Author photo by Fletcher Manley.
Author and environmental activist, Jamie Sayen’s latest book speaks about “the failure of conservation in northern New England’s forests.” This compelling and in-depth book is published by Yale University Press. The book is well written and in my non-outdoorsy way, he captured my attention with this perilous and tragic story.
Sayen speaks a different language. He speaks in a way I understood that there are languages that are going on outside my bedroom’s bay window as I observe the giant pines in my beautiful backyard that sustain the wildlife around me.
He wondered if I was able to understand this different language, and, I replied, yes and I loved it. And he said, “Then maybe I speak a common language. It’s just we’re not using that language enough.”
I asked him to start by explaining the title of the book.
“Well, the quote that we’re all familiar with, if we know anything about Thoreau or wild lands is “in wildness is the preservation of [the world]”. And that comes from an essay Thoreau wrote called Walking. And I reread that essay. And I didn’t want to belabor the well-known quote, but I kept reading beyond it. And it talked about how the children of Rome were suckled by a wolf. Eventually, their successors, the children of the Roman Empire, were defeated and destroyed. The children of the Empire were not suckled by a wolf and were eventually defeated by the children of the northern forest, who were. The quote resonated with me that we are a civilization that has lost our connection and our bearings with the land that gives us life and sustains us and makes life beautiful and so wonderful. And if we’re going to heal and address many of the conservation problems, whether they’re in environmental injustice, pollution, clear-cutting, or just a kind of a fear of wildness and a fear of going outside. We need to find metaphorical ways of becoming suckled not just by the wolf, but by the trees, the soil the wind, and the microbes in the lichens and the fungi and the birds and rodents and all the other critters, including those that swim underwater.
I then asked him to talk about the cover and the artist who created it.
“I’ve been working with Jon Luoma for over 30 years when I published the Northern Forests Forum beginning in 1992. I encountered him after the first issue, and he said he liked what we were trying to do and volunteered his artwork. When he sent me examples of it, I went crazy. It was absolutely perfect. He did this particular drawing for a late issue of the Forum around the year 2000. And when I told him, I wanted to use that for the cover, he said, Oh, would you like to have it in color? And I said, yes. He redid it, it was a black and white back then.”
Sayen’s book is dedicated to Mitch Lansky, whom he refers to as “my alter ego.
“Mitch Lansky has been working on the crisis in Maine’s industrial forest for almost half a century now. He was an organic farmer [whose farm] got sprayed by biocides when they were trying to kill off the spruce budworm in the industrial forests back in the mid-1970s. He sued because he lost his organic standing for a while through no fault of his own and, then started studying the issue and discovered what a crazy, weird, and destructive system it is. It’s a system that is subsidized and rewarded by public policy.”
“When I came along a decade later, I started asking questions, and nobody could answer them. Finally, a friend of mine, who appears in the epilogue, Gary Lawless, a wonderful poet, said call Mitch Lansky. Mitch had the answers not only to my questions but the questions I didn’t know I had. We became fast friends and have been colleagues and best friends ever since.”
“The spruce budworm is kind of illustrative of why we have such a crisis in overcut forests. The spruce budworm is a naturally occurring element of the forest of Northern Maine and also Southern Eastern Canada. It usually afflicts balsam fir which are an important but not dominant tree species. Balsam fir tends to like sunlight. So when there’s a large clearing from say, a hurricane, or a big windstorm, or in more recent times an industrial clearcut, the budworm will take advantage of the sunlight that’s opened up, and they will occupy it before the red spruce, which are the longer lived and ultimately, canopy dominant species, or one of them, in the forest. After about 50 or 60 years, budworms start to attack the fir and begin to knock them out. What that means is the balsams had been shading the spruce which can tolerate shade, but also don’t grow very well until a certain point and then they get the sunlight. The budworm therefore releases the spruce, which then can dominate for hundreds of years, provided they aren’t cut down or blown over. In former times before industrial logging and the 19th century, timber logging, they were a minor pest that occurred occasionally, and generally locally.”
“After the 19th century lumbermen cut away the old growth spruce and opened up a lot of sunlight, fir came back. And then the 20th-century paper industry was quite happy with both the younger spruce and the younger firs, so they kept cutting it hard. Conditions by the 1970s were such that when the next budworm, it would periodically occur maybe every 20, 30, or 40 years, when next outbreak came, instead of the old growth conditions, they occurred here and there and somewhere else, they just basically hit the whole forest. They became a major problem. Now, they were still an ecological component and a critical component of the forest. And if left to their own devices things would probably have sorted out over the course of 50 or 100 years.
