Friday, October 28, 2016
Book Review: Hallucinations – by Oliver Sacks, M.D. (Alfred A. Knopf, Kindle Ed, 2012)
This was the last book by the famed neurologist before his death in 2015. Sacks was a very interesting fellow. I heard him interviewed on a few different programs on NPR and found his child-like curiosity interesting. It shows through much of this book as well. Oddly enough, he led quite an interesting life and had many occasions to experience hallucinations, through fateful circumstances, self-induced drug experiments, and neurological experiments. This book is a great broad overview of the subject by one who experienced it from within and but also observed it extensively from without through his many patients and correspondents over the years as well as from study of the literature.
Hallucinations are typically defined as experiencing something through our senses that is not really there, perceptions typically not shared by others. We can visualize, making voluntary images in our mind, as we say it, but involuntary images (or sounds, smells, etc.) would be considered hallucinations. Hallmarks of hallucinations are that they are involuntary, uncontrollable, and they may have spectacular colors or bizarre changing forms. They are often startling. Hallucinations may overlap with misperceptions or illusions. The lines between the three can be difficult to draw sometimes. Brain imaging and monitoring neural activity during hallucinations has allowed us to understand more about them in recent times. They can also help us understand more about brain structures and functions. In the past hallucinations were attributed to “apparitions” or possibly mystical “visions” that could sometimes be meaningful. They have no doubt influenced art. He likes the definition given by William James in his 1890 Principles of Psychology:
“An hallucination is a strictly sensational form of consciousness, as good and true a sensation as if there were a real object there. The object happens to be not there, that is all.”
He states that even though dreams and hallucinations have some overlap and some suggest continuity via hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, they are quite different and so he will largely exclude dreams from the book. He also spends little time on schizophrenic hallucinations, saying they are of a different quality intermingled with the psychological/mental life of the afflicted. He focuses on “the “organic” psychoses – the transient psychoses sometimes associated with delirium, epilepsy, drug use, and certain medical conditions.”
Sacks notes that many cultures see hallucinations, like dreams, as something to be sought out for meaning and relevant symbolism while in the modern West they are more associated with states of madness. He notes that he has worked with many patients that have vividly shared their experiences over the years and has kept in contact with them, which gave him the data to develop unique perspectives on the subject.
He begins with a study of hallucinations attributed to Charles Bonnet Syndrome. He stays with some patients as they hallucinate, documenting their accounts. Apparently, with Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) one typically recognizes fairly right away that their hallucinations are not real. They are often as a result of losing one’s eyesight and hallucinations among the blind are fairly common. One woman described them as random and movie-like, sometimes exciting but other times boring. Floating objects are also common. Charles Bonnet described these hallucinations as a result of blindness in the late 1700’s. He himself became partially blind in his later years and experienced some first hand as well. CBS may come and go with different levels of intensity and seeming realness. Some may experience only minor hallucinations of colors and patterns. Sacks notes that although he recognized it in many patients, it seemed less common in the literature before 1990, likely due to misdiagnosis – simply not being recognized. Some people with CBS hallucinate text. Some hallucinate written music, particularly musicians who read music. TV and motion pictures can trigger hallucinations in CBS patients who are not fully blind. Sacks gives several accounts and notes that in CBS cases where vision is preserved there are often disorders of visual perception along with hallucination.
He mentions the work of Dominic ffytche on researching the neural basis of hallucinations. He and his colleagues tried to categorize hallucinations of various sorts and see what was going on simultaneously in the brain. They noted that hallucinations of faces were associated with activity in parts of the visual cortex associated with facial recognition and hallucinations of color matched activity in the color recognition parts of the visual cortex. Ffytche noted a distinction between visual imagination and hallucination in activating these areas, indicating that hallucinations are more like perceptions than visual imagination. Thus in hallucinations, both the brain and the “mind” have difficulty distinguishing them from reality. CBS hallucinations are typically not associated with memory but perhaps with categorization of objects, or “proto-images” as the general form of objects. Sacks makes the distinction between CBS hallucinations and dreams. Dreams are also psychological phenomena associated with the person while CBS hallucinations occur during waking consciousness and they rarely evoke or convey emotion. They seem to be mainly neuro-visual phenomena. CBS hallucinators characteristically know that their hallucinations are not real even though they are clear and vivid. Sacks notes one case where a blind man with CBS may also be suffering from mild cognitive impairment which makes him suspect the reality of some hallucinations, particularly when alone at night, when he seems to harbor delusions. CBS hallucinations can vary quite a bit. They are generally non-threatening and some may even inspire. It is sometimes apparently like losing the world of sight and gaining a world of hallucination.
Sensory deprivation is the next subject. Sacks notes that the brain needs not only perceptual input to function typically but also perceptual change. Prolonged darkness and other sensory deprivation often is void of such change so that the brain compensates by making its own ‘change.’ Visual monotony can have similar effects such as sailors at sea have noted and even drivers on long road trips. High-altitude pilots are also affected. In the Tibetan Bon tradition of ‘dark retreat’ the practitioners traditionally spend 49 days in total darkness and often have ‘visions’ of ‘lights,’ along with other experiences. This is true also in shamanic traditions that practice prolonged darkness. Effects have been noted also by prisoners in solitary confinement and are known as “prisoner’s cinema.” Immobility due to things like polio and motor system diseases and paralysis could also produce hallucinations. Even having a splint or cast to set a broken bone could trigger tactile distortions or hallucinations of those limbs.
Scientific experiments in sensory deprivation began in the 1950’s. The subjects, college students, typically fell asleep but after they woke they began to crave stimulation. To compensate for their boredom they would play mental games and fantasize but after a while would often experience visual hallucinations that seemed to progress from simple patterns to complex ‘scenes.’ Auditory and tactile hallucinations could also occur. Others reported vast increases in their ability to visualize, especially when researchers asked them to visualize particular things when sensory-deprived. John Zubek was involved with many early experiments and summarized the research in his 1969 book, Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research. By the early 1960’s sensory isolation tanks were available where people are suspended in warm water so that the tactile sensations of the body are minimized. Combining these with hallucinogenic drugs could enhance the experience. Simply blindfolding people for prolonged periods also produced hallucinations like colors, trails of light, so-called ‘phosphene images,’ and others. Researchers noted that there were many similarities of the blindfolded participants to those experiencing CBS.
With the advent of brain imaging through functional MRI (fMRI) in the 1990’s we could see what was happening in the brain during hallucinations. Subjects’ visual cortexes became “excitable” very soon after being visually-deprived. Other areas of the brain were also activated. However, when compared to imagining, visualizing, or recalling the hallucinations as opposed to experiencing them, the brain changes were decidedly different.
Marathon and endurance athletes and those participating in rites like vision quests that may include fasting and isolation have also reported hallucinations. Sleep deprivation, dream deprivation, and physical exhaustion can indeed be triggers to hallucination.
Some people have olfactory hallucinations although it is apparently notoriously difficult to vividly image smells for most people. He tells the story of a patient who lost his sense of smell (a condition known as anosmia) due to a head injury but later seemed to regain it, albeit only in a hallucinatory form akin to the visual hallucinations of CBS. Like those who have lost their sight, about 10-20% get CBS and it’s the same with anosmia. He tells the story of a Canadian woman who experienced many years of unpleasantly distorted smells after an operation under general anesthesia. Apparently there was no general pattern to it as some things smelled fine but others were severely distorted in negative ways. It is also well known that smells can trigger memories as a sort of “setting” for past experiences. One woman wrote a book about her hallucinated smell of “shit, puke, burning flesh, and rotten eggs. Not to mention smoke, chemicals, urine, and mold.”
