Greenwashing set Canada on fire

A generation of idealistic Canadian kids broke their backs every summer “planting thousands of blowtorches a day.”

Cory Doctorow


A forest swept by a wildfire; a river runs through it. Standing in the river is a caricature of a bloated, top-hatted capitalist lugging a huge sack of money. He is shouting over his shoulder.

On September 22, I’ll be livestreaming into the DIG Festival in Modena, