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Many speakers and visitors of the Transforming Forests conference revealed powerful scientific revelations as well as personal and emotional vulnerability. Here is a collection of 10 such revelations, written as aphorisms.
_Paul Roncken


Transforming Forests are PUNK

Audience word cloud.
Somewhere, halfway the first day, a person in the audience spoke up: “one can feel lost and insignificant amidst all these well-meant talks and analyses about forests and other complex systems. I, for one, even experience a shame and guilt not to be able to fit in such complexity and all the words and concepts adorning it”. This remark may have been personal, it nevertheless voiced a more broadly shared dissonance. Nature on decline corresponds to science on the rise, yet we should not replace a dying complexity of forests with the virtual rise of models. Nature is dead, long live models?!
Many audience participants recalled, again and again, the joy of experiencing the liveliness of a forest or even a singular tree. A feeling of deep connection for one of the oldest species in the long history of this planet. For science, this may be confusing. Although through personal intimacy, it is readily accessible. This paradox was brilliantly expressed by a singular word in a participative wordcloud at the end of day one. To everyone’s amazement the word PUNK stood out as the take home message. PUNK! Radical originality. Transforming Forests are punk perhaps because they share with the punk-movement a collective, physical, and empowering urge for experiential authenticity. The unabridged experience of forests and trees as an aesthetics of indigenous science.


Planet of trees

Without a great many trees, planet Earth would not have been habitable for many of the species that are dear to us. Many species need cover from the sun. Need the cooling shade, the moisture and the fresh air, the calming aerosols and the shelter that trees provide. Forests have transformed a red and blue rock into a lush green planet. “Just look at the long arms and fingers we as human species still have”, gestured Marc Palahi, a chief nature investor; “these arms are made to climb trees with fingers to take hold of branches. We cannot just take this for granted, as if this is the natural way of things. In our current era, with double digit returns on investment, a much more long-term policy ambition is needed to create regenerative values and not extract what millennia of green transformation have made available.”
_Marc Palahi


Canopy watercycles

Forests help organize a regional watercycle with their vegetation coverage. If a forest canopy has a 40 to 45% coverage density, it provides the optimal conditions for a cycle of rainfall and groundwater accumulation. A scientific fact by now and age-old indigenous knowledge rediscovered. More concretely, if 30 to 40% of current agricultural land use in the Netherlands would be transformed into agro-forestry and food forests, this could positively affect the watercycle, preventing the drought problems that sandy soils in the Netherlands now face. A difficult challenge because such relationships only take effect far beyond a mere plot of land. The effect of trees in the center of the Netherlands causes rainfall across the border, in Germany. To regard the transforming capacity of forests, we must skip land borders and start regarding European atmospheres of air currents.
_Douglas Sheil


Fuzzy forest policies

There is no lack of European policies on forests, yet it is a maze of fuzzy and unrelated intentions. Forest related European policies have increased over the past decades like a fungus sprouting in autumn. It is not lack of policymaking but a lack of cohesion in between the parts. Each department its own success. A competition of unique exposure. A trend that is also noticeable in science when applying for funding or providing education. Ever more detailed and fenced up bits and pieces. STOP! Entangled complexity is not something that can be avoided anymore. Take for example the forecast of the economic value of European forest land in Europe. Due to climate change, the spruce tree will not survive in most parts of Europe, except in Norway and the high parts of the Alps. This also means that the carbon sink, storing CO2 in trees, will drastically fail in those regions. A ministry of forestry in a European context should act in geopolitical collaboration and interweaving of policies.
_Gertjan Nabuurs


Hidden curriculum of being human

Having worked with many local communities across the planet, Carol warns that local attention is not enough. “This is only halfway the improvement of irrational behavior. Politics and business investments need to be included. Not in different way to community work but in the same way”. What the local, the politics and businesses share is what Carol calls: a hidden curriculum. A set of patterns and learned behavior that is passed on. Behavior that is hidden and unconsciously passed on, generation after generation. There is a ‘symbolic cycle’ present of what is deemed valuable and standard to live by. The only way to reveal this, is by deep reflective investment and a more active stance as a scientist and business and policy maker. A much more personal and caring attitude. How relevant for education as well!
_ Carol Colfer


