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July August 2006 - The
Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Climate change is no longer an
abstract future prophecy for the
forest industry—it’s a reality
By Avrim Lazar
If there is one thing that is clear from all the discussion about climate change, it is that we need to adapt to it as a reality—rather than just a concept—and we, in Canada, need to learn to live with the changed climate.
Essentially, we need to adapt to the fact that the climate is changing. One of the remarkable features of the climate change discussion over the last 10 years has been the absence of focus on adaptation. The climate is not only changing, it is going to continue to change, and it can’t be slowed down. Certainly it is not going to be reversed in our lifetime—we are going to feel and live with the consequences of the changed climate now and for the rest of our lives.
A changed climate isn’t just about whether it rains more, we get more ice storms or you have a bit more warmth. A changed climate is about changed living conditions for the biosphere. You cannot change the climate without changing the biosphere.
The environment will adjust, but for people, for those who are dug into the current climate, which is what we are, who build their cities, who build their industry, whose biological systems depend upon the current climate, it is going to be hard.
In fact, it may well be awful. We in the forest industry don’t think of this as an abstract future prophecy. We live it day by day because we depend upon healthy forests. If the ecosystem isn’t sound, we are in trouble.
The last 10 years of warm winters in British Columbia have led to an infestation of mountain pine beetle that has just destroyed the forests. This is the exact thing that scientists have been talking about for the last 15 years: Change the climate and the parasites will either expand abnormally, as in the case of the pine beetle, or will move to places where people and ecosystems don’t have the resistance.
So the first plague has visited us, and it is destroying huge tracts of forests. It has destroyed almost 300 million cubic metres. If you take all of the trees harvested from Newfoundland right through to Sooke Harbour, the amount killed by the mountain pine beetle is one-and-a-half times that—just in British Columbia—and the little parasites have moved into Alberta. It is a huge devastation.
One of the things we have to ask ourselves when we are looking to deal with climate change is can we move from this preoccupation with what we are doing to the climate to a little bit of thought about what the climate is doing to us.
If you want a made-in-Canada perspective, we are one of the least effecting countries, responsible for just two per cent of greenhouse gases—but we are one of the most affected countries.
As one of the most affected countries, we need to switch from our preoccupation with who is the Kyoto champion and who is the Kyoto dinosaur, and what is the government going to do, to an understanding of what the climate is doing in Canada and what it is going to do to Canada. We have to invest in more research. We have to do more strategic thinking. We have to look at scenarios and we have to prepare to mitigate the very painful influence that a changed climate is going to have on living in Canada.
I have often asked myself why it is when we know that the climate has changed and it will continue to change and we are most affected, that we have not paid as much attention. I think the answer is mostly in the political dynamics of the drama that goes on between what used to be the climate change believers and the climate change non-believers, and now it is the Kyoto enthusiasts and the Kyoto reluctance. But there has always been this sort of quiet agreement that no one is going to yell, no one is going to pound the table and say, “Regardless of what we do, the climate is changing.” We are only talking now about how fast and how hard.
So the environmental groups have chosen to downplay this because it might lead to resignation and inaction. The industrialists have chosen to downplay this because people might freak out and realize that the environmentalists are right, the climate is changing.
We need to go beyond that, and start talking about solutions. I’ll talk about the specifics of what the forest industry is doing towards this in my next column in Logging & Sawmilling Journal.
Avrim Lazar is president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.