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Exotic woods and environmental impact

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Blog entry by johnjoiner posted 2478 days ago 1315 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Today is Blog Action Day!. The theme is the environment – something that’s very important to me. So I will toss out a question I’ve been meaning to ask LJ’s since I joined.

What do people here think about using exotic species of wood – specifically rainforest woods? I’ve looked into the certification a bit an been unconvinced that it offers the amount of assurance of enviro-healthy harvest and transport that I’d like.

I travelled to Costa Rica earlier this year. It was a beautiful trip and is a beautiful country. But what I kept noticing were all the grassy or scrubby fields where there has historically been forest. Some, or much, of this may be caused by conversion of the land for cattle grazing. Some of the trees in Costa Rica, such as Cocobolo, are protected. Yet you see Cocobolo in every gift shop. My friends down there say the locals still cut it because there is little enforcement and they can make good money from it. It seems that those woods will still be cut as long as there is any demand. Thus even if I buy certified Cocobolo (or other rainforest species) it decreases the world supply, which in turn increases the value of every Cocobolo tree still standing if someone were to choose to cut it for market. It’s unfortunate. But I can’t, with a clear conscience, use these useful and beautiful woods.

I’d love to hear dissenting opinions on this.

-- johnjoiner



23 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2764 days


#1 posted 2478 days ago

we have devised a lot of ways to justify our use of products that damage the environment. The more we know, the less excuses we have for our habits. I don’t think I could use the wood either if I saw the damage to the land and the disappearing of the trees in person. And now… I think I’ll add another personal commitment to my list. Pretty soon I’ll be living in a cave eating berries.

We have claimed ourselves as the “keeper of the planet”. We think we own it all, need it all, can use it all for our personal needs and wants. Soon, we shall be regretting our gluttony and abuse.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1469 posts in 2728 days


#2 posted 2478 days ago

I’ve been playing with smaller projects recently, about which I can feel like I have less of an impact, but, yes, everything we do does have an impact.

I’m pretty happy to look to things that are grown sustainably, and in my region. Give that orchards are turned fairly regularly out here, I’m trying to figure out things I could use almond for, I’d love to figure out how to use Almond. There’s a moderate effort to get rid of some of the non-native Eucalyptus here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m looking for an opportunity to get some; the particular species grown locally can be pretty warped, it’d mean making a pressure steamer to help it dry straight enough that it doesn’t tie itself in knots, but it can be a beautiful wood.

On the other hand, you have to weigh your use of exotic woods against some of the other impacts of your life and lifestyle on the world. If I take wood of somewhat questionable provenance and turn it into something that’s going to be used and re-used for a few generations, I think that’s worlds better than the same wood of questionable provenance ending up in something cheap and Ikea-ish at your local trendy furniture store.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California, http://www.flutterby.net/User:DanLyke

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 2918 days


#3 posted 2478 days ago

Support your local sawmill.

View Sawdust2's profile

Sawdust2

1467 posts in 2691 days


#4 posted 2478 days ago

Seems to me there is a trade off on everything.

An exotic wood to us is local to the native area.
We get pallets from the Phillippines made of mahogany, from SE Asia made of teak

If we iimpose our values on less developed countries we stifle their ability to earn a living. If a developer in Brazil is going to clear cut a forest why should we not utilize the rosewood?

In western civilization if two people fight and one kills the other it’s murder or manslaughter. In other parts of the world I’ve lived in it’s just a consequence of being in a fight.

There have been many species of all sorts of life that have died out over the millennia. Long before man came on this Earth. What was there to protect them? If they are gone did they need to be protected for us to use today? Did their demise make the Earth better or worse? Or just give a need to adapt?

Sustainable growth is needed because it satisfies our needs and desires at this time. But not because it will make the world better. Or keep the world from being worse off.

We have been in global warming since the last ice age. 50 years ago it was all the rage to say the next ice age was coming because there had been a series of years that were a little colder than usual.

