(Cross-posted from Commonplace)
John Muir is famously noted as saying, "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." The thing is, a fool couldn't cut down trees by him or herself. I used to think that we were fighting an incredibly difficult battle in part because it takes a thousand years of living to make an ancient tree, while any fool can come along with a chainsaw and cut it down in an hour or two. I've since realized that's all wrong. The truth is that thriving on a living planet is easy--the whole forest, for example, conspires to grow that tree and every other, and we don't have to do anything special except leave it alone--while cutting down a tree is actually a very difficult process involving the entire global economy. I wouldn't care how many ancient redwoods Charles Hurwitz [CEO of MAXXAM] cut down, if he did it all by himself, scratching pathetically with bloodied nails at bark, gnawing with bloody teeth at heartwood, sometimes picking up rocks to make stone axes. To cut down a big tree you need the entire mining infrastructure for the metals necessary for chainsaws (or a hundred years ago, whipsaws); the entire oil infrastructure for gas to run the chainsaws, and for trucks to transport the dead trees to market where they will be sold and shipped to some distant place (once Charles had downed the tree by himself, I would wish him luck transporting it without the help of the global economy); and so on. It takes a whole lot of fools to cut down a tree, and if we break the infrastructural chain at any point, they won't be able to do it.