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Clearcuts, Kleenex and Forest Campaigns

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June 6, 2007

A few weeks ago I was asked to explain what I do as a Greenpeace Forest Campaigner and found the question tougher to answer than you might imagine.  If you’re interested in my response by way of lengthy story I’ve posted it below. It’s also a decent way to get a sense of the devastation being wreaked on the Boreal so that we can blow our nose on Kleenex.

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It smells similar to burnt hair. Burnt hair and fumes from a congested stretch of LA highway.  Ahead of me is what looks like an empty construction site complete with the dirt and the deeply scarred ruts from the large tires of earthmoving machines.

It’s my first time in the part of the Boreal Forest in Alberta, Canada.  The forest that is one of the largest unspoiled forest ecosystems left on Earth at 1.4 billion acres.  The forest that fifty percent of the 700 North American bird species depend on for survival.  I shouldn’t say it’s my first time in the Boreal, really it’s my first time visiting an empty stretch where the forest stood until it was pulped for toilet paper.  Companies like West Fraser bring in the machines to raze everything so that they can sell ancient ecosystems as pulp to Kimberly-Clark.  This is the pulp we all flush down the toilet as Cottonelle enhanced with Aloe, Kleenex Anti-Viral or Scott Extra Soft.

I spent the last hour moving through the filtered shade of tall trees surrounded by the scuttle of forest animals.  But now I’m standing in a clearcut.  The earth is still warm from the machines that overheat as they cut ten inches from the base of a tree: one tree after another, for hours upon hours.  The sun is too bright and there’s a glare that forces me to squint to review the debris.  There are ruts in the mud, snapped underbrush, the sideways splinter of a tree that was incorrectly caught in the machine, leaked oil stains, a broken sapling that was unable to escape a heavy-tread tire, and moss already shriveling in the bright sunlight.  I’m hot and sticky as I look across the brown where the heat is blurring my vision rising from the earth the wave heat does from pavement on a hot summer day.  This is the forest at its most vulnerable, a part of our world that until recently relied on the protection of ancient towering stands.  It’s uncomfortable to view this exposed underbelly, but this is my job.

I work for Greenpeace as a Forest Campaigner and my job is to make sure companies like Kimberly-Clark are held accountable to environmental standards.  The tough part of the job is to know that alone I can’t work fast enough.  As fast as we successfully organize customers and shareholders to pressure the company to change, machines move quickly across the forest. From time to time I am sent to inspect the damage. I confirm that Kimberly-Clark (the makers of Kleenex, Scott and Cottonelle brands) is still supporting the decimation of intact forests here in the Boreal and elsewhere in the world.

The kicker is that clearcutting doesn’t have to happen.

When Kimberly-Clark declares it is too hard to use recycled paper in Kleenex, they are really saying clearcutting is too cheap and too easy.

I’m standing in an empty space the size of 80 soccer fields and it feels more like the plains of Arizona.  The Boreal Forest here is completely gone and despite myths of replanting- the Boreal Forest here is irreplaceable.  Every year Kimberly-Clark prints a Forest Fact Sheet to sing the praises of their environmental deeds.  And this clearcut is a model of  the sustainable forestry Kimberly-Clark champions.   This is what happens when a company allows forest management certifications other than FSC.

If you’re asking what FSC is, there is no reason to let Kimberly-Clark confuse you. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council that was created by environmental leaders to serve as a check on companies that harvest forests.  The FSC certification means that someone other than the company has verified that wood coming out of a forest was harvested in a sustainable way.  Kimberly-Clark allows other certifications created by industry to promote the illusion that they are sustainable.  The clearcut I’m standing is considered a certified cut.

These clearcuts are wasteful. They make our world warmer and evict animals that are then forced to compete with other animals for new homes; animals like woodland caribou, bear and migratory birds.  Most people don’t know that 33% of the entire North American population of the American Robin depends on the Boreal for nesting or breeding.  As do 18% of Pileated Woodpeckers, 9% of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, 13% of Baltimore Orioles, 15% of BlueJays, 16% of Bald Eagles, 27% of Magpies, 36% of Bank Swallows, 46% of Whooping Cranes, 80% of Juncos, 83% of the Great Grey Owl population.  All these birds depend on the Boreal for the survival of their species.

The robin you watch hopping around the lawn every morning before you go to work depends on the Boreal Forest.  I’ll give you a minute to think about the brand of toilet paper under the sink in your bathroom.  And the thousands of pallets of your brand at the WalMart or Safeway distribution centers. If it’s a Kimberly-Clark brand, if it’s not recycled, your last purchase may have just evicted that Robin in your yard.  This season that happy little guy may be without breeding grounds.  

To avoid evicting thousands of migratory birds, including the American Robin in your yard, Baltimore Orioles or Bald Eagles there are easy steps you can take. Next time you’re at the store, flip the package over and buy the toilet paper with the recycled symbol that means paper made from paper. Avoid all Kimberly-Clark products: Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Depend, Kotex and Cottonelle. Once you’ve made the change, tell your friends to do the same.

Once you’ve removed Kimberly-Clark from your shopping list, you can consider doing more. Look for recycled content in everything you buy and ask grocery stores to carry more recycled products. There are great alternatives out there: Seventh Generation, Marcal, Cascades, Earth First, Trader Joe’s and Green Forest.   Support the Greenpeace Kleercut Campaign financially so that we can continue to pressure the company to change using creative tactics, large customer contract cancellations, organized shareholder pressure, and awareness raising advertisements. If you own or work at a small business you can join our Forest Friendly pledge to avoid making purchases that impact our ancient forests. Let the company know that you think Kleenex needs to increase the amount of recycled content and FSC certified pulp in their tissues, that you feel irritated, frustrated or devastated at the use of our ancient forests for toilet paper and disposable tissue.

As a Greenpeace Forest Campaigner standing in a clearcut I only have one question for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation and their customers.  Is it really worth trading the ability forests have to mitigate global warming, worth trading the oxygen we breathe, or worth the silence in your backyard when you’re favorite songbirds have been impacted, just for soft Kleenex?

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