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Some, such as the author of a recent My Turn ("Alaska needs to revitalize dormant timber industry," by George Woodbury), argue that timber sales will bring much needed investment to Southeast Alaska's economy and benefit our communities. Others have a different notion of the industries essential to our future.
What is missing in the never-ending and high-impact debate, though, is that the future of the human race depends on nature's economy, not ours. We can discuss technologies, jobs, subsidies and pollution abatement advances till we are blue in the face. But does Mother Nature care?
Our species has a 10,000-year history of making a living by mining the cheapest and easiest energy-rich carbon sources we can find. We started with the soil (agriculture) and we are losing that at high rates. In 1859, we hit the jackpot when the first oil well was drilled by Col. Drake, and we have already consumed close to half of the world's oil.
From our spending sprees of ecological capital, we have learned that we don't need to worry about environmental sustainability, that gross national product is the best measure of a society, and that technology will fix all of our problems.
But will the lessons our society learned while drunk on soil, coal, oil carry us into the future?
In order to learn how nature works and create systems of food and shelter production that don't deplete our sources of life, we need intact ecosystems. In Southeast Alaska, we need the 300-year-old forests, clean rivers, and abundant salmon runs. These represent our only enduring models of how to live in this place.
As we continue to discuss logging and the future of the Tongass and our region, I hope we realize that potential importance of maintaining the Tongass' ecological integrity transcends benefits to today's communities and our tourism and fishing industries. Someday the cheap carbon sources will become prohibitively expensive and our societies politics and economics will be forced against the same limits as other species.
Future generations need a whole and prosperous Tongass more than we need short-sighted jobs and "economic growth" today.