If you choose not to use Cocabola that is your choice. I’d rather not waste it.
If Juan wants to chop down that tree to feed his family because he knows he can sell it to someone you are just not part of his marketing plan.

But, then again, you might be right!

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4435 posts in 2566 days


#5 posted 2478 days ago

I’ve held off commenting on this forum because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say. I will be the first to agree that the destruction of the tropical forests is a problem. Now, will not using the wood help. Yes, maybe. It’s like a man who was walking along the beach as the tide went out. He was throwing star fish back into the ocean. Another man saw what he was doing and commented that there was no use in doing that as it wouldn’t make any difference. The first man sailed another star fish into the sea and replied,”Well, it made a difference to that one.”

While this may be true and our concerns are valid. We as users of the wood won’t make a big difference in what goes on in Central and South America. Where this problem needs to be addressed is at the local level. The people there for the most part need income. As long as their economy is such that they are barely above poverty level, they will continue to operate on a subsistance level. It’s hard to be concerned with the envirionment if your belly is empty. In Africa, several nations set up game preserves and then hired the local hunters to protect them. Sort of like hireing the thief to guard the jewells. If a large logging company buys up the timber rights and provides jobs, the same thing applies. A nation that is poverty stricken will sell it’s natural reasources to the highest bidder with no concern for the environment. Until something helps these people, economies and governments to move higher up the ladder of self-actualization. The environment of their area will suffer. A better under standing of this process can be found by studying Abraham Maslov, The Hierarchy of Self-Actualization. I’ve noticed that being concerned with the environment is directly related to some things. The first is how well off you are financially. Bob Marshall, an early environmentalist, was indepentently wealthy, never married and had no children to think about for the future. The second is education. If we have a good education our thinking is usually above the subsistance level. The education also contributes to our financial situation. Seldom will you find people with poor education and a low standard of living who are worried about the environment.

So, will not using the wood help the rain forest. I doubt it. If we want to make a difference it needs to be done at the local level and with the economy. Those are my thoughts on this subject.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Dekker's profile

Dekker

147 posts in 2484 days


#6 posted 2478 days ago

Here’s another take on the problem. Here in North America (and Europe I believe) there is the concept of sustainable woodforest management. For every tree they chop they replant two (or ten). This may just be done to satisfy government requirements, but it also makes the resource renewable in the long-term. The government can re-sell the logging rights to that woodstand in 50 years and get even more tax dollars.

I realize the political environment of most countries where exotic lumber is harvested will never “organize” a long-term vision for their natural resources. But we, the consumer of the wood, have very little impact on the growers/farmers who cut the tree, since they do it a) to clear land, and b) to get some supplimentary income. Many regions clear the land not by logging, but BURNING! Yes, it returns nutrients to the soil for a short-term boost, but from our Western perspective it seems a travesty.

Unless you are in the government, specifically foreign affairs, there is little you can personally do. Buying habbits don’t make much of an impact. If you feel truly strongly about the preservation of such wood resources, the only viable, effective option is to lobby your federal government to BAN the import of those woods as lumber, or even as finished products. That is the only way to curb the use of the wood. That would shrivel up the market for the wood.

Of course, there is nothing that we can do to stop the local farmer from clearing the trees to give his cattle some much-needed grazing space…

-- Dekker - http://www.WoodworkDetails.com/

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2764 days


#7 posted 2478 days ago

when I worked in Social Services I quickly learned that facilitating parenting programs did little to help a family that was struggling to put food on the table. And so the primary goals was to help the families to develop the skills needed to survive in a healthy and socially acceptable manner. While doing this, there were still very clear limits regarding the children involved that they had to live up to.

For me, those who “have” also have responsibility to help those who “have not”. It’s the old “give a fish vs teach to fish” scenario. We are one planet and one people.

Ultimately each of us has to decide how we want to live. At the end of the day can I look in the mirror and say that I lived the day with integrity and honour? Did I make this world a better place? I hope that every day, I can answer the questions with a “yes”.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View johnjoiner's profile

johnjoiner

160 posts in 2496 days


#8 posted 2477 days ago

I have no intention of starting a flame-war or anything of the sort. But, sawdust2, your reply bothers me. I will reply once here and you can reply if you like, and I will leave it at that. My comments are added in-line below.

