Native and biodiverse forests, not industrial monoculture plantations or genetically engineered trees, offer solutions to the looming ecological crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. But this solution will only be realized if we recognize and collectively prioritize forests, and allow them to grow and thrive. Real forests include ancient trees, young trees and everything in between. They are multilayered, genetically diverse and locally adapted. They grow in soils that have taken thousands of years, without disturbance from machinery, to build.
We cannot increase demand for wood, and simultaneously reduce deforestation. We cannot introduce genetically engineered trees, and simultaneously protect forests and their genetic diversity. We cannot replace diverse native, biodiverse forests with industrial monocultures growing in damaged soils supplemented with synthetic fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides, and simultaneously provide essential habitat for biodiversity, and healthy livelihoods for people.
We must choose.
Let us follow real solutions – for our forests, and for our future.
We have long been hearing about the problems, the scope and the consequences of deforestation. We have long known that deforestation is a major contributing factor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is emerging consensus that protecting and restoring forests is key to slowing global warming. Within debates and policy making on climate, this has largely revolved around the utility of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), and the national accounting schemes used for forests and land.
But what does forest protection mean? What should it look like? How can it be achieved? First, discussion about protecting forests must clearly differentiate between real forests and industrial tree plantations. Tree plantations bear little resemblance to real forests as they are a single species, the same age, grown in rows for ease of harvest, fertilized with synthetic materials, and sprayed with pesticides.
Second, If we are going to succeed in forest protection, we must reduce our unsustainable demand for wood. Yet contrary to this priority, we are putting in place policy incentives and mandates that subsidize burning wood pellets and chips as ‘renewable energy,’ increasing our demand for wood, rather than reducing consumption.
Finally, satisfying the unsustainable appetite for wood has become a mission for the biotechnology industry, which has been working to engineer trees to grow more quickly, ‘produce more wood on less land,’ or be easier for microbes to digest and ferment in ethanol refineries. Forest genetic diversity is already declining and threatened, and forests are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. GE trees only contribute new threats to the health of our forests and our communities.