FORESTWARS: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

FORESTWARS: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

 

by

Arthur Topham

July 5th, 1997 

 

Behind every war there's always the clash of opposing ideologies and the ongoing skirmishes in the forestlands of B.C. between government/industry and the environmentalists are no exception.

 

As a 'war' correspondent so to speak and a partisan fighter/protester I've been involved in the environmental movement for thirty years. During that time I've had ample opportunity to observe battle lines and game plans and strategies and to assess the impacts occurring as a result of all the media coverage; yet, throughout these three decades of duelling and discord I have still to witness anything like a balanced and comprehensive analysis of the primal causes underlying this drama.

 

All too often the Establishment media tends to portray the environmentalists in a negative light much like they do any of the other liberation movements around the globe.  This tactic, as powerful and effective as it is, ultimately must fail because any resistance movement is only successful in proportion to the amount of support it gains from the general populace and in the case of the environmentalists the public is not about to forsake them and hand over sole responsibility to governments and corporations.  I'll touch on this later in the article but for now let's  consider some of the other questions that surround this issue. 

 

Why is this struggle occurring now?  Why is it being played out on an international scale by such a diversity of people?  What are the underlying motives for both sides?  What, if anything, can be said about the outcome?  Are we to expect these incidents to be ongoing?  Is a peaceful conclusion a reasonable proposition given all the factors involved? If not, will we see an escalation of the conflict as the two sides involved become increasingly polarized? 

 

These are the questions that require attention in the hope that those who are torn between the pragmatic priorities of jobs and day-to-day survival and those who's vision goes beyond immediate wants and needs might better understand the major forces working themselves out here. 

 

The issues are varied and at most times perplexing, complicated by the simple fact that there are no clear guidelines to follow.   Definitions of environmental principles or laws, which should, by now, be very clear to all of us, are continually being distorted by vested interests in order to create confusion in the public's mind and thus discredit all resistance that doesn't submit to industry's notions of how things should be done in the forests. 

 

At the outset it must be made clear to the reader that my approach is inclined toward changing the current status quo mindset and  therefore in favour of a new ecological logic or rationale that I feel must supplant the current actions of government and corporate interests who still rely for their raison d’etre upon a model of the universe that is, in this day and age, as dangerously outmoded as square-wheeled wagons on a modern superhighway.

                                

In order to put the arguments into perspective it's necessary that I begin at the start of this century to show how current developments are the outcome of a way of viewing the natural world that have been instilled in the public mind for decades, if not, centuries.

 

THE YANG (PATERNAL EFFECTS)

Historically, our 20th Century has been the most amazing, mind boggling century ever to have been witnessed by mortals. The first half of it culminated after two of the most horrific world wars that ever plagued a planet, the terror and fear thus evoked, setting the stage for many of the events that have since unfolded over the past five decades. 

 

Mankind was left at the end of the 1940's in a world physically ravaged and psychically scarred the winners holding high their dearly won trophy - the world's first nuclear bomb - an instrument capable of destroying or severely mutating all organic life forms. In short, humanity  was facing a spiritual crisis of global proportions that threatened to deplete what little ethical ammunition was left over from all the years of blood-letting and misery. These higher human qualities that, for the most part, were obliterated by the savagery of war,  didn't begin to re-emerge until the post-war generations reached maturity. 

 

This left the victors a dazed and passive adult populace and the opportunity to pursue whatever courses of action they chose once the spoils of war were divided up. What it led to, given the then current male-dominated paternalistic order, was as predictable as it was pathetic. A general, worldwide preoccupation with materialistic policies was implemented that guaranteed reconstruction, full employment, and progress on a material scale that was astounding.  Unfortunately, this was only half the solution. What it didn't lead to was an overall psychic debriefing after all that had gone down over the past years of warring.  Instead, people generally tried to forget the mass psychotic state that the world had been caught up in and busied themselves with renewed vigour in creating more toys and gadgets to gladden the spiritual void that filled their hearts and souls.

 

As the noted American writer Paul Brunton wrote regarding these issues, "Postwar times are noteworthy for their supreme suspense, for the unpleasant chaos and insecurity which grips whole countries or even continents, and for their state of continued crisis.  But for a score of years crisis has succeeded crisis without any end in sight.  Never before were so many people plunged in so much uncertainty, so much perplexity and unsettlement. Signs of this condition are plenty and plain for all to read....They move with terrific speed. A week without a world sensation hardly exists. Our newspapers give us in a single issue what was once the history of a whole month.  Their pages dismay and distract us with reports of new crises that follow each other rhythmically; they tense and strain our nerves with pictures of depressed markets or oppressed mankind; they narrow our eyes with stories of swift changes. The situation is already dramatic enough and would be fantastic were it not so tragic."

 

These words were written in 1953.  Today they appear just as relevant when we look at Western civilization and its on-going passion for continual materialistic progress at whatever cost.

 

THE TRANSITION

By the mid-fifties, though, we were already beginning to see new shoots breaking through the cracked, concrete thought-patterns of our predecessors. New symbols and new movements were born in basements and backrooms that began the counter-attack against a culture perceived by the post-war generations as being devoid of both spirit and purpose. 

