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On Earth

September 21, 2019

National Geographic, December 1988
Can man save this fragile earth?
National Geographic, September 2019
The Arctic is heating up
In December 1988, the National Geographic magazine featured a holographic globe on its cover and asked the question: Can man save this fragile Earth? It featured articles like “Rondonia Brazil's Imperiled rain forest”, “Last days of Eden”, and “An Arctic Dilemma.”

I remember this magazine. I was 5 years old and my family subscribed. The cover was captivating: I hadn’t seen a hologram before. The contents were also the first time I was exposed to the idea that we were not taking care of our home. Pictures showed rain forest devastation, wildlife loss, and the planet-scale impacts our civilization was having on natural systems.

Late 1988 was also when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was convened, and the certainty of “Global warming” – as brought to popular attention by James Hansen’s testimony that same year – was becoming apparent.

30 years later

This month (September 2019), more than 30 years later, my monthly copy of the National Geographic again featured our Earth on its cover under the title The Arctic is heating up.

A generation has come and gone since then. My own son will be 5 years old in March. What is he to make of this magazine cover? What is he to think when he slowly learns that his parents and his parents’ parents knew the science, knew the stakes, and didn’t act? I want to have damn good answers to his questions, and to my own conscience. I’m very tired of feeling helpless in the face of this existential threat.

Big Lonely Doug, a ~1000 year old, 216 ft tall, 13 1/2 ft wide Douglas Fir on Vancouver Island. The second largest of its species left in Canada. Photo by TJ Watt.


Like many others, I have adjusted my habits to reduce my footprint. And like many others, I am struggling to make the fundamental changes needed to re-organize my relationship to our Earth, its resources, and our fragile atmosphere. This post isn’t about recounting that. Instead, I want to write down what I’m going to do to fight for our Earth, in the hopes that it may trigger action for others seeking to find a way to make a difference.

The IPCC has outlined several critical areas for engagement with the climate crisis. One details the key role that natural carbon sinks will play in limiting the impacts of climate change – in particular intact forests.

I live in British Columbia, Canada. This region of the world is rich with profoundly beautiful ancient forest ecosystems. Some of them are still intact. Most of them are gone – vanished in an eye-blink of a century and a half’s feverish resource extraction, pollution, and human activity since European colonists arrived on the coast.
Original forest coverage of Vancouver Island and the southwest mainland (pre 1862)
2012 forest coverage of Vancouver Island and the southwest mainland
  • Old-growth forests (including trees, soils, and other biomass) store 2-3x the carbon of second-growth forests.
  • ~80% of the old-growth forests on Vancouver Island have been cleared in the last 150 years.
  • Many of the remaining stands are unprotected and vulnerable to logging – on private land or unprotected crown land. Others are actively being logged.
  • 54 specific large trees have recently been protected – a good step – but this misses how forests work. This needs to be expanded to protect forests, not trees.

The remaining stands of old-growth forests will be saved or lost by the consensus of economic, political and social factors that are brought to bear on them: will we clear them and gather millennia of stored energy in a day? Or protect them and continue to store that energy as a backstop against the worsening effects of climate change? 

Stump of a logged giant Red Cedar in Klanawa Valley, Vancouver Island. Photo by TJ Watt.


For the last couple of years I’ve contributed to the Ancient Forest Alliance. They are a Victoria-based non-profit working to protect old-growth forests and reorient BC’s forestry industry to renewable second-growth forests. I’ve found them to be effective, transparent, and persistent.

There is an opportunity in the current political climate in BC: the NDP are open to progressive environmental protections, and the upcoming federal election is a chance to elevate land management and sustainability issues to the national level. It is a good time to put our shoulders to this particular wheel.

In support of this week’s Global Climate Strike, I will be matching donations made to the Ancient Forest Alliance (up to $5,000). I encourage you to educate yourself and others about this and other environmental topics, and to find and support the sustainability efforts happening in your region.

👋🏼 Until Sept 27th, I will match donations to the Ancient Forest Alliance (up to a total of $5,000).
💸 Donate here: https://www.ancientforestalliance.org/donate/
🌲 Contact me by email or Twitter for a matching donation

Update: we raised $7,950 during the Sept. 20-27th, 2019 Climate Strike.