Sustainability: A Focus on Forests and Forestry

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INTRODUCTION

Occam's razor: "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate"

[William of Occam (1284-1347), an English philosopher and theologian]

Occam's razor is the basis for the law of parsimony and the rule of simplicity: do not posit complexity more than necessary. However, Occam's razor has two "edges": it says as simple as possible but as complex as necessary.

A problem is an issue that does not get solved. An issue that gets solved quickly is not a problem. Problem issues often persist because they are complex and only simple solutions are offered. Complexity must be addressed, as required by Occam's razor.

There are few issues that have united the nations of the world more than concern over the environment and sustainability. Although there are still some countries which have not yet given environmental issues a high priority, their number is declining. Important contributions to this growing international unity over the environment include the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (Our Common Future) which promoted the concept of "sustainable development", and the Rio Summit on the Environment (UNCED) that produced Agenda 21.

There is widespread support for the principle of sustainable development, but not everyone agrees with it. Some consider that the term is an oxymoron: that "sustainable" and "development" are incompatible concepts, and point to the numerous examples in which past industrial development and the application of technology have resulted in environmental damage: deforestation in the tropics, non-sustainable agriculture, over-exploitation of marine resources, air and water pollution, and the alteration of the earth's atmosphere. Many environmentalists have challenged the claim made by foresters that forests are being managed in a sustainable manner; they assert that industrial utilization of forest resources is not sustainable. The current public criticism of forestry demands a careful analysis of what is meant by sustainable use or development of forests. The question, "can we use and sustain our forests", which must be answered by those who manage public forests, transcends the traditional concern over sustaining the supply of timber products, important though this is. Today's society is demanding that a wide range of values be sustained.

A 2003 world human population of about 6.3 billion, with the prospect of another 3 to 4 billion by the end of the century (Lutz et al. 2001), requires that humans learn to live sustainably with their environment and with each other. The "human footprint" per capita (Wackernagle and Rees 1996) must be reduced as the abundance of our species continues to rise if we wish to bequeath to our great grandchildren the future that we think they and their grandchildren will want. Few would disagree with this intergenerational ethical imperative. Equally few appear to agree on what we have to do to achieve this.

There are many reasons for the difficulty. One of the most fundamental is the diversity of definitions of what sustainability is. Another is the dichotomy between the fundamentals of biophysical sustainability and the ideals of social and economic sustainability, a dichotomy that we will see shortly is more apparent than real.

While societies and their economies are certainly dynamic, many of the contemporary goals of society imply the stability of human economies and communities. Continued growth in economic activity and improvement in human well being is currently a fundamental pillar of most western societies, but this is considered by many to be non-sustainable, and basic principles suggest that eventually humans will have to develop stable economies, communities and lifestyles. In contrast to contemporary social goals, one of the key characteristics of ecosystems, especially terrestrial ecosystems, is that they change over time, and it is widely accepted by forest ecologists that shorter-term change is a necessary prerequisite for longer-term constancy in forests. …