Auditory hallucinations are next. He recounts a 1973 ruse where four patients declared falsely that they were hearing voices. Three were diagnosed with schizophrenia and one with manic depression. They were prescribed antipsychotic medicines but did not swallow them. This showed that declaration of auditory hallucinations, more common than realized, resulted in immediate diagnoses of serious mental illness and drug treatment. Although nearly all schizophrenics hear voices not all that hear voices are schizophrenic. Before the 18th century hearing voices and having visions were generally not considered pathological. They were often considered to be inspiring. Sacks notes his own experience hearing a voice that told him to keep going while trying to descend a mountain with an injured leg and notes that people in danger often hear voices. So too do the bereaved. He also recounts a story of a woman about to commit suicide that heard a voice from within telling her not to do it. Some think that hearing voices is often the result of a temporary inability to distinguish one’s own “inner dialogue” from an external voice. He mentions the controversial and influential book of psychologist Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which speculates that all humans experienced auditory hallucinations until about 1000 B.C. when those voices previously attributed to God or gods were realized to be our own inner voices, just us voicing our thoughts apparently. However, this idea is not generally accepted. Some people don’t hear words but just noises. Some people hear songs or music. Hearing loss is associated with hallucinated music (not unlike CBS). Musical hallucinations can vary quite a bit. Some experience them so loud they have a hard time hearing “real” sounds. They may follow a sudden loud noise or tinnitus. Sometimes the music is very vivid and detailed. One violinist actually claimed to hallucinate a piece of music while he was playing an entirely different piece! I once had a musical hallucination of a radio song while having a high fever as a child which I attribute to the fever delirium. Some people experience them continuously. PET and fMRI scans reveal that music activates more brain areas than the other senses which is why, says Sacks, music therapy can be so effective. He does note that musical hallucinations are quite different than visual ones (such as the CBS ones) likely due to the fact that the auditory system is stimulated directly while the visual system is more interpretive. Thus, while the CBS visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations are similar physiologically, they are different phenomenologically – they are experienced differently.
Parkinson’s disease is another source of hallucinatory experience. Sacks had extensive experience with Parkinson’s patients, most treated with L-Dopa. Aside from post-encephalitic patients who often experience hallucinations right away, many do not get them until months or years of continuous drug treatment. He notes that in 1975 about a quarter of his Parkinson’s patients were having regular hallucinations. Parkinson’s hallucinations vary quite a bit, some being benign and known to be illusory while others may be disturbing or frightening. Paranoia and psychoses may result. Many Parkinson’s patients term their hallucinations as misperceptions rather than hallucinations. Some term them illusions. I think the point is that they do not want to be seen as “crazy.” L-dopa is not considered a hallucinogenic drug since non-Parkinson’s patients prescribed it do not experience hallucinations. Parkinson’s and related disorders of post-encephalitic parkinsonism and Lewy body disease are all neuro-degenerative with hallucinations, cognitive, sleep, and movement disorders. These conditions are far more likely to lead to delusions than CBS. They are associated with abnormalities in the acetylcholine transmitter system that may be aggravated by the L-dopa and similar drugs which keep the movement disorder at bay. People with Parkinson’s may be active and keep their intellect intact for decades so it is often an ongoing treatable condition. There is, however, a more malignant form that involves dementia and hallucinations even without L-dopa. Other forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease also often involve hallucinations. Sacks had about 80 patients with post-encephalitic parkinsonism, some that were immobile for decades before L-dopa spurred them back to life so to speak. He thinks the social isolation and immobility added to their hallucinations.
Humans have sought out altered states for quite a long time. Sacks mentions the incomparable William James and his famous book, Varieties of Religious Experience, where he describes his experiments with nitrous oxide or laughing gas. I have had quite a few experiences with it myself although it has been several decades. James described the opposites of the world merging into a kind of unity, a common description of hallucinogenic drug states. Such drugs are often considered short-cuts to mystical states, however, I suspect that they are less comprehensive than such states arrived at by more gradual and definitive means – but I am not wholly sure. I remember reading Patanjali’s yoga sutras where it was stated that certain “herbs” could also be used to attain various mystical states or samadhis. I do know from many personal experiences that ‘chemical transcendence’ can be quite powerful and ‘paradigm changing.’ I also suspect that it is possible that early human experiments with psychoactive plants may even be partially responsible for the development of consciousness in the form it occurs but this is just a vague hypothesis. Sacks himself did not experiment with psychoactive drugs until age 30 but experiment he did. However, before he did, he had read many books and accounts of such experiments so he kind of knew what to expect. Accounts of opium, hashish, cannabis, the mescaline accounts of Aldous Huxley in his, The Doors of Perception, and accounts of LSD and magic mushrooms are mentioned. He mentions the perceived mingling of the senses and sometimes senses and concepts, known as synesthesia. Many people describe life-changing experience with psychedelic drugs, some good, some not. Heightened senses of color and changes in depth perception and size perception are common. The hallucinatory effects of LSD, mescaline, and other hallucinogens are mostly visual although the other senses and the conceptual effects can also be profound. Sacks was a neurology resident in the early 1960’s in California and such drug experimentation was quite popular there at the time as the mechanisms for the effects of such drugs were just being explored and determined. Neurotransmitter systems were found to be involved with some drugs mimicking some of them, such as serotonin. He started out with pot then LSD and morning glory seeds.
Then he tried Artane, which is a chemical derivative of belladonna used modestly in the treatment of Parkinson’s, which can be quite dangerous and cause delirium in high doses. At first he was disappointed, having no effects but a dry mouth. It was on a Sunday morning when two of his friends would often show up and they would share breakfast. They indeed did and he talked with them then went in to cook. When he returned they were not there and he then realized they had not been there at all which shocked him. Such effects did not occur with LSD or mescaline. He then hallucinated that his parents came to visit him there on a California beach unannounced from London via helicopter. When he went to greet them they were not there. He then had a conversation and philosophical discussion with a spider.
Sacks did not experiment with drugs during the week when he was working but sought to understand some of the experiences of his neurology patients. He regularly experimented on the weekends. With a mix of amphetamine, LSD, and cannabis he willed himself to “see” the true color of indigo which apparently alludes many. He only saw it once again in his life under the influence of music but no drugs. Once under morning glory seeds a woman friend came to visit him and he rejected her saying she was not real but a replica of his friend. She went away but this concerned her obviously. She recommended he see a therapist since taking hallucinogens in high doses alone every Sunday morning could be seen as a little out of whack. Eventually he did. In 1965 he had three months off and was back in London where his parents, both physicians, were away. Here he first injected morphine. He hallucinated a battle scene from 1400’s England and was shocked when he realized 12 hours had passed in this ‘stupor.’ My own experience with opiates was basically sleep and like his – lost time with dim memories of it. After moving to New York he got in the habit of taking chloral hydrate frequently to help him sleep. One day he began to hallucinate after work which involved slicing human brains which he normally was good at but quite shaky on this day. He coped by writing, by describing his experiences. He made it home, called a friend and she asked him what he had taken – nothing. Then she asked him what he had stopped taking. That was it – he had run out of chloral hydrate and the lack of it was triggering the hallucinations. He was relieved that he was having delirium tremens rather than a schizophrenic episode. The DT hallucinations continued for about 4 days as he sat with his friend before fading away. He would also take amphetamines on Friday nights and maniacally study neurology texts. He would come to experience coming down off of them too which included drowsiness and depression. He would also feel guilty for endangering himself. He read a massive book about migraines while on amphetamines and eventually would write his own book about migraine. After this he never took them again.
Migraines are the next topic. Sacks had them all his life. I may have had a couple that I can recall. The migraine “aura” is considered a hallucination, often visual, that often precedes a migraine. Sacks, however, was one of the few that got the aura without the terrible headaches. Sacks’ mother, also a physician, explained migraines to him as a child as she had them too. Migraines affect at least 10% of the population. The main visual effect is known as a scintillating scotoma, scotoma being a blind spot. Intricate patterns, checkerboards, and zig-zags are often seen but there is much variation. Sound and smell hallucinations are also not uncommon. Sacks worked at a migraine clinic and queried every patient he could as it was of great interest to him. “A wave of electrical excitation could track across the cerebral cortex …” [during a migraine]. He wonders if our cultural ‘obsession’ with patterns in art affected our hallucinating of them or vice versa, or if it is some self-organizing activity of visual neurons that lead to it.
Epilepsy is next. Hippocrates called epilepsy the “sacred disease.” However, in modern times in its convulsive form there is much stigma about it. Seizures can take many forms as there are different types of epilepsy with different parts of the brain affected, some hard to watch and control. I have seen dogs and humans do it and it is odd and a bit disturbing seeing beings fall down, shake uncontrollably, slobber, and pee. Damage to parts of the brain can trigger epilepsy. Epilepsy often also has visual symptoms, often hallucinations. Visual flashing of lights can trigger seizures and can even affect non-epileptics with mild seizure-like symptoms. Epileptics can be extremely sensitive to light. Multiplied images, strange mirror reflections as if the image was not the self, vivid colors, olfactory hallucinations, auditory hallucinations of hissing, ringing, rustling, and music have all been reported. Music and marijuana can trigger seizures. The ‘sensation’ of “double-consciousness,” aka. “autoscopy” as in out-of-body experiences has also been reported. This is where one appears to be observing oneself as if from a separate existence. These hallucinations often occur as an “aura” like in migraines, preceding the seizure as in migraines they precede the severe headache. One patient reported dreaming he was having an aura and woke up actually having one. Wilder Penfield attributed pre-seizure hallucinations to reactivated memories but this has been disputed. Memories have been found to be more flexible, more fluid, and far less fixed than early neurologists assumed.
