Currently, the destructive wildfires in Portugal have resulted in 61 deaths and have continued for several days. This has made the wildfire the deadliest in over half a century, with many people being caught by surprise while driving through the forested areas near area between Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pêra. Not much has been released about the potential causes of the fire, but the authorities believe that the original cause was natural. They have also admitted that one of the primary reason for the fire’s speed and veracity has been the reckless forestry of the Portuguese state in recent decades, which has focused on replacing logged Pine areas with Eucalyptus trees, which are known for their volatility and susceptibility to fire. Despite having promised to adopt more competent forestry techniques, the Portuguese state has allegedly done nothing to change their policy from previous years, potentially intensifying the natural cycle of wildfires known to occur in the region during the summer.
This is not a mistake made from ignorance of the natural consequences of tree replacement, but rather it comes as a direct result from placing bourgeois interests in command of forestry. In Portugal, the combined paper and wood industries account for $4.57 billion of their national exports. With pine making up a majority of the wood utilized for timber in Portugal, eucalyptus trees make up a significant percent of those trees harvested for pulpwood products. The interests demanding that deforested pine trees be replaced with eucalyptus were not those concerned with ecological health, but market interests in forest harvesting. This is true of most all bourgeois countries who maintain large forest services, and the most recent wildfire in Portugal is one of the deadly side-effects of careless profit-driven forestry policy.
The flammable quality of eucalyptus is not an obscure fact, it is well known in all regions which contain the tree and the areas where they grow are tightly regulated because of this fact. Camping sites in areas where such trees are found are often marked out with signs warning visitors of falling limb hazards, as well as fire hazards. Yet, in areas which are known for natural cycles of forest fires, the Portuguese forestry service had allowed the replacement of pine with eucalyptus due to the fact that they served bourgeois, not ecological interests. This kind of interaction is unsustainable, and yields disastrous results when left unchecked.
Socialist forestry should certainly take into account these kinds of results when deciding how to interact with natural resources and environments. Understanding that the marginal gains in production from planting eucalyptus in such areas are outweighed by the potential hazards when not approached with a deeper understanding of the environment and its natural cycles. Dozens of people have died in Portugal as a result of this fire, made worse by state negligence and Portuguese lumber interests. However, it is unlikely to significantly change the direction of Portuguese forestry, as their decades-long negligence has survived against all claims of significant change in leadership. What has remained consistent across all administrations has been the bourgeois interests trumping all ecological responsibility.
Until the bourgeoisie can be forced out of the management of natural resources, we can expect that this antagonistic contradiction between human society and nature will continue at an increasingly destructive and tragic cost. This is something which we must reconcile through socialist planning, and putting proletarian and ecological interests in command of production and of our ecological policy.
- “Portugal Fires Kill More Than 60, Including Drivers Trapped in Cars” (New York Times)
- “What does Portugal export? (2015)” (OEC)