Articles

Increase in Lumber Prices Sign of Dwindling Resources
By Dennis Goodenough
The Milwaukee Journal
April 27, 1993

With an economy struggling to gain its feet, the last thing the country needs is a small crisis in the building industry.  Lately, builders and lumbermen have been as frantic as a goldfish swimming in a blender due to the 50% increase in lumber prices over the past four months.
 
Being a carpenter and a “tree hugger” myself, I don't have much sympathy for the hand- wringers who are having a hissy fit over price increases.  It isn't as if we didn't know this day was coming.
 
The US forest service states that this country is the largest consumer of wood in the world, 30% of which is imported.  The average floor area of single-family homes has steadily increased over 25 years despite a decrease in family size.
 
The loss of Pacific old-growth timber, which precipitated the current problem, was predicted years ago.  And finally, timber reserves were devastated in the 1980s by grossly irresponsible logging practices and just plain greed.
 
In so many ways, this whole scenario is a replay of what happened with fish populations in the northern lakes.
 
100 years ago there was enough fish for everyone.  Now there isn't enough.  Gee, let's blame the Indians.
 
Likewise, there was enough timber for everyone.  Now it's gone.  Let's blame the spotted owl.  If we're ever going to learn to solve the country's troubles, denial won't make the task any easier.  When it comes to lumber prices, as in so many other things, we've cooked our own goose.
 
As for the future, it's tough to be optimistic about things getting better.  Contrary to conventional economic wisdom, I don't think the world will be a better place when every living person owns three widgets, a 4 x 4 and jet ski.
 
The real buying power of the American family is not declining because of bad economics: rather, it's a case of simple mathematics.  As populations rise and resources dwindle (e.g.trees), everyone's share of what's left over gets smaller.
 
Not to worry, though.  Economists tell us that won the last trees on earth are caught, the free market will have long since found something to replace them.  Thanks, I think I'll pass.  Meanwhile, this nation goes to the resources away Godzilla goes through Tokyo.
 
Hence, and an entire national ecosystem, Pacific old-growth timber, has been wiped out, save 10%.  I can find no more glaring example of the American dream relentlessly and ominously altering the natural world and our lives.
 
The biosphere is a living system that has evolved over 3.6 billion years of intimate interplay between celestial and terrestrial forces.  Tampering with the dynamics of this system is tantamount to warring with the sun.  In the length of one man's lifetime, we will try to convert a planet that's mostly wilderness with patches of civilization into a planet that's mostly civilization with patches of wilderness. 
 
Anyone who thinks we can accomplish this feat with impunity is a card-carrying member of the Flat Earth Society.