What is the first image that pops up into your head at the mention of the word ‘deforestation’? I, for one, am immediately transported to the lush tropical forests of the Amazon basin. Rightfully so, as, according to a recent report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), the Amazon lost more than two million hectares of primary forest in 2020 alone. Nigeria, the Philippines and many other countries are, sadly, not far behind.
Yet earlier this week, tree-chopping news struck much closer to home, as a place called Öjersjö, just a stone’s throw from Gothenburg, made the headlines all across Swedish media. Several newspapers reported that a subcontractor to a contractor to a real estate development managed to fell 6,500 square meters of forest, among them some 60 to 80 centuries-old oaks and spruces, home to protected frogs, bats and birds. By mistake!
A year of Corona-induced localism has turned many of us into ardent tree-huggers, so I am sure I am not the only one reacting strongly to the news. A wave of righteous indignation washes over me as I dig down into the details of this ‘mistake’. The fact that a precious and fragile natural environment was at stake in Öjersjö was not a secret. The agreement with the municipality quotes a fine of SEK 60,000 if trees worthy of protection are damaged. The maps, delineating the real-estate development areas and the protected zones, are evident even for a layman like me.
The more I read, the more questions keep piling up. I know that ‘blaming and shaming’ is not the Swedish way, so I gloss over the obvious questions about whose fault it is. Yet my inner conspiratorian fires up, immediately wondering if it was indeed a blunder rather than a clever plot to explore the attractive land. And more questions remain unanswered. How long does it take to fell a forest of this size? Didn’t anyone see it happening? Was it too cold for the activists to chain themselves to the ancient oaks? How can we make sure a mistake like this doesn’t happen again? Is Swedish forestry as sustainable as we believe?*
Quickly converting the devastated area into hectares, I realize that it is no more than a rounding error, compared to the large-scale deforestation disaster in the world. It feels more real though, albeit with surreal undertones.
*The movie Om skogen (About the forest), is premiering today in Sweden.