Editor’s note: this is an anonymous communiqué previously published on Philly Anti-Capitalist. The featured image is unrelated to this action.
Early last week, we made the two tractors that Energy Transfer Partners was using to construct the Mariner East 2 pipeline near Exton, PA inoperative by cutting their hoses and electrical wires, cutting off valve stems to deflate the tires, introducing sand into their systems, putting potatoes in the exhaust pipes, using contact cement to close off the machines’ panels and fuel tanks, and a variety of other mischievous improvised sabotage techniques.
We feel called to fight for the natural world and would be lazy to submit to the demise of the earth, animal and self by not fighting against its destruction by machines and corporations who seek to kill it for capitalist growth. It was surprisingly easy and brought us so much joy. We’ve read since that ETP has had to acknowledge the damage, which they are usually careful to cover up, and see that this wreck of a project could be seriously compromised by the proliferation of more actions like these.
For those restless, angry warriors out there, we hope you find similar happiness in destroying little by little the tools of this capitalist settler-colonial nation. Death to colonization and capitalism… Shout out to everyone out there still attacking in spite of repression and grief.
Editor’s note: The FPIC (Free, prior and informed consent) and UNDRIP (UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are international standards, that some companies have adopted into their policies. The FPIC is an international human rights principle that protect peoples’ rights to self-determination. UNDRIP delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Both of these are important principles that improve the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. However, neither of these are legally binding, which has disastrous outcomes.
Companies and countries alike are bypassing these principles in favor of profitable ventures, most recent of which are clean energy projects.
Right now, companies that advance the “clean” energy transition are threatening the land and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and peasants. Demand for minerals like copper and lithium is skyrocketing, as every economic sector is being transitioned towards the fourth industrial revolution. But indigenous peoples need to have their right to a say in decisions affecting to their land. Ecosystems and people living with the land are being victimized to serve an economy that is desperately trying to save itself from collapsing.
When Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, spoke at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, last week, he listed clean energy projects as some of the most concerning threats to their rights.
“I constantly receive information that Indigenous Peoples fear a new wave of green investments without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge,” said Calí Tzay.
His statements — and those made by other delegates — at what is the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples, made clear that without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people, these “green” projects have the capacity to seriously impede on Indigenous rights.
Free, prior and informed consent — known as FPIC — has always been an important topic at the UNPFII, but this year it’s taken on a renewed urgency.
Mining projects and carbon offsets put pressure on indigenous groups
“The strong push is because more and more of climate action and targets for sustainable development are impacting us,” said Joan Carling, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an Indigenous nonprofit that works to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.
Indigenous peoples around the world are experiencing the compounding pressures of clean energy mining projects, carbon offsets, new protected areas and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of economic recovery efforts in the wake of Covid-19, according to The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 2023 report.
Green colonialism threatens ecosystems
As states around the world trend towards transitioning to “clean” energy to meet their national and international climate goals, the demand for minerals like lithium, copper, and nickel needed for batteries that power the energy revolution are projected to skyrocket. The demand could swell fourfold by 2040, and by conservative estimates could pull in $1.7 trillion in mining investments.
Although Indigenous delegates say they support “clean” energy projects, one of the issues is their land rights: more than half of the projects extracting these minerals currently are on or near lands where Indigenous peoples or peasants live, according to an analysis published in Nature.
This can lead to their eviction from territories, loss of livelihoods, or the deforestation and degradation of surrounding ecosystems.
“And yet […] we are not part of the discussion,” said Carling. “That’s why I call it green colonialism — the [energy] transition without the respect of Indigenous rights is another form of colonialism.”
Companies and governments don’t abide by communities
Because of this, delegates are calling on countries and companies to create binding policy and guidelines that require FPIC for all projects that affect Indigenous peoples and their lands, as well as financial, territorial and material remedies for when companies and countries fail to do so.
However, there is some push back. The free prior, informed consent process can lead to a wide variety of outcomes including the right for communities to decline a highly profitable project, which can often be difficult for countries, companies and investors to abide by, explains Mary Beth Gallagher, the director of engagement of investment at Domini Impact Investments, who spoke at a side event on shareholder advocacy.
Indigenous Sámi delegates from Norway drew attention to their need for legally enforceable FPIC protection as they continue to protest the Fosen Vind Project, an onshore wind energy complex on Sámi territory, that the country’s Supreme Court ruled violated their rights.
“We have come to learn the hard way that sustainability doesn’t end colonialism,” said a Sámi delegate during the main panel on Tuesday.
Across the globe indigenous peoples face eviction
In the United States, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the People of Red Mountain and members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe filed lawsuits against the federal Bureau of Land Management for approving the permits for an open-pit lithium mine without proper consultation with the tribes. In the Colombian Amazon, the Inga Indigenous community presented a successful appeal for lack of prior consultation from a Canadian company that plans to mine copper, molybdenum and other metals in their highly biodiverse territory.
While delegates put a lot of emphasis on the lack of FPIC, they put equal emphasis on FPIC as a crucial part of the long-term sustainability of energy projects.