Relational theory and practice

What does it mean to dissect complexity into separate objects? Vital interactions get lost, that are needed for adaptation to changing circumstances. Find a pathway to provoke in human beings their experiential capacity for empathy. Once you have seen beyond the doorstep of yourself, you cannot see otherwise anymore.
_Belinda Reyers


Pluralist irrationality

Become a pluralist and focus on what can be done if irrationality is not neglected in human communities but cherished and welcomed. Reality is not rational, it is a complex system that can only be navigated, like navigating a boat on an ocean with occasional storms and whirlpools. Any person navigating needs certain qualities. The most important personal qualities are courage, justice, care and humility. The most important collective qualities are agility, intelligence, strategy and discernment. Navigating irrationality with such qualities, will help to gain wisdom. One needs wisdom when black seems always to be different to white or gender fluid seems opposed to cis. Or nature seems to be opposed to capitalism. In short, when duality needs a miracle to see synergy in opposites.
_Guido Caniglia



Collaboration helps to clarify complexity and making music together is a language not to be underestimated. Opposites may not be united but can be co-productive.
_Josie Chambers


Mobilize reciprocal human-nature relationships

We remain dependent on and part of nature, and the feedback of nature in response to human society is shifting in time and scale. Much larger in scale than currently included and much more prolonged in time that currently measured. To facilitate this shift, we need to investigate and strengthen a reciprocal relationship between humans and nature by building richer knowledge for action, by rethinking strategies and pathways, by enhancing agency for transformative change.
Reciprocity is an ancient principle, to be found in indigenous and local cultures that live close to nature. Adjusting not only decision-making processes but also management practices. Reciprocity is not only something for a state policy, it has value for the individual, a group and community, a nation and the globe. Even in Europe we still have connections, although they may not be so visible. For example, by means of food forest, rewilding programs and urban biocultural connections. These kinds of practices can play a key role to remember the right level of reciprocity and feedback. Together weaving care, knowledge and agency. To mobilize tools and activities by shared sensory experiences, place-based storytelling, and art-based methods.
The kind of transformations we need, may need a different entry point. It is not about moving backwards, but moving forward by deep and rich knowledge experiences that we can carry ourselves and use as a compass for future directions. To include our full selves and our capacity for caring and responsibility for the life surrounding us.
_Maria Tengö


Five forest frontiers

The fascinating but questionable theory of forest transition. Forests may the crown of natural succession in the evolution of planet Earth but for humanity on the rise forests have been a resource to be cut down to make way for industrial progress. Until a certain forest minimum is reached. Then, a transition occurs. At that transformative moment the forest regains value of different sorts. As a replenishing source for human health and restoration and as a means for rewilding and biodiversity. A rather sinister theory, with a certain level of accuracy. According to Georg there are five frontiers for such transformation of forest values:
The urbanization frontier – a cultivation of land and deforestation is followed by a re-spiritualization of nature as part of urban cultures. Romantic ideas about pristine forests and a tourist capitalization of authentic forests. The more urban people live, the more forests ought to be pristine and spiritual.
The global land use frontier – a global convention on forests has failed and is compensated by regional or state commitment that can easily become trapped between ‘protecting the environment’ and ‘protecting the market’. A highly volatile field of changing political views that are mostly bad for the long-term needs of old forest development.
The integration of bioeconomy and biodiversity frontier – a deep conflict between industrial forestry and biodiversity conservation, including a pathway to multifunctional land use and biobased use of forest resources. For a large part federal forest lands are now drastically changing policy in favor of biodiversity conservation. While on private lands that are not regulated, an industrial forestry continues.
The climate change frontier – a forest service dominated by the carbon cycle – as carbon sinks, but also as a carbon source through deforestation. Forests can also contribute to adaptation through, for example, the cooling effect of trees. And forests themselves are transforming through climate change.
The forest rights and justice frontier – the major questions of societal participation, representation, and environmental justice. In several tropical countries, public forest governance is decentralized, establishing community forests. In Europe a rapidly expanding rights of nature movement seems to gain momentum to both act as a voice for nature in decision making processes and in ownership propositions and forests that are not people-owned but ‘of themselves’.
_Georg Winkel

Playbacks of live presentations
Transforming Forests 16 and 17 November 2023