Epileptics also have “flashbacks” like heavy LSD users and PTSD sufferers occasionally have. There is also a category of seizures known as “ecstatic seizures” that are associated with joy and feelings of well-being, sometimes involving mystical revelations. Dostoevsky was known to describe them as events in his novels. Some epileptics experience “deja vous.” One apparently had a vision that Christ ordered him to kill his wife then himself which he did but he survived his self-stabbing. Some suggest that Joan of Arc had temporal lobe epilepsy and that her “visions” were pre-seizure auras. The age of onset and length of the visions support this. Sacks notes that such visions may have effects on social history as hers exemplify. He wonders what the relationship between pre-seizure auras and religion could be – a specific part of the brain associated with religious thinking or some other factor. Although religious revelations occur only in a small number of epileptics they can even happen in the skeptical and non-religious. One account involves seizures that led to religious revelations and conversion but subsequent seizures leading to a non-religious and equally fervent conversion to atheism.
Damage to the occipital lobe via stroke and other damage to the visual system of the brain can result in hallucinations – often as in CBS, recognized right away to be hallucinations. Often these hallucinations occur in just one-half of the visual field and are called hemianopia. In some people they are continuous. The imagery can be more vivid and detailed than normal vision. One patient who experienced temporary hallucinations from a stroke described them as going from simple and still images to complex moving ones than back to simple before fading away – as if a wave moved through the brain. One patient experienced complete loss of vision in one half of the visual field and apparently his brain filled in the rest based on past experience. Indeed this is apparently an aspect of how the brain-vision system works in all of us. There are also cases where patients are half-blind as in hemianopia but consistently insist that they are not – that if they bump into something it had to have been put in front of them. Perhaps the brain “fill-in” is too good and seamless. Some are completely blind with this Anton’s syndrome and yet insist that they can see just fine! Another case involved a man who had gone blind but was also an alcoholic and insisted that on a couple occasions while drunk his vision had returned! From his descriptions which some were plausible but many wrong it seems his returned vision may have been hallucination that somehow partially mimicked the real based on expectation.
As a medical student in London, Sacks saw many patients with delirium, from infections with high fevers, or kidney and liver failure, lung diseases, diabetes, or from medications. Delirium usually indicates a medical problem rather than a neurological one. He observed one patient ‘talking nonsense’ in a delirium before he died. Sacks noted that the patient was mixing reality and fantasy, somewhat like a dream. When Sacks talked to him and let him know he was listening the patient became more coherent. I observed this kind of nonsensical yet interesting talk in my 95 year-old grandmother just before her death. Indeed I think it is fairly common among the dying. Children with fever often experience delirium as I did in a mild way. One description was that the child was changing size, growing and shrinking. Descriptions of swelling of one’s body image are common. Waxing and waning auditory hallucinations occur. Mine was auditory, a song from the radio in a sort of transistorized form. I still remember the song and I may find it on youtube and listen to see if it brings back any weird memories. I just did – no great effect! (Incidentally, the song was Walking in Rhythm by the Blackbyrds). Some consider delirium to be a source of revelation as in psychedelic drugs. Opium and high levels of alcohol or withdrawal from them can also cause delirium. Temporary paranoid delusions can occur. Sacks experienced “elaborate narrative dreams with extremely brilliant colors …” while visiting Brazil in 1996. He had gastroenteritis with some fever and assumed his dreams were a result of this, perhaps compounded by his excitement at visiting the Amazon. The dreams were continuous, sometimes drifted into his initial waking state, and exhausted him from sleep deprivation. This was highly unusual for him as he did not dream like this. His analyst asked him about medications then he realized he had been taking Larium, an anti-malaria drug, standard for visiting the Amazon. A glance at a PDR and consultation with a doctor friend confirmed this effect which lasted a while after before it faded. One of Sacks’ Parkinson’s patients was amiss when he claimed Sacks told him (via audio) to grab his hat and coat, go to the roof of the hospital, and jump off. Sacks told him to look for him to see if he could be seen if it happened again. The patient said it wouldn’t work and sure enough when it happened again the hallucinated Sacks voice told him not to turn around because he was really there. Fortunately, the patient didn’t jump and recovered from his hallucinations.
Hypnagogic imagery and hypnopompic hallucinations are next examined. Hypnagogic imagery occurs near the onset of sleep and hypnopompic near the conclusion of sleep. Many of us have had hypnagogic imagery which may include kaleidoscopic scenery, vividly detailed imagery, and series of changing, morphing images. When I was a cigarette smoker long ago I would sometimes smoke one before bed and I remember having occasional odd hallucinations of echoes, images of changing size, audio changing volume, etc. I am pretty sure it was due to the hallucinatory effects of nicotine but it may have been combined in some way to hypnagogic imagery. Andreas Mavromatis studied hypnagogic imagery extensively. He noted that visions of faces are common. Facial hallucinations involve the facial recognition area of the visual cortex, neuroscientists have determined with fMRI. Most hypnagogic imagery is considered to be generated from within with eyes closed sdiffers from hallucinations in some respects but it shares the involuntary and uncontrollable nature of hallucinations. It can be dream-like too. Some neuroscientists consider it to be associated with the brain “idling” down before sleep.
Hypnopompic hallucinations, often seen with eyes open can be quite different than hypnagogic ones seen with eyes closed. They are also less common, but frequent in some people. They are far more likely to be mistaken for something real. They can be terrifying or amusing. The feeling of a “presence” is a common type. They may be mingled or mistaken for dreams or “false awakenings” from dreams but are apparently quite distinct. Early researchers sometimes considered them fragments of dreams that remained upon awakening.
The next chapter explores narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. So-called ‘night hags’ usually refer to an interpretation of ‘sleep paralysis’ where one appears to wake unable to move (a type of body paralysis or astasia which is a sudden loss of muscular strength – associated with REM state). Such states often occur with disturbing scenes or presences (such as the night hag). It is a fairly common occurrence (I have had several over the years) among the population and some are predisposed to it. Apparently, it is very common with those that experience narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is associated with the “wakefulness” hormones called olexins that are secreted from the hypothalamus. A related condition is ‘cataplexy’ which is the complete loss of muscle tone with emotion or laughter. Sacks attended Narcolepsy Network meetings to hear stories and accounts from those who suffer from it. It often goes undiagnosed, especially in childhood and the hallucinations can be mistaken for schizophrenia or even paranormal activity. Nodding off among the elderly may be a more common milder symptom akin to it. Auditory and tactile hallucinations may accompany visual ones in narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. Since REM sleep is associated with muscle paralysis it was found that sleep paralysis sufferers remain in the REM state while having their hallucinations. Among the Hmong people from Laos there is a cultural belief that sleep paralysis can result in death. Many as refugees were not able to perform the rites to alleviate it with great specificity and so the fear grew. There are a couple hundred of unexplained nocturnal deaths among Hmong refugees which suggests that death by maladies like heart attack triggered by fear could have been the cause. This is possibly a ‘nocebo’ effect based on expectation that triggered physiological reactions can result in death.
