Telling Stories from 2050- How Do BC Forests Fare?

Yesterday I was part of a ‘forest futures’ scenario project developed by the Sustainable Forest Management Network of Canada (SFMN).  The project has been compiling input on four futuristic scenario stories from forest and forestry geeks across the country.  Victoria was the last stop for this particular phase of the project’s journey. The participants in the Victoria forum were largely government employees from the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment, with a few add-ons from university researchers, and environmental non-profits.

What the heck are scenarios?

The day started with Peter Duinker of (SFMN) illustrating rather humourously that humans are incapable of predicting the probability of the future with any accuracy- especially in an area such as forests and forestry where there are so many unknown variables.  The four scenarios were futuristic stories from the year 2050, looking back at the changes that had occurred in the last 50 years, based on a response to different drivers.  There are 13 drivers to which each scenario was responding.  Some of these drivers included: climate change; aboriginal empowerment; geopolitics; international markets for wood; energy; societal values; invasive species; technology; and so on.

Each Scenario shapes itself by responding to the drivers through a series of environmental and social lenses.  On one axis of the spectrum, societal values reflect a very competitive, individualistic, consumer driven society, providing contrast to the  co-operative, collaborative, and more communal society on the other end of the spectrum.  On the environmental axis we see a range from benign climate change to our worst nightmares of intense climate disasters.  The four scenarios are nicknamed peace in the woods, goods from the woods, turbulence in the woods, and restoration in the woods.

In small groups we were queried about the scenarios. We highlighted their inconsistencies, their themes, and how BC could make policy changes in the right direction to aid or disable specific pieces of these futures, should we see them coming. 

Initially apprehensive about the process, and worried that I would come up against a wall of objections, I was pleasantly surprised at my level of engagement and the views of those around me.  It was easy to answer questions about ‘the futures’.  Working for an environmental and social non-profit I have the distinct advantage of being quite used to thinking about viable, collective futures for forests and the forestry sector.  It was refreshing to have these scenarios laid out before me, and to see that Dogwood’s analysis of what the future could possibly hold was not so different.

What came to pass was that a shift in societal values, governance structures, and behavior changes would lead to the most positive outcomes. (Well, duh).

Far from rocket science, it would seem that, for the future of the forests and forestry sectors, the top four most important things we can do today to collectively avoid, or be resilient to turbulence and crisis in the future, are:

 1.Fostering a sense of hope for the future;
 2.Shifting societal values to one’s which are more collective, communal and co-operative and less consumer driven;
 3.Changing to a governance structure that gives significant power over resources to local communities and First Nations, while continuing to work at  the global scale with NGO’s and the UN;
 4.Moving to a value added model of forests and forestry, including the whole gamete of values a forest has to offer: from spiritual to  recreational uses; ecosystem services (including fresh water production!); carbon credits; energy; and wood products.
These are not small changes, but the good news is we are headed in the right direction.  We need to engage more people in building viable futures, but as things ‘heat up’ more and more people are hungry for solutions. Remember this was mainly Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Environment employees who also saw these massive shifts as necessary to avoid turbulent futures.  That was enough to give me hope.

Speaking of hope, it is easy to get caught up in doom and despair. We all go there, but fostering hope is one of the tools we have to carve out a viable future.  Through this exercise what came out on top was that our own collective hope for the future was going to make or break us.  So here is your challenge- go forward and have hope for the future of BC’s forests and see what grows from it.  It may be the most powerful thing you can do. 

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