hundred and forty years ago, Frederick Engels, close collaborator of
Karl Marx, wrote in his book The Dialectics of Nature
that "in nature nothing takes place in isolation. Everything affects
every other thing and vice versa, and it is usually because this
many-sided motion and interaction is forgotten that our natural
scientists are prevented from clearly seeing the simplest things."
further wrote, "Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our
human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on
us." And he cited examples of this revenge by pointing out how, in
previous centuries, cutting down the forests in Mesopotamia, Greece,
and other places in Europe, created the conditions for devastating
floods and erosion.
In that regard, Engels
criticized many of the thinkers and politicians of that time for
viewing natural phenomena as isolated and separate from other phenomena
-- as if things existed solely in themselves -- and not taking into
account their multi-sided interrelations and interconnections. It was a
kind of compartmentalization of nature and life itself which put things
into silos and went against how the real world unfolds.
then, science has made great strides in showing how, as Engels and
other dialectical thinkers have argued since ancient times, nature is
interconnected and interrelated in so many ways and, indeed, how the
earth itself is an interconnected whole, a great, complex biosphere
that is the womb of life, and that is in a state of continual change,
development and motion.
As human beings
and creatures of the biosphere, far from being cordoned off from
nature, we are an extension of this nature and, conversely, nature is
an extension of us. We are both organic and inorganic. By that is meant
that matter, such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food
we eat, and so on, can be said to be an integral part of our larger
being as humans and without which we could not survive.
we could not last for more than a few minutes without the oxygen-rich
biosphere that surrounds us which has been built up by other life forms
over millions of years. Even our digestion of food is dependent upon
billions of microbes and bacteria that live symbiotically within our
Forests are complex networks that exist in
continuums of time and space, from plants that can be hundreds of years
old to wildflowers that last only a brief season; from larger
landscapes involving many kilometres of forest, to the tiny ecosystem
of a pool in a creek.
In this biosphere, rather than being mute, solitary, isolated
entities, trees themselves have been found to interconnect and
communicate with one another displaying, some believe, a type of
proto-consciousness. For example, trees that are attacked by insects
send chemical warnings to other trees to issue sticky sap to repel the
And there are countless other examples of these interconnections
between life forms and matter itself in this biosphere of which we are
the most conscious part.
After so many years and so
much evidence that has emerged about the dialectical interconnections
of nature, one would think that forestry and environmental policy would
follow in line with this holistic way of thinking. But, unfortunately,
that is too often not the case.
For example, in
2018 -- just like the flooding long ago in Mesopotamia and Greece that
Engels mentioned -- the community of Grand Forks in BC suffered a
devastating flood which residents say was caused by clear cut logging
and over-harvesting by companies on nearby mountain slopes, that
resulted in torrents of water pouring down and flooding the town.
cutting was done despite many warnings about the interconnection of
trees as crucial reservoirs for rainwater and stabilizers of the soil.
Now residents have taken the government and forest companies to court
for compensation. But the damage has been done. Unfortunately, the same
problem has repeatedly happened elsewhere in the province.
another telling example, decades ago, decisions were made to clearcut
forests throughout the Interior of the province and replant them with
vast monocultures of lodgepole pine, rather than replicating the
natural diversity of deciduous and coniferous tree species. By focusing
solely on growing lodgepole pine and not looking in an all-sided way at
the imbalance and disruption such a planting would cause, government
and forest companies created a vast monoculture host of vulnerable pine.
As a result, a serious pine beetle epidemic was unleashed
which eventually destroyed millions of hectares of BC's interior
forests, resulting in the closure of dozens of mills, the loss of
thousands of jobs, devastation of communities and even more
catastrophic flooding and erosion. Of course, other factors like
climate change and forest fire suppression also played a big role in
the pine beetle epidemic, but the singular focus on planting vulnerable
monocultures of pine to achieve maximum corporate profit was an
And then there is the issue of
glyphosate spraying in the interior of BC. Monsanto, the giant
herbicide and chemical company that manufactures glyphosate is a big
promoter of this narrow view of looking at natural phenomena to the
extent that the company pays corrupt scientists to write reports that
claim the effects of glyphosate are compartmentalized and only impact
broad leaf plants and not the larger environment or the health of human
This is despite numerous other studies showing that glyphosate and its
effects migrate through the food chain and environment impacting these
in a negative way.