Hallucinations triggered by emotional trauma and grief are also fairly common, particularly involving dead loved ones and relatives. Sacks lumps these into the topic of “haunted mind.” Most often people hear the voices of their dead relatives. Habit and expectation may play a role as hallucinations of dead spouses are the most common. Sacks recounts his own recent experience of tripping over some books, falling, and breaking his hip where he vividly re-experienced the details of it in slow motion as he had at the time, for a few weeks after it happened. He heard and felt the crunching of the breaking bone. He reckoned this a sort of trauma-induced hallucination. He considered it mild compared to what some sufferers of PTSD experience. PTSD sufferers experience ‘flashbacks’ of traumatic experiences that may be intense and delusional. Victims of rape, sexual assault, torture, disasters, accidents, and war combat are most susceptible. Strangely those affected by natural disasters are less susceptible to it which suggests having something done by another person against one’s will is of a different category than a so-called “act of God” for many. Early on these were thought to be neuroses, all in the mind, but changing of the brain is now well-confirmed. Even mild concussions and other brain trauma can also change the brain and lead to cognitive impairment. So PTSD is definitely biological as well as psychological in many cases. In the past it had been attributed to ‘dissociation’ and it may still be, but a form of dissociation that is much more severe, one that can change the brain and its memories. In fact, exploiting the flexibility and plasticity of memory is one way of treating severe PTSD. Flashbacks may be traumatic memories not normally accessible but triggered by sensory and social situations. The memories may be such that they are not seen as memories but as reliving the experience itself. Severe stress can also lead to trance-like states that can trigger hallucinations, usually termed ‘hysteria.’ He also mentions mystical and ‘spiritual’ states that may involve hallucinations. Most religious, mystical, shamanic, and mythical literature is full of accounts and analyses of such states and visions. The power of suggestion can also be a factor in many states that may involve hallucinations or visions – since they are often experienced with the cultural motifs to which one is accustomed – but by no means always. He mentions the imaginary companions of children which may seem real to them. Sacks attended many at their deaths and noted that hallucinations often accompany people who see their death as immediately impending.
Doppelgangers and out-of-body experiences can be seen as hallucinating oneself. Seizures, migraines, sleep paralysis, near-death experiences, lucid dreams, and other phenomena may involve so-called OBEs of possibly varying sorts. Sacks goes through the characteristics of these experiences which have been extensively dealt with in several comprehensive studies and books on the subject. Bright lights, tunnels, and communication with the dead or other disembodied beings can accompany these experiences. Some researchers have proposed physiological and/or neurological explanations, others more psychological ones. Some people have experienced doppelgangers in the context of normal waking consciousness, most often with them being a mirror images of oneself with the sides reversed as in a reflection. It is now thought that a third of these cases are associated with schizophrenia. Most experiences are benign but some may be harmful and delusional mostly in the schizophrenic cases. In folklore doppelgangers are often considered portents of death. All our lives we are “embodied” so that becoming “disembodied” is both unusual/odd/disconcerting and an indication that something is amiss. Of course, shamans, magicians, witches, and others are said to be able to become disembodied and to practice this as an ability being part of their craft. Thus there are ‘practices’ to develop the ability to become disembodied.
Sensory ‘delusions’ as shadows, phantoms, or ghosts are common among many people and in lore throughout the world. Among accident victims and amputees there is the common phenomenon of the “phantom limb.” This is the sensation of feeling the limb to be present after it has been removed, in many cases long after and for the rest of one’s life. Phantom hands were the least likely to disappear after a long time. Phantom limbs are hallucinations but there are of a different character since they are based on past neurological habits and wiring. Initially most phantom limbs can be ‘moved’ but often become immobile or paralyzed with the patient becoming unable to ‘will’ the movement as before. The hallucinated paralysis is considered to be a ‘learned’ paralysis. Phantom limbs occur in virtually all amputees, and typically immediately, as opposed to hallucinated sight or hearing in the blind and deaf which comes later in 10-20% of patients. This suggests that the material for hallucinations comes from past perceptions and sensations. The phantom limb effect is used to good measure in prosthetic limbs which can be animated by the willing of the phantom limb. In a sense it gives life to a hallucination and many have benefitted. Some patients report a phantom limb to be disturbing at night when the prosthetic device is off but relieved when they put it on in the morning and the phantom is assumed by the artificial limb. Unfortunately the perception of phantom limbs change over time, often to contorted, painful, shrunken, or expanded forms. A hand may be perceived as permanently clenched or there may be a sense of permanent muscle spasms. One of Sacks’ patients, a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, reported a full phantom body. This suggests that body image is not fixed. Many of us have experienced partial distorted senses of body image with dental anesthesia when parts of our mouths are numbed by local anesthetics. One MS patient described the sensation of an extra limb, an extra right arm. Neurologists are currently working on ways to “unfreeze” painful, contorted, and unwillable phantom limbs. He mentions the work of V.S Ramachandran in this regard. He achieved good results by providing a simple optical illusion of the limb moving so that the ‘learned paralysis’ could be relearned into movement. Virtual reality systems have also been used to successfully reduce some of the pain of phantom limbs and to get some of the ability to ‘will’ them to return. There is another phenomenon known as “reflex paralysis” which Sacks experienced in his mountaineering accident when he ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his left leg. He experienced the loss of ‘limb image’ when in a cast after surgery for about two weeks. He suspects that one of Ramachandran’s ‘mirror box’ optical illusions could have relieved that at the time. There is something similar to reflex paralysis called body-integrity identity disorder where patients feel a sense, often from childhood on, that a limb or part of a limb is foreign to them, not theirs. Some have a compelling desire to have the limb amputated. Sophisticated brain imaging has also helped in understanding phantom limbs and the neural basis of embodiment. One patient, after having a brain tumor removed had the sensation of a foreign limb in his bed with him and threw himself off the bed to try and remove it. Stroke patients may lose feeling in one side of their body and some may come to consider that side not to be part of them but to be someone us. The sense of a presence, or of someone watching you when you are alone may be a similar kind of body image distortion. Such ‘presences’ are more common when one is in a state of anxiety. Electrical stimulation of the brain was also found to induce such a presence of a ‘shadow-person’ among one epileptic patient. William James wrote about ‘sensed presence’ in his Varieties of Religious Experience. He described such experiences from accounts as deeply felt, not necessary ‘religious’ but that could be interpreted as such by one with a predisposition to religious belief. Finally, Sacks makes the suggestion:
“… the primal, animal sense of “the other,” which may have evolved for the detection of threat, can take on a lofty, even transcendent function in human beings, as a biological basis for religious passion and conviction, where the “other,” the “presence,” becomes the person of God.”
Awesome book. Rest in Peace Mr. Sacks.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Book Review: Trees Are the Answer – by Patrick Moore (PhD Ecology) (Beatty Street Publishing, 2000, Anniversary Edition 2010)
This is a very thoughtful and highly informative book by one of the founding members of Greenpeace who later “dropped out” of Greenpeace and became critical of their radicalism. The book is basically about forestry and particularly about sustainable forestry and what are the best practices and policies going forward. Moore comes from a family of loggers in the Canadian Pacific Northwest coast and seems to have quite detailed knowledge of forest environments. He deals with forestry from several different perspectives: environmental, economic, and comparison to other sources of building materials and energy. Moore is often criticized by Greenpeace because he does consulting work for industries and governments but he has contributed to sustainable certification efforts and is eminently qualified to do just that. It is a nicely done book with many color pictures. This is a much-revised 10th anniversary edition of the original book.
In the forward to the new edition Moore points out new developments: more focus on climate change, expanded anti-forestry activism around the world, and sustainable certification becoming more common and widespread. He thinks that forest management can offer important overall means for emissions reductions. He disagrees with the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) in dropping forest-based carbon credits. However, they did so after fraudulent and other questionable activities. Moore seems to think cellulosic biofuels will be viable soon but thus far these 2nd-generation biofuels have yet to become so and others doubt they will be that important.
He begins with environmentalist efforts to preserve forests, particularly what they deemed “high conservation value forests” (HCVF). He acknowledges that these efforts have led to more awareness of forest preservation issues and the development of better management practices. He also notes that they have spread some misinformation and confusion.
Moore touts himself as a lifelong environmentalist but believes that the common environmentalist views of forestry in general, and clearcutting in particular, are simply wrong and must be contextualized to each area and ecosystem. Of course, he acknowledges that past practices such as clearcutting vast swathes of forest have negatively affected fish-bearing streams and other wildlife habitat. Current clearcutting practices are much different, he notes, with some trees left standing to provide habitat, avoiding sections along streams, and smaller contiguous cuts to minimize forest fragmentation.
He calls out those who argue that humans are “unnatural” as propagators of a false dualism:
“The central teaching of ecology is that we are part of nature and interrelated with it. All our acts are “natural” in this sense.”
Moore spent his early life on remote northwest Vancouver Island in the Pacific rainforest where his father worked as a logger in the “float camps” in the 1950’s. He has lived much of his adult life as well near these forests and knows first-hand how they regenerate after clearcutting.