“FPIC is more than just a checklist for companies looking to develop projects on Indigenous lands,” said Carling. “It is a framework for partnership, including options for equitable benefit sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.”
The focus at this year’s conference has emphasized the growing role of FPIC in the private sector. Investors and developers are increasingly considering the inclusion of FPIC into their human rights due diligence standards. Select countries such as Canada have implemented UNDRIP in full, although First Nation groups have pointed out irregularities in how it is being implemented. The European Union is proposing including specific mandatory rights to FPIC in its corporate sustainability due diligence regulation. Side events at the UNPFII focused on topics like transmitting FPIC Priorities to the private sector and using shareholder advocacy to increase awareness of FPIC.
Gallagher of Domini Impact Investments said companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, which includes FPIC: “If they have a human rights commitment or they have a commitment in their policies not to do land grabs, we have to hold them to account for that.”
Indigenous leadership at the center of negotiations
In 2021, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, published an expectation that companies “obtain (and maintain) the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for business decisions that affect their rights.” Large banks like Credit Agricole have included FPIC in their corporate social responsibility policy. But in most cases, even when companies have a FPIC policy it doesn’t conform to the standard outlined in UNDRIP and is not legally binding.
“It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do to protect self-determination,” said Kate Finn, director at First Peoples Worldwide. “It becomes a check-the-box procedure that’s solely consultations and stakeholder consultation instead of protection of rights and self-determination.”
“If communities aren’t giving their consent, a company has to respect that,” said Gallagher, who added “There’s obviously points of tension where investors have different agendas and priorities but ultimately, it’s about centering Indigenous leadership and working through that.”
Not properly abiding by FPIC can be costly to companies in countries that operate where it is a legal instrument. It comes with risks of losing their social operation to license, and financial damages. According to a study by First Peoples Worldwide, Energy Transfer and the banks that financed the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline, lost billions due to construction delays, account closures, and contract losses after they failed to obtain consent from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.
Ultimately, Indigenous people need to be part of decision-making from the beginning of any project, especially “clean” energy projects mining for transition minerals on their territories, said Carling. “For us, land is life, and we have a right to decide over what happens on our land.”
Banner by Carolina Caycedo. Lithium Intensive, 2022. Color pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
This piece from Low-Tech Magazine examines the practice of coppicing trees for firewood and other uses. The author argues that this practice offers a sustainable, low-tech, small-scale alternative to industrial logging, and doesn’t threaten to accelerate global warming. While we don’t agree with every element of this piece, it is a very important article.
From the Neolithic to the beginning of the twentieth century, coppiced woodlands, pollarded trees, and hedgerows provided people with a sustainable supply of energy, materials, and food.
Pollarded trees in Germany. Image: René Schröder (CC BY-SA 4.0).
How is Cutting Down Trees Sustainable?
Advocating for the use of biomass as a renewable source of energy – replacing fossil fuels – has become controversial among environmentalists. The comments on the previous article, which discussed thermoelectric stoves, illustrate this:
“As the recent film Planet of the Humans points out, biomass a.k.a. dead trees is not a renewable resource by any means, even though the EU classifies it as such.”
“How is cutting down trees sustainable?”
“Article fails to mention that a wood stove produces more CO2 than a coal power plant for every ton of wood/coal that is burned.”
“This is pure insanity. Burning trees to reduce our carbon footprint is oxymoronic.”
“The carbon footprint alone is just horrifying.”
“The biggest problem with burning anything is once it’s burned, it’s gone forever.”
“The only silly question I can add to to the silliness of this piece, is where is all the wood coming from?”
In contrast to what the comments suggest, the article does not advocate the expansion of biomass as an energy source. Instead, it argues that already burning biomass fires – used by roughly 40% of today’s global population – could also produce electricity as a by-product, if they are outfitted with thermoelectric modules. Nevertheless, several commenters maintained their criticism after they read the article more carefully. One of them wrote: “We should aim to eliminate the burning of biomass globally, not make it more attractive.”
Apparently, high-tech thinking has permeated the minds of (urban) environmentalists to such an extent that they view biomass as an inherently troublesome energy source – similar to fossil fuels. To be clear, critics are right to call out unsustainable practices in biomass production. However, these are the consequences of a relatively recent, “industrial” approach to forestry. When we look at historical forest management practices, it becomes clear that biomass is potentially one of the most sustainable energy sources on this planet.
Coppicing: Harvesting Wood Without Killing Trees
Nowadays, most wood is harvested by killing trees. Before the Industrial Revolution, a lot of wood was harvested from living trees, which were coppiced. The principle of coppicing is based on the natural ability of many broad-leaved species to regrow from damaged stems or roots – damage caused by fire, wind, snow, animals, pathogens, or (on slopes) falling rocks. Coppice management involves the cutting down of trees close to ground level, after which the base – called the “stool” – develops several new shoots, resulting in a multi-stemmed tree.
