Theater of Cruelty

The greater forest biotope of interdependent species

Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet
NATURAL / What about the world's last five megaforests and the people who live in them? The intact forest landscapes are of inestimable importance for the climate.


One of the most striking things when you enter primeval forest is how present death is – decay, and with it life – diversity in ever-excessive expressions. Life follows death, as death follows life. A fragrance opens up, spreads – is it the sum of the cabbage flowers and the spring seeds that stand close together up the page? Or something rotting? The distinct scent compound similar in flowers and carrion attracts insects – pollinators and decomposers.

The proportion of dead wood is decisive for the biodiversity in a skog. The type of dead wood is also decisive: How slowly the trees grow can indicate how slowly they break down, and many endangered species depend on, for example, pine, which breaks down over several hundred years, in contrast to spruce, which both grows and breaks down down quickly. Another important aspect of continuous, primeval natural forests is their ability to bind carbon – that natural diversity and a stable climate are two sides of the same coin is a claim that is gaining increasing support. Today, only three percent of the old-growth forest remains in Europe; that these meager percentages are preserved is of global importance.

In the book Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet by the conservationist and economist John W. Reid and the biologist Thomas E. Lovejoy, we meet several communities of forest people, indigenous peoples who have developed their culture in interaction with the forest over thousands of years. In New Guinea, people have lived in and with the forest for a full 50 years. The book presents the last five megaforests on earth and those who live in them – people groups, animals, fungi and plants all play a role in the larger forest biotope of interdependent species. We hear about the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, Congo and New Guinea, as well as the boreal forests of the Taiga in Russia and the great North American forest, which stretches through Canada into Alaska.

Photo: Siri Ekker Svendsen. From the book "All the Whisperings of the World All the Whisperings of the World"

To reverse deforestation

A point that is repeated in almost all chapters in Evergreen, the intact forest landscapes' invaluable importance for the climate. To be defined as an intact forest landscape, a forest area must be completely free of roads and logging over an area of ​​500 square kilometres. "Landscape" is included in the term, to embrace rivers, waterways, wetlands and mountains, all vital areas for natural forests. Today, there are around 2000 such intact forest landscapes left – a quarter of the world's forested areas.

Rivers, waterways, wetlands and mountains are all vital areas for natural forests.

The largest CO2-the stocks on Earth lie in the ground in the boreal forest areas, which are estimated at a total of 1800 billion metric tonnes, or 190 years of emissions à la 2019 values ​​globally. Unfragmented tropical forests hold twice as much carbon as tropical forests fragmented by roads, logging fields or surrounded by farms. Globally, road development is by far the biggest threat to forest fragmentation, with deforestation in favor of mining in second place. All new edges that are created in an intact forest have consequences, for example a road network leads in the long run to trees falling more easily and more wind blowing through so that the forest is more susceptible to drought and fire. In forests such as in the Congo, where deforestation is relatively small, roads often lead to overhunting of seed-dispersing animals, so that the forest is gradually dismantled. Thus, the fragmentation brings with it a slow-moving chain reaction over many years that leaks carbon and biodiversity.

According to the IPCC, it means possible combinations of measures for us to reach the 1,5 degree target, to reverse deforestation by 2030 – in addition to increasing the forested areas by 34 million hectares per year until 2050. According to the authors, protecting intact forest landscapes is also one of the cheapest ways to reach the climate targets. Protecting tropical forests will cost one-fifth of reducing emissions in the US or Europe and hardly even one-seventh of the cost of growing a new forest once the old one is felled. Why, they ask, is this possibility left out of most nations' climate plans?

Freedom under responsibility

All the Whisperings of the World. Author Siri Ekker Svendsen (with contributions by Monica Marcella Kjærstad and Sara Sølberg). Multipress, Oslo

If we shift our gaze to Scandinavia, the debate about forest protection and the importance of forests for the climate is highly polarized. In the current policy in both Norway and Sweden, economics trumps environmental protection through what in this country is called "protection through use". In Sweden, the policy is often summed up as "freedom under responsibility" and since it was introduced in 1993, it has assumed that the responsibility for protecting natural and cultural values ​​lies with the forest owners themselves. The system is based on the forest companies being able to apply for voluntary environmental certification, and over half of all Swedish forest companies are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. The problem, however, is that there is not much forest left that can be felled – especially not flat felled – if one is also to satisfy the requirements of the FSC not to harbor red-listed species, key biotopes or come into conflict with the interests of the indigenous population. The Swedish state-owned company Sveaskog has repeatedly broken the rules, not only by overriding environmental considerations that have been established in consultation with Sami towns, as well as by clear-cutting – or by being on the way to clear-cutting areas with key biotopes. The consequence from FSC's side is that they receive a warning so they can improve, without much further follow-up. According to a report from the Naturskyddsföreningen, forests with high natural values ​​continue to disappear despite the forest companies' environmental labeling. Their conclusion is that the certification does not guarantee what it promises, and in addition, FSC's regulations do not take climate consequences into account at all. Naturskyddsföreningen withdrew its membership of FSC in 2010.