He attended the University of British Columbia and had a turning point when hearing a lecture by Czech immigrant ecologist Vladimir Krajina. Krajina spoke out against the practice of ‘slash burning’ which was widespread in the Pacific Northwest at the time. That lecture, he says, awakened the power of ecological thinking for him. Moore’s own PhD thesis about the effects of dumping copper mine waste into the waters of Rupert Inlet, led to criticism by professors and his own birth as a radical environmentalist – entirely through the academic process, he notes. He was one of the original founders of Greenpeace in Vancouver in 1971 and worked with them as they grew to be the largest group of environmental activists in the world, protesting whaling, baby seal killing, nuclear power plants, supertanker traffic, logging, and many other environmental issues. He left Greenpeace 1986 having served for a some years in the past as its leader. He needed a break from it but he also saw its missions as having been largely accomplished – to bring awareness to environmental problems. Fixing such problems would require the combined efforts of governments, industries, and organizations. He is critical of extremist environmentalists that began, he says, in the 1980’s when environmentalism became more mainstream and as government and business began partnering with environmental organizations. Some were not willing to work with a perceived “enemy” and instead became more radicalized. Greenpeace and other radical orgs began moving toward more extreme positions as a result, he charges. It was the beginning of a split that leaves environmentalism divided, polarized between those who are willing to cooperate and compromise and those who are not. He also suggests that after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet breakup many of the Marxist peace radicals moved into environmentalism, taking their Eco-Marxist approach with them. He sees “deep ecology” in this manner as well, as imbued with extremism and intolerance. Greenpeace even called in 1990 for a “grassroots revolution against pragmatism and compromise.” Many in Greenpeace view Moore as a traitor simply due to him working as a consultant for government and business and for taking a more center political stance. He says they now propagate much misinformation about forestry and its effects and he points this out in more detail throughout the book.
Moore devotes a chapter to aesthetics and how it is not a good measure of forestry practices or ecological health. Clearcut forests may be ugly for a while then regenerate to various healthy and beautiful states. Settlers cleared land for farming and put a high value on cleared land. Clearcuts are seen as destructive but so too are volcanoes, fires, windstorms, landslides, pests, and diseases. Many of the lands we see as grasslands, grazing and farmlands, and other open lands were once forests. Clearcuts are typically planted back with trees while agricultural land remains deforested. And yet, hayfields are farmlands are often seen as aesthetic while clearcuts are seen as ugly. Some have suggested that humans have an aesthetic preference for open lands due to our history of evolving in open savannas. Moore presents a well-designed clearcut as a temporary meadow. After logging or another disturbance the process of renewal and re-colonization is known as “ecological succession.” This is because some species appear first on cleared land then others take over, then others – all in a typical succession for the area and forest type. Natural meadows are typically areas that are too wet, too dry, or too cold for trees. Many shrubs and species like fireweed in the West will thrive in new clearcuts. The left over wood after logging may be ugly but it also provides habitat and soil nutrients.
Moore is very critical of a 1993 Sierra Club book: Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry, which depicts many pictures of fresh clearcuts intended to equate them with ugliness and destruction of nature. He notes simply that beauty and morality are not equivalent nor are beauty and health. He also notes that aesthetics differ in some places. In Scandinavia some prefer the heathlands over forests and may protest turning an open heather land to a spruce forest.
Moore also mentions applying a principle of relativity to environmental issues:
“There is no perfect ecosystem for any given landscape.”
It is not easy to determine, he says, what is ideal for a given ecosystem and many situations may be acceptable. Nature is always changing. It is always finding balance then losing balance then finding it in a cycle where impermanence is the only certainty. The relationship of humans to the environment is also one that seeks balance – between the needs of humans and the needs of nature, between ecology and economy, and even the balance of reason and emotion. “There are no easy answers, only intelligent choices.”
Biological diversity is the next topic. He divides this into genetic diversity, species diversity, and landscape diversity. Genetic diversity refers to the degree of genetic variation of individuals within a species. Many different factors affect genetic diversity and it is often not something that can be seen directly. Species diversity is what most people assume to be equivalent to bio-diversity. Species diversity can be directly measured in most ecosystems although it is difficult to measure diversity of microbes. Landscape diversity, also called ecosystem diversity, “refers to the variety of distinct ecosystems within a given landscape or geographic area.” A more diverse landscape usually coincides with more species diversity as well. More species diversity means that attacks by pests and drought will likely be less catastrophic. He argues that logging “old growth” forests will typically not cause the “irreparable” loss of biological diversity that is depicted by the radical environmentalists.
Moore argues that logging does not affect net genetic diversity. Nearby unlogged trees will drop seeds into logged areas. Other species will thrive in the clearings. If trees are replaced by nursery-grown seedlings that does not negatively affect net genetic diversity but just the opposite since those individual seedlings have their own genetic diversity. In fact, he notes, nursery-grown seedling selected for good qualities will likely add to the genetic diversity and reduce inbreeding. He also addresses cloning (which is simply growing trees from cuttings), selective breeding, somatic embryogenesis – which is simply cloning that is able to produce an unlimited number of plants from a single source, and genetic engineering – all of which are used to increase genetic diversity and protect against problems. Thus far, China is the only country to commercialize GMO trees with a GMO poplar tree developed to be able to resist caterpillar infestations. China is significantly deforested and reforestation efforts are needed there.
Major disturbances like fire and logging can drastically reduce species diversity in a given area. However, that is only true where the disturbance occurred and species diversity generally returns through time. Species diversity may even be increased in the early years of recovery due to the invasion of light-loving flowering and fruiting plants. I have tried (and failed for the most part) to grow several of these awesome understory plants from the Pacific Northwest here in the Midwest – but I think the droughts and the winters are just too severe here for them. He notes that there in the Pacific Northwest the renewal of forests happens often with no input but sometimes with herbicides and mechanical weeding to reduce competition but even that is less needed or not needed when regenerating with larger tree seedlings. Due to the value of Pacific wood and the amount of protected public-owned land there is more original forest there compared to other lands where deforestation to make grazing land for sheep, goats, and cattle is perfectly acceptable. Europe suffers from many centuries of overexploitation of their forests. There are less commercially valuable tree species there too. The viability of forest renewal in Europe is questionable. Spruce is grown in Germany but not widely liked even though it is an indigenous species. Lodgepole pine from British Columbia is extensively grown in Sweden due to its faster growth rate than Scots pine but some don’t like it and consider it an ‘exotic’ species. The Pacific Northwest has an abundance of commercially valuable conifers and hardwoods as does much of North America to a lesser extent. Importation of other species is not required since the native species are quite adequate. For comparison, in New Zealand there are no native commercial wood species so Radiata pine from California is now extensively grown there as a commercial crop.
Forest management can increase species diversity by increasing landscape diversity. Landscape diversity, or ecosystem diversity, he says, is a general term, an indicator of overall bio-diversity. Diversity can also be seen as diversity of ages of trees of a species. He mentions areas where fire spread through valleys and lodgepole pine all the same age becomes the new pioneer species forest so that there is little species and age diversity. He mentions that “progressive clearcutting,” where continuous strips up to 2500 acres of valley forests were cleared, has been discontinued from the late 1980’s onward so the positive effects of better management of clearcutting are just now (2000-2010) beginning to be seen – increases in bio-diversity. Selective habitat preservation is another forest management technique that can be strategically implemented and documented. He mentions the need to protect certain low elevation forests as winter ranges for deer and elk. If you notice – the green grass and other greens grows well and quickly in wet lowland and streamside areas. The flowing water can temper and melt the snow. Forage in clearcuts can also help deer and elk populations. Leaving some standing dead trees and completely avoiding areas along salmon streams are other positive practices. Forest fragmentation is another very important consideration and should be minimized. However, he thinks that some environmentalists have taken the idea too far comparing the fragments to islands separated by oceans – since islands are known to have fewer species. He confirms that fragmented forests are magnitudes less separated from each other than islands by seas and that most isolation of species can recover quickly, especially with keen management.