A coppice stool. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
A recently coppiced patch of oak forest. Image: Henk vD. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Coppice stools in Surrey, England. Image: Martinvl (CC BY-SA 4.0)
When we think of a forest or a tree plantation, we imagine it as a landscape stacked with tall trees. However, until the beginning of the twentieth century, at least half of the forests in Europe were coppiced, giving them a more bush-like appearance.  The coppicing of trees can be dated back to the stone age, when people built pile dwellings and trackways crossing prehistoric fenlands using thousands of branches of equal size – a feat that can only be accomplished by coppicing. 
The approximate historical range of coppice forests in the Czech Republic (above, in red) and in Spain (below, in blue). Source: “Coppice forests in Europe”, see 
Ever since then, the technique formed the standard approach to wood production – not just in Europe but almost all over the world. Coppicing expanded greatly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when population growth and the rise of industrial activity (glass, iron, tile and lime manufacturing) put increasing pressure on wood reserves.
Short Rotation Cycles
Because the young shoots of a coppiced tree can exploit an already well-developed root system, a coppiced tree produces wood faster than a tall tree. Or, to be more precise: although its photosynthetic efficiency is the same, a tall tree provides more biomass below ground (in the roots) while a coppiced tree produces more biomass above ground (in the shoots) – which is clearly more practical for harvesting.  Partly because of this, coppicing was based on short rotation cycles, often of around two to four years, although both yearly rotations and rotations up to 12 years or longer also occurred.
Coppice stools with different rotation cycles. Images: Geert Van der Linden.
Because of the short rotation cycles, a coppice forest was a very quick, regular and reliable supplier of firewood. Often, it was cut up into a number of equal compartments that corresponded to the number of years in the planned rotation. For example, if the shoots were harvested every three years, the forest was divided into three parts, and one of these was coppiced each year. Short rotation cycles also meant that it took only a few years before the carbon released by the burning of the wood was compensated by the carbon that was absorbed by new growth, making a coppice forest truly carbon neutral. In very short rotation cycles, new growth could even be ready for harvest by the time the old growth wood had dried enough to be burned.
In some tree species, the stump sprouting ability decreases with age. After several rotations, these trees were either harvested in their entirety and replaced by new trees, or converted into a coppice with a longer rotation. Other tree species resprout well from stumps of all ages, and can provide shoots for centuries, especially on rich soils with a good water supply. Surviving coppice stools can be more than 1,000 years old.
A coppice can be called a “coppice forest” or a “coppice plantation”, but in reality it was neither a forest nor a plantation – perhaps something in between. Although managed by humans, coppice forests were not environmentally destructive, on the contrary. Harvesting wood from living trees instead of killing them is beneficial for the life forms that depend on them. Coppice forests can have a richer biodiversity than unmanaged forests, because they always contain areas with different stages of light and growth. None of this is true in industrial wood plantations, which support little or no plant and animal life, and which have longer rotation cycles (of at least twenty years).
Coppice stools in the Netherlands. Image: K. Vliet (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Sweet chestnut coppice at Flexham Park, Sussex, England. Image: Charlesdrakew, public domain.
Our forebears also cut down tall, standing trees with large-diameter stems – just not for firewood. Large trees were only “killed” when large timber was required, for example for the construction of ships, buildings, bridges, and windmills.  Coppice forests could contain tall trees (a “coppice-with-standards”), which were left to grow for decades while the surrounding trees were regularly pruned. However, even these standing trees could be partly coppiced, for example by harvesting their side branches while they were alive (shredding).
The archetypical wood plantation promoted by the industrial world involves regularly spaced rows of trees in even-aged, monocultural stands, providing a single output – timber for construction, pulpwood for paper production, or fuelwood for power plants. In contrast, trees in pre-industrial coppice forests had multiple purposes. They provided firewood, but also construction materials and animal fodder.
The targeted wood dimensions, determined by the use of the shoots, set the rotation period of the coppice. Because not every type of wood was suited for every type of use, coppiced forests often consisted of a variety of tree species at different ages. Several age classes of stems could even be rotated on the same coppice stool (“selection coppice”), and the rotations could evolve over time according to the needs and priorities of the economic activities.
A small woodland with a diverse mix of coppiced, pollarded and standard trees. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Coppiced wood was used to build almost anything that was needed in a community.  For example, young willow shoots, which are very flexible, were braided into baskets and crates, while sweet chestnut prunings, which do not expand or shrink after drying, were used to make all kinds of barrels. Ash and goat willow, which yield straight and sturdy wood, provided the material for making the handles of brooms, axes, shovels, rakes and other tools.
Young hazel shoots were split along the entire length, braided between the wooden beams of buildings, and then sealed with loam and cow manure – the so-called wattle-and-daub construction. Hazel shoots also kept thatched roofs together. Alder and willow, which have almost limitless life expectancy under water, were used as foundation piles and river bank reinforcements. The construction wood that was taken out of a coppice forest did not diminish its energy supply: because the artefacts were often used locally, at the end of their lives they could still be burned as firewood.
Coppice forests also supplied food. On the one hand, they provided people with fruits, berries, truffles, nuts, mushrooms, herbs, honey, and game. On the other hand, they were an important source of winter fodder for farm animals. Before the Industrial Revolution, many sheep and goats were fed with so-called “leaf fodder” or “leaf hay” – leaves with or without twigs. 
