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Synthesis/Regeneration 36   (Winter 2005)

The Global Assault on Forests

reviewed by Romi Mahajan

Derrick Jensen and George Draffan, Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests, 2003. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. 185 pages.

A thin volume, Strangely Like War, is a devastating tale of deforestation, an indictment of the global extractive capitalist system and of cynical players who have literally traded our future for a pile of cash. Meticulously researched and poetically written, Jensen and Draffan’s book is stunning in its ability to tie capitalism, colonialism, globalization, political Machiavellianism, history, science, and activism together in a gripping (and scary) way.

Jensen’s language is mellifluous at times and brutal at others. Jensen and Draffan’s deep knowledge of nature and ecology—coupled with a grasp of statistics, numbers, and the relevant scientific concepts—is impressive.

Strangely Like War is a devastating tale of deforestation, an indictment of the global extractive capitalist system…

Page one sets the stage. The forests of the world are in bad shape. About three-quarters of the world’s original forests have been cut, most of that in the past century. Much of what remains is in three nations: Russia, Canada, and Brazil. 95% of the original forests of the United States are gone.

The stark facts continue on page nine. As of 1997, Nigeria had lost 99% of its native forests. The same was true of Finland and India. China, Vietnam, Laos, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Taiwan, Sweden, Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Burma, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Cameroon, and Cambodia had all lost at least 90%. Since 1997, of course, things have gotten much worse.

What each of us needs to consider is not so much whether we have hope that either the ecological crisis has been exaggerated or that some new technologies will be created that help us live our lives to the hilt all the while protecting the Earth. Instead, we have to ask ourselves what we ourselves are going to do to stem the tide, to stop acting wantonly, to consider the impact of our consumptive habits on the entire ecosystem. Hope is a fine concept only if backed by action.

As Jensen and Draffan so elegantly capture in the book’s title, humans are at war with the nature that nourishes us and so many other creatures. The only victories in such a war are Pyrrhic.

About three-quarters of the world’s original forests have been cut…

At the end of the book, the authors provide names of and contact information for groups that are fighting to keep the Earth alive. The authors are activists themselves, thus providing a salutary corrective to the academic thinking that informs so much writing on the environment. That the main author, Derrick Jensen, clearly has a spiritual side is very visible in the writing—and can be seen as annoying to steadfast rationalists—but in no way diminishes the strongly logical and empirical argument presented in the book.

Graciously, the authors stop well short of 200 pages, making Strangely Like War a manageable read. Please put it on your list as soon as you can.

Romi Mahajan is an activist living in Seattle, working on global trade, anti-war and sustainable economics issues.

[22 jan 05]

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