 

In England the anti-nuclear movement rose up giving the world both renewed hope for disarmament and a peace-sign that continues to hold its universal appeal.  

 

In Europe and America the mid-fifties saw the emergence of the Beat Movement - symptomatic seeds of discontent sprouting forth from  the soils of a post-war culture that was once again preoccupied only with gain and glitter and - sadly - continued warfare.   

 

As an adjunct to the then emerging reactionary mentality music began to take on new dimensions with the advent of Rock & Roll upon the world's stage.  This was the beginning of a worldwide phenomena that is still with us in 1997 and represents a scale of unmitigated protest and psychic rebellion that is not likely to be appreciated until well into the next century.

 

It wasn't until the 1960's though that the two fundamentally opposed cultural mindsets finally climaxed. Western societies everywhere began experiencing a ground swell of grassroots reactionary movements ranging from Civil Rights issues, Women's issues, Gay and Lesbian liberation and university campus student revolts to the anti-Viet Nam war protests, the anti-nuclear movement, and the Hippie movement, all of which, in a sense, gave birth to the current recalcitrant rebel-child (the Environmental movement).

 

By the end of that decisive decade boundaries were drawn that would forever increase the gulf that existed between those who sought only materialistic comforts at any cost and those who emerged from that period with strong beliefs in a new ethic that embraced not only love and peace and universal brotherhood but also a rebirth of inner, spiritual perceptions that included a radical transformation in the way in which we perceived ourselves in relationship to our natural environment.  

 

No longer were we and our external surroundings considered to be two separate phenomenon.  On the contrary, as the many Eastern spiritual teachers who appeared in the west during this time taught, all of life was one total, undifferentiated cosmic dance that began with spirit, manifested in materiality within this three-dimensional hologram we sense as the Universe, then, in its subtlest manner, re-emerged back into spirit.

 

In the West years of pollution, both chemical and nuclear, had made it abundantly clear to those who had eyes to see and noses to smell 

and cells to mutate that what we do to our outer environment does have a critical influence upon our bodies and those of future generations.

 

Illnesses such as cancer became and remain epidemic in proportion due to the unabashed adulteration of both our food supply and our overall ecosystems by multinational petrochemical companies that felt no compulsion to maintain a healthy populace or compassion for any existing life forms.  

 

The same macho, paternalistic greed and desire for profits and power that had plunged the world into major wars during the first half of the century was now threatening to poison and maim the planet and its inhabitants in an unbridled effort to dominate and exploit the earth's natural resources. 

 

The last thirty years of continuous protest against these forces has resulted in the formation of numerous autonomous groups who's mandates are to lessen and ultimately stop the environmental degradation that's taking place.  Because of their opposition to the corporate agendas they have been labeled enemies of the state and being thus excommunicated in a sense it's now incumbent upon the powers that be to try and show that these environmental 'activists' are pathologically pagan in nature and deserving of nothing less than the stake!  To put it in more sophisticated double-speak language the problem now for the governing elite is to identify these grassroots movements and then, by employing the corporate media and their spin-doctors, discredit and destroy them.   

 

THE PLEA (FOR UNDERSTANDING)

At this point, in order for the reader to fully appreciate the scope and intent of these issues, I must don the philosopher's cap and move from the realm of the physical/material to that of the metaphysical/spiritual.  For many, this may require a leap of faith or at best a stretching of the imagination, but, for the sake of juxtaposing the two sides of the questions being considered here, I  would ask that they refrain from holding judgment until the final brush strokes have been applied.

 

The whole crux of the argument for or against holding an environmental position is based on our inner understanding of how physical reality works.  Modern scientific experimentation has proven beyond a doubt that everything in the natural world is interlinked or interdependent.  We, as physical beings, are part of a chain, our lives inextricably interwoven and attached to a vast web that stretches well beyond our own personal egos into the infinitude of space.  In this sense we are all parts of one gigantic whole. This is not mystical mush were talking here; this is real, down-to-earth scientific nuts 'n bolts.

 

As such there is no escaping the fact that our actions or deeds have an affect that goes way beyond our immediate sphere much like the rock that hits the pond at a specific point yet reacts with the water in such a way as to cause ripples that spread out in every direction.  This natural law or principle of nature figures greatly then when we come to considering the effects of our actions upon the physical environment.  

 

This is where we have to make that subtle, yet vitally important shift from the purely physical to the more abstract world of thought (metaphysical) because now we have to seriously consider issues such as Responsibility. If, in fact, what we do to our natural environment changes its natural balance then it's our responsibility to make sure that what we're doing is not going to have long-term, negative consequences down the road.

 

To give a simple example, our environment is no different than having a brand new truck. If we continuously care for it and don't abuse it we get years of service and satisfaction from it but if we mistreat it and fail to respect its obvious limitations then sooner or later problems start occurring.

