BOOK REVIEW

Unrelenting battle

N.R.Krishnan

Unrelenting battle

STRANGELY LIKE WAR — The Global Assault on Forests: George Draffan and Derrick Jensen; Natraj Publishers, 17, Rajpur Road, Dehradun-248001.

Rs. 250.

"Once people see deforestation for the activity that it is, they will then stop those who continue to destroy [the forests]. It is for this we wrote the book. It is to this we have dedicated our lives." This passionate message permeates every line of Jensen (the principal author) and Draffan's short but telling account of the poor state of the world's forests and those responsible for it.

Whether it be the South or the North, exploitation of forest wealth continues to the point of exhaustion. Cut at the rate of two and a half acres every second, 78 million acres (121,875 square miles) of forests, an area larger than Poland, are lost every year the world over. With that, of course, is lost the rich biodiversity which forest ecosystems support.

There is a strong human element to this destruction too. In Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, the native populations have been dispossessed forcibly of their habitat and livelihood. Invariably, the money and muscle power of the giant corporates supplemented by that of state agencies is brought to bear upon the hapless protestors.

Jensen and Draffan are forest activists in the U.S. engaged in an unrelenting battle with the timber, pulp and paper corporates, and the U.S. Establishment. They recount how the corporates, having secured clear felling concessions over vast tracts of native forests, harvest them to the last stump without pity and move on to other virgin areas to carry on their business without remorse. The list of such companies is quite eclectic. It spans continents from the U.S. through Europe, Africa to East Asia. Forest depredation is a multinational business.

The brazenness of the forest-based industry, according to the authors, stems from its nexus with governments and politicians. Handsome contributions to campaign funds ensure equally handsome timber concessions. They go even further to disband the machinery set up to investigate timber thefts. An example is the winding up of the Timber Theft Investigations Branch (TTIB) of the U.S. Forest Service in 1995. To avoid any possible objections the move might give rise to the Senate's confirmation of the appointment of Dan Glickman as Agriculture Secretary, the announcement of the winding- up was delayed till the Senate hearings were over.

Bill Clinton's 1995 initiative to improve the health of America's forests, by removing less healthy vegetation without environmental approvals, a move known as the Salvage Logging Rider, ended up in smoke in that healthy forest growth over vast areas was felled and removed, all in the name of removing deadwood. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were the culprits.

Globalisation has come in for more than its due share of criticism in the hands of the authors. One should remember that barring few areas like the Indian subcontinent, which had the benefit of scientific forestry, forests in the rest of the then colonial world were subjected to large scale depredation by the European powers. Even in India, forest conservation was secondary to revenue earning through timber sales and exports. Globalisation has only led to replacement of governments or their companies established by charter by footloose MNCs. Sadly, these MNCs often support repressive regimes in developing countries, as in Liberia, and earn, in return, trade and business concessions.

The authors cite Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of International Financial Institutions as a contributor to the poor nations' depletion of natural resources. This charge is based on the premise that SAPs land the recipient countries in debt which then has to be discharged by selling away precious natural wealth like timber at uneconomic prices. While SAPs are known to have triggered off deeper economic malaise than before and consequent social unrest in many countries, it is less than clear that forest depletion, in particular, could be attributed to them. Rather, the burger chains could be accused of this sin as large forest areas are clear felled and converted to ranches in South America to raise beef cattle to feed the demands of the fast food industry.

As for the global initiatives to promote sustainable forest management, Jensen and Draffan seem to have nothing but scorn.

In one paragraph of 17 lines (page 133), they dispose off the Rio Forest Principles (1992) and all other steps taken at the global level to protect forests, wildlife and biodiversity in general.

There is no mention at all of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests set up by the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development nor of its successor, the Intergovernmental Forum. All these efforts have been dubbed failures — indeed a harsh and unwarranted judgment.

Strangely Like War with its foreword by the noted Indian environmentalist, Vandana Shiva, is good reading for most part. The authors talk of `failure of solutions' but have little to offer by way of acceptable solutions themselves. However, to their credit, they are honest enough to admit it.

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