Moore also strongly disputes assertions by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) that logging has caused species extinctions and massive deforestation in industrialized countries. He called them out on this and they did lessen their rhetoric but he still says their reports regarding logging impacts are not credible nor are those of Greenpeace. He goes into some detail about this and explains that attempts to link forestry and species extinction are simply not credible but are merely hypothetical. He does acknowledge and discuss the factors of human-caused species extinction in the past: introduced predators and diseases (islands are most vulnerable), over-hunting and eradication, and vast clearance of forests for agriculture which causes loss of habitat. He notes that these issues are not currently common in the Pacific Northwest so there is no valid reason to assume species extinction is happening there due to logging which typically causes temporary loss of habitat. He refutes that we are currently experiencing a “mass extinction” noting that most human-caused extinctions were caused by initial introductions of predators and disease and new land clearing of virgin forest areas. He notes that 75% of extinctions have occurred on islands, which are more susceptible to extinctions. He also refutes that logging necessarily threatens the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. He notes the 30,000 loggers lost their jobs due to the perceived threat. This led to more research on the owls which revealed that the owls are quite capable of surviving and thriving in second-growth forests and don’t require old growth forests as was assumed, at least in the southern range of the species. More owls have been found than were predicted as the maximum number of owls that a certain amount of forest could sustain – in some places more than twice as many owls were found than the land was thought capable of supporting. The Endangered Species Act has shut down much forestry in the Western U.S., much due to perceived threats to the spotted owl. He gives “A Tale of Two Woodpeckers” from the U.S. southeast showing that the ivory-billed woodpecker went extinct due to land-clearing for agriculture beginning in 1948. Its cousin, the red cockaded woodpecker, has survived among patches of longleaf pines and this has been helped by conservation efforts among both landowners and forestry companies who developed conservation plans.
Next he explores “monoculture,” what it means and common misunderstandings. The term as applied to forests is generally different than applied to agriculture. While there are tree monoculture crops such as palms, bananas, oranges, some pulp paper crops, eucalyptus, and hybrid poplars, other forests which have been dubbed monocultures have merely a dominant species combined with other trees, shrubs, and plants, rather than the single species tracts typical of agricultural monoculture. Agricultural crops are typically annual crops too. Some monocultural forests appear naturally as pioneer species like lodgepole pine, predominate after fires, and are much more biodiverse than annual agricultural croplands. Replanting single desired species such as Douglas fir after clearcutting have also been called monoculture but there is typically quite a bit of diversity. Moore even emphasizes a study that showed that post logging diversity was greater than pre-logging diversity in the Pacific Northwest, though not in other parts of the world. Two reasons for this are forest management and pioneer hardwood species that often fill cleared areas first along with the conifers.
Exotic and invasive species are explored. Many plants imported for ornamental value have become invasive but others have become important. Many or most of our main food crops would also be considered exotic non-natives. He gives the example of California where 50% of U.S. fresh produce is grown – of 375 species grown none are native! Of course, some invasive species have been catastrophic so each needs to be evaluated separately along with the environment in which it is introduced. In many places in the world, non-native tree species are planted for their positive qualities: ornament, commercial crop, and habitat. Species are quite variable in their needs so perhaps forest management should also be variable to accommodate more species rather than ‘blanket’ prescriptions. Measures to increase biodiversity can be implemented at different levels: at the level of a “stand” of trees any herbicide applied to reduce competition from shrubs during initial growth can be avoided in certain areas of the stand so that the shrubs can grow to provide habitat. Mini-reserves can be established, especially around streams and wetlands. Retaining some hardwoods on a pine plantation and similar-type measures can increase diversity. Individual dead and dying trees can be retained for the same purpose. Piled woody debris can provide bird habitat. At the landscape level the technique of streamside reserve management or riparian reserve zone can be established since that is an area typically rich in species diversity and habitat. Permanent wildlife reserves can be established especially where exotic non-native tree plantations are grown. Another strategy is providing corridors that connect streamside reserve zones so that fragmentation and islanding are minimized. One goal of sustainable forest management is to minimize loss of biodiversity since some will inevitably occur.
Moore thinks it is important that we appreciate forest health and forest limits at different time scales and recognize their climatic and geographical variation. He uses an interesting example of the Aleutian Islands where trees do not grow naturally even though it usually doesn’t freeze and is quite wet. The problem there is that it doesn’t get warm enough in summer for the trees to make seed. Planted trees can do quite well there. He also mentions that many trees like the giant sequoia can actually grow quite far from their natural climatic ranges with assistance since they often won’t seed beyond those ranges.
He makes the significant point that the Amazon Rain Forest which many have called the “lungs of the earth” for its ability to take up carbon, was mostly savanna 9000 years ago. Forest, floral and faunal species migrated south during the Ice Ages and back north in the interglacials. Canada and Russia currently make up 30% of the world’s forests. During the Ice Ages (near 90% of the past 400,000 years) much of those areas were entirely covered in ice. He compares post-ice-age migrations of forests in Europe and North America and notes that these migrations left North America with greater diversity since the mountain ranges and subsequent valleys run north and south rather than east-west as in Europe. As a result some areas of Scandinavia have only two species of conifer. This has all happened by chance with climate and geography being major influences. Thus Moore concludes that:
“There is no ideal forest composition for any given climate or region.”
Thus re-introduction of lost species and introduction of comparable species should not be seen as “unnatural” but as a way to enhance diversity.
Moore describes the process of ecological succession from minerals, microbes, and fungi, to mosses, lichen, ferns, to the later development of trees. Different regions have their own typical succession patterns but they can vary according to circumstances. He gives examples of this variability through different successions from disturbances by landslide and fire and by competition between species from light such as Douglas-fir and Pacific alder.
Old growth forests are typically defined as forests that are 150-250 years and older depending on type and region. Some types are longer-lived and some regions experience less natural disturbance. Typically the understory is also mature and highly diverse. There are also many high nesting sites for birds. One question is how much of it should be protected. Moore says it will grow back faster than radical environmentalists would have us believe. He mentions the term “ancient forest” as being deceptively defined by Greenpeace and others which often also includes forests with very young trees. All old growth forests may not be healthy. He gives the example of some Pacific Coast Rainforest areas that are so wet and protected that they have thrived for thousands of years but some are now so full of rot, choked with mistletoe and pests, and have no commercial value so that they are considered to be in decline. Adjacent younger forests have less disease problems and rot and grow at a much faster rate. These are areas that suffer periodic disturbance suggesting that it can be healthy for forests.
The effects of forest fires are a matter of deep study for foresters. A balance of letting nature take its course and human safety needs to be established. There are arguments about whether letting fires burn, controlled burning of some areas, or prevention are the best policy in each forest area. Fires are started by lightning, careless humans, and as controlled burns. In Canada, he says, half are lightning and half human-caused. Some areas in Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada have big lightning fires every year. Some fires may burn so hot that they sterilize soils so the seeds can’t grow. Different trees have different susceptibilities to burn. In some areas ground fires may reduce the risk for tree fires by reducing the availability of dry fuel. Controlled burns can be dangerous and unpredictable. Each situation is different so not likely amenable to a single rule. Forest management can be complex, involves judgement, cost/benefit analyses, and location-specific requirements.
He gives some case histories of fire effects, recovery times, and strategies in Yellowstone Park and he chronicles the effects of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption and forest recovery efforts there. There he shows with pictures that human intervention by forestry companies can drastically improve the look, function, and diversity of the landscape – and do it while developing a commercial product. The recovery time has dropped by years and perhaps decades. Slow recovering areas at Mount St. Helens also provide grazing habitat for elk and deer – as do clearings made by clearcutting or fire. One might say that the disturbances often cause an increase in landscape diversity. Beneficial forestry can and must happen. I think that precise, detailed, and well-monitored resource management will be a requirement from here forward. Resource management needs to be optimized. Windstorms and landslides are common in the otherwise stable Pacific coastal rainforests. They also regenerate areas of forest. Regeneration by disturbance means that that will be more variability of maturity levels and succession levels in given areas. Landslides can reset succession levels to the beginning where removed soil reveals bare rock. Over-mature and infested old growth areas have very slow growth rates compared to young forests.
Foresters are also concerned with controlling tree pests and diseases. Very young, very old, and tress stressed by drought or injury are most susceptible. While some may see pest and disease as natural as they are, we also want to improve the health of the trees so we seek to limit pests and disease as some can be quite devastating. Parasitic bark beetles have damaged forests in the Pacific Northwest, particularly the pine bark beetle on lodgepole pine. Control of wildfires can let the trees grow older and more susceptible to bark beetles. After the trees die the dry dead trees are more susceptible to fire. Some claim that the trees should be left alone and fires should not be controlled but fire damage and/or beetle damage are generally not welcomed by forest managers and commercial foresters. Typically, loggers will “follow” bark beetle infestations (mainly pine and spruce), harvesting the dying trees soon after they succumb. He notes that one of the largest clearcuts in Canada followed a vast bark beetle infestation in this manner but was inaccurately portrayed by the Sierra Club and others as a routine commercial clearcut. Another infestation is by parasitic mistletoe on the Pacific coast, particularly on older Western Hemlock. Younger forests are not affected so logging can change an unhealthy old forest to a healthy young one in time. Selection logging, where some trees are left, may also be employed where applicable.