Elm and ash were among the most nutritious species, but sheep also got birch, hazel, linden, bird cherry and even oak, while goats were also fed with alder. In mountainous regions, horses, cattle, pigs and silk worms could be given leaf hay too. Leaf fodder was grown in rotations of three to six years, when the branches provided the highest ratio of leaves to wood. When the leaves were eaten by the animals, the wood could still be burned.
Pollards & Hedgerows
Coppice stools are vulnerable to grazing animals, especially when the shoots are young. Therefore, coppice forests were usually protected against animals by building a ditch, fence or hedge around them. In contrast, pollarding allowed animals and trees to be mixed on the same land. Pollarded trees were pruned like coppices, but to a height of at least two metres to keep the young shoots out of reach of grazing animals.
Wooded meadows and wood pastures – mosaics of pasture and forest – combined the grazing of animals with the production of fodder, firewood and/or construction wood from pollarded trees. “Pannage” or “mast feeding” was the method of sending pigs into pollarded oak forests during autumn, where they could feed on fallen acorns. The system formed the mainstay of pork production in Europe for centuries.  The “meadow orchard” or “grazed orchard” combined fruit cultivation and grazing — pollarded fruit trees offered shade to the animals, while the animals could not reach the fruit but fertilised the trees.
Forest or pasture? Something in between. A “dehesa” (pig forest farm) in Spain. Image by Basotxerri (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cattle grazes among pollarded trees in Huelva, Spain. (CC BY-SA 2.5)
A meadow orchard surrounded by a living hedge in Rijkhoven, Belgium. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
While agriculture and forestry are now strictly separated activities, in earlier times the farm was the forest and vice versa. It would make a lot of sense to bring them back together, because agriculture and livestock production – not wood production – are the main drivers of deforestation. If trees provide animal fodder, meat and dairy production should not lead to deforestation. If crops can be grown in fields with trees, agriculture should not lead to deforestation. Forest farms would also improve animal welfare, soil fertility and erosion control.
Extensive plantations could consist of coppiced or pollarded trees, and were often managed as a commons. However, coppicing and pollarding were not techniques seen only in large-scale forest management. Small woodlands in between fields or next to a rural house and managed by an individual household would be coppiced or pollarded. A lot of wood was also grown as line plantings around farmyards, fields and meadows, near buildings, and along paths, roads and waterways. Here, lopped trees and shrubs could also appear in the form of hedgerows, thickly planted hedges. 
Hedge landscape in Normandy, France, around 1940. Image: W Wolny, public domain.
Line plantings in Flanders, Belgium. Detail from the Ferraris map, 1771-78.
Although line plantings are usually associated with the use of hedgerows in England, they were common in large parts of Europe. In 1804, English historian Abbé Mann expressed his surprise when he wrote about his trip to Flanders (today part of Belgium): “All fields are enclosed with hedges, and thick set with trees, insomuch that the whole face of the country, seen from a little height, seems one continued wood”. Typical for the region was the large number of pollarded trees. 
Like coppice forests, line plantings were diverse and provided people with firewood, construction materials and leaf fodder. However, unlike coppice forests, they had extra functions because of their specific location.  One of these was plot separation: keeping farm animals in, and keeping wild animals or cattle grazing on common lands out. Various techniques existed to make hedgerows impenetrable, even for small animals such as rabbits. Around meadows, hedgerows or rows of very closely planted pollarded trees (“pollarded tree hedges”) could stop large animals such as cows. If willow wicker was braided between them, such a line planting could also keep small animals out. 
Detail of a yew hedge. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Hedgerow. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Pollarded tree hedge in Nieuwekerken, Belgium. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Coppice stools in a pasture. Image: Jan Bastiaens.
Trees and line plantings also offered protection against the weather. Line plantings protected fields, orchards and vegetable gardens against the wind, which could erode the soil and damage the crops. In warmer climates, trees could shield crops from the sun and fertilize the soil. Pollarded lime trees, which have very dense foliage, were often planted right next to wattle-and-daub buildings in order to protect them from wind, rain and sun. 
Dunghills were protected by one or more trees, preventing the valuable resource from evaporating due to sun or wind. In the yard of a watermill, the wooden water wheel was shielded by a tree to prevent the wood from shrinking or expanding in times of drought or inactivity. 
A pollarded tree protects a water wheel. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Pollarded lime trees protect a farm building in Nederbrakel, Belgium. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Along paths, roads and waterways, line plantings had many of the same location-specific functions as on farms. Cattle and pigs were hoarded over dedicated droveways lined with hedgerows, coppices and/or pollards. When the railroads appeared, line plantings prevented collisions with animals. They protected road travellers from the weather, and marked the route so that people and animals would not get off the road in a snowy landscape. They prevented soil erosion at riverbanks and hollow roads.
All functions of line plantings could be managed by dead wood fences, which can be moved more easily than hedgerows, take up less space, don’t compete for light and food with crops, and can be ready in a short time.  However, in times and places were wood was scarce a living hedge was often preferred (and sometimes obliged) because it was a continuous wood producer, while a dead wood fence was a continuous wood consumer. A dead wood fence may save space and time on the spot, but it implies that the wood for its construction and maintenance is grown and harvested elsewhere in the surroundings.
