Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet

Image of Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet
Release Date: 
March 15, 2022
W. W. Norton & Company
Reviewed by: 

“As Ever Green shows, the world is filled with people who bring a weathered idealism to their forests, where there’s much to learn and many successes to build on.”

Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet argues that when it comes to solutions to climate change, we’re too often missing the forest for the trees.

Planting trees is well and good, but it’s a range of flora and fauna that weaves a literal web of life making it possible for a forest to store carbon, produce oxygen, nurture biodiversity, and stimulate an equally wondrous array of human languages and cultures. For humans are very much forest creatures.

Authors John Reid and Thomas Lovejoy state what’s frightening, obvious, and yet often avoided: “We are living climate change, fully immersed in the future that we were only talking about until recently.” But even the worst problems have at least partial solutions, and so Ever Green focuses on five megaforests crucial to carbon storage and human culture.

From the Amazon to New Guinea and the Congo, and from the North American boreal zone to the Taiga, these still largely intact forests cross national borders and face an impressive array of challenges from logging to mining to road building, which is literally a landscape’s road to ecological ruin from illicit hunting and resource extraction. Yet each megaforest shelters and inspires Indigenous human communities, as has happened for thousands of years.

Ever Green can sometimes be a dry, data-driven book, but that arguably makes it an excellent resource for readers seeking a solid grounding in the role of forest ecosystems in holding back climate change. Keeping carbon stored in tropical forests, for example, is less expensive than reducing emissions from North American and European industries, or from trying to regrow forests that have been logged or in other ways destroyed. And carbon storage is highest and most secure in forests controlled by their Indigenous communities.

Reid and Lovejoy are far from naïve about how Indigenous communities regard their traditional lands: “Some favor tapping timber, minerals, and other industrial resources where it’s possible without doing irrevocable injury to the land. Others prefer to stick with traditional livelihoods. There are active debates in communities worldwide. Overall, however, in traditional forest communities, money’s allure is more likely to operate within guardrails of their practical, day-to-day dependence on, and kinship with, the woods.”

Tamasaimpa of the Marubo of Brazil puts it more bluntly: “We have people living in there. If you don’t have people there, if you only have deer and agouti and little birds, what logger or miner is going to obey the deer and agouti and birds? If people want to come in and take our forests, they have to kill us.”

While Ever Green excels at presenting the intricacies of forest ecosystems (who knew elephants were crucial to a thriving Congo megaforest?), equally compelling are the on-the-ground solutions being implemented by scientists, Indigenous communities, forest advocates, and many others. Unfortunately, money really does grow on trees, and so Ever Green takes a mercifully brief excursion into the economics of cap and trade, certification programs, and most interesting of all the many strategies used by Indigenous cultures to manage the fish and wildlife trade, and other forest uses, for long-term sustainability.

It's Ever Green’s “sturdy twist of realism and ideals” that make it an excellent book for readers seeking much-needed optimism regarding the future we’re living in. While Reid and Lovejoy argue that Indigenous management of large-scale landscapes are key, as opposed to scattered communities alongside fragmented forests, they also convincingly demonstrate the need for protected landscapes and especially for limiting road building into forested areas.

While there’s much that’s irrevocably lost from our world’s forests, there’s still much to be protected and possibly restored. As Ever Green shows, the world is filled with people who bring a weathered idealism to their forests, where there’s much to learn and many successes to build on.