We can consider forests, which I will present in a forthcoming post as hidden (carbon-) sinks in the context of global warming, as an ecological entity, so to speak an ecosystem, or a living resource. As a resource the forest ecosystem is utilizable, we can extract timber and so on. There are different paradigms describing resource use. They all relate to means of managing the resource. To characterize the resource-management schemes, we can use the concept of viewing them as points along a continuum (see Yaffee 1999). He describes the following natural resource management paradigms: the dominant-use paradigm and the multiple-use-paradigm. With the environmentally sensitive multiple-use paradigm, the ecosystem approach to resource management and the ecoregional management, the sphere of ecosystem management schemes have been entered. Mangel et al (1996, 350) have been referring to three paradigms describing resource use: The “conservation paradigm”, features the objective of conservation and maintenance of the resource. The “rationalization paradigm” is tagged with the objective of economic performance and productivity. The “social paradigm” stands for the objective of community welfare and social equity. Emphasizing forests as hidden carbon-sinks can be affiliated to any of these paradigms. We become aware of the positive effect of carbon sequestration, we realize the ecosystem function, and surely then we want to conserve the ecosystem. Certainly, it is rational to value this function as an ecosystem service. Moreover, we can try to correlate the fluxes and the storage of carbon with monetary flows and savings. The “healthier” forests are widespread, which act as carbon-sinks, the more costs we save. So let us protect the forests, let them grow and let them mitigate the climate warming. They help to maintain the human environment.
They are productive in many ways. Albeit the complexity of the carbon cycle and the factors underlying and influencing the function of forest ecosystems as carbon-sinks, we could ascribe spiritual values to this ecosystems.
Do we recognize this as an act of Gaia, a tool of the planet-sized organism called Earth; the forest ecosystems as an organ, the lung of Mother Earth? I am not really familiar with James Lovelock’s Gaia-Principle, for me it seems to be a hybrid of something mystical and something scientific intimately associated with a holistically-kybernetically moulded Earth System Science. Tim Flannery is building on Gaia, in the first chapter of his book The Weather Makers.
What I want to say, is that above this really scientific, systematic view of the carbon cycle and the ecosystem service of carbon sequestration, we can unshutter the window to the spiritual value-system of forests.
We can value forests, especially old growth forests after goods, services, information, and cultural, recreational, and scenic values. What about the spiritual values, asks Kathleen Dean Moore (in a recent article in Conservation Biology 21, 4)? The presence of spiritual values may be the best reason to conserve a forest. Yes, the carbon sequestration and other ecological characteristics are leading to strong arguments too. But Moore reminds us, that we, as scientists, often obscure the underlying assumptions, predispositions, motivations, value-systems, emotions and feelings, which altogether root and more or less colour, warm (and sometimes freeze) our scientific arguments. With her reflections, inspired from the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades, she reminds us to throw a glance at us and our field work, to become aware of the field as a place, as a place connected with our biography and personality. And to make sense of places, when we think of them as a collection of meanings, beliefs symbols, values and feelings, we associate with particular localities (see Williams & Stewart 1998, 19). Jonathan D. Philipps (1999) refer to the “Field of Dreams”, acknowledging “the crucial role of faith and dreams, hinging on the claim that both reductionist and holist science constitute acts of faith”.
Like cultural values, e.g. recreational and scenic values, spiritual values have got the power to loft and enliven the human spirit. In the temperate rain forests of America’s Pacific Northwest, where Moore is living. “the old-growth groves speaks with uncommon power to the imagining and feeling part of the human mind. They have the power to make a person fall silent with wonder and gratitude, to deepen a person’s connections to the wellsprings of life and death and mystery.”
Moore apprehends the spiritual values as instrumental values, because of their usefulness to the sense of spiritual well-being of human beings. She asks, what are the qualities of old-growth forests? How to explain the utility of old-growth forests for human spiritual thriving?
The answer (in brief): They are old, tall, complex, unspoiled, quit and beautiful. She describes the continuity of ages, the aged trees and their saplings, pointing to the value in the awareness of the continuity of life. She refers to the great height of the trees, and the consequences of feeling below. She opens the complexity of the forest and finds intricate life-giving relationships. She enjoys the tranquillity, a transforming power, which dissociates from plunder outside, so we can rest and draw breath. The natural condition reminds us on sliding ecological and moral baselines.