Image: Pollarded tree hedge in Belgium. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Local use of wood resources was maximised. For example, the tree that was planted next to the waterwheel, was not just any tree. It was red dogwood or elm, the wood that was best suited for constructing the interior gearwork of the mill. When a new part was needed for repairs, the wood could be harvested right next to the mill. Likewise, line plantings along dirt roads were used for the maintenance of those roads. The shoots were tied together in bundles and used as a foundation or to fill up holes. Because the trees were coppiced or pollarded and not cut down, no function was ever at the expense of another.
Nowadays, when people advocate for the planting of trees, targets are set in terms of forested area or the number of trees, and little attention is given to their location – which could even be on the other side of the world. However, as these examples show, planting trees closeby and in the right location can significantly optimise their potential.
Shaped by Limits
Coppicing has largely disappeared in industrial societies, although pollarded trees can still be found along streets and in parks. Their prunings, which once sustained entire communities, are now considered waste products. If it worked so well, why was coppicing abandoned as a source of energy, materials and food? The answer is short: fossil fuels. Our forebears relied on coppice because they had no access to fossil fuels, and we don’t rely on coppice because we have.
Our forebears relied on coppice because they had no access to fossil fuels, and we don’t rely on coppice because we have
Most obviously, fossil fuels have replaced wood as a source of energy and materials. Coal, gas and oil took the place of firewood for cooking, space heating, water heating and industrial processes based on thermal energy. Metal, concrete and brick – materials that had been around for many centuries – only became widespread alternatives to wood after they could be made with fossil fuels, which also brought us plastics. Artificial fertilizers – products of fossil fuels – boosted the supply and the global trade of animal fodder, making leaf fodder obsolete. The mechanisation of agriculture – driven by fossil fuels – led to farming on much larger plots along with the elimination of trees and line plantings on farms.
Less obvious, but at least as important, is that fossil fuels have transformed forestry itself. Nowadays, the harvesting, processing and transporting of wood is heavily supported by the use of fossil fuels, while in earlier times they were entirely based on human and animal power – which themselves get their fuel from biomass. It was the limitations of these power sources that created and shaped coppice management all over the world.
Harvesting wood from pollarded trees in Belgium, 1947. Credit: Zeylemaker, Co., Nationaal Archief (CCO)
Transporting firewood in the Basque Country. Source: Notes on pollards: best practices’ guide for pollarding. Gipuzkoaka Foru Aldundía-Diputación Foral de Giuzkoa, 2014.
Wood was harvested and processed by hand, using simple tools such as knives, machetes, billhooks, axes and (later) saws. Because the labour requirements of harvesting trees by hand increase with stem diameter, it was cheaper and more convenient to harvest many small branches instead of cutting down a few large trees. Furthermore, there was no need to split coppiced wood after it was harvested. Shoots were cut to a length of around one metre, and tied together in “faggots”, which were an easy size to handle manually.
It was the limitations of human and animal power that created and shaped coppice management all over the world
To transport firewood, our forebears relied on animal drawn carts over often very bad roads. This meant that, unless it could be transported over water, firewood had to be harvested within a radius of at most 15-30 km from the place where it was used.  Beyond those distances, the animal power required for transporting the firewood was larger than its energy content, and it would have made more sense to grow firewood on the pasture that fed the draft animal.  There were some exceptions to this rule. Some industrial activities, like iron and potash production, could be moved to more distant forests – transporting iron or potash was more economical than transporting the firewood required for their production. However, in general, coppice forests (and of course also line plantings) were located in the immediate vicinity of the settlement where the wood was used.
In short, coppicing appeared in a context of limits. Because of its faster growth and versatile use of space, it maximised the local wood supply of a given area. Because of its use of small branches, it made manual harvesting and transporting as economical and convenient as possible.
Can Coppicing be Mechanised?
From the twentieth century onwards, harvesting was done by motor saw, and since the 1980s, wood is increasingly harvested by powerful vehicles that can fell entire trees and cut them on the spot in a matter of minutes. Fossil fuels have also brought better transportation infrastructures, which have unlocked wood reserves that were inaccessible in earlier times. Consequently, firewood can now be grown on one side of the planet and consumed at the other.
The use of fossil fuels adds carbon emissions to what used to be a completely carbon neutral activity, but much more important is that it has pushed wood production to a larger – unsustainable – scale.  Fossil fueled transportation has destroyed the connection between supply and demand that governed local forestry. If the wood supply is limited, a community has no other choice than to make sure that the wood harvest rate and the wood renewal rate are in balance. Otherwise, it risks running out of fuelwood, craft wood and animal fodder, and it would be abandoned.
