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Response to conservative video on trees

Diqiucun_Cunmin
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8/27/2016 6:50:12 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
Before I begin, I should clarify my use of 'conservative' in the title. It is used in the context of modern American politics. This is because this video belongs to series that serves as a soapbox for conservative political views, and it is only appropriate for me to label it as such. I do not mean this in a derogative manner: the series may be biased, but it has produced insightful and informative videos, e.g. the modern art and minimum wage videos. This video, however, is definitely not among the good ones.

The presenter is Patrick Moore, a scientist who, since leaving Greenpeace, has been a vocal critic of the organisation. I know he has authored a book on this topic, and I confess that I have not read it. My point in writing this OP is not to counter his ideas in general, but to critique the deceitful argumentation in this video. I don't contest the facts he presented.

This video is factually accurate - but it is exactly in its factual accuracy that its insidiousness mainly lies. The arguments presented therein, used to downplay the gravity of the deforestation issue, are fallacious, misleading and, in my opinion, dishonest, which is what I attempt to deconstruct in this thread.

I will ignore the opening and start from 1:06, where Patrick Moore portrayed the debate on trees as a quarrel between two broad camps: Those who see forests as a renewable resource and those who see them as ecosystems that must be protected. This is a very simplistic view - there are far more stakeholders than that - but never mind. Moore's central thesis is to find a compromise - nay, a reconciliation - between these two views, but fails miserably. His 'solution' caters solely to the demands of the first group, and completely ignores the second.

The rest of the video is split between two 'misconceptions' about the issue. Both are merely straw men; they are not held by anyone with serious concerns about the environment.

The first is that forestry should not be equated with deforestation. I doubt any environmentalist confuses the two, but never mind. Moore mentions that when we use paper or wood, we're sending a signal to the marketplace to plant more trees in a plantation. Sure, a well-managed tree plantation is a very good thing to get paper from, compared to cutting down virgin forests. That's how we get much of our paper these days. I don't argue with that.

But does that entail that consuming more and more paper and wood products - and sending signals to establish more and more plantations - is a *good* thing? That it would be acceptable to clear-cut original forests and turn them all into plantations (which, if Moore's view is taken to the extreme, would imply)? Well, no. Plantation agriculture, no matter how well managed, is no substitute for natural forests with a diversity of species. Tree farms tend to practise monoculture, and this alone reduces the diversity of food sources and microclimates that different denizens of the original forests can enjoy. Thus, endangered species are still threatened by plantation agriculture, and potential materials for future medicines will be gone in the process. There are also other ecological impacts: For example, a smaller portion of the nutrient pool is uptaken by plants and cycled through the biomass, disrupting the nutrient cycle, and there will be greater nutrient loss in runoff. Expanding plantations rides roughshod over the needs of ecosystems and their members, which directly contradicts the demands of the second group mentioned at the beginning.

Moore also mentioned that tree plantations were 'no different' from other 'renewable crops'. Here, he's exploiting the public's ignorance of the impacts of agriculture on the environment. The analogy is right, but these other crops are problematic too, for reasons I'll cover in greater detail below.

Moore also conveniently ignores the fact that many companies remain bent on deforesting virgin forests. In Southeast Asia, where the rate of deforestation has been the fastest in recent years, APP is particularly notorious for doing so. They have made plans to revert to plantation agriculture, but only after exhausting most of the natural rainforest resources there. Although Moore evaded this issue in the video, he is known to have defended APP's practices before. He claimed to be writing a scientific report, but lifted sentences from APP's PR material, a move that does not particularly lend to credibility (https://www.theguardian.com...). I won't go into this, as it is tangential to my critique of the video. .

On deforestation, Moore simply states that deforestation is usually not a bad thing because of the good it brings: farmland and urban land. That's not a strong argument because it covers just the pros and not the cons. Deforestation, by definition, coverts forest land to other land uses, and of course these other land uses have value. But deforestation also brings dire consequences such as increased risks of soil erosion, silting and flooding, ecosystem destruction, etc. (I'm sure most of us have learnt the details of this in school, so I won't go over them.) Surely we should be heading towards new directions, such as the compact urban form (https://en.wikipedia.org...) and vertical farming (https://en.wikipedia.org...), which reduce the amount of land we have to clear while providing for a growing population. There are better alternatives to deforestation - it's a matter of opportunity cost.

