THE SELF-INFLICTED COST OF ECONOMIC MYOPIA

Linked with Chris Maser – USA.

Published on his website/essays, by Chris Maser, 2007.

The lead article in my hometown paper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times, opened on February 13, 2007, with the headline, “Timber filibuster falls short”. The first paragraph said, in part: “An attempted filibuster by Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith fell short Monday as procedural wrangling foiled his bid to extend payments to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging.” Smith goes on to say, “We are talking about people’s jobs, children’s schools and general public safety in 700 timber counties in 39 states”.

As has been the case throughout history, this “short fall” is self-inflicted through the kind of economic shortsightedness tucked into the language of the “Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960,” which is based on a linear, economic assumption totally at odds with ecological reality. The assumption is that biological processes in a forest remain constant, while we humans maximize whatever forest product or amenity seems desirable. The errors associated with this kind of linear thinking over the past several hundred years illustrate the dismal results of ignoring the perpetual novelty and cyclical nature of ecological reality. Much as some people might want it otherwise, we cannot circumvent a system ultimately controlled by inviolate, biophysical principles beyond the capacity of humanity to alter. Forests are not, after all, the endless producers of commodities and amenities that we have heretofore assumed them to be.


In the beginning, when vast forests of ancient trees spread across much of the Pacific Northwestern United States, the forest industry became incensed whenever the federal government put up a timber sale on public lands. How dare the federal government compete with private industry, was the cry, because such competition would lower the price of lumber. But once the owners of industrial forests had liquidated the available timber on their own lands, a new voice was heard, one that whined because the federal government was not allowing the capture of windfall profits reaped from cutting the public?s ancient forests, wherein the industry had no investment prior to logging …

… In Short, sustained yield is nothing more than short-term, economic exploitation, wherein the inherited principal is summarily cut without reinvesting sufficient biological capital in the forest to at least balance the account. Ecological principles of diversity, interactive process, and the forest’s cycle through time are violated in order to practice the diminishing return of “sustained yield” forestry which is, nevertheless, the circular, economic firing squad wherein the insatiable counties are now caught with their fingers glued to the trigger.

“Sustainable-yield forestry” has not been practiced in the Pacific Northwest, because our “sustained yield” (which equates to sustained cut) has come from the ancient forests we inherited from Nature and for which we can claim no credit. In fact, even the stated concept of sustained yield has been violated by continually increasing the cut of these old forests whenever more money was desired.

If, therefore, human society is to survive as we know it, we must become trustees of our natural resources, which means letting go of the exploitive, colonial mentality use it until it collapses, then someone else can deal with it. Much as we might wish otherwise, humanity is not in control of Nature. If we go back to the original sense of the word “re-source,” we will find that the ecological sustainability of our forests is embodied in a word we blithely use but do not fully understand.

The choice is ours today. To all generations of the future, we bequeath the wisdom or the folly of our decisions. What will our choice of actions be with respect to forests: the continuance of our current exploitation or the unconditional gift of a biological living trust whereby truly sustainable forests are maintained for the children, present and future?
(full text).

Link: THREE ECONOMIC PARADIGMS, essay.

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