter redwood tree will produce more exchange value than if it were applied to cutting a 600-year-old, 6-foot diameter fir tree. The reason redwood is worth more is that it has certain qualities the fir lacks i.e., it is so rot resistant that it can be used for exposed siding or as foundation wood in direct contact with the soil, while the fir cannot. This quality of rot resistance does not come from anything added by human labor. It is a quality supplied by nature. So when I say that value comes from both labor and nature, I am referring to exchange value, not just use value.)” –Judi Bari, Revolutionary Ecology.

Brazil following US in rolling back climate protections

GR: It is not good to see Trump’s Paris retreat mentioned in stories of other countries rolling back their climate commitments. It is especially disappointing to see Brazil making so many backward moves. Politics, greed, and corruption are once again attacking the Amazon. Anteaters, Capybaras, Parrots, and all the rest are losing their homes.

“Brazil is considering measures that would roll back environmental protections and make it difficult to meet its Paris climate accord targets.

“The move would see the country step back from its global leadership on climate change just as the United States is also retreating.

“Congress has already passed two measures that will dramatically reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. Lawmakers are also considering substantially relaxing environmental licensing rules for infrastructure, agricultural and industrial projects. A proposal that would change how indigenous lands are designated, potentially reducing their size and protection, is also on the table.

“This comes at a time when the Amazon and Atlantic rain forests are being cut at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, and the violent struggle for control of forested land is on the rise. “Brazil is throwing aside the opportunity to be a leader on these questions,” said Marcio Astrini, co-ordinator of public policy for Greenpeace in Brazil. “It’s very hard for someone to manage to be worse than (US President Donald) Trump on the environment, but the Brazilian government is working very hard” to do that, he added.

“Brazil was long seen as a global leader on environmental issues. As the major steward of the Amazon rain forest, its policies have a tremendous effect on global rates of carbon emissions reduction. In conjunction with Mr Trump’s recent decision to pull the US out of the Paris agreement, Brazil’s move away from environmental regulation could jeopardise global goals. The moves come amid political turmoil in Latin America’s largest nation. President Michel Temer is struggling to stay in office amid corruption allegations and threats of impeachment or removal by an electoral court. Amid the turmoil, he is trying to pass unpopular reforms he says are essential to helping Brazil’s economy shrug off a two-year recession.

“Mr Temer has agreed to back a series of measures promoted by Congress’ so-called “rural caucus” – a group of lawmakers representing the interests of rural landowners, including agribusiness and ranchers – in exchange for help passing his own agenda, and hopefully avoiding impeachment.

“This government is using the environmental agenda as currency,” Mr Astrini said.

“In April, a week-long protest outside Congress by indigenous groups who say Mr Temer is reducing protections on their lands and allowing land-grabs by farmers and ranchers illustrated the debate. When police fired tear gas at the protesters, they responded with spears and arrows.

“Last month, Congress passed two measures that convert around 1.4 million acres of protected land, the vast majority of it in the Amazon, into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use.” –AP (Brazil considers following US in rolling back climate protections | BreakingNews.ie).