> Seems to me there is a trade off on everything.
>
> An exotic wood to us is local to the native area.
> We get pallets from the Phillippines made of mahogany, from SE Asia made of teak
>
> If we iimpose our values on less developed countries we stifle their ability to earn a living. If a developer
> in Brazil is going to clear cut a forest why should we not utilize the rosewood?

The wood will not go to waste. My point is that the high demand that pushes the prices so high causes other trees to be cut just for the lumber market.

> In western civilization if two people fight and one kills the other it’s murder or manslaughter. In other parts of
> the world I’ve lived in it’s just a consequence of being in a fight.
>
> There have been many species of all sorts of life that have died out over the millennia. Long before man
> came on this Earth. What was there to protect them? If they are gone did they need to be protected for us to
> use today? Did their demise make the Earth better or worse? Or just give a need to adapt?

That was before modern humans. Dozens of species go extinct every day. That didn’t happen before Us except on very rare occasions. Even if you’re totally self-centered you should care about this because one of those species could have contained a unique chemical compound that could have been used to cure a disease. The globe is one big ecosystem, with everything intertwined. In the end those plants contribute to the pool of oxygen you breathe. And a rainforest produces many times more oxygen than a field of one species of tree or grain.

> Sustainable growth is needed because it satisfies our needs and desires at this time. But not because it
> will make the world better. Or keep the world from being worse off.

Actually it does keep the world from being worse off. It allows us to not have to harvest some of the old-growth preserves. Old growth is important for species diversity among other things.

> We have been in global warming since the last ice age. 50 years ago it was all the rage to say the next ice
> age was coming because there had been a series of years that were a little colder than usual.
>
> If you choose not to use Cocabola that is your choice. I’d rather not waste it.
> If Juan wants to chop down that tree to feed his family because he knows he can sell it to someone you are
> just not part of his marketing plan.
>
> But, then again, you might be right!

All of this thinking along the lines of, “one person or one tree won’t matter” is one of the reasons so many things in our capitalistic society have run amok. The government is only going to do so much. The corporations are only going to do what will make them another buck. What will we consumers do?

Ok. I’m done on the soap box.

-- johnjoiner

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

12851 posts in 2586 days


#9 posted 2477 days ago

small potatoe … hand in the bucket of water theory

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View A.W. "Pappy" Ford's profile

A.W. "Pappy" Ford

98 posts in 2485 days


#10 posted 2477 days ago

I guess I’ll sorta dodge the question by saying that for me personally, I’m no master craftsman, I don’t do commission work or make my living from woodworking. For me that means I cannot justify buying exotic woods. I’m happy to work with cheaper domestic, sustainable materials.

Will I feel that way years from now if I ever get to that level of expertise? I cannot say. But I can’t judge those that do. I agree that one person CAN make a difference, especially when as a populous, we decide responsibly and one person acting becomes part of a larger movement. But on this particular subject I also believe it is the burning (at least when considering the Amazon) that is causing the vast majority of deforestation and loss of bio-diversity. Changing one cause will not effect the results of a second, and unrelated cause.

Consider me a fence straddler…

-- --==[ Pappy ]==--

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2764 days


#11 posted 2477 days ago

Pappy, I can’t help laughing—I’m picturing your little avatar straddling a fence. :)

as for the debate. I’m always thrilled to hear people discuss an issue: that means that they are thinking about it! And no matter what side of the fence you are on (or on top of) you are making conscious decisions. And THAT is always a good thing!!! :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Karson's profile

Karson

34861 posts in 3004 days


#12 posted 2477 days ago

I’ve purchased wood from a man in the Philadelphia area. His story is that he owns plantations in Costra Rica and that he plants and harvests his own woods. Here is his website for teak.

