October 11, 2011
Many people have written to me recently asking me to refuse an award from the Rainforest Action Network. The reason I chose to accept the award when asked is because I have long respected RAN’s tough and principled campaigns against the tar sands and old growth logging.
I have known many wonderful RAN campaigners over the years and just last month was proud to be arrested alongside RAN executive director Rebecca Tarbotton in Washington, D.C., where we were both protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. In a context in which far too many large environmental organizations are not just afraid to take on multinational corporations but are eager to jump into bed with them, RAN is notorious for its campaigns against Chevron, Cargill, and Disney.
This controversy revolves around the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a body that issues certifications to wood and paper products, much like the “organic” certification. RAN is a member of the FSC, along with many other environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace International and three branches of Friends of the Earth.
The FSC is a deeply imperfect body and it certifies some large projects that are damaging and unworthy of the label. I strongly oppose the logging of primary and old growth forest, and I oppose monoculture tree plantations, which have been decried around the world for their devastating ecological and social impacts. Wood or paper products derived from these methods should not bear the “FSC” certification. Like all such voluntary codes, rather than imposing strict regulations on the forestry industry so that all of our wood products are ethically harvested, the FSC allows corporations to govern themselves. This is not a real solution and carries with it many of the same problems as similar false solutions, from carbon offsets to REDD.
But here is the problem: FSC is the only certification program not wholly controlled by industry, and as a result it has become a contested space. Its competitors are essentially industry-run rubber stamps. I discovered this as an author, when I tried to learn more about the paper on which my books are printed. I learned that there were, frankly, no good options: either go with no guarantees about where the paper is coming from, or go with FSC, despite its too-weak standards.
Given all this, the approach so far has been for more progressive groups like RAN and Greenpeace to try to use their power within the FSC to raise the standards – to fight for better protections for indigenous peoples and for old growth forests, and to ensure that genetically engineered tree plantations are not certified. But because parts of the forestry industry also wield considerable power within the FSC, they are facing fierce opposition. Which is why RAN has made it clear that there may come a time (perhaps quite soon) when it will be forced to pull out of the FSC entirely.
After discussing the matter with the RAN team I am fully confident that the organization is doing everything in its power to fight for better standards within the FSC, while leaving all options on the table. You can read about the organization’s position here: www.ran.org/content/ran-and-fsc
. And if you want to find out more about the many problems with FSC certification, and get more involved in the campaign to push for higher standards, check out FSC-Watch at: www.fsc-watch.org
Disagreeing with RAN’s decision to stick with the FSC is a legitimate and understandable position. However, given RAN’s track record and transparency on this matter, it in no way deserves to be denounced as a forest destroyer. And to be clear: I have absolutely no intention of boycotting RAN’s San Francisco event, which is an important fundraiser for the organization.
We are in the midst of a thrilling moment of movement building, with thousands of new activists joining the struggle for social and ecological justice every day. Now is not the time to impugn the motives of our allies but to approach valid tactical disagreements in a spirit of mutual respect and solidarity.