What can we learn form Moore’s strolls through these old-growth forests? If we do not step into a more-and-better-trap, avoid comparisons, evaluations and assessments, measurements of complexity, diversity, integrity, functionality, productivity, naturalness, we recognize that even one tree, one grove, one forest, act as an carbon-sink. And take a look at these small, powerful phytoplankton organisms. Angermeier (2000) have been teaching us, that naturalness, the degree to which a thing is natural, is represented by a continuous gradient between extremes of entirely natural and entirely artificial. The extremes are only abstractions, and the naturalness of higher levels of organization is an integration of naturalness of lower levels. It is quite difficult to assess the naturalness of a forest (this is not true for Moore’s old-growth forest) but the naturalness of a single tree could be assessed more confidently. Fortunately, we don’t need naturalness at the highest level of organization, to connect us with the web of life. At any (natural) point, we can enter the web, follow the lines, which relates the tree with the plankton, the mosses and the forest, the younger forest with the old-growth forests, the altered ecosystems with the wilderness. Then we are travelling on Dreaming Tracks, we begin to map into knowledge a spiritual travelogue, we are open up an atlas of senseful places. We feel like scrolling the sliding ecological, moral and spiritual baselines and jump from one state to another. Wow, this sounds like spirituality. We can feel the spiritual value even of a Luzulo-Fagetum (a widespread and often extensively used forest association in Central Europe). Don’t give a damn on the ticks and the foresters.
It can be satisfactory to envision that anywhere in the world in some locations there are really old, pristine forests. With the awareness of their existence, we see the gap for spiritual thriving facing unnatural forest associations. The atmosphere of such a forest can have integrity, even if the ecological integrity is not pleasing.
But if the last remnants of wilderness cease to exist, what happens with the desire to visit them, to perceive them directly, breathe their air, feel their soil, stand on the sideline during their carbon-sequestration activity. What kind of nature we will have to offer the little Humboldt’s to be born? Stories, photographs, documentaries, forever out-dated assessments? Perhaps it would be better not to bear that good old nature in remembrance, to close the trip down memory lane. The father of the little boy in Cormac McCarthy’s outstanding novel The Road (for recensions in German see here)could not remind the time, when the world was not yet greyish, not yet covered with dust and ash. Well done.
Come off it, things are not so bad. – Okay, let’s say we have alternative spaces, for example the deep sea, also a carbon-sink. But this space is really far away, and it is really difficult to stroll through. Moore gives us on the way, that it is good for us to know that even in the absence of humans, the old-growth forests will be a worthy thing. So they are not simply representatives of our imaginations of paradise, of our desire for Arcadia. I want to add, that it is good to know for us, who are far away from wilderness areas, that such forests exist, where and how. Things are not so bad, but if we could do it better, we should. We should care for a “Spring-time for sinks”. You can call this management as well, I prefer the term (applied) psychobiogeography.
Angermeier, P. L. (2000): The Natural Imperative for Biological Conservation. In: Conservation Biology 14 (2), 373-381.
Flannery, T. (2007): The Weather Makers. Our Changing Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth. – Penguin Books, London.
Mangel, M. et al. (1996): Principles for the Conservation of Wild Living Resources. In: Ecological Applications 6 (2), 338-362.
Moore, K. D. (2007): In the Shadow of the Cedars: the Spiritual values of Old-Growth Forests. In: Conservation Biology 21 (4), 1120-1123.
Philipps, J. D. (1999): Methodology, Scale, and the Field of Dreams. In: Annals Association American Geographers 89, 754-760.
Reay, D. (2007): Spring-time for sinks. In: Nature 446, 727-728.
Trudgill, S. (2001): Psychobiogeography: meanings of nature and motivations for a democratized conservation ethic. In: Journal of Biogeography 28, 677-698. (Available online, – see also the website of Steve Trudgill and watch out for his book Nature, Self and Place: The psychogeography of environmental meanings)
Williams, D. R. & S. I. Stewart (1998): Sense of Place. An Elusive Concept That Is Finding a Home in Ecosystem Management. In: Journal of Forestry 96 (5), 18-23. (Available online)
Yaffee, S. L. (1999): Three Faces of Ecosystem Management. In: Conservation Biology 13 (4), 713-725.