He also sells on eBay as Diamond.tropical.

Kevin’s story is he owns the land and plants the trees and he cuts the wood with his own sawmills and then ships containers of it to himself in Philadelphia. He also makes Teak furniture and Teak cutting boards etc. SO there is a sustained growth of tropical hardwoods that is available.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View A.W. "Pappy" Ford's profile

A.W. "Pappy" Ford

98 posts in 2485 days


#13 posted 2477 days ago

Deb, thats the reason me pants are dropped – ever tried pulling up a pair of denim coveralls rubbing against all those splinters? :)

I agree. Debate and discussion of these kinds of issues always leads to a more conscious decision, regardless of what that decision may be.

-- --==[ Pappy ]==--

View Sawdust2's profile

Sawdust2

1467 posts in 2691 days


#14 posted 2477 days ago

John has certainly made his point. And he has made his choice.
And he is perfectly justified in both.

Thos, and Dekker and Debbie each illustrate part of the diverse problems and concerns.

One person probably can make a change. but will two people make the change occur twice as fast? You may not appreciate the analogy but here goes. The largest multi-level marketing job in the world was Christianity. It started with one man who recruited 12 men. 1700 years later even all these millions of Christians cannot agree on who or what is correct or even how to be a good Christian. But the original 12 had one goal.

IMHO the ecosystem (for lack of a more precise term) that we live in is so diverse that we will never know if there is, or is not, some counteracting presence on the other side of the globe dissafecting the change you make on this side of the globe.

I applaud your desire to make that change and I relish that we live in cultures that allow us the freedom to make that choice. Or not.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View A.W. "Pappy" Ford's profile

A.W. "Pappy" Ford

98 posts in 2485 days


#15 posted 2477 days ago

Sawdust, I applaud your conviction and comfort with your position and am not trying to dissuade you from them, however, I’ll have to disagree entirely with the relativity of your examples.

The economy of work principle says that, yes, two people can make something happen not only twice as fast but often even faster. When we are writing software to reduce the number of employees needed to perform a task, the economy of our improvement must be at least 1.65 times the number of employees to be reduced due to implicit gains from economy of work. Apply this to an issue that has global scale and this becomes that much more important. It is just as true when discussing the negative impact of one’s actions. Just because a feather weighs an ounce and an auto weighs a ton it doesn’t mean the feather weighs nothing at all. Enough feathers will equal the car’s weight, and no one feather in the pile can claim it is not contributing to that weight.

Christianity is a belief system. One based on spiritual principles and interpretations of often vague and sometimes even contradictory guidelines, and to compound it even further, it is founded on the shoulders of an even older religion (Judaism) whose principle method of instruction is allegory, which by its very nature is designed to be open to multiple interpretations. Given that, and add several thousand years for deviation to set in, it would be folly to assume all Christians could ever be cookie-cutter copies of one another or to even consider it as one belief system at all. Religions encourage diversity of thought because there is no proving or disproving any claim to spiritual “truth”; truth without proof.

Ecology, on the other hand is a science. The nature of science is to observe, predict the existence of facts based on those observations, observe again, re-evaluate previous predictions based on these new observations, project new facts, refine, observe, predict, and on and on. At the point the facts no longer contradict one another nor the observations, they coalesce into complete theories. This refinement widens to cover ever more diverse studies in science, and each time it does so without contradicting other validated facts and theories it gains more legitimacy. The test for legitimacy within any science is the conformity of fact – the opposite of your Christianity example.

Are sciences like ecology and climatology perfect? No. Do we know all there is about the interconnectedness of biological systems? Not by a long shot. But since at least the early 1970’s, the conformity of facts has steadily and consistently pointed to the critical role tropical rainforests play in global climatology, and the negative effects our development and resource consumption are having on those forests. Does that mean that woodworking with exotic woods is the number one cause? Of course not, and doing so is obviously an individual choice.

But a feather is still a feather, whether it’s oblivious to the rest of the bird or not…

-- --==[ Pappy ]==--

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