Let me be very clear. I fully support the cause of conserving and protecting the world’s remaining primary forests, and like most people feel enormous empathy for a tree that has survived far longer than we humans could ever hope to live, a tree that was around when grandma was a kid, for example.

But our emotional feelings for old trees are sometimes exploited. It might just be a case of sloppy journalism: a reporter throwing in a seemingly innocuous word like ancient [1] to describe an old tree or forest when it’s neither accurate nor appropriate to use the word ancient in the circumstances. Or it could be more deliberate misinformation, playing on our emotions with the aim of raising funds for a cause. Because the fact is that most Canadian trees are not ancient in the normal sense of the word, or even that old, on average. In fact, most trees in Canada are under 100 years old!

An old tree chart

You would not know this when reading some of the following:

  1. In its tissue campaign literature, New York based Natural Resources Defense Council talks about “centuries-old” trees hewn from the Canadian boreal forest. Indigo Books and Music CEO Heather Reisman also refers to “centuries-old forests” in a new book. In fact, most of the trees in the boreal forest are less than 100 years old, and only 1% is more than 200 years old, according to Natural Resources Canada. Is this use of “centuries-old” (plural) just a sloppy mistake, or is it a deliberate distortion?[2]
  2. Vancouver based environmental group Canopy claims that “thousand-year-old forests are being destroyed to make boxes” and posts a cartoon with a caption: “Now, would you like it in a box from a 1,000-year-old tree…”[3]  In fact, most boxes made in Canada are from board that is 100% recycled content [4] and any trees that are used from Canadian forests would most likely be less than 100 years old. Again, is this just sloppiness with the facts, or is it a deliberate exaggeration geared at gaining sympathy (and funding) for the cause?
  3. The Globe and Mail newspaper runs an article with the headline: “Is there an 800-year-old-tree in your toilet paper?”[5]  Yes, this is technically possible but highly unlikely. In fact, some 60% of the toilet paper made in Canada is made with recycled content,[6] and as noted above (yet again!) most trees in Canada are less than 100 years old. Is this headline just sloppy and ignorant, or does it show deliberate bias? You be the judge.

Whichever way you choose to look at these three examples, the truth is the loser when key facts and context are not respected, or even sought out.

[1] https://johnmullinder.ca/debunking-the-myth-of-ancient-forests/        

[2] Jennifer Skene (with Shelley Vinyard), The Issue with Tissue, Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.Earth, February, 2019,https://www.stand.earth/sites/default/files/StandEarth-NRDC-IssueWithTissue-Report.pdf; and Heather Reisman, (see John Mullinder, “Reisman Reveals Woeful Ignorance of Forest and Paper Issues,” johnmullinder.ca, April 18,2021 https://johnmullinder.ca/reisman-reveals-woeful-ignorance-of-forest-and-paper-issues/

[3] Pack4GoodCampaign “Did You Know,” Canopy, n.d., https://canopyplanet.org/campaigns/pack4good/ Laura Repas, “188 global groups say it’s time to ’make the throw-away go away’,” February 16, 2021. https://canopyplanet.org/188-global-groups-say-its-time-to-make-the-throw-away-go-away//

[4] https://ppec-paper.com/most-canadian-packaging-board-now-100-recycled-content//

[5] Jennifer Ellen Good and Elin Kelsey, “Is There an 800-Year-Old Tree-in Your Toilet Paper?” Globe and Mail, May 25, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-is-there-an-800-year-old-tree-in-your-toilet-paper-the-case-for-an-old/

[6] Forest Products Association of Canada.

Little Green Lies Front Cover

Copyright© John Mullinder. This is an excerpt adapted from Little Green Lies and Other BS: From “Ancient” Forests to “Zero” Waste. https://www.amazon.com/author/mullindertjohn2021