As dialectics reveal, the
quantitative build-up of glyphosate in human bodies can eventually
result in qualitative change, i.e. people contracting cancer as is
shown with the court cases in the U.S. and Canada launched by thousands
of cancer victims.
forests are viewed in a one-sided way by the big companies and
government officials in their service as simply trees to be cut down,
rather than in an all-sided way as eco-systems with all sorts of
environmental, economic, scientific and cultural values to be
preserved. Experience has shown that once a forest is clearcut, the
original eco-system is permanently altered and cannot be brought back.
wood product itself is seen in a most limited way, for example, as raw
logs to be exported or minimally processed, rather than as a
wonderfully complex organic substance which can be processed into a
wide range of useful products from pharmaceuticals to fabrics to
So, what is the block to
conducting forestry in an all-sided way? Not a few would argue that it
is the interests of globalized monopoly capitalist forest companies
aggressively pushing their narrow, profit-seeking, compartmentalized
views and policies on government and the society at large, and who have
monopoly control over the forest resource.
the most insidious claims is that forestry workers and their jobs are
somehow separated from or at odds with the environment itself and that
you can only prioritize one at the expense of the other. The fact is
that the workplace environment is part of the larger environment. For
example, back in Engels' time of the 1800s, the first victims of the
horrific environmental pollution generated by the workplaces of the
industrial revolution in England were workers and their families. In 2018, many of
the houses that were flooded in Grand Forks, BC likely belonged to mill
and forestry workers.
In regards to glyphosate,
helicopter pilots and forestry workers who are engaged in spraying of
the herbicide are exposed to its toxic effects. Furthermore, because
the big companies over-harvest, clearcut, and refuse to produce more
value from the wood, timber supply in regions is affected and many
workers lose their jobs because of shortages of fiber.
In this monopoly
capitalist model, workers are alienated from their forestry jobs and
have little or no say over production, and communities are alienated
from the forests around them, also having little or no say over what
happens. Small and medium-sized companies, forestry contractors,
independent scientists and others are left out of the picture as well
and the big forest companies dominate. The end result is the current
disastrous state of our once great forest resource in the province.
It is in the interest of workers and communities to be
environmental-minded and it is in the interest of environmentalists to
reach out and include workers and communities, both Indigenous and
non-Indigenous in their proposals for the forests. Together progress
can be made.
And there are solutions on both
smaller and bigger scales. For example, instead of glyphosate spraying,
why not have manual brushing and cutting of broad leaf trees? Or better
yet, why not maintain existing broad leaf trees such as aspen and birch
as productive and beneficial species, as Stop the Spray BC has
suggested. This will certainly create more jobs and be easier on the
Instead of clearcutting why not selective harvesting, as well
as more value-added production? Again, these would create more jobs and
reduce the impact on the environment.
preserve what little old growth forest remains in the province and have
forest production focus on second growth forests, as Conservation North
Rather than looking at forests as stands of trees simply to be knocked
down, why not see human activity as being embedded within forest
ecosystems and strive for this activity to be consistent with the
natural laws of those ecosystems?
And why not have
communities, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, have control over
adjacent forests rather than big companies and distant government
On the larger scale, why not base the
model for forest management and the forest economy itself on a
dialectical, all-sided approach that puts the environment and the
interests of workers, communities and the people of the province first
and in charge?
1. Frederick Engels, Dialectics of Nature
Forest Foundation, "An ecosystem-based approach to forest use:
definition and scientific rationale" (September 1997).
Wohlleben, The hidden
life of trees (Greystone Books, 2015).
Popyk, "Negligent logging caused 2018 floods, Grand Forks
residents allege in class action lawsuit," CBC News (September 15,
Carey Gillam, Whitewash:
the story of a weed killer, cancer, and the corruption of science
(Island Press, 2017).
Jonathan Gatehouse, "A roundhouse against Roundup," The National (May
Frederick Engels, The
condition of the working class in England in 1844.
conservation planning (video).
9. Stop the Spray BC.
10. Conservation North.
This article was published in
Volume 51 Number 8 - March 21, 2021