Important message in
Deforestation: Why YOU Need to Stop it NOW, by L. F. Collingwood
The essential message of this book is that we, as consumers, need to take personal responsibility for deforestation, and all other environmental destruction and pollution, because no-one else will if we don’t. While collective responsibility is important, and the ultimate goal, this process starts with us, as individuals, in line with the famous exhortation of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world”.
Collingwood asserts that governments won’t take any real, effective responsibility because they are controlled by big business, especially large transnational companies, and explains how and why this is so. Most environmental activist NGOs are powerless to effect real change because they get drawn into processes where corporations dominate, or become “environmental” fronts of corporations as part of their public relations “greenwash” strategies.
Collingwood recommends that every consumer takes effective action by ceasing purchases of goods that have a detrimental environmental impact. This includes just about everything, but particular attention is paid to palm oil, soybeans and beef. Palm oil is so insidiously hidden in goods. We should rather spend our money on truly sustainable goods – such as, for example, food grown according to organic or permaculture methods. This selective spending is what the author calls “positive consumer activism”, pointing out that this is the only way to effect positive change. The way we spend our money is also our only real vote in a broader, political sense, and if we don’t understand this and put positive consumer activism into practice, we’re simply supporting the system, destroying the planet by default. So, every time we buy something, we must ask: “what are the environmental implications; do I really need this?”
The book starts with a no-holds-barred critique of the global economic system, dubbing it “consumer industrialism” rather than “capitalism”, the usual label for it. This, and all other industrialized economic systems are all ultimately based on the appropriation of natural capital and its conversion into rubbish we don’t really need and, in the process, polluting the planet and filling it with waste. In fact, the system depends on waste production via tactics such as making goods disposable, excessive packaging, and planned obsolescence. Furthermore, the whole system runs on fossil fuels, which makes it extremely unsustainable due to the high levels of socio-economic organization which have been achieved using these finite fuels, especially oil, in the 20th century. The author argues extensively, and authoritatively, on this topic, going in depth into peak oil and the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).
Collingwood gives a historical perspective of deforestation, the principal source of energy capital before fossil fuels, showing how all “civilization”, since the advent of agriculture, has been ultimately at the expense of forests. To substantiate this, he takes a new look at the medieval European, British Empire and USA episodes of major deforestation.
Another lesson from history, that of Easter Island, is particularly relevant to our current predicament, as the parallels between what the Easter Islanders did to their island, and what we’re doing now to our planet, are particularly striking. One of those parallels is that as the Easter Islanders had nowhere to move on to in order to avoid societal collapse as they cut all their trees down, nor do we. The only difference is that we’re destroying the entire planetary environment, not just that of an obscure small island in the middle of the Pacific. Easter Island should thus serve as an example of what not to do, and so we should be learning from it. Instead, we’re ignoring it and so repeating their mistake. As an example of what we should be doing, he describes the post-USSR Cuban example of adaptation to fossil fuel shortages, where the Cubans embarked on intensive organic agriculture, in both rural and urban settings, in order to establish truly sustainable food self-sufficiency.
The book covers a wide range of disciplines to show that everything is connected. Apart from economics, history, and energy issues, the book also covers spiritual and socio-political aspects, for the simple reason that we need to change our very relationship with Nature, which is ultimately a moral relationship, and therefore spiritual. This discussion is characteristically thorough, bringing in insights such as an interpretation of the Garden of Eden story as a parable of thermodynamic sustainability (where Mankind lives in harmony with Nature at the level of current solar influx); deriving a “law” of universal morality based on the second law; and also introducing certain Tarot cards as keys to understanding applicable universal spiritual principles.
Collingwood makes extensive use of quotes from a wide range of books, journals, newspapers and websites. He writes with forthrightness and sometimes a bit too long-windedly. The book is mostly interesting and sometimes even entertaining in a satirical, cynical way, showing no patience with all that he considers (and actually is) stupid about what we are doing to the planet, and ultimately to ourselves. He doesn’t hold back when it comes to destroying delusional orthodoxies, and could therefore inspire controversy. An example of this is his dismissal of so-called “alternative” or “renewable” energy devices. These are derivatives of fossil fuels, dependent on fossil fuel systems and infrastructure for their manufacture, installation, maintenance, and ultimate scrapping. Such devices have their uses, but only as peripheral add-ons to fossil fuel grids, in order to marginally reduce fossil fuel consumption, not replace it.
The only way out, he says, is to “power down” and deconstruct the complex global systems that have been built over the last few hundred years, but particularly in the post-war period when the human population rocketed from just under 2 billion at the turn of the 20th century to around 7 billion now. We need to get back to basics as much as possible, simplify our lifestyles and values, drastically reduce consumption, and reallocate resources more fairly and sustainably, focusing on producing food locally, where possible, and generally rediscovering our appreciation of the simple, non-material pleasures in life. Ultimately, we make the choice of either the path of the Easter Islanders, or of the Cubans, the former being the “dumb” choice, the latter the intelligent one. Collingwood says he’d put his money on us making the dumb choice, but that this is one bet he’d be very happy to lose!
Leigh Collingwood (2011). Deforestation: Why YOU need to stop it NOW. Osborne Porter Literary Services, Westville. (426 pages)
Order Deforestation: Why YOU need to stop it NOW directly from the author, by sending a request to:
Price: $35 plus postage and packing (approx. + $35 to Sweden from South Africa).Payable via paypal. An ebook version may be available in the near future, and if this would be preferred, discuss it with the author.
About the author
South African environmental activist, Leigh Collingwood, has dedicated 7 years of his life to researching and writing this book. He has a bachelor’s degree in Social Science with majors in psychology and economics. Otherwise, he is mostly a self-taught “intelligent layman” activist, borrowing this term from one of his principal sources for Part 1 in his book, EF Schumacher, author of the 1970s classic of alternative, sustainable economics, Small is Beautiful. He has been an avid amateur scholar since childhood, showing an early aptitude for the natural and human sciences, moving later into religion, spirituality and philosophy. He is a fully independent, eclectic thinker and truth-seeker, being not associated with any institutional or sectarian orthodoxies whatsoever.