But because they represented an economic threat to the paper industry, the industry felt they had to salvage the economic value. They were not salvaging the ecological value of the forest. And so they began these massive spray campaigns. In 1976, the year that Mitch was sprayed, they sprayed something like three and a half million acres in Maine. There were also massive spray programs in New Brunswick. And they were spraying really bad stuff. Some of the stuff was being manufactured in Bhopal [Madhya Pradesh, India].”
Did they spray in New Hampshire?
“Very little, if at all, we have a much smaller industrial forest. And the massive clear-cutting that was going on in the 70s and 80s in Maine, had not reached such a scale in New Hampshire. We were doing a couple hundred-acre clearcuts here and there. We were not doing good forestry in the industrial forest. And I hasten to add that the industrial forest, basically is Northern New Hampshire, Coos County, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and then the northern half or so northern two-thirds of Maine.”
“It is very different from the forests of central and southern New England, which are much more oak-dominated. It’s called an Acadian forest, and its major species are northern hardwoods such as sugar maple, beech, ash, yellow birch, and red spruce. Red spruce is kind of the characteristic species of this forest. It’s kind of an intermediary between the northern hardwoods that would characterize say, the White Mountain National Forest and Southern New Hampshire and Vermont, and the boreal forests, which characterize Quebec, particularly north of the St. Lawrence River. It’s a kind of an intermediate, interesting, and beautiful forest.”
What’s the greatest threat to our forests in New Hampshire?
“I have to talk about the two forests because the rest of New Hampshire has a somewhat different ecological forest. But it also has another significant difference, and that is the large landowners, the timber barons of the 19th century, and the paper companies, of the 20th century, dominated the Acadian forest, the northern forests that I call the industrial forests.”
“South of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, the large absentee bodies of capital did not dominate in the way they did up north. So you may have some private landowners who own five hundred or 1,000 acres, but you don’t have landowners who own 50,000, 100,000 acres. What you have is much more a mix of smaller woodlot owners in New Hampshire.”
And what threat are they facing?
“Well, in Southern New Hampshire and central New Hampshire, the threat of development is much more significant than it is up in the industrial forest. That’s not to say there’s no threat of development up north. But the threat of development is quite significant in the more developed parts of New Hampshire. We’re relatively undeveloped, relatively sparsely populated. There are still land holdings of 100,000 acres or 50,000 acres, except on lake shores, which have a lot of protection or are already developed. The threat of development in Coos County in these industrial forests is generally a lot lower. That’s not to say it’s nonexistent, but it is not as much of a threat as bad forestry, intensive forestry where you clear-cut hundreds of acres and don’t allow the young forest to grow back.”
“If you clear cut on a forest and then naturally let it go until the trees started growing or dying of old age, it would be another 400 years. So we’re cutting them again certainly not much more than 50 to 75 years.”
In the book, you write, “In 1899, A.H. Carter, an executive with Berlin Mills Company, Berlin, New Hampshire, expressed the industry’s contempt for conservationists: “I have no patience with these theorists who are continually talking about the destruction of the forests and urging the preservation of timberlands for future generations… [T]he argument for saving the trees for future ages, is most absurd.” Talk about their contempt.
“I think that anybody who believes that they have private property rights to do as they please on the land that they temporarily own it in fee, in other words, their lifetime, or the corporate interest in holding it, resents being told what they can do with their land. And they’ve done a pretty good job of persuading the governments of Maine and New Hampshire and somewhat, also Vermont, that regulations are wrong, and undo the good work they’re doing and all the rest.”
“What they’re conveniently overlooking, and what we the citizens of these states, and frankly, the citizens of the US and the world are failing to remind them is that your ownership is temporary, and it does not convey absolute rights. First of all, you didn’t make the land. Second of all, you do not determine the ecological laws and limits under which it operates. And third of all, you have an ethical obligation to the needs and rights of not only other humans, in other words, your neighbors and those who might be affected by your actions but also by the nonhumans, who call this home and who rely on healthy habitat, to sustain their lives. It’s a much more complex issue than I have property rights, and I can operate any way I want. I own 37 acres, and I think I have some rights to operate on that. But to ignore natural laws, and to ignore the ecological and social consequences of my possible actions, that’s not one of my rights.”
Do you think the conservationists are winning or are they still being beaten back?
