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From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow

From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow
Old growth forest is a good place to take an economics lesson.

I was standing in a stretch of temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. It wasn’t the 800 year old Douglas Firs surrounding me that got my attention – not that you can miss something 70m tall and 2m in diameter – or that I’d never realised there were so many shades of green. It was the stuff on the forest floor.

‘Old growth’ means the forest has been untouched for hundreds of years by fire or loggers. It manages itself. When a tree gets old or sick and a big storm comes, it falls over. As it begins to rot and gather moss, it catches seeds that fall from the other trees above. Here, above the forest floor, away from faster growing plants that would take their light, fed by nutrients from the rotting tree, the seedlings grow.

The healthiest and luckiest will root through their ‘nursery log’ to the forest floor and grow strong until, in another few hundred years, they start the cycle again.

And the economics? Well, in December 2008 the US government loaned $17.4 billion to the US car makers Ford, GM and Chrysler. Car companies in the UK and Europe are all looking to be propped up by the taxpayer.

Let them fall.

Nobody buying your car? That’s because it’s no good. You’re making too many of them. The ones you make use too much gas, look like crap and fall apart too soon.

And, worst of all, you’re keeping Jeremy Clarkson in a job. The car industry is full of really clever people doing really dumb jobs. There are engineers paid to make cars go faster instead of making them more economical, designers paid to make cars look more aggressive instead of making them safer for other road users, marketing managers paid to sell the freedom of an open road to people who have nowhere to park.

How about better public transport or car sharing systems or cars that don’t run on petrol? Or better laid out cities with space for people and bikes? We’re going to need people to design, engineer, build and sell these things. And factory space. And billions of dollars. Where’s it all going to come from?


Words: Jon Matthews
Illustration: Matthew Hams