Public forests: seeing the trees, not the wood | Editorial

From Global development | The Guardian Sun Feb 3 2013, 17:23:19

The government's decision to increase public ownership of forests will be an investment with returns for everybody

The decision to place the future of England's public forests in the hands of a new independent authority represents a double U-turn. Having in 2010 announced an "everything must go" policy, ministers changed their minds and have now called for even more public ownership. And having demanded a "bonfire of the quangos", ministers have announced a new one. But rather than derision, last week's announcement about the future of the nation's greenest assets has been welcomed by groups as diverse as country landowners and birdwatchers, the biofuels lobby and forestry scientists. There are two reasons for this. One is that the proposal is so imprecise that there isn't much to disagree with. Another is that you can't go wrong with a policy that calls for more trees.

Just for once, try to see the trees and not the wood. Phrases such as "natural capital", "green assets" and "ecosystem services" imply that society should conserve, manage and exploit woodland for its monetary or recreational value. That might be to miss the most important point: that everything about the human economy depends either on things that grow in the ground, or stuff we take out of the ground, and most of that, too, was once living foliage.

The vegetable world is the economy's primary producer: photosynthetic cells capture a proportion of the sun's radiant energy and from that silent, diurnal act comes everything we have: air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, fibres to wear, ...

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