“I think that if conservationists were winning, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation, at least in the way we’re having it. Not only are we losing it in terms of restricting the ability of global capital to plunder already badly cut-over land as they please, but we’re also badly losing, both in terms of available time and sensible responses to climate change. Climate change is going to profoundly impact it. It already is, but it’s even more so going to profoundly impact the integrity of any forest, and therefore, the viability of the forest industry that depends on that forest. We’re pretending that’s not true.”
Is that why you wrote this book? What was the purpose behind the book in your heart and your mind?
“I guess what impelled me to get into this work was a deep love of wild nature. This is where I see the real world. I am happiest there. It’s a sense of wonder I don’t understand it very well. But the more I go into it, the more little things I see that bring joy to me and perhaps a little bit of comprehension. The mystery to me is not an enemy or a threat, but an invitation and a dance. I have this long love of wild places and then I had some experiences in places that had been degraded. On a lark, with a few other people, in 1988 I paddled up the Connecticut River, which is easier than it sounds because of all the dams.”
“Well, I started just a tad north of Long Island Sound and paddled 330 miles up to where the Stratford Bog Brook enters the Connecticut which is where I live. The Connecticut extends another 80 miles, and the current would have been stronger, had I gone farther. But what I found even in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where there were marinas, a lot of development, agricultural runoff, and major dams was that the wildness of the river still spoke to me. It was a very powerful thing. First of all, there’s still a lot of great birds and we were watching shad and alewives migrate up the river to their spawning beds.”
“It was not the wilderness that say the first white settlers would have encountered, and that the indigenous people would have known for millennia. But there was something wild. And since then I’ve learned that even the most degraded landscapes, if we step back and let them begin the healing process, they begin to heal themselves, they know what to do. Unfortunately, the healing process is ecologically logical, but it doesn’t do much for the bottom line. If my view of the land is the bottom line to exploit, then I want to speed up processes, I want to change things so that I can focus on the growth of the economic commodity, and what that does. I am not opposed to someone cutting trees and making lumber, I am opposed to them doing it in a way that has a profoundly disruptive impact on the land. In other words, if you are willing to do it with a low impact and a conscientious effort to minimize the impact, you may not make a quick killing, that will inflate your quarterly profit, you will sustain over the course of time, a modest but respectable income. In terms of capital, when you manage in a low-impact way you are harvesting the interest on your capital. If you clear-cut your forest, you are liquidating the capital. And that’s what generates your income.”
“And so they say, but we had to do it because of jobs. Well, okay, so for the six months that you flatten the land, you can stay in jobs. And the next job on that land cutting trees is 50 to 70 to 100 years away. That’s, that’s not sustaining jobs. That’s boom and bust.”
On page 178, you have a picture, it’s a 2015 picture of a 245-acre whole tree harvest, that is devastating to look at. It breaks my heart to see even just to see that type of image. But it’s so important to show and speak about how long it will be for that forest if it ever does have a chance to regrow.
“That’s my neighborhood that’s two miles down the road. And I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that it is an isolated case. I’ll tell you a funny story. About a year ago, a couple of friends visited me and before they had visited me, they had visited Mitch Lansky, up in Wytopitlock, Maine, which is really in the heart of the Maine industrial forest, and Mitch showed them such appalling scenes of wreckage, that when I took them to this 245-acre thing, they said, well, this is bad. But compared to what Mitch showed us, this looks pretty good.”
“I don’t tell that story to say, oh, the thing in my backyard is not really to be worried about. What I’m saying is that the thing in my backyard is appalling, unacceptable, commonplace, and rather small in comparison to the havoc that has been wrought in the industrial forest of Maine for 200 years.”
Are they still wreaking havoc?
“Absolutely. What has happened is the ownership patterns, and Maine is the big case here. New Hampshire is similar to Maine, but on a somewhat smaller scale, and Coos County is only a million acres. So we had about 500,000 acres in industrial forest and Coos County, whereas Maine has 11 or 12 million acres out of the 20 million acres in the state.”
