When you hear New Zealand politicians talk about the role of forests in carbon sequestration, the thing that stands out most is their extraordinary arrogance and hubris, assuming by default that humans have total ecological control and whatever decisions we make at a ‘policy settings’ level will be carried out with certainty and closure.
Anyone who understands ecology beyond the most trivial abstractions of food webs and biomes will recognise how wrong this is.
Metaphors of control and competition are illusory and oversimplified. Despite our extraordinary capabilities as terraformers, humans are no more than participants in these complex systems. We can tear landscapes apart for cultivation or more gently prune and plant at a mass scale but the end result is never under our direct control.
Ultimately, most human manipulation of ecology is just an accounting trick of energy laundering, hidden from view by the complexity of supply-chains. We extract fossil fuels in one part of the world, ship them somewhere else, then burn them in service of working the land. At a planetary scale, what we think of as control is really just a willingness to use far greater amounts of energy than any other species, ignoring the tradeoffs of waste emissions.
The One Billion Trees program sounds a lot less sensible and practical when it’s viewed within this broader context.
What’s the justification for the hyperfocus on the raw dynamics of short term carbon sequestration through fast-growing pinus radiata, without taking into account biodiversity, fire risk, soil quality or microclimates and regional variation?
This all seems particularly foolish given the facts we know about climate change. The most important and urgent thing we have to do is drastically reduce emissions. It’s dangerously incoherent to overemphasise carbon sequestration without addressing the imbalances of energy usage for transport and food production.
Why do we think planting one billion trees is a more effective long term solution than letting forests regrow without large scale intervention?
How credible is it for an initiative run by a blundering salesman like Shane Jones to achive better results than the nectar feeding and seed spreading birds who have evolved with the forests over millions of years?
Is this really what we are expected to believe?
Putting aside the old saw about malice and stupidity, Occam’s razor suggests this is an example of regulatory capture by the forestry industry.
When Boris Johnson and the Tories in the UK are doing a better job on this issue than New Zealand’s nominally Left coalition government, you know something is seriously rotten here.
What will future generations think when they look back at who had the power to affect change? Who did something? Who did nothing?