The second 'misconception' is that people often associate visual beauty with environmental friendliness - another straw man. I don't think anyone with even an iota of concern about deforestation is unaware that cattle ranching is responsible for the lion's share of clear-cutting in the Brazilian Amazon. It is also common knowledge that sedentary farming in originally forested areas, particularly farms that practise monoculture using farm crops, have been all but beneficial to the environment. Even discounting the deleterious effects of applying pesticides and fertilisers, such as the pollution of water sources and eutrophication, the replacement of the forest canopy with crops disrupts the flow of nutrients, leads to increase runoff and soil erosion, and places immense pressure on the land's carrying capacity. Such was the case of peanut and biofuel farming in Africa, for example, which ended up leading to starvation instead.

None of this entails that cutting trees is a good thing. The technique he has employed here is to claim that one thing (clearing land for agriculture) is associated with 'good' because of aesthetic reasons, mention another thing (clearing land for urban development) that is associated with 'bad', explain that they are of the same nature, and thus lead to viewer to think that both are 'good', even though they could both be 'bad'.

In conclusion, this video ought to have no effect whatsoever on environmentalists who are already familiar with the issue. Its impressive rhetoric will sway the uninformed, but as responsible stewards of our planet, we ought to know better.

TL;DR: Consuming more wood and paper to 'grow more trees' is a bad idea: Keep recycling, reusing and reducing. Deforestation has devastating consequences on the environment: It's sometimes a necessary evil, but we can work to make it less necessary.
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

Don't be a stat cynic:
http://www.debate.org...

Response to conservative views on deforestation:
http://www.debate.org...

Topics I'd like to debate (not debating ATM): http://tinyurl.com...
R0b1Billion
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9/3/2016 8:54:42 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
This video is factually accurate - but it is exactly in its factual accuracy that its insidiousness mainly lies. The arguments presented therein, used to downplay the gravity of the deforestation issue, are fallacious, misleading and, in my opinion, dishonest, which is what I attempt to deconstruct in this thread.

1. Lies
2. Damned lies
3. Statistics<------------------

I will ignore the opening and start from 1:06, where Patrick Moore portrayed the debate on trees as a quarrel between two broad camps: Those who see forests as a renewable resource and those who see them as ecosystems that must be protected. This is a very simplistic view - there are far more stakeholders than that - but never mind. Moore's central thesis is to find a compromise - nay, a reconciliation - between these two views, but fails miserably. His 'solution' caters solely to the demands of the first group, and completely ignores the second.

Isn't that the heart and soul of those who do not properly value the environment? They are intrinsically myopic. They consider the economy and the environment things to be compartmentalized and managed as if they were departments of a company. Destroy an ancient forest here and plant a park in the city there and it can be equated because of some shortsighted economic metric. Nature has no value, because there isn't anything in nature that can't and won't eventually be replaced with a superior artifice. Nature only has value if it becomes a fetish of somebody who has the capital to indulge in that fetish.
Beliefs in a nutshell:
- The Ends never justify the Means.
- Objectivity is secondary to subjectivity.
- The War on Drugs is the worst policy in the U.S.
- Most people worship technology as a religion.
- Computers will never become sentient.
Diqiucun_Cunmin
Posts: 2,710
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9/16/2016 6:44:45 AM
Posted: 2 months ago
At 9/3/2016 8:54:42 PM, R0b1Billion wrote:
This video is factually accurate - but it is exactly in its factual accuracy that its insidiousness mainly lies. The arguments presented therein, used to downplay the gravity of the deforestation issue, are fallacious, misleading and, in my opinion, dishonest, which is what I attempt to deconstruct in this thread.