In Norway, too, the environmental movement has withdrawn from cooperation with the certification for sustainable forests. Via a report from BioFokus, the Nature Conservancy has uncovered gross deficiencies at PEFC-certified Viken Skog, which, despite mapping red-listed species and high nature values, has made 13 clearcuts in the old-growth forests at Follsjå in Telemark in recent years. PEFC is the forestry industry's own environmental certification, and the forest owners receive subsidies from the state to carry out mapping of areas with high natural values ​​- something they fail to do in order to retain the certification, as many customers demand environmentally certified timber. Regardless of the certifications, protected old forest does not have any legal protection in either Norway or Sweden. Furthermore, the Norwegian government is making arrangements for the question of nature conservation to be taken sea consideration of the needs of the forestry industry, which came into force from 1 February this year. In an interview with Morgenbladet on 29 March, Agriculture Minister Sandra Borch dares to claim that some old-growth forest must be removed for the sake of biodiversity, that we must think both when it comes to old and young forest. That young forest and pioneer species get a chance to establish themselves can be good for biodiversity, but not at the expense of something that there is hardly any left of, and which it is of crucial global importance to preserve.

Photo: Siri Ekker Svendsen. From the book "All the Whisperings of the World All the Whisperings of the World"

According to the Swedish excavation journalist Lisa Röstlund's book Skogslandet, an examination there is an information war going on about forestry in Sweden. It seems that the largest companies in the forest industry, with Sveaskog at the head, have bribed some researchers, educational institutions in forestry and agriculture, politicians and even the public body that is supposed to keep track of the industry, the Norwegian Forestry Agency. Their view is that clear-cutting, land preparation and monoculture is the best and only way to manage forestry – a method that has been prevalent since the 50s – and that landowners' property rights must weigh heavily. As the natural forests close to the mountains in northern Sweden are decreasing, the proportion of suicides among young Sami men is increasing, as they see their culture and future weathering away with the forest.

One of the most important methods of conserving the forests, according to Reid and Lovejoy, is to protect the indigenous groups who live there and have done so since time immemorial. People groups that have a connection to the forest as family, home and livelihood. In addition to the need for strategies and tactics to preserve the forests, this must be done with feeling, the two say, pointing to an interesting difference in the language of what they call the modern world, and most indigenous languages. The forest, its components, inhabitants and functions are usually referred to here as objects, where the people as individual subjects perform actions towards these objects. Grammatically speaking, almost all verbs in this context become ethically justifiable, they believe: cut, dig, clean, collect, manage, thin, burn. This distinction is rare among forest peoples, where, for example, the Momo people of New Guinea identify black cockatoos as their ancestors. It makes me think of the dying language of the Wintu people of central northern California, discussed in Rebecca Solnits A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Wintu does not have words for right and left, they relate to the directions of the sky and the landscape, so that the subject always remains relative to the surroundings, and not the apparently autonomous, stable point that "modern language" insinuates.

If we ask ourselves the question of what is our, man's, place in the ecosystem today, can we perhaps avoid the artificial division between man and nature?

Photo: Siri Ekker Svendsen. From the book All the Whisperings of the World

Mutual dependence

Artist and photographer Siri Ekker Svendsen in the photobook project "All the Whisperings of the World" is someone who uses the aesthetic eye to explore the role of humans in the question of mutual dependence in an ecosystem. During two artist residencies in Peru and Brazil, she has explored the Amazon's tropical rainforest through the camera lens; the angle is her own severe allergy to brazil nuts. The Brazil nut tree is a favorite example of interdependence in an ecosystem in its round dance with at least two other species. The female bee in the euglossini family specializes in the tree's flowers and is the only pollinator powerful enough to penetrate the flower sheath. The Augoutien, a rodent, is the only animal with teeth sharp enough to open the hard shell around the nuts—aside from man. Unlike humans, the augouti digs the nuts down and forgets most of them, which has given it the local name "the tree planter". In an essay at the back of the book, Ekker Svendsen asks herself what the human role is, especially considering how she herself, in a country on the other side of the globe, has an immune system with such a strong response to Brazil nuts in particular that her body destroys its own blood cells until the body goes into shock. Through a collaboration with the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at UiO, a micro and macro perspective is presented in images, both via the analogue black-and-white photographs of the artist's encounter with the forest, the sunlight that is stopped against something, reflected back, penetrates foliage and spider webs — against the microscope light that shows us the Brazil nut's interior, as well as blood cells that weather in the face of the allergen. The structures of the human body and the internal structure of the nut are seen against river courses, branches and foliage. The fact that she allows us to see the pictures without text before the captions for the thumbnails come at the very end facilitates an aesthetic approach to experience-based knowledge.

In the concluding essay, we learn that the title is taken from the children's book SVK – Store friendly giant by Roald Dahl. The giant can hear everything that lives, and describes it as "all the secret whisperings of the world". To hear it, he has to concentrate so he shuts out all the noise from the people around him. The artist concludes with an invitation to turn the ears in the right position, concentrate – and listen.

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Tina Kryhlmann
Tina Kryhlmann
Permanent literature reviewer in MODERN TIMES.

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