Rainforest Action Network stars in “FSC and the City”

Activists Challenge Mainstream Environmental Organization's Continued Support for Industrial Logging of Old-Growth Forests, Tell RAN “It’s Time for a Divorce” (from FSC)

RAN/FSC messed up
RAN/FSC messed up
At their 25th anniversary celebration in New York City's West Village a couple weeks ago, a surprise awaited the mainstream environmental organization - the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Their event was hosted by Sex and the City star Chris Noth, who played Mr. Big in both the long-running TV show and recent hit films. Just as Mr. Big was meeting and greeting in front of the gala to benefit RAN, a black car pulled up and out swaggered another Mr. Big and two striking-looking activists playing his charming costars, Samantha and Carrie.

Bearing signs and dressed to the nines, the sudden arrivals strutted in front of the entrance and proclaimed their (satirical) support for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC has brought its members discredit for its 'certification' of industrial logging operations in old growth forests and of plantations that have replaced those forests as 'well-managed'. RAN's support for this organization has come under fire by activists around the world. Monica Hunken, playing Samantha, exclaimed gleeful approval for RAN's ongoing membership in, and promotion of, FSC certification standards: "When I sip my frappuccino on the High Line [link to  http://www.thevillager.com/villager_323/rainforestactivists.html

], (a park in Manhattan), there is nothing better than feeling some nice old growth wood under my delicate behind!" (In New York City, park benches and boardwalks are made from FSC-certified wood logged from trees deep inside once-intact rainforests in the Amazon, West Africa and Southeast Asia.) The other Mr. Big bragged, “My wood is certified.”

Studies have shown that once there’s an incursion into an intact rainforest, illegal logging, cattle ranching, or plantations quickly follow. The plantations are generally guarded by armed sentries and their monocultures of trees fed with vast amounts of water and pesticides to maintain their productivity, often for paper or palm oil. There exists significant documentation of armed guards committing human rights abuses, including the murder of the indigenous forest dwellers who were displaced.

Old growth forests are not only the most bio-diverse ecosystems on land (akin to coral reefs in the oceans), they are essential to life itself. The world's intact tropical rainforests, over 50 million years old and continuing to evolve in their complexity, have been described as the "lungs of the earth". These ancient and vanishing places exhale fresh water and oxygen; they drive air currents, regulate rainfall, and help cool the planet. These trees hold immense stores of carbon dioxide which, as they are released, hasten and exacerbate our climate crisis at an alarming rate; their preservation is considered by scientists and economists alike as critical to addressing climate change, and at low cost.

RAN's Forest Campaign Director Lafcadio Cortesi emerged from the gala event to disarm the theatrical demonstration. He made the same claims that mainstream supporters of market-based environmentalism have been making during years of rising outrage. He claimed that if RAN were to pull out of FSC, as the activists urged, any safeguards against destructive practices would be further weakened, and RAN would lose their voice in this discussion. He argued for the ‘less bad’ versus the ‘truly bad.’ And he stated that FSC did not certify the destruction of an intact forest to turn it into an FSC plantation, although he had nothing to say about the environmental devastation and irreparable damage to human rights that these FSC plantations yield.

Grassroots activist and founder of the New York Climate Action Group JK Canepa answered Cortesi's defensive rationales for maintaining membership in the FSC without publicly decrying the very outrage he claimed to wish to change: FSC’s criteria allowing logging of old-growth. JK asked RAN: "What have you accomplished in the eighteen months since you acknowledged grave concerns about the FSC and claimed you were reviewing your membership? It’s time for you to leave, and to do so publicly. Your reputation and influence would help build the campaign to outlaw all industrial logging of old growth forests.”

Cortesi modestly demurred, saying that RAN was not that influential. He then explained RAN's belief system: protesting, getting arrested, and standing outside the system don't work. He should know, he stated, as he’d already tried all those strategies. He told NYCAG that if you enter into the marketplace as RAN has, you have to negotiate with the logging companies. Yet RAN's mission is to campaign “for the forests, their inhabitants and the natural systems that sustain life by transforming the global marketplace through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action.” Where in this vision did RAN intend to sit in corporate boardrooms making concessions to logging companies to make things “less bad”?!

Activists explained that advocating for market-based "solutions" to environmental destruction and allowing corporations to comply voluntarily with rules for protection have not worked. It might allow mainstream groups like RAN to feel better about doing something and also allow them to continue to tap into corporate foundation money, but what is needed are mandatory rules that forbid destructive behavior. On this, RAN’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the people standing outside the exclusive party, reaching out to the public and to the celebrants, ask that RAN reject the behavior of the greenwashing organizations it lambasts, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, and return to its roots.

Meanwhile, as Cortesi was explaining the miracle of commodity markets for 'forest products', Noth came out to engage some of the protesters and listened to some well-made points, and Mike Roselle, co-founder of Earth First!, creator of the Ruckus Society, and currently a board member of RAN, also emerged from the fundraiser. Roselle told the environmentalists that they were doing the right thing and to keep it up!

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