Discussing soil degradation and erosion he notes that although it does occur it can be minimized and is not as bad as often depicted by anti-loggers. Many of the problems have been caused by improper road building. Better road construction practices and increased cable and helicopter logging have reduced soil problems in recent years. Landslides can also damage soil, obviously. He give the examples of Germany and Australia, both which have poor, sandy soils and which had thorough scavenging of timber leftovers for firewood. This tended to decrease soil fertility. He notes that the nutrient-rich parts of trees are often in the roots, leaves, and needles rather than in the wood. Much of the wood is carbon with hydrogen and oxygen (as water). So logging itself tends not to remove many nutrients compared to agricultural crops where the nutrients are often in the parts used for food. Some have criticized the loggers for leaving tree tops behind (an eyesore) so they are blamed for both taking too much and leaving too much. This “waste” can be very valuable as habitat and some nutrient source.
He notes that while people often associate logging with deforestation, really deforestation is a two-stage process: after removal there is land use that assures that the forest cannot grow back. The three main causes of deforestation are agriculture & grazing, urbanization, and industrialization. Sheep, goats, and cattle prevent forest regeneration on vast amounts of land. Demand for wood is high and expected to remain high so proper management and regeneration of supply is vital. The need to decrease overall deforestation is also being pursued to help sequester carbon and keep habitat. With more efficient agriculture and grazing management, and less overall urbanization and industrialization deforestation can be minimized while other areas can be reforested. He notes that 55% of wood demand is for fuel for cooking and heating, particularly in tropical developing areas. Many of those areas are suffering deforestation. Poor forest management contributes to the problem. 15% of wood is used for solid lumber products, mainly for construction and furniture. The remaining 30% is used for pulp and paper products like packaging. About half of these pulp and paper products come from sawmill waste fibers with most of the rest from tree plantations. Very little comes from natural forests.
In Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, deforestation by burning and logging, in order to develop palm oil plantations has devastated large areas, created long-burning uncontrolled wildfires that contribute significantly to atmospheric CO2 and pollution, and destroyed habitat. Forests and species in these areas need better management. Overall, forest area has increased in Asia, mainly due to reforestation efforts in China. Sweden, South Africa, New Zealand, and Asian countries are also seeing reforestation. Tropical and subtropical areas in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Near East are seeing the highest levels of deforestation. While logging may be associated with deforestation in those areas, forestry, or forest management, is not. Forestry often requires 100% reforestation of logged areas. Projected future population increases will likely require more land clearing for agriculture and urbanization so that is the main driver of deforestation by far. Population management, more intensive agriculture, and urban densification will help decrease future deforestation.
The relationship between forests and climate change can be complex and sometimes misleading, he notes. It is desirable to conserve forests thereby increasing carbon uptake. Controlling fire may help as well. Carbon is also conserved in durable wood products, he notes. Thus effective forest management can really help mitigate climate change – by growing more trees and by using more wood. Moore believes that using more wood is a sensible and beneficial way toward sustainability. Anti-logging activists, however, would disagree. There is disagreement about cutting old growth forest areas – whether it releases too much carbon. Foresters counter that new growth after logging is often much faster and takes up carbon much faster than older forests. He explains the carbon cycle of sources and sinks with atmospheric carbon as CO2 and fixed carbon in plants. While old forests indeed do contain more carbon than new ones they take up less carbon than new ones since they are in a mature state and new growth is slow. 10% of atmospheric CO2 is derived from deforestation, primarily from tropical forests. The use of wood (from sustainably grown forests) as durable and enduring products such as furniture and in houses and buildings actually sequesters a significant amount of carbon and should be well-considered in carbon budgeting equations related to forests. On the other hand, burning wood for heat and cooking results in the carbon being released to the atmosphere much faster than through natural decay as well as putting toxins in the atmosphere. Moore notes that nearly every material – plastic, steel, and concrete require far more energy to produce than wood so wood is a good sustainable choice as a material.
He mentions the decision of the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) to discontinue the trading of forest-based carbon credits (presumably due to fraud and difficulties in measuring and verifying). He also mentions that environmental organizations are split on the value of wood and sustainable forestry with more moderate groups like World Growth, Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, and Environmental Defense acknowledging the value of forest products in offsetting carbon while the more radical groups like Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and Friends of the Earth have refused to concede the positive role of forestry in offsetting carbon.
New understandings in science and ecology have led to recognizing the value of forests in providing habitat, biodiversity, and in sequestering carbon. Old-style destructive logging practices have, as a result, been largely abandoned, except in some areas such as the tropics and in developing countries. Moore gives a good overview of the idea of sustainability:
“On one level, sustainability is an ideal state in which the actions of today’s generation have no adverse impact on the opportunities of future generations. On another level, it is a pragmatic, rational approach to changing our behavior in order to conserve rather than squander our natural resources so future generations have more choices. There is no perfect state of sustainability. It is a relative concept that requires a high level of strategic planning and consideration of details.”
Key to sustainability is considering the future. With trees as a renewable commercial product, such planning can be reasonably precise. Land use conflicts can be complex and ecological considerations are very important. Sustainable forestry principles are now becoming well established and mainstream with many regulations and guidelines on local, state, regional, and national levels. Soil conservation, protection of watershed integrity, habitat protection, representation of variable successional stages to promote biodiversity, rapid reforestation of harvested land, and smart wildfire control, can all promote sustainable forestry. Government and industry must provide accurate inventories of forest resources, develop best practices for minimizing problems, minimize economic waste while also leaving sufficient woody debris for habitat and nutrients, utilize smart brushing and thinning, minimize the use of herbicides and pesticides, and burn carefully. Tourism, grazing, hunting, fishing, trapping, honey production, and foraging are other considerations. Local effects, visual impacts, and recreational uses also need to be considered. Forest research should also be promoted and done.
Clearcutting has been the focus of environmental opposition to logging. Swedish foresters simply avoid using the term and call virtually the same thing – select area felling, or (SAFE). In the U.S. Southeast pine forests the term “regeneration harvest” is employed to denote rapid reforestation after clearcutting. Another term is “variable retention harvest” which focuses on the trees left in the landscape. The negative connotations of clearcutting are a remnant from past logging practices with few rules or consideration for damages to soil, habitat, streams, and diversity. Much of the past practices involved clearing vast tracts of land for agriculture and grazing. Groups like Greenpeace have called for global bans on clearcutting invoking these past practices as proof of the damage inflicted. Slightly more moderate groups like World Wildlife Fund have stopped short of calling for a ban, saying some clearcutting is OK.
What defines a clearcut is not exactly clear. The effects of the surrounding trees on the cleared land depend on several factors: the trees’ height, the latitude (since the cleared land will be more shaded by surrounding trees in higher latitudes), the type of forest, species present, and the slope of the land. Many radicals advocate for single-tree selection logging which would be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive for loggers and could result in building roads to access and haul very small numbers of trees which would be very inefficient.
Moore defines some logging terms: “selective cutting” means taking only trees of certain species and of a certain size. This has also been called “high-grading.” Thus loggers take only the most valuable species. Eventually this could lead to a lack of those species in the landscape relative to other species and plots that have less commercial value. Clearcut forests typically grow back with similar species ratios to the original forest. Thus, he notes, selective cutting can degrade a forest more than clearcutting. Similar-sounding term “selection logging” means “carefully selecting the trees that are cut on the basis of the ecology of the forest.” He notes that some forests are especially amenable to this technique such as the hardwood forests of the U.S. Northeast and Eastern Canada. Dry Western conifer forests in high elevations are also amenable. Clearcutting in these areas would result in slow regrowth of the new forest due to the dryness so the retained shade holds in moisture. In high elevation areas the trees also shelter the seedlings from frost at night. These areas have been defined and mapped such as the dry-belt Douglas-fir areas. Clearcuts have gotten smaller due to the need for forestry management and now are typically less than 100 acres in size. Clearcutting actually mimics some natural forest degradation such as from fire, windstorms, and volcanoes. Clearcuts can be designed with aesthetics in mind utilizing the natural land contours. Loggers prefer clearcutting because it is safer and more economic than cutting single trees among other trees. Shade tolerance is a factor in the environmental advantages of clearcutting. Pioneer species like lodgepole pine won’t grow in shade, even their own shade. Often they will fill clearings and become a monoculture forest area of same-age trees after disturbance. Swedish forests were degraded by selective cutting the pine and spruce until the forests were no longer commercially valuable. By not removing other species new pine and spruce trees were not regenerated due to being shaded out by the other species. A law was actually passed in Sweden requiring clearcutting but was recently relaxed to allow some selection cutting. Clearcutting is still by far the dominant method of logging in Scandinavia.
