Activist Zoe Blunt Defends Canada’s Forests and Urges Us to Join In

Interview by Mickey Z, Planet Green

A self-described “journalism school dropout living in Victoria, British Columbia,” Zoe Blunt lives the eco-activist life and writes about it. For example:

Zoe Blunt. Photo by Tony Bounsall

“I’m standing at the base of the tree leaning back on my harness and peering at the platform sixty feet above. Ingmar is encouraging me to get up there. The press conference is supposed to start in forty-five minutes and we need to get into position. Ingmar’s fully informed about my slightly spastic condition and I can tell he’s not sure if I can still do this. I give him a thumbs up and start up the rope. By the time the camera crews arrive, we’re both up on the platform with our feet dangling down.”

Zoe likes to say she’s no action hero, but I say we could use a few million just like her. That’s why I interviewed her about old-growth forests, tree-spiking, direct action, and more.

My Conversation With Zoe Blunt

Planet Green: For those unclear about the term, how do you define “direct action” and why do you feel it’s the best way to save old-growth forests?

Zoe Blunt: Direct action for social change is the alternative to voting for politicians who won’t represent us, or petitioning a biased justice system, or lobbying toxic executives who won’t listen. It’s DIY. Instead of asking for help, or for mercy, people are taking the means into our hands and creating the change that’s needed. There are lots of examples—the Underground Railroad, the Freedom Riders, logging blockades, squats, guerrilla gardens, shutting down world trade meetings, and the first battered-women’s shelters. It’s often illegal, and sometimes it’s so effective it forces a change to the laws!

PG: It seems most of us have been taught the opposite, to work only within the system.

ZB: There’s a common delusion that we can stop environmental destruction by appealing to reason and common sense and the common good. But here on the West Coast of BC, the government and the logging industry work hand in hand to clearcut entire watersheds. Over 90% of our old-growth forests are gone and they are going after the last bits. Everyone knows the effect of clearcutting — soil erosion, wrecked streams, blown-out roads, loss of biodiversity — and it’s just getting shipped out as raw logs. There’s no reason or common sense or common good in this. It’s just profit. So what do you do, when scientific reports and endangered species surveys and signed petitions and rallies and letter-writing can’t force the powers-that-be to accept the obvious? What do you do, when voting doesn’t change anything and the media don’t care?

PG: Exactly what do you do?

ZB: People resort to illegal blockades, tree-sits, and even sabotage. We’ve seen tree-spiking here, and that’s a serious crime, even though no one’s ever been caught. The problem is that the destruction is going so fast that tactics like lawsuits and boycott campaigns — which can go on for years — end up as monuments to stumpfields and wrecked ecosystems. They can be effective, though, and absolutely every tactic should be used. The interesting thing about blockades and sabotage is that anyone can do it. No special training is needed, just some special gumption. Industrial logging is killing Mother Earth. We all know it. It’s time we took that to heart and acted appropriately. There’s no time left for negotiation.

PG: What does “no time left for negotiation” mean in practical terms?

ZB: It seems like whenever an empire begins to collapse from its center, there’s a big surge outward at the fringes. Two hundred years ago, this continent was rich in resources and gaining political power as a result. The robber barons had easy access to oil, minerals, and millions of acres of forests. The days of easy access are over, and now there’s a desperate surge to grab what’s left before it’s all gone. They’re going after the “guts and feathers” of our ecosystems—remote patches of old-growth forests on steep slopes, places that were protected as community watersheds for decades, special “management areas” that are now on the chopping block. The profit margin is much tighter these days, and you know what that means—they have to take that much more to make the same profit.

Of course, the government is helping out every step of the way, by releasing public forest tenures for private development, handing out tax breaks to logging companies, and suspending export restrictions on raw logs, for example. Still, many of these companies are barely profitable, and this puts tremendous pressure on our forests and watersheds. In the past couple of years on Vancouver Island, logging companies have found it more profitable to exploit the land through real-estate sales and subdivisions. We call it the “log it and flog it” system. Rural forestlands that were managed to sustain local jobs and communities “in perpetuity” are being carved up into resorts and bedroom community ‘burbs that demand new roads, services, and infrastructure—and this is all subsidized. We all pay for it, with new taxes and increased smog and greenhouse gases.

It’s a gamble for land barons, though, and that means that a handful of people can make life very difficult for the big boys. The rising economy masked a wide range of incredibly incompetent and unsustainable business practices. Now, the logging companies all want to cash out and sell their land to developers, but development requires a hell of a lot of investment dollars up front. So competition for investor dollars is fierce. From the point of view of a venture capitalist, a potential development that has a bunch of angry tree-huggers swarming around it is just not as attractive as one that’s not a conflict zone.

Read the whole interview at Planet Green. Thanks Mickey!

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