In 4,000 years, there won't be any 4,000 year old trees

By | June 19, 2012
Time to rethink sustainable mismanagement?

Standing in front of an mammoth tree is breathtaking – I have a giant tree around a century old just behind my house – and that is nothing compared to these other ancient beauties. It's also quite ugly at the moment, as we have cut down the ivy growing on the tree, and the drying bits of ivy are not too becoming. Yet at the same time, another thought crossed my mind: in another 4,000 years, there won't be any 4,000-year-old trees. There may be 8,000 or 10,000-year-old trees, but none from our day and time.

The problem lies in how we treat nature today: Yes, modern humans have a large requirement for resources. And with some notable exceptions that are very few and far between, we are incredibly bad at managing them.

Ever wonder what the term 'sustainable management' means? It is quite analogous to 'industrial farming' – which, more often than not, involves confining livestock to crowded living quarters, overly vaccinating them, and feeding them with random things not normally part of their diet. Or spraying and waxing fresh produce with things you'd rather not know about. No, the sustainable forestry industry is about extracting as much wood from the ground as quickly as possible while minimizing nutrient depletion in the soil.

And as quickly as possible often (but not necessarily) means: (1) introducing foreign fauna into the forest ecosystem, (2) tree harvesting once a particular threshold has been reached, (3) influx of fertilizers to encourage wood growth, (4) restriction of a tree's growing quarters (particularly in the case of colonial trees) to match human settlement patterns. That also means that trees would be continually harvested, such that ancient thousand-year-old beauties do not have a chance to grow.

Now: I am not an environmentalist, and I am not saying we should stop harvesting trees. We do need trees for our daily consume: they heat houses, fuel summer grills, and turn into paper, furniture, and many other comforts we've come to enjoy. But I am saying we need to rethink our concept of 'sustainable management' to strike a better balance between human needs and mother nature. And sadly, the current development of sustainable management points in the other direction.

Rather thorough overview of current non sustainable activities, albeit quite biased (thx +Page Laurent ):

Taking the long view
Mother Nature Network

12 thoughts on “In 4,000 years, there won't be any 4,000 year old trees

  1. Wilfrid Wong

    +Sophie Wrobel , thanks for your reply.

    I come from Singapore, where localized resource production is almost impossible to sustain even a fraction of our country's population today. But I see your point. It does seem like a tricky situation we have today.

  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Wilfrid Wong I think that there is a risk of overpopulating the planet, and we need to maximize the number of humans we can sustain in order to minimize this risk.

    I would argue that we are already overpopulated if we consider extensive resource production as the only alternative. We know that extensive management works, but we are already too many people for that.

    An alternative is intensive resource production. That is, a mix of applying the 'intercropping' principle to all resources, and localizing resource production as opposed to offshoring to increase sustainability and stretch available resources longer. Even here, I do think that complete intensive production (i.e. only for human needs) is not an intelligent solution: the varying climate and geographical factors do not allow for intensive production in every region of the world. Thus I propose a mix of all these factors to maximize human population under a sustainable situation – as opposed to offshoring short-term economically undesirable resource management, which seems to be the current policy trend.

  3. Puneit Thukral

    +Sophie Wrobel Of course there isn't enough for everyone, and the rate at which our population is increasing, we are going in the opposite direction. I am not doubting or questioning the fact that there is a pressing need for the human race to get sensitised to the future. How will we bring the paradigm shift amongst our populations? By asking the weaker ecnomic classes to change the way they live or ask the oil barons and organised lumberjacks of the world to start new. Sad though it is, government policies are mostly in favour of lobbyists!

  4. Sophie Wrobel

    +Wilfrid Wong +Puneit Thukral I don't know if that's overly pessimistic – but I do know that to be self-sustaining (in terms of intensive agriculture and energy requirements), I need a whole lot more ground than I have now. I figure I need a small forest and a cleared plot next to the forest for just my household… but can we afford that level of extensive resource distribution per person? Even if we could solve distribution issues, is there enough for everyone? If not, supporting the have-not isn't necessarily going to be the wisest way to go.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +John Poteet I've seen a (commercial) forestry company that has chosen wood sorts specializing, among other things, in wood for musical instruments. They also purposely picked a slow-growth area and wood type for their plantage so that the timber will be tight-grained. But, I do agree, we'll be seeing either the cost of music going up, or the quality going down.

  6. John Poteet

    Long before there are no more 4,000 year old trees the availability of tight-grained, old-growth timber will be gone. A huge portion of the best work in wood including violins, clarinets, cellos, pianos and other musical instruments requires a sufficient supply of these woods. 

    We're not only killing our planet; we're killing our music. 

  7. Paul Kelly

    but if we are on the right path? What if it is indeed the natural course of action that we deplete what we view as the earths natural resources – possibly driving ourselves to extinction, possibly not – so that the earth can continue into its next cycle of life based on the wastes of man. Kind of like how we now live of the fossil fuels created from the wastes of other organisms. 

    just saying- what if?

  8. Puneit Thukral

    Human needs are anti-mother nature.. Like the matter and antimatter. When both meet, its total annihilation. Thats what where we are going.
    Attempts to change the way humans fulfill their needs is anti evolution at the individual level. The individual needs to thrive or at least survive and why should he/she sacrifice while others have satiated their needs. We need something bigger than articles and talks on this subject. We need to work on rehabilitating those who will be most affected by loss of a livelyhood or discomforted due sustainable management of a resource.


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