August 4, 2005

Pulp Friction – How the magazine industry is fuelling ancient forest destruction

Filed under: — ken finn @ 12:07 am

By Ken Finn.

Introduced by Belinda Fletcher, Greenpeace Forest Campaigner

As magazine publishers like the BBC, IPC and EMAP increasingly come under fire for sourcing paper from controversial forest areas, author Ken Finn went to visit Greenpeace’s Forest Rescue Station in Lapland, Northern Finland to see for himself the effects of relentless logging by the Finnish Government on the last Sámi reindeer forests. The SÃmi are indigenous reindeer herders who rely on Lapland’s remaining old-growth forests to provide vital food for their herds during the cold winter months. The reindeer forests have been reduced piece by piece by the government’s own logging company, MetsÃhallitus, which carries out most of the logging in Lapland.

Under a bright new moon a siren wailed. Every half hour since I’d tucked up for the night in a sleeping bag good for minus 30 degrees, it’s warning had disturbed the peace. Out under the stars gazing up through the pines I’d hoped to see the Northern Lights but as fine snow fell on my face the siren’s rising and falling drone stirred old and deep feelings of emergency. It was an alarm that would have sent my mother running to shelter from the terror of the Blitz.

Tonight the forest was a theatre of images and sounds that had been contorted into a confusing mixture of terror and horror, Sirens, chainsaws, screams and burning crosses. Dark figures lit by the moon crunched in the snow at the edge of the camp.

This reign of terror and intimidation is the logger’s response to a moratorium on cutting Finland’s ancient forests in Lapland. They want Greenpeace and it’s supporters to leave. Though for the Sami, the only remaining indigenous people of Northern Europe this could be the last chance to save their homeland.

As an Author I had been invited by Greenpeace to see first hand what’s at stake in the supply of paper into Europe; the stock of a writer’s profession. It was a shock to learn that ancient forest is being pulped to feed the demand of the UK magazine industry, with publishers like the BBC, EMAP and IPC using fibre from Northern Lapland for some of their magazines.

The Forest Rescue Station established by Greenpeace at the invitation of the Sami has stirred up hostility among locals who fear for their livelihoods. In response to the threat of job losses logging employees have set up their own camp just a hundred metres down the road calling it the ‘Anti Terrorist Information Centre.’ Tonight however it’s clear who’s dishing out the terror.

As the dawn broke and the sun sent sparkling shards low through the trees all was quiet, fresh and beautiful. I savoured the moment then captured it with my camera kept in hope of just such a scene. Sadly it was to be last morning that the sun would warm the bark of the trees in my viewfinder. The following night in an escalation of the terror campaign a large tree-harvesting machine was driven into the Greenpeace camp to fell the aged pine.

So what’s behind the madness that creates bad guys from ordinary people and casts Greenpeace locally as the villain of the piece? At the centre of the dispute are the conflicting interests of the state owned logging company and the reindeer herding Sami people who are calling for the preservation of ancient forest and winter grazing for their reindeer. The arguments put forward by the Sami representatives during our visit in favour of saving these last tracts of old growth forests were compelling. The logging company declined to talk.

Determined to hear both sides of the story though our delegation of half a dozen European authors went down to meet the loggers at their camp. It is essentially a workers picket line. Ordinary working people frightened for their future pushed into a corner. Their banners of ‘Greenpeace = Al-Qa’ida’ and ‘Greenpeace/Green Nazi’ seemed ill conceived in light of the media circus that was ready for us but another reading ‘Authors we love you but Greenpeace go home’ was a slightly more reassuring welcome.

Separating people from their actions can be difficult but it was easy to understand the concerns of the people we met. In their eyes this is simply a struggle for jobs and survival but they join a growing number of workers whose jobs and job security are disappearing. On the day I left the UK for Finland the collapse of UK,s last major car manufacturer Rover, was announced with up to twenty thousand lives thrown into flux. The flow of western investment to China’s motor industry, a predicted $13bn by the end of the decade must be set to have a serious impact on the European car industry. It’s clear big business doesn’t care who does the work as long as it’s cheap.

In wealthy Europe redundant car workers will benefit from retraining and aid cash to soften the blow as the inexorable shift in manufacturing continues eastwards. In this dispute though it seems the Finnish government has left its employees out in the cold. By continuing to refer to the problem as a local issue workers are left to fear for their future driving them to desperate measures. It must be the duty of government to step in to provide security for families working in an area that has become subject to changing consumer values. Given a choice, a growing number of informed customers for Finland’s paper will insist that it’s origins aren’t tainted with the destruction of ancient forest or cultures.

While the Loggers fret for their futures the Sami people struggle to preserve their cultural way of life too. Inevitably the lines between Finnish and Sami have been blurred over the years but a strong identity still remains. I talked to a veteran Sami campaigner Niillas Somby about the differences in understanding the value of the forest – the distinction between living in nature and the concept of owning it. He told me how the Sami didn’t believe in monuments, statements of dominance over the environment, ‘The spirits are in everything, trees, water and the creatures yet when the missionaries came, first they built churches.’ Even now one of the things that upsets Niillas is that tourists love to make little stacks with the flat stones that litter the ground. With a smile he said, ‘you westerners cannot leave without saying, ‘I was here’ with your little monuments.’ I had to recognise my failing for occasionally arranging leaves in the forest or pebbles on a beach. It was small education on how we view the world yet it caught me in my tracks.

As we place a value on the natural world in terms of a resource we subject it to ownership. It becomes ours to fence and harvest, to build our monuments. As our cultures become homogenised so will our landscape, a monoculture to feed the needs of commerce. Yet our hearts are lifted by the infinite originality of nature, we marvel at the splendour of wilderness even if it’s only on TV. And it’s OK to watch rather than participate in nature just so long as we don’t commit it to the re-runs of things that died long ago. Choose life.

‘My Journey with a Remarkable Tree’ by Ken Finn (Eye Books) is printed on a 30% FSC certified paper as part of the Greenpeace Book Campaign.


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