Mechanically harvested willow coppice plantation. Shortly after coppicing (right), 3-years old growth (left). Image: Lignovis GmbH (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Likewise, fully mechanised harvesting has pushed forestry to a scale that is incompatible with sustainable forest management. Our forebears did not cut down large trees for firewood, because it was not economical. Today, the forest industry does exactly that because mechanisation makes it the most profitable thing to do. Compared to industrial forestry, where one worker can harvest up to 60 m3 of wood per hour, coppicing is extremely labour-intensive. Consequently, it cannot compete in an economic system that fosters the replacement of human labour with machines powered by fossil fuels.
Coppicing cannot compete in an economic system that fosters the replacement of human labour with machines powered by fossil fuels
Some scientists and engineers have tried to solve this by demonstrating coppice harvesting machines.  However, mechanisation is a slippery slope. The machines are only practical and economical on somewhat larger tracts of woodland (>1 ha) which contain coppiced trees of the same species and the same age, with only one purpose (often fuelwood for power generation). As we have seen, this excludes many older forms of coppice management, such as the use of multipurpose trees and line plantings. Add fossil fueled transportation to the mix, and the result is a type of industrial coppice management that brings few improvements.
Coppiced trees along a brook in ‘s Gravenvoeren, Belgium. Image: Geert Van der Linden.
Sustainable forest management is essentially local and manual. This doesn’t mean that we need to copy the past to make biomass energy sustainable again. For example, the radius of the wood supply could be increased by low energy transport options, such as cargo bikes and aerial ropeways, which are much more efficient than horse or ox drawn carts over bad roads, and which could be operated without fossil fuels. Hand tools have also improved in terms of efficiency and ergonomics. We could even use motor saws that run on biofuels – a much more realistic application than their use in car engines. 
The Past Lives On
This article has compared industrial biomass production with historical forms of forest management in Europe, but in fact there was no need to look to the past for inspiration. The 40% of the global population consisting of people in poor societies that still burn wood for cooking and water and/or space heating, are no clients of industrial forestry. Instead, they obtain firewood in much of the same ways that we did in earlier times, although the tree species and the environmental conditions can be very different. 
A 2017 study calculated that the wood consumption by people in “developing” societies – good for 55% of the global wood harvest and 9-15% of total global energy consumption – only causes 2-8% of anthropogenic climate impacts.  Why so little? Because around two-thirds of the wood that is harvested in developing societies is harvested sustainably, write the scientists. People collect mainly dead wood, they grow a lot of wood outside the forest, they coppice and pollard trees, and they prefer the use of multipurpose trees, which are too valuable to cut down. The motives are the same as those of our ancestors: people have no access to fossil fuels and are thus tied to a local wood supply, which needs to be harvested and transported manually.
African women carrying firewood. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
These numbers confirm that it is not biomass energy that’s unsustainable. If the whole of humanity would live as the 40% that still burns biomass regularly, climate change would not be an issue. What is really unsustainable is a high energy lifestyle. We can obviously not sustain a high-tech industrial society on coppice forests and line plantings alone. But the same is true for any other energy source, including uranium and fossil fuels.
Written by Kris De Decker. Proofread by Alice Essam.
Aarden wallen in Europa, in “Tot hier en niet verder: historische wallen in het Nederlandse landschap”, Henk Baas, Bert Groenewoudt, Pim Jungerius and Hans Renes, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, 2012.
 While leaf fodder was used all over Europe, it was especially widespread in mountainous regions, such as Scandinavia, the Alps and the Pyrenees. For example, in Sweden in 1850, 1.3 million sheep and goats consumed a total of 190 million sheaves annually, for which at least 1 million hectares deciduous woodland was exploited, often in the form of pollards. The harvest of leaf fodder predates the use of hay as winter fodder. Branches could be cut with stone tools, while cutting grass requires bronze or iron tools. While most coppicing and pollarding was done in winter, harvesting leaf fodder logically happened in summer. Bundles of leaf fodder were often put in the pollarded trees to dry. References:Logan, William Bryant. Sprout lands: tending the endless gift of trees. WW Norton & Company, 2019.
If line plantings were mainly used for wood production, they were planted at some distance from each other, allowing more light and thus a higher wood production. If they were mainly used as plot boundaries, they were planted more closely together. This diminished the wood harvest but allowed for a thicker growth.
 In fact, coppice forests could also have a location-specific function: they could be placed around a city or settlement to form an impenetrable obstacle for attackers, either by foot or by horse. They could not easily be destroyed by shooting, in contrast to a wall. Source: 
 Lime trees were even used for fire prevention. They were planted right next to the baking house in order to stop the spread of sparks to wood piles, haystacks and thatched roofs. Source: 
 The fact that living hedges and trees are harder to move than dead wood fences and posts also has practical advantages. In Europe until the French era, there was no land register and boundaries where physically indicated in the landscape. The surveyor’s work was sealed with the planting of a tree, which is much harder to move on the sly than a pole or a fence. Source: 
 And, if it could be brought in over water from longer distances, the wood had to be harvested within 15-30 km of the river or coast.
Resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock has gained unprecedented coverage. At the center of the story is a thousand-plus miles long pipeline that would transport some 500,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline is backed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. And It faces a huge line of Indigenous nations who’ve come together to say “No.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, because it crosses sacred grounds within the boundaries of the reservation and threatens water sources in the larger region of the Missouri River.