“After the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts, which owned Maine until 1820 and it became a state, tried to pay off Revolutionary War soldiers with grants of land. Not many took them up on it because it was cold, short growing season, shallow soils, and unproductive soils. The further inland you got to what we now call the industrial forest, the worse it became. In terms of that, in other words, near the coast, there was some agricultural land, and still is. But further up the rivers, agriculture was not a promising prospect so by the early 1800s, when the Industrial Revolution was getting started, and cities like Lowell and Boston needed a lot of lumber to build factories and housing, Maine was the place to go, and they went up the rivers and they started cutting. Instead of trying to get small farmers to take it, they just started selling hundreds of 1000s of acres to timber barons who had enough capital to buy the land. By the end of the 19th century, the industrial forest essentially was owned by timber barons, but they cut off the old growth by then, and they wanted the bigger logs, the 15, 20, and 25-inch spruce logs. They’ve long since cut up the white pine, which was huge, but also relatively unabundant. Right about that time the paper industry got started. We had made paper with rags up until just after the Civil War when the ability to make it with wood fiber was developed. In the late 19th century, small paper mills using wood fiber began to spring up along rivers in northern New England. By about 1900, there were conglomerates of that, International Paper being the biggest, then and still, and so, the timber barons were eager to get rid of this land because now it was a tax liability. It wasn’t an economic asset. They had already moved out to the Midwest to the Great Lakes where they were rapidly depleting the pine forests. They were all ready to go over the hump a second time to the Pacific Northwest to get the massive trees there. The paper industry needed timberland to feed their mills and they didn’t need big old trees. So, the relatively small second growth that followed the cutting in the early and mid-part of the 19th century was already there for the taking. The paper industry over the course of from 1900 to 1930, bought up most of that land. So when I entered the scene in 1988, the paper industry, I think it was eight paper companies owned about eight or nine million acres in Northern Maine. A couple of families that were heirs of the old 19th-century timber barons also controlled about a couple of million acres of land. That’s where the next stage of the land ownership pattern began. It began innocuously with one of those 1980s hostile takeovers. The land surrounding where I live was owned by Diamond International and a hostile takeover guy bought Diamond International, sold off all the parts, the various factories, the other holdings, hardware stores, and many other things, and kept the land for five or six years. Then in early 1988, we learned that the land was for sale, and they weren’t trying to sell it to timber owners because the prices were double what a timber investor would pay. The fear was, oh, developers are going to get it right we’re gonna get second homes and lose the timber base. That’s when the whole story that I tell in much more detail begins.”
Who owns the northern forest in New Hampshire?
“What happened between 1988 and 2004 is that the paper companies sold off all of their timberland in Northern New England. The one exception was Irving, which is a major factor in New Brunswick, Canada. They were a late entrant into Maine. They were the only ones who stayed and bought some of that land. But all of the US-based paper companies sold out by 2004. The new buyers were investors. They were hedge funds, university endowments, and billionaires who just decided they wanted to own a million acres here or there. It was basically global capital that was not attached to a paper mill or a sawmill. They saw it as a short-term investment. Their initial plan was within seven to fifteen years, they’d probably flip it to another owner. We’re now 20 years into that process. The new term developed was called timber investment management organizations or TIMO. These TIMOs as I say, are hedge funds, endowments, billionaires, and the like and the hedge funds come in various categories. REITs are real estate investment trusts. The ones who bought the land from the paper company have largely already sold out to a second generation of these TIMOs. I’ve lost track of who owns this because the sales occur every seven to 10 years, and I just became discouraged trying to keep a scorecard.”
“But the pattern is pretty much the same. You go into debt to buy land, you need to pay down debt, and your asset is trees, even though you’re you’ve got an already heavily degraded forest, it’s only in the early stages of recovery. So you cut what’s there and what’s there is low economic value trees. You need a market for that. The states have generously stepped in to subsidize that market, which is called biomass or bioelectricity, which is to say, you chip the forest and put it in a giant boiler to incinerate it. That releases carbon into the atmosphere and captures about 25% of the energy potential in that burned wood to generate electricity. The other 75% of the energy electricity, the energy in the wood is incinerated and is lost as waste heat and of course exacerbates the climate crisis. And we have friendly senators who have passed a law in Congress declaring that bioenergy is carbon neutral even though the carbon stored in the forest has been cut down, chipped, incinerated, and returned to the atmosphere.”
“Due to accounting tricks that only a Hollywood accountant would understand, they can claim that it is carbon neutral, and because it is carbon neutral now by decree, they can qualify for all kinds of public tax breaks and subsidies that go to green energy. It’s an incredible scam and the construction of the Burgess biomass plant in Berlin replaced the paper mill that went down in the early 2000s.”
“A combination of subsidies from the Obama stimulus plan in 2009, 2010, various tax incentives that they qualify for because they’re allegedly carbon neutral, and in more recent times, due to Eversource ratepayer subsidies that have now totaled about $150 million, the Burgess plant has been subsidized to the tune of over $300 million.”
