Keeping time with trees: Climate change, forest resources, and experimental relations with the future



Publication Details

Gibson, C. & Warren, A. (2020). Keeping time with trees: Climate change, forest resources, and experimental relations with the future. Geoforum, 108 325-337.


The Anthropocene signals anticipation of unknown ecological volatility. Transformational change necessitates diversified experiments for unpredictable scenarios, accepting that many will fail. This paper uncovers insights on such experiments, from an initially unrelated research project 'following' guitar production networks 'back to the tree'. Across the Pacific Northwest, Hawai'i and Australia, resource actors in liminal positions between forestry and guitar manufacturing pursue new roles as forest stewards, experimenting with multi-species plantings for future use beyond their lifetimes. Cognisant of impending ecological volatility, and uncertain that industrial forestry (defined by monocultural, short-term chronotopes) will sustain supply indefinitely, new cultivation techniques are being trialled, and stewardship practices extended towards trees that they will not themselves harvest. In experimentation, resource actors seek to resolve their own extractive dependencies with understandings of trees and forest ecologies. They also grapple with arboreal time - the temporalities of forests and their growing cycles, material qualities and genetic predispositions - knowing that the trees will mature amidst a profoundly different climate. We illustrate the value of 'legacy' mentalities, enthusiasm for trial and error, and prosaic restorative cultures among resource stewardship actors, focusing on those whose present experimentation responds to lived experience of industrial capitalism's failures. Insights arise on efforts we must all make to craft a world that can survive the future we have wrought. Unpremeditated experimental relations with nonhuman others, and with the future, unfold materially in time and space - not through official policy initiatives, but extemporaneously, on the fringes of formality.

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