 

To expand here from Fords to forests, when we remove vast tracts of timber (such as is done using the clear cut method) we're not simply taking trees away from an area and leaving the rest of the ecosystem behind.  Those trees were an essential part of a mosaic of highly complex, inter-connected life forms that went from micro-organisms and insects to a multiplicity of flora and fauna all totally dependent on that forest of trees being where it was.  

 

The governments argument that clearcutting merely simulates natural wildfires is only valid if we take into consideration that such natural events occur sporadically throughout the vast bioregions of the province.  But, if in fact, we look at the full amount of clearcutting that's happening then it's as if the whole province was being burned; which, in both a literal and metaphorical sense, is exactly what's happening!  Therefore, the forester's argument for such silvaculture practices is both illogical and, from a natural justice perspective, illegal.  To negate this fact is to turn a blind eye not only to our responsibility as self-appointed stewards of the earth but also to deny our true relationship with the whole of creation.  

 

THE YIN (MATERNAL CONCLUSION)

 

This, basically, is the explanation and argument as to why the environmental movement has come about as it has.  When considered in it's larger perspective it takes on a much greater significance than what the corporate media would have the public believe.  Nature - infinitely wise - always adjusts and balances out the blunders that man, in his folly and ignorance, continually subjects her to.  It's all part of the great yin/yang principle of life and needless to say happens for a reason.

 

The reactionary element within society has always, as with the radical principle in physics, been a design of nature to compensate for human frailty as well as to facilitate one of the great laws of creation which is the Law of Change.  In this sense one could construe the environmental movement as a form of divine intervention by the powers that continually monitor and adjust and keep harmonious the cosmos as a whole.

 

From time immemorial the earth has always been considered by most cultures to be the great Mother of all life just as from a Pantheistic perspective the sun, from whom we receive the light which quickens all organic life forms, is by definition and logical analogy, considered to be the Father.  Viewed therefore, as I said, from a much grander scale the reactions that we're witnessing around the world to the environmental destruction are not out of the ordinary, or, as some critics would have us believe, a malfunction or a perversion. In eastern metaphysics, as well as in western doctrines, the great law of karma is forever exacted upon the physical realms.  Simply stated this law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Such is the case with all movements and relationships be they ever so humble or grandiose.

 

Allow me to add one further stroke to the canvas and bring it back into a context which most readers will identify with.  When I look at the front cover of the "Province" newspaper and see a photograph of a young German environmentalist sitting perched upon a grapple yarder I don't, as the article suggests, see a "foreigner" meddling in the affairs of another country.  First of all I see a dedicated and concerned woman acting in a courageous and loving manner to try and stop the maniacal machinations of corporate madmen who are destroying wholesale the last remaining areas of old-growth forests on this planet.  The only "foreigners" in this battle are all those who have allowed their consciences to become so numbed by their self-centred preoccupation with progress that they themselves have become aliens unto the earth's environment.

 

When it comes to the protection of Mother Earth boundaries must dissolve and words like patriotism and nationalism becomes meaningless and worse still, dangerous.  (I recall here how the rest of the world felt when Chernobyl spewed out its clouds of nuclear contaminant into the atmosphere and everywhere in the cloud's path people suddenly were so cognizant of their connectedness and their vulnerability).

 

We owe our allegiance first to the earth.  As the famed American naturalist Edward Abbey once said, "It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.” The only 'patriotism' that makes sense in this day and age is the fervent desire to bring back a sense of proportion and decency and sanity to our physical world.  Failing this, have we not finally fulfilled the prophecy of the great American Indian spiritual leader Chief Seattle who once said, "Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.  Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing, and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.... We are part of the earth, and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.  The rocky crests, the juices of the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family.... This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.  All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.  Man did not create the web of life.  He is merely a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. The white man too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes.  Continue to contaminate your beds, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste".

 

This, then, is both my argument and my belief in support of the environmental movement.  Contrary to what the giants of industry and the proponents of an ever-expanding economy would like us all to believe the international scale of protest is not a frantic effort by a small group of fanatical terrorists to put forestry workers out of a job.  As I've hopefully shown here the picture is much larger than what is being presented by the media.  I am not nor have I ever been a member of Greenpeace.  This does not mean though that I don't support its aims or objectives as they apply to the greater environmental picture.  In this sense, as one of millions of human beings on this planet who feels a strong need for healthy ecological harmony, I am knowingly a stakeholder in the bigger picture and, because I recognize that I am personally responsible, I therefore act. 

 

As for the question of future consequences with regard to environmental protest I can only surmise that if those who are in either a political or financial position to facilitate positive changes either in approach or methodology choose not to do so then it is both the right and the duty of human beings anywhere upon the face of this planet to do what they can to modify and ultimately end the abuse.  To date the forms of protest have been generally peaceful, didactic and non-aggressive.  What will be the norm in the future if the destruction worsens is anybody's guess.

 

My final remark is simply that it's my fervent wish that this short overview will have in some small way helped to explain why those of us who support and are a part of the environmental movement act and think as we do.  We are volunteers giving of themselves freely because we know and believe that the Earth and all aspects of Her existence must be nurtured, preserved, honoured and held sacred if life it is to survive.    

-30-

 

©Roy Arthur Topham  

July 5th, 1997