1. Lies
2. Damned lies
3. Statistics<------------------
The use of statistics was actually minimal in the video, and not really the main technique of deception employed. Rather, his arguments contain hidden premises which are unjustified. For instance, he mentioned the forest cover not changing in area, which is probably true. But his conclusion - that the state of the US's forests is therefore not worrying - is false. The thing is, afforestation is no replacement for preservation, because the original ecosystems took centuries to grow and reach an ecological climax. No amount of afforested canopy can recover the costs incurred.
I will ignore the opening and start from 1:06, where Patrick Moore portrayed the debate on trees as a quarrel between two broad camps: Those who see forests as a renewable resource and those who see them as ecosystems that must be protected. This is a very simplistic view - there are far more stakeholders than that - but never mind. Moore's central thesis is to find a compromise - nay, a reconciliation - between these two views, but fails miserably. His 'solution' caters solely to the demands of the first group, and completely ignores the second.

Isn't that the heart and soul of those who do not properly value the environment? They are intrinsically myopic. They consider the economy and the environment things to be compartmentalized and managed as if they were departments of a company.
I agree with this, and the argument doesn't just apply to the relationship between the economy and the environment, but also to society, culture, etc. The various spheres are interconnected in many ways and to treat them as separate departments, as though they perform different jobs with minimal interactions amongst themselves, is to ignore their high level of interdependence: A change in one sphere will necessarily set off a wave of change that affects the others.
Destroy an ancient forest here and plant a park in the city there and it can be equated because of some shortsighted economic metric. Nature has no value, because there isn't anything in nature that can't and won't eventually be replaced with a superior artifice. Nature only has value if it becomes a fetish of somebody who has the capital to indulge in that fetish.
That is certainly a myopic and disgusting view, though the stance espoused by the video is a more moderate one that I find more acceptable. There are at least two ways of looking at the relationship between the economy and the environment:
-The environment is a resource that provides humans with input for production and thereby contributes to human flourishing (in economic terms, one of the four factors of production)
-The economy is one aspect of human life, and the human population is, in turn, an integral part of the environment (in ecological terms, one of the biotic components of the ecosystem)

If asked which perspective is 'higher' or shows more foresight, I would opt for the latter in a heartbeat. However, the former has its place. This is one of my favourite passages from the Doctrine of the Mean (tr. James Legge):

'It is only he who is possessed of the most complete sincerity that can exist under heaven, who can give its full development to his nature. Able to give its full development to his own nature, he can do the same to the nature of other men. Able to give its full development to the nature of other men, he can give their full development to the natures of animals and things. Able to give their full development to the natures of creatures and things, he can assist the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth. Able to assist the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth, he may with Heaven and Earth form a ternion.'

It is only when mankind has been granted full development that we are able to contribute to Nature as a whole. In the modern world, economic tools are the best means to allow humans to thrive. Of course, as you have mentioned, this does not mean blindly pursuing some short-term economic metric; the problem with this attitude is that the boundary between indicators of progress and actual progress will be blurred, and we will abandon real prosperity in favour of various measures of economic performance. But the best way to, say, provide for the poor is to stimulate the economy, to retrain the workers and increase their bargaining power, and to ensure a more equitable economic system where every person has a positive ability to succeed if they wish.

But I digress. The point is, human flourishing does come first in priority, and when it is our goal, it is only natural that we look upon nature through economic lens: Treat forests as a factor of production.

Yet this does not entail the stances espoused in the video, for clear-cutting and deforestation can and do lead to nefarious consequences that spell catastrophe for human prosperity as well. Diverse ecosystems are, contrary to what Moore seems to believe, essential to socioeconomic development. For instance, by driving species of organisms to extinction with our chainsaws, we may have lost many a potential cure for devastating diseases like cancer and AIDS. The loss of genetic diversity in forests, likewise, is increasingly problematic for agriculture. The languages and cultures of the indigenous peoples of tropical rainforests, which are not only fascinating for linguistic and anthropological research but also potential attractions for tourists, are dying away at breakneck speeds.

I understand and sympathise with the position that sees forests and other aspects of nature as resources, but do not believe it to be compatible with the destruction of nature at all.
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

Don't be a stat cynic:
http://www.debate.org...

Response to conservative views on deforestation:
http://www.debate.org...

Topics I'd like to debate (not debating ATM): http://tinyurl.com...