Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The forests are saved, but campaigners must remain vigilant

Derek Wall puts the fight against forest privitisation in a global and historical perspective.

February 22, 2011
6 min read

Con Dem plans to privatise England’s 258,000 hectare forest estate, run by the Forestry Commission, have been defeated for the time being.   There have been big and rowdy demonstrations, Mark Harper the Tory MP for the Forest of Dean was egged by constituents, a flurry of newspaper articles opposed the sell off and back bench Tory and Lib Dem MPs have become restive, indeed the Daily Telegraph has suggested that 50 percent of Tory MPs opposed forest privatisation. A petition which gained over 500,000 signatures shows that cyber activism, while derided, can achieve results.

The coalition governments’ attempt and ultimate failure to privitise forests in Britain is an excellent, illustration of what the Hungarian radical Karl Polanyi described as the ‘double movement’.  Polanyi in his epic book ‘The Great Transformation’ published in 1944, a strident attack on liberal economics, noted,

‘To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment … would result in the demolition of society (Polanyi 1957:73).’

The double movement was a process whereby attempts to marketise society, the first movement, would result in widespread resistance, the counter movement.

Forests seem to strike at the soul of millions of people in Britain, the idea of selling them off to corporations for profit instead of using them for children to play and wildlife to inhabit sickens voters. Thatcher too tried to sell off forest commission land, and was also defeated. While arguably the major environmental NGOs have been slow to act in defence of the forests, grassroots campaigns have sprung up like mushrooms, inspiring people who are not usually politically engaged to anger and action.  Assaults on libraries and the NHS are also likely to provide iconic targets for anti-cuts campaigners and prove costly to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The government may have executed an apparent u turn to this public pressure, but the supposed halt to sales is more likely to be a tactical move than a real change. Again this is in line with Cameron and Clegg’s adoration of Mrs Thatcher, who despite her image as an ‘iron lady’ was prepared to take a step back from policies in the short term to buy time for their success in the long term.

The influential free market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute has claimed that even before the perhaps temporary climb down, the privatisation policy did not go far enough.  They quote their supposed mentor, the 18th century economist who noted in his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations,

‘In every great monarchy of Europe the sale of the crown lands would produce a very large sum of money, which, if applied to the payment of the public debts, would deliver from mortgage a much greater revenue than any which those lands have ever afforded to the crown…When the crown lands had become private property, they would, in the course of a few years, become well-improved and well-cultivated…the revenue which the crown derives from the duties of customs and excise, would necessarily increase with the revenue and consumption of the people.’

They also argue much of the Foresty Commission land ‘comprises endless acres of identikit conifers. Dark, dense and unwelcoming, these plantations serve none of the interests that the campaigners champion.’ The reality is that most local communities lack the resources to buy forests, so privatisation would mean them going to the highest bidder.

There were fears that the forests could be bought by biofuel companies, who would reduce trees to chippings which would be burnt for electricity. The government claims that planning law makes this impossible but at the same time as trying to sell off the forests the government is also hoping to weaken planning law. The point from the Adam Smith Institute about fast growing conifer trees is also spurious, companies will seek to maximise profit; planting broad leaf forests and opening them up to the public will not generate short term profit, planting uniform monocultures of trees will.

A forestry commission programme to turn the conifer plantations into more diverse and ecologically rich woodland has just been closed down.  Thousands of forestry commission jobs are also still to be cut.

The moves to privatise the forests in the UK are part of a wider neo-liberal consensus. Indeed the last Labour government launched a programme of forest sales. Assaults on the forests by private corporations are global; South Africa, the USA and Australia have all seen battles, at least partially successful, against forest privatisation.  If protest is sustained, militant and imaginative it is possible to win. In the Peruvian Amazon, the indigenous coalition Aidesep, have used direct action to prevent the government selling the forests to corporations who would open them up for oil and gas exploitation.

In turn indigenous people and forest campaigners fear that climate change is being used to enclose forests and exclude local people via the REDDS system. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries essentially acts as a means of privatisation, taking woodland away from local people and putting it in corporate hands.  Last year Ethical Consumer magazine noted that, ‘Owen Espley from Friends of the Earth feared that REDDS will lead to a massive land-grab from the world’s 60 million indigenous rainforest people who depend upon the rainforests for their livelihoods.’

The campaign to protect the forests must continue. If we drop our guard, there is little doubt that the government will have another go.  Dave Bangs who co-ordinates Keep Our Forests Public wrote recently in the Morning Star, ‘State ownership’s major advantage is that it subtracts a resource, at least partially, from the irrationality and greed of the market.’ The answer for our public forests is the same as the answer for our economy – we need more democratic public ownership and economy-wide planning, enough to break the dominance of the market and not some porridge of private businesses and “social enterprises” struggling for their market share.’

Links

REDD Monitor  http://www.redd-monitor.org/

38 degrees forest campaign http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/tag/save-our-forests/

Aidesep http://www.aidesep.org.pe/

Keep Our Forests Public article on Sussex Socialist Resistance blog ttp://sussexsocialistresistance.blogspot.com/2011/02/keep-our-forests-public_14.html

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


14