“Which suggests that either it’s a terrible investment unless the public can bail out the unwise investors, or somebody is making a wicked killing. I am not an economic whiz, but if you gave me $300 million to run my business, I bet I could turn a profit too.”
“So what is the public getting for this? We’re getting higher energy rates and we’re getting degraded forests because the state also refuses to regulate to protect our forests from the most abusive forestry.”
“We are subsidizing deforestation and exacerbating the climate crisis because we’re sending existing forests into the atmosphere. And so adding carbon emissions and the existing forests, we’re sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, removing it from the atmosphere, and storing it for longer periods of time. But we just cut them down so the storage capacity and the ability to sequester carbon have been set back to close to ground zero. The whole slow process has to begin again, as opposed to keeping what we have and keeping the forest so that more can be pulled out. It is a nightmare scenario. Because the timber lobby is so powerful, it gets what it wants, and we’re stuck with this calamity. Then we’re told that if we don’t bail them out, again, they’ll close down.”
“Recently the state legislature did refuse to override Sununu’s veto. And we were told, on November 1, the Burgess plant would close down and to my knowledge, it’s still running. So there was some extortion going on there too. There are at least extortionate threats. This is the market that these TIMOs and hedge funds are enjoying. This whole thing is manufactured and calamitous.”
“And here’s the even worse kicker. We could develop a different kind of economy in Coos County and much of Northern Maine. It would be an economy that would be somewhat slow to develop because the condition of our industrial forest is poor. But it would be growing trees, growing forests, and culling out some trees to add value. But you have to wait a certain amount of time until the trees are large enough to add value. You can’t build a post and beam barn or a wooden bridge or make fine instruments on spindly wood. You need that spindly wood to grow up and that takes decades. The small landowners who manage their land responsibly, of course, have a tremendous advantage in this. But what we need is some public assistance to make the transition because we don’t have the infrastructure for that right now. We don’t have value-adding not just turning out two by fours. I mean, yes, we need some two-by-fours, but we need high-value-adding niche products that we can then sell at a premium price. Instead of getting globally set commodity prices over which we have no control, which is the trap we’re in now. By putting hundreds of millions of dollars into subsidizing this climate and ecological calamity, that’s money that could have been used for the transition. Furthermore, Berlin, the alleged recipient of all this money, downtown Berlin still looks like a ghost town. It has hollowed-out storefronts. All of this massive investment into the Berlin area economy has not trickled down to Main Street. Really the biomass plant employs 30 or 40 people. There are truckers and loggers who are doing the transporting, but they could also be cutting high-quality saw logs if we allowed them to grow. They could also be retrained to work in the value-adding plants if we had them. So it’s not like the only option we have is to continue to destroy that which sustains us.”
“And here’s the immoral thing that is so disgraceful. Rural communities such as the one I live in, in Berlin and throughout northern Maine, northern New Hampshire, and the Northeast Kingdom, are given a choice. You can have jobs, or you can have healthy forests, but you can’t have both. That’s utterly immoral and also false. You can have jobs, but not if we continue to subsidize the degradation of that which sustains us and all the other wild creatures who we share this beautiful place with.”
These lands have been sold off to people who only care about investment. It’s like in the newspaper industry, they are buying up the small and large newspapers, gutting them, and getting rid of two-thirds of the employees, so they can sell the newspaper at a profit five or 10 years down the line. The same thing is going on with the land.
“You’re absolutely right. That’s a great point. And having worked on the Coos County Democrat and seeing what the absentee owners have done in terms of milking it for cash and neglecting it for the great qualities that it offered the community when I was there, 35 years ago, it’s heartbreaking. And it’s happening everywhere, agribusiness versus the small farmer.”
“This is the inevitable consequence of globalization and subsidizing global capital, which, as you rightfully pointed out, has no investment in the community other than the land they’ve bought to extract because they treat the land as a commodity, and not as a living community to which we belong and flourish when the biotic community is healthy.”
In the last paragraph of your book, you ask the question, who speaks for the land? Who is?
“In 1988, I was a reporter for the Democrat. I broke the story statewide that Diamond International was selling 70,000 acres in New Hampshire, and 20,000 acres in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, including the 50,000-acre Nash Stream [Forest]. And I immediately thought this could make a great wilderness recovery, watershed, an entire watershed. So we’d have an ecological unit that we could study and also just, it could be open for low-impact recreation. I attended the conservation emergency summit meeting, as both a reporter who was involved in the story, but also as an abutter of some of the Diamond lands and a citizen in Stratford, where the largest single amount of acreage of those Diamond lands for sale occurred. At this summit meeting, there was the representative from the former Governor Sununu, the father of the current one. Judd Gregg was there; Warren Rudman’s assistant was there. In other words, we had the big shots of the political community, and it was held at the Forest Society, Paul Bofinger, then head, was there, several other major conservation groups were represented, and the conversation about what to do about the Diamond lands talked about, we’re going to lose jobs, we’re going to lose wood fiber for our mills, we’re going to lose the timber tax cut. The whole focus was economic.”