There was no prior consultation or authorization for the pipeline. In fact, the construction of the pipeline is a blatant violation of treaty rights. The territorial and water rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are protected under the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) and the Sioux Nation Treaty at Fort Laramie (1868)—as well as subsequent treaties.
Indigenous nations across the USA mobilized to protect Standing Rock. There are thousands of people now standing their grounds, including over a hundred Nations from across the Continent. Tara Houska, from the Ojibwa Nation, says this gathering of tribal nations at Standing Rock is unprecedented since Wounded Knee in 1973.
#NoDAPL Peaceful Prayer Demonstration led by the International Indigenous Youth Council at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation on Sept 25, 2016. Photo: Indigenous Environmental Network
Though it’s making less headlines now, the ongoing pipeline resistance has faced the same brand of repression that other megaprojects face in Guatemala, Peru and elsewhere around the world: with violence and impunity. Most recently, over 20 water defenders were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to trespassing. Earlier this month, pipeline guards unleashed attack dogs (biting at least 6 people), punched and pepper-sprayed Native American protesters.
Such attacks rarely make it to the media, and when they do the media often ends up feeling some of the legal pressures used against native nations. Democracy Now released video footage of dogs with blood on their teeth, which went viral. As a result, Amy Goodman was charged for criminal trespass. An arrest warrant was issued under the header “North Dakota versus Amy Goodman.” The defense of Native territory was combined with claims that “journalism is not a crime.”
Waves of support emerged everywhere. A coalition of more than 1,200 archeologists, museum directors, and historians from institutions like the Smithsonian and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries denounced the deliberate destruction of Standing Rock Sioux ancestral burial sites. In Washington DC, hundreds gathered outside President Obama’s final White House Tribal Nations Conference in a rally opposing the North Dakota Pipeline.
Unprecedented mobilization led to unprecedented politics. On September 10, the US federal government temporarily stopped the project. A statement released by three federal agencies said the case “highlighted the need for a serious discussion” about nationwide reforms “with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
Dave Archambault, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, took the case to the United Nations. He denounced the destruction of oil companies and the Sioux determination to protect water and land for unborn generations. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, responded by calling on the United States to halt the construction of the pipeline saying it poses a significant risk to drinking water and sacred sites.
“I urge the United States Government to undertake a thorough review of its compliance with international standards regarding the obligation to consult with indigenous peoples and obtain their free and informed consent,” the expert said. “The statutory framework should be amended to include provisions to that effect and it is important that the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Advisory Council on Historic Preservation participate in the review of legislation.”
Many more standing against pipelines
Standing Rock has become emblematic of a much broader battle against predatory development. The invasion of Indigenous territory without prior consultation is unfortunately all too common. The disregard of state treaties and environmental regulations is not an exception, but the norm.
Across the Americas, there are hundreds of nations resisting megaprojects on their lands like Standing Rock. Many of these struggles are taking place now in North America. People know that Native Americans protested the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma. But there are many more pipelines that receive little or no media attention.
In Canada, the Energy East Pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from Saskatchewan to Ontario and on to Saint John, New Brunswick. The pipeline will secure crude exports to the more profitable markets of Europe, India, China and the U.S. But it threatens the lands of more than 30 First Nations and the drinking water of more than five million Canadians.
Nancy Morrison, 85, of Onigaming and Daryl “Hutchy” Redsky Jr., 7, of Shoal Lake 40 stand together at Kenora’s second Energy East pipeline information session.
There is the Northern Gateway Pipeline, which Canada’s Federal Government conditionally approved in June 2014 without prior consultation. The Yinka Dene Alliance First Nations refused the pipeline permissions to enter its territories. There are eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one union now challenging the pipeline in court. Last June, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the project.
The Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation are continuing to resist the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline in British Colombia. Coast Salish Peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border are opposing Kinder Morgan’s proposed TransMountain pipeline project. In Minnesota, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians are fighting against a set of Enbridge pipelines.
There are many other pipeline struggles around the world, including in Peru, where the Wampis are cleaning up oil spills on their own; and Ecuador, where urban youth and ecologists have joined Indigenous communities in defending the Amazon from further oil drilling in the Yasuni.
What is at stake is Indigenous territory coupled with the greater need for healthy land and clean water for posterity. Resisting pipelines is to defend nature from the tentacles of extractive industries that continue to place corporate interests ahead of human rights and needs even as the climate crisis pulls us to the point of no return. Standing Rock is about Indigenous self-determination as much as it is about restoring relations of reciprocity between humans and nature. Without respect to Indigenous nations there will be no reversing of climate change.
The legal precedent of Bagua
Peru may offer inspiration to redefine rights of extraction–Peruvian courts just absolved 52 Indigenous men and women in the well-known case of #Bagua.
