REVIEW OF The Good Wood and Paper Guide:
The Responsible and Sustainable Use of Timber
(9th Edition)

by Anthony Amis, Editor.

Published by Friends of the Earth, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia, 1999.

   In 1999, the timber industry attempted to ban Forest Friendly Building Timbers, which was published by Earth Garden magazine. They performed a wonderful favour for this excellent book: sales skyrocketed way beyond expectations, and now many thousands of Australians are aware of the damage each of us personally suffers as the result of the destruction of forests, both in Australia and worldwide.

   I wish the same fate would befall The Good Wood and Paper Guide. I hereby notify the woodchippers and forest-clearers that here is another book they must ban.

   This book is a 'must read' for anyone who has children, and cares about their future. It is obligatory reading for anyone who has taken the trouble to recycle paper and other household waste. It should be studied with care by people who have a social conscience, who hate military dictatorships that subjugate and torture their own people.

   Although I am already fairly knowledgeable in the field of conservation, I learned many facts when reading the book. For example, I now know how the warlords of Burma manage to buy weapons and ammunition. A short but powerful section shows what enables them to conduct a war of genocide against minorities in their country, how they have been able to keep the democratically elected Parliament from taking over. The secret is teak. Every time you buy a piece of teak, or anything made from this timber, chances are you are enriching the Burmese military. Protest is empty words. Stop buying teak, and Burma may become free again.

   This is just one of dozens of examples of how this book can empower the reader to take effective action. Fifteen contributors, many of them highly regarded experts in their field, have combined to create a handbook for action. There are practical, detailed recommendations on what to buy from which supplier, and what to avoid, what questions to ask and what principles to follow in order to use paper and timber in a way that cares for the future.

   I was saddened to learn that the bulk of paper householders put out for recycling ends up as landfill at the garbage tip. The paper recycling industry simply lacks the capacity to process all the offerings. Because Governments sell off our native forests too cheaply, it is 'not economic' to use this sustainable resource. So, when you take the trouble to put out your paper, you are being duped. The Council rates you pay are used in part to bury them, so that irreplaceable old growth forests can be efficiently mined at little profit to the community. And yet, paper recycling is labour intensive compared to highly mechanised woodchipping; it uses 80% less electricity, and yields paper of equivalent quality.

   If you don't like this, demand post-consumer recycled paper.

   Actually, the book is about the sustainable use of forests, not just about the products of trees. For example, I found out that in Australia, bees gather 90% of their nectar and pollen from native forests. Australia is the fourth largest exporter of honey. And honey exports are worth more than all the export revenue from logs, sawn timber, veneer and plywood combined.

   The question of plantation-grown timber is given extensive discussion. What became clear to me is that plantations offer the potential for ecologically sustainable timber and paper production, but this potential is not being realised. Tree plantations should not replace old growth forests, and they do. They should not be huge monocultures, kept going through pesticides and herbicides, and they are. The book describes economically viable, and yet environmentally sensible ways of growing timber crops. It lists suppliers who do it correctly.

   What I really like about this book is the combination of passionate feeling and practical, useful advice. It does not ask the reader to do without anything, but to choose carefully and intelligently, to ask questions and use consumer power to stop the rape of our planet.

   There are shortcomings too. With fifteen different writers, there is a variation in style from the incisive to the vague, from the academic to the casual. Also, I would have liked to see more discussion about ways to eliminate paper use altogether. We are fast approaching a situation in which all books, newspapers, magazines, telephone books, maps and so on could be electronic. Australia is being left behind in the push towards the electronic age. I feel that any book advancing a sustainable future should address this issue.


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