“When I was invited to speak, I said, I’ve heard these concerns. But who speaks for the land, and the room went silent, and it was clear that I had committed a major faux pas. A few days later, I got a phone call from my state senator who said that my selfish religious cult advocacy for wilderness was going to cause me to be marginalized and I would lose my seat at the conservation table, and I would lose my credibility. I was so bewildered. I didn’t know what he was talking about that I blurted out, well, I worry about my credibility with the bears, and the conversation kind of deteriorated from there. A week later, I decided to quit the job at the Democrat even though I really enjoyed doing it, and to become an advocate for wild lands and wilderness. That was kind of the key, who speaks for the land that I’ve been asking ever since. At the end of the book, I pose that question again. Then I kind of turn it on its head because one of the things I’ve been trying to convey in the book is the land is telling us stuff. Are we listening? The question now is not who speaks for the land because I do not pretend I’m qualified to speak for the land, except to remind everybody that the land is important and can teach us a lot if we pay attention to it. So, who’s listening to what the land is telling us? Right now the land is screaming out, even if it doesn’t speak American English.”
“I guess the one thing I would add is, in the epilogue to the book, I asked the question, Why are democracies and so-called democracies, because we are less and less democratic when billionaires vote count more than your vote in mind because it’s how much they were worth that determines how many votes they have, thanks to the Supreme Court.”
“But why is it that our democracies, federal, state, and to some extent global, why are they failing the climate crisis test? Why are they failing the biodiversity preservation test and the habitat protection test? And why are they failing the environmental justice test?”
“I offer some thoughts on that. It’s much more of a thought exercise than it is an academic, rigorous proof. But I suggest that until we listen to what the animals and the trees and the fungi are saying, and take that into account, when we try to make political and economic decisions to meet human aspirations, this crisis is going to continue and worsen. So that means that somehow we have to find a way of metaphorically giving the vote to the wolves who suckled the Roman Empire or the Roman Republic anyway, and, to the lichens and to the rivers in the mountains. That doesn’t mean you’re going to have lichens walking into voting booths, obviously. But it does mean that we have to ask, what would they say if we asked them what their needs are on this development, or this proposed clear cut or this dam, or this power line? I’m pretty sure that all species all non-human species anyway, would say, for us to survive and to reproduce viably. As long as our evolutionary destiny plays out, we need healthy habitat.”
“We are bequeathing to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their grandchildren, an overheated planet. Are they going to thank us for all of the disruptions the water level rises, and the degradation of the forest, because Coos County’s current forest is under more stress.”
“We’re condemning our human offspring as well as the non-human species of the future, to a severely degraded and destabilized planet. So are unborn generations of humans going to thank us or are they going to say, no, we want a planet that’s not melting. So get your act together.”
“The challenge is not to get lichens into the voting booth. The challenge is for us to incorporate the needs of the biotic community that sustains us and gives meaning and beauty and joy to our lives into the calculation when we debate whether or not we’re going to build a road here or cut a forest there or build a dam there or whatever. They are never a part of the calculation. The part of the calculation is what does global capital wants, and what will the politicians who they support give us and that is a catastrophe that is only going to get worse. I would like to see us adopt a natural democracy where we’re listening to the land and deriving joy from it and asking less of the land, so we need to consume less and that is not a draconian spartan-like, be miserable and wear a hair shirt and live in a cave kind of thing. It’s actually liberating. Instead of walking through the aisles of these box stores and buying plastics that are produced in a toxic manner and are going to end up in the landfill in no time, take your kids out into the woods and look at something crawling in the ground or something growing that looks interesting and curious and answering their questions and answer your own questions. And explore your backyard and whatnot. There’s the joy of not spending money on something other than obviously, to meet our basic needs, which include the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of happiness doesn’t necessarily include a yacht.”
Beverly Stoddart is a writer, author, and speaker. After 42 years of working at newspapers, she retired to write books. She is on the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She is the author of Stories from the Rolodex, mini-memoirs of journalists from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.