Also known as “Baguazo,” the case refers to the 2009 massacre in the Amazon. Hundreds of people from the Awajún and Wampis nations blocked a road in the area called Curva del Diablo (Bagua, Amazonas) to contest oil drilling without prior consultation on their territory. Several weeks of Indigenous resistance led to a powerful standoff with former-Peruvian President Alan Garcia responding with a militarized crackdown. The military opened fire on protesters on the ground and from helicopters in what survivors described as a “rain of bullets.” At least 32 people were killed, including 12 police officers.
Peruvian forces open fire on the Awajun and Wampis. Photo: unknown
The government tried to cover the massacre by claiming that Indigenous protesters had attacked the police, who reacted in self-defense. Yet autopsies showed that the police were killed by gunfire. The Indigenous protesters were only armed with traditional weapons—they had no firearms of any kind. Nonetheless, 52 peoples were charged with homicide and instigating rebellion in what became the largest trial in Peruvian history. Bagua’s indigenous resistance for water and land is told in the award-winning documentary “When Two Worlds Collide.”
Seven years later, the Superior Court of Justice of Amazonas (Peru) absolved the 52 accused on the basis of Indigenous autonomy over territory. The court determined that Indigenous roadblocks were a “reasonable decision- necessary and adequate- as well as proportional” to defend nature and the “physical and biological integrity of their territory which could have been affected by extractive industries without prior consultation.”
The sentence states that it is “evident that the Indigenous Nations Awajún and Wampis have decided to block circulation on the roads (…) in their legitimate right to peaceful expression based on territorial and organizational autonomy and their jurisdictional authority recognized by the Constitution.”
This marks an important precedent. Peruvian courts showed their autonomy in rejecting fabricated accusations against peaceful Indigenous protesters defending nature. This will hopefully show that the defense of nature, like journalism, is not a crime. Most importantly, the court respected the organizational and territorial autonomy of Indigenous Peoples. Indeed, Indigenous Peoples were right to close the road rather than have their rights violated.
In Bagua as in Standing Rock, Indigenous Peoples have the sovereign authority to block roads to protect territory, water, and the well-being of generations to come. It is time that all courts respect such inalienable rights with the same fervor that Indigenous Peoples defend their territories.
Ft. Yates, North Dakota, United States: On Thursday, August 18, 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) jointly submitted an urgent action communication to four United Nations (UN) human rights Special Rapporteurs. It cited grave human rights and Treaty violations resulting from the construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline in close proximity to the Standing Rock Reservation by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) stands in firm opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would carry nearly half a billion barrels of crude oil a day, and would cross the Missouri River threatening the Tribe’s main water source and sacred places along its path including burials sites. The urgent communication was submitted to UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders; the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; and Environment and Human Rights, as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It requests that they urge the United States to halt the human rights violations and uphold its human rights and Treaty obligations to the Standing Rock Tribe. It was also forwarded to key officials in the U.S. State Department, Department of Interior and the White House.
The urgent communication focuses on violations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty and other International human rights standards to which the United States is obligated. It also cites actions against human rights defenders, including arrests and other forms of intimidation, violations of the human right to water, and lack of redress and response using domestic remedies. The submission noted that this action violates Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which affirms the obligation of States to obtain Indigenous Peoples’ free prior and informed consent before development projects affecting their lands, territories or other resources are carried out. The Lakota and Dakota, which includes the SRST, were part of the Sovereign Sioux Nation, which concluded the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty with the United States. The United States has legally-binding obligations based on this Treaty to obtain the Lakota and Dakota’s consent before activities are carried out on their Treaty lands.
The urgent communication also highlights environmental racism in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination Convention (ICERD) to which the US is legally obligated. It notes that the United States has permitted Energy Transfer to divert the pipeline’s route from near the mainly non-Indigenous population of Bismarck, ND to disproportionately impact the SRST.
A primary concern expressed by the Tribe is potential devastating effects on its primary water source. SRST Chairman Dave Archambault II, who was among those arrested and is also being sued by the company for obstructing the pipeline’s construction, stated on August 15th “I am here to advise anyone that will listen, that the Dakota Access Pipeline is harmful. It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is the only clean and safe river tributary left in the United States.”
In response to the Tribe’s opposition, Dakota Access LLC, the developers of the $3.8 billion, four-state oil pipeline, has waged a concerted campaign to criminalize and intimidate Tribal leaders, Tribal members and their supporters who have consistently been peaceful and non-violent. The IITC and SRST are calling upon the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to call upon the United States to immediately cease all arrests and other forms of intimidation, drop any pending lawsuits, and ensure that all legal charges against these human and Treaty Rights defenders be lifted. The urgent action communication cited this case as an example of the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders around the world, as noted by various UN bodies.
Despite 28 arrests reported to date, the peaceful protesters have succeeded in temporarily halting the pipeline’s construction. A hearing is currently scheduled for next week in federal court to consider the Tribe’s request for an injunction. Construction has reportedly been halted until the hearing, providing an important initial victory for the Tribe and their supporters.
The joint urgent UN communication requests the intervention of these UN human rights mandate holders to call upon the United States to uphold its statutory, legal, Treaty and human rights obligations and impose an immediate and ongoing moratorium on all pipeline construction until the Treaty and human rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including their right to free prior and informed consent, can be ensured.