Whether or not we have turned the corner is debatable, but the earth has
truly been in the balance. On the margins of this conflict in the trenches
of politics, in the vastness of the oceans, across the length and breadth
of the earth, and in the battle for hearts and minds, the foot soldiers do
contend. Few armies have fought as long or as hard as the veteran troups
of the Rainforest Action Network.
Randy Hayes is the Founder and President of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). This is a group well known by friends and foes alike in the ongoing battle over the fate of the world’s forests. They have won spectacular victories in the effort to convince corporations worldwide to adopt forest-friendly practices.
The Rainforest Action Network’s world headquarters is currently in a fifth-floor suite on the south side of Pine between Battery and Sansome in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. The interior suite seemed almost luxuriantly rainforest-like. The windows of the older building were all opened, and maritime fall air poured in. Most of the florescent lamps were disconnected, and track lighting and other incandescent lamps stood amidst the desks and the plants. It may have been partly because of the ambience, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a rainforest in an office space.
For ten years, until 1985 when RAN was founded, Randy Hayes lived in Oraibi, Hopiland, in the heart of the Hopi reservation in northwest Arizona. A thoughtful man in his forties, with graying hair and serene eyes, Hayes took a moment early in our interview to describe some of his time among the Hopi, who are reputed to have the oldest permanent villages in North America. The Hopi believe that prior to our recorded history, the earth had experienced the rise and fall of a huge industrial civilization, which consumed and wasted the earth and then perished. This cautionary tale, Hayes suggested, can be applied to our own times, and humans have a choice whether or not to allow history to repeat itself.
The Rainforest Action Network is known for direct action crusades to save trees. They have succeeded in convincing many corporations, Burger King and Home Depot among them, to adopt forest friendly corporate policies. Their tactics sometimes include spectacular feats of derring-do, including climbing the outsides of skyscrapers and dropping huge banners with messages demanding change. The giant banner tactic was attempted most recently in Boise Idaho, in a protest action against Boise Cascade, and Hayes smiled as he recalled they had to use their backup plan, inflating a 12 story dinosaur, when the climbers failed to get a banner unfurled. Not only was the dinosaur a great billboard, bigger and fatter than the Colossus of Rhodes, but being a dinosaur, it was a great reminder of the alleged “prehistoric” practices of Boise Cascade.
RAN focuses their efforts, according to Hayes, at “those in the industrial north who have their foot on the throat of the rainforest.” They have about 15,000 members, including about 150 “Rainforest Action Groups,” trained groups of activists. These “RAGs” are typically either 5 to 10 member groups of young college students, or 30 to 40 member groups of long-time activists; many of these groups have been together ten years or more. It was RAN, Hayes acknowledged, who provided nonviolence
for many of the anti-globalist groups that protested earlier this year in Seattle, then in Washington D.C., as well as at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. Not comfortable with military metaphors, Hayes reluctantly termed the forces of Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace as “armies” in the environmental movement, “not much compared to Exxon and the like, but within the scheme of the environmental movement the biggest and best we have.”
The largest retailer of wood products in the world, Home Depot, apparently agrees, because RAN pressure recently led them to adopt a no-old-growth policy. Burger King, under pressure from RAN, has recently adopted a policy to no longer purchase beef grown on deforested land. RAN also convinced the largest homebuilders in the U.S., Kaufman & Broad, Syntex, and others, to adopt a no-old-growth wood policy. Countless other victories have made RAN a respected voice in the dialogue between business and environmentalists.
RAN, said Hayes, is currently focusing pressure on the world’s major private banks, trying to convince them to adopt a “comprehensive set of social and ecological policies.” The priority for RAN is to preserve
original rainforest, which still occupies 6% of the entire land surface of the planet. Hayes mentioned several hotspots, including New Guinea, the “Amazon of Southeast Asia,” where to this day, vast stands of original rainforest remain precariously intact.
Hayes mentioned the major world environmental organizations are beginning to cooperate, by overlaying their areas of interest and identifying “high conservation value forests” where they will all begin to
coordinate their preservation efforts. Principal among these groups are the International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth International, Conservation International, World Rainforest Movement, and the Climate Action Network. This cooperation represents a great opportunity, according to Hayes, for much more effective rainforest preservation efforts.
Hayes pointed out that there are only four major forests left in the world; Siberia, the Congo, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest of North America. When asked if the people of the south had a point when they
protest it’s hypocritical for northern environmental interests to urge them to leave their forests intact, when the north has already destroyed 95% of their original forests, Hayes had several comments. “First of all, who in the south is doing the protesting?” he asked. Often the voices of protest represent the logging and ranching interests, and their representatives in government. Continuing, Hayes said, “two wrongs don’t make a right, and the industrial north should probably compensate the south for preserving their forest.” Finally, Hayes emphasized that RAN focuses their efforts not at the south, but at pressuring the corporations in the industrial north who provide the demand for wood products without regard for the source.
There are 30 full time employees at the Rainforest Action Network headquarters. After we had talked for awhile, I was introduced by Randy Hayes to Jessica, a Markets Campaigner for RAN, who studies rainforest ecology and the impacts of logging in Africa, Southeast Asia, North, Central and South America, and Australia. Happy to have the time of such an expert, I took the opportunity to learn from her more about trees and efforts to save them. According to Jessica, certified timber sales, where the logging companies have had their practices audited and approved by a legitimate certification organization, only account for a minute percent of the U.S. timber harvest, and an even smaller percent of the world timber harvest.
While there are seven well-regarded international timber certification organizations, there are only two in the U.S., the non-profit program of the Rainforest Alliance called Smartwood and the for profit program of Scientific Certification Systems. There is also the Forest Stewardship Council, which accredits certifiers. About five years ago, timber industry forces organized the Sustainable Forestry Initiative . The problem with this timber industry certification group, according to Jessica, is that nearly all of the existing practices of the timber industry are endorsed by the association.
Jessica noted that environmental awareness among consumers is steadily growing and a majority of the public is now informed and vocal about not wanting to buy wood from endangered or old growth forests. Retailers, especially the Do-It-Yourself stores and home builders, are responding to the message from their customers, and in the past year alone, over 25% of the wood market in the US has pledged to stop buying wood from endangered forests. The old ways of industrial logging in old growth, primary and endangered forests are unjustifiable and will soon be a thing of the past, Jessica stated. Earlier, Hayes had identified Boise Cascade in North America, and Mitsubishi Trading Company in Tokyo, Japan, as the worst enemies of forests in the U.S. and in the World, respectively.
Hayes asked me to ask EcoWorld readers if there is any truth to the rumor that the priceless wood of old growth Central American “Purple Heart” trees is being hoarded. Reportedly, intact logs are being coated with paraffin and sunk in harbors to be retrieved on the day when they are all gone, extinct, and the wood will fetch a higher price than ever. Anybody heard about this?
Armed by RAN with information about trees and how to save them, printed on paper made from agricultural byproducts, left RAN’s offices, buying a fresh Panini sandwich made with San Francisco’s inimitable sourdough bread from a street vendor on the way to my car. Thank God for automatic transmissions. Telephone. Eat. Drive.
San Francisco is a beautiful city, especially in the Fall, but it took me nearly an hour to drive from their offices to the Bay Bridge. I went south down Battery, a direct route from the financial district to
the onramp of the Bay Bridge and one of the only ways to get across Market from the north. It was a whopping 1.5 miles of absolute gridlock on a sunny Thursday in November. Though the air was fresh and clean, I longed for a chance to sit in a grove of redwoods, instead of a traffic jam. Once I finally got onto the bridge, the traffic flowed again and everything was good.