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The illusion of preservation: a global environmental argument for the local production of natural resources

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Abstract Aim 

The United States (US) and other affluent countries consume vast quantities of global natural resources, but contribute proportionately less to the extraction of many raw materials. This imbalance is due, in part, to domestic policies intended to protect the environment. Ironically, developed nations are often better equipped to extract resources in an environmentally prudent manner than the major suppliers. Thus, although citizens of affluent countries may imagine that preservationist domestic policies are conserving resources and protecting nature, heavy consumption rates necessitate resource extraction elsewhere and oftentimes under weak environmental oversight. A major consequence of this ‘illusion of natural resource preservation’ is greater global environmental degradation than would arise if consumption were reduced and a large portion of production was shared by affluent countries. This paper considers some implications of the consumption, management and conservation of forests and wood at a local and global scale. Location 

We focus on Massachusetts, the eighth most forested state in the USA (by area), the third most densely populated, and an affluent region with consumption rates that are among the highest in the country. Methods 

Estimates of wood production and consumption are generated, and comparisons are made with other commonly used materials (e.g. steel, concrete, aluminium). Results 

A comparison of the feasibility and environmental impact of various strategies for dealing with rising wood demand suggests that the US should strive to: (1) reduce per capita consumption of wood and its substitutes, (2) recycle forest products more effectively, (3) protect extensive areas of intensively managed and unmanaged forests and (4) promote sound forest management where the environmental consequences are mild. Forestry and the sustainable generation of wood in Massachusetts would allow preservation of primary forests elsewhere in the world. Main conclusions 

When aggressive reductions in wood consumption and effective recycling are combined with judiciously increased harvest levels, 50% of the Massachusetts's wood consumption could be met at sustainable rates, even while preserving large undisturbed blocks of forest.
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Keywords: Wood; consumption; nature; preservation; production; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, MA, USA

Publication date: 2002-10-01

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