Liabilities of a rapacious industry

Although climate change is a reality, our reliance on it to shrug off certain environmental changes is often overdone.

To the editor;

After the horrors of this past summer, it would make sense to examine the situation surrounding forest fires to see what action might reduce the chances of similar happenings in the future. Although climate change is a reality, our reliance on it to shrug off certain environmental changes is often overdone. After all, the call of “climate change” is often used as a handy excuse for some conditions, like forest fires, which could absolve us from taking action because the issue of climate change is so large and our efforts seemingly insignificant. We then wallow in helplessness while the causes of our predicament go unchecked.

Business as usual rules when we lack a focus for concerted public action — and this suits the corporate world just fine. Giant forest fires may not be inevitable, but they will become more frequent if nothing is done to correct some of the causative factors that enter the background mix.

Trees are far more than the feedstock for a rapacious industry or inconvenient obstacles for property developers. One crucial attribute of forests that escapes public discussion is the fact trees deliver large quantities of water vapour to the atmosphere. Their contribution is not trivial; under some conditions, a single, mature tree will every day take thousands of litres of water, vapourize it and place it into the atmosphere. Trees are said to provide more than 10 per cent of all the water vapour in Earth’s atmosphere, but this number masks their true importance because trees only grow on land and the global land mass is only 25 per cent of the Earth’s surface.

If we exclude deserts and permafrost, the critical importance of the world’s great forests, like B.C.’s temperate rain forest, become far more important. It is true several factors must coincide to create the drought conditions leading to fires, but the water vapour delivered by forests certainly has a role in what may be described as the tipping point — rain versus no rain.

Every block stripped by a feller buncher not only renders homeless some unfortunate species, like the endangered mountain caribou of Wells Gray, but it deprives the rest of the landscape a continuing supply of water vapour. Burning thousands of square kilometers of forest, as happened this past summer, could push the situation past some imaginary point of no return because burned land does not deliver water vapour.

Given the example set by previous fires, natural tree regeneration happens slowly and the recovery of cut, or burned forest, to the point where it once again contributes significant quantities of water vapour takes nearly a lifetime. Add clearcut after clearcut to burned forest after burned forest and atmospheric water vapour depletion can reach critical proportions. Ecologists maintain corporate profits often result from incomplete accounting practices; that the environmental “jobs” done by nature to maintain itself simply do not get done once indiscriminate industrial activity makes its mark on the landscape.

These costs go uncounted and nature’s crucial tasks no longer get done. It’s all a bit subtle for the world of corporate accounting, but what if the human-borne losses resulting from drought and fire were able to be claimed, for example, through class-action lawsuits? Could this deliver some of the profound changes so badly needed?

David Simms

Clearwater, B.C.

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