Charlotte Dawe: In the aftermath of the forest fires, don’t trust logging companies
By Charlotte Dawe
In 2005, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, causing a massive evacuation and unimaginable damage to communities. But what was brewing in the wake of the initial shock was something as damaging as the hurricane itself, and we should all be aware of it.
Businesses settled as communities were in shock and began privatizing schools, social housing and hospitals. These public services on which all, but especially marginalized people depended, have been transformed into for-profit businesses.
This phenomenon is called “disaster capitalism” – the privatization of public goods and services in the aftermath of a disaster – a term coined by author Naomi Klein in her 2007 book, The shock doctrine.
The combination of terminally ill capitalism, the COVID-19 pandemic and disasters brought on by climate change creates the perfect conditions for disaster capitalists. If past examples tell us anything, 2021 could be a year when corporate interests assume immense control over property and public spaces due to the opportunity presented by disaster capitalism.
But it only works if people aren’t careful.
Forest fires rage across British Columbia, razing entire cities and filling others with smoke, as a fourth wave of Covid-19 continues to unfold. We are in shock. But we need to remain vigilant and prepared for what companies here might be looking for: the last of the pristine, valuable old growth forests.
Demand for lumber since COVID-19 has skyrocketed, causing prices to rise. After 100 years of industrial forestry, the mountain pine beetle epidemic and record forest fire seasons (the latter two exacerbated by climate change), the wood supply is dwindling. The low supply is pushing up the price of wood further.
The current political landscape is changing; 2020 saw the biggest movement to protect old growth forests since the outbreak of war in the woods in British Columbia at Clayoquot Sound in 1993. Measure it all against the decline in the social license for old growth logging, and it is reasonable to assume that logging companies are keen to cut down the remaining old trees while they still can.
Businesses calculate. After such disasters, their spokespersons and traders will try to convince the communities that they are there to save the day. They will provide jobs, economic stimulation and salvage logging to help ecosystems recover. We shouldn’t trust them.
Logging companies are liquidating forests in British Columbia and investing the profits in new mills in the United States. West Fraser Timber, for example, is expanding five factories in the United States and closing one in Chasm, British Columbia, west of Kamloops.
Six other factories, owned by profitable companies, have also closed in recent years. Tolko industries closed its Kelowna plant but opened a new plant in Louisiana. CANFOR boasts record profits, but has closed two factories in British Columbia in the past two years.
Companies insist that their main goal is to employ communities, but they are forced to lay people off when forests are protected.
This is a lie.
Analysis by the Truck Loggers Association says 65 percent of jobs lost in British Columbia’s forestry sector from 2000 to 2015 were due to increased productivity due to automation and mechanization. By comparison, nature conservation accounts for less than 10 percent of jobs lost.
Replacing labor costs with technology is one of the easiest ways for businesses to maximize profits. Logging companies claim to be job creators as they automate work at every opportunity.
If we let them do it, the logging companies will soon liquidate the very profitable old growth forests in British Columbia. Eventually, they will abandon the communities that once depended entirely on them. As respect for indigenous rights and titles and awareness of biodiversity and climate crises increase, many companies are eyeing the door. The short-term jobs they could offer in the meantime are not worth the effort as layoffs are only delayed by a few years, not avoided.
The choice we have is whether we protect what is left of old forests now or if we lose them forever.
Logging companies will tell us that post-fire recovery logging is necessary for healthy forests. However, recent surveys show that some are targeting intact forests with unburned trees under cover of salvage logging.
In Prince George, for example, 70 percent of the spruce beetle stands destined for salvage logging contained less than 10 percent of the beetle infestation. They harvested living trees and called them beetle-infested dead stands. These companies simply cannot be trusted to make decisions based on the health of ecosystems, because profit is always their top priority.
I mourn the communities affected by the toll of the pandemic, then by another season of devastating forest fires that we are still in the midst of. I mourn the creatures that flee fires to meet others. In all of this tragedy, I understand the wear and tear that follows.
But it is a pivotal moment. We need to be extremely aware and actively engaged. We need to remind the government that its job is to protect the public, not big business and big money.
Most logging companies thrive despite burning forests, endangered species, and people losing their jobs to pandemics and homes ablaze.
Disaster capitalists can see the bases are loaded in British Columbia – there won’t be a better time to clear out old growth here. But communities are resilient, and the will to fight to protect our planet is one of the most powerful emotions one can feel.
If companies are trying to embark on a scramble for resources after the shock of such devastation, they had better be ready for a battle.