Clearcutting can also be beneficial when pests and diseases are a problem to keep them from spreading. Clearcutting was banned in the Alps due to poor past practices related to unregulated clearcut logging to obtain wood fuel for industry which left the land scarred. Selection logging can damage trees left standing making them more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Well-managed forests are the easiest to log. Old growth forests may have high wood value but are not easy to log. While Greenpeace claims that even-age stands of trees are rare in nature Moore notes that this is simply false – the boreal forests of Canada and the dry interior forests of Western North America have widespread naturally-occurring even-age tree stands. He makes the point that the anti-forestry activists are not properly educated on these facts. Many, he notes, are not only even-age but also dominated by a single species as naturally-occurring monocultures. The Society of American Foresters has concluded that clearcutting can have a positive role in forest management, particularly for regenerating shade intolerant species of trees, although it needs to be done properly. The technique of ‘variable retention harvesting’ seeks to preserve overall biodiversity by employing different techniques in an area such as selection logging, selective logging, and clearcutting.
He goes through a history of the development of forestry certification standards. The need for third party certification is acknowledged by all parties, but there are disagreements about what the standards should include. During the early 1990’s environmental groups Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund collaborated on forestry standards to deal mainly with problems in tropical countries such as illegal logging. The forestry industry was excluded from this system so that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system was developed entirely by the environmental movement. During the same time period the forestry industry was developing sustainable practices and developing guidelines for best practices. British Columbia’s Forest Practices Code was an early effort along these lines. The forestry industry argued that the certification system developed entirely by environmentalists who are hostile to industry was also developed by people with little to no training in forest management and its complexities. There was also industry bias against environmentalists.
Moore gives three elements of the certification systems: the standard itself and its governing body, independent certification of compliance with the standard, and “chain of custody certification” which traces the certification from source to final product. In 1994 the Forest Products Association of Canada with the Canadian Standards Association developed a standard (CSA standard) and in the same year the American Forest and paper Association began what was to become the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). In 1998 Western Europe and Scandinavia adopted a similar standard. Both the American and European standards included individual forest landowners. He compares these three standards. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was the first standard and has been adopted by small forest landowners, some major forest companies mostly in Sweden and Canada, and some publically-owned state forests in the U.S. FSC has a more complicated structure, more stringent requirements, and is still largely hostile towards the logging industry. For these reasons it has far less areas certified than the others. CAS and SFI utilize similar structures and requirements. Moore accuses the FSC of picking winners and losers, thus overarching its power. The SFI system is now the main system used in North America. In 2001 the SFI separated itself from the American Forest and Paper Association as a non-profit so that it could be seen as an independent third party certifier. Greenpeace and other radicals, in support of FSC over SFI, have waged a conflict, but SFI competes with it well through good marketing practices with buyers and certifies much more forest than FSC. The CSA standard is considered the most technically rigid but has not been marketed well so is less used. Globally the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) recognizes various certification schemes into an umbrella standard. Since PEFC endorsed SFI and CSA there are now two main standards: PEFC and FSC. PEFC certifies twice as much forest as does FSC. He notes that at press time about 8.3% of global commercial forest is certified as well-managed. Certification was developed in regards to tropical forests but has instead developed mainly in temperate forests. Only 0.5% of African and Asian forests and only 1.6% of Latin American forests have been certified. Cost of compliance has been one main reason these tropical forests have not been certified. Moore thinks the antagonistic stance of the FSC and their rigid requirements are another important factor.
Green building certification is another issue with forest products. He mentions the benefits and the flaws of the main U.S. system, the Green Building Council’s LEED certification system. He compares LEED to FSC in discriminating – indeed LEED specifically requires FSC certified wood which ends up discouraging the use of wood due to cost, since FSC-certified wood is rarer than wood otherwise certified. Like FSC, LEED often reflects standards favored by activists which can be punitive. He thinks they have an anti-wood bias reflective of the anti-forestry bias of activists. He also thinks LEED does not adequately consider full life-cycle analyses in determining the sustainability of production processes. He does mention that LEED is reviewing its requirements and may drop some its bias as a result. It is not clear if this has happened yet. He thinks they may lower their bias against wood and perhaps vinyl as well – a durable and recyclable product for siding, flooring, pipe, and other uses. He also promotes geothermal energy from heat pumps and would prefer to give it more value in certification than is current. He promotes a wood-vinyl-geothermal home as a potentially inexpensive green option.
Next is considered the place-value, the so-called sacredness of forests. Indeed indigenous peoples have long built their lives around the perceived power of places. Leaving land undisturbed is the goal of conservation. Moore compares a giant forest to a giant cathedral. Here he invokes Thoreau and the beginnings of the conservation movement. He tells of some of his own favorite forests such as Pacific Spirit Park in Vancouver, an area of nearly 2000 acres that was clearcut early in the 20th century but the regrowth, now mature, was exempted from further logging. It is now often mistaken for an old growth forest. For him it is proof that clearcutting is not deforestation.
The world has recognized that three of the biggest issues are climate change, biodiversity, and forests. Growing more trees and using more wood can benefit all three of these issues compared to alternatives, he says. Greenpeace has done the opposite in promoting reduced use of wood in favor of more environmentally appropriate alternatives. The Sierra Club’s “zero cut” policy wants to ban logging on all Federal land. Moore debunks the notion put forth by Paul Ehrlich and others that per capita consumption of resources like wood correlates directly to environmental impact. He notes that it is obvious that poverty can relate to environmental impact as well in ways like lack of proper sewage treatment and complete stripping of local trees and woody debris for cooking and heating fuel. More wealth recently in India and China has led to successful reforestation efforts there. Moore seems pretty certain that trees will remain massively important in the post-fossil fuel era ahead. He thinks the global demand for wood will continue to increase so more forests need to be managed well.
Moore sees calls by Greenpeace and NRDC to boycott forest paper products from “virgin fiber” as nonsense. He notes that paper and toilet paper are typically made from waste sawdust and chips from sawmills used to make boards for building. Although there is a small amount of plantation forest that is grown and used for paper, particularly from South America, it is not significant, he says. Apparently recycled wood made into toilet paper, as advocated by environmentalists, tends to be rough rather than soft. Environmentalists tend to advocate annual crops like hemp and kenaf to make “tree-free” paper. But Moore notes that trees provide many further benefits than these exotic annual crops and to grow trees instead in these areas offers vastly more benefits. He notes that in growing crops to make paper, trees are simply the best choice, for the additional benefits they provide.
Looking to the future he sees possibilities for cellulosic biofuels, although that has yet to happen. He notes that in many tropical areas with few native commercial tree species it makes sense to grow non-natives on plantations for this purpose, particularly on previously cleared agricultural land. Deforestation for mere subsistence farming is widespread in the developing world and needs to be addressed by governments in those countries. Illegal logging is a big problem throughout the developing world. He also calls for more international funding for forest management in these areas. He says those in tropical areas have no incentives to develop certifiable wood products through proper forest management – that certification is prohibitively expensive for them unlike in wealthy countries where forests have been managed and kept reforested for many decades. He suggests that anti-forestry groups become less confrontational but he also suggests that the forestry industry become less self-promoting and more socially engaged so they can further their “social license to operate” rather than automatically dismissing their detractors. Environmentalists promoted a FSC-only policy for certification while dismissing the standards developed with foresters. Home Depot adopted an FSC-only policy in 2001 which gave those FSC producers a monopoly there, effectively excluding 99% of British Columbia timber. Moore’s consultancy worked to convince Home Depot to adopt a more inclusive policy than the exclusive FSC-only one. As a result, Home Depot did re-evaluate its buying policy to be more inclusive. Moore advocates sensible collaborative approaches to forest management issues and certification.
This is a very important and detailed book about forestry and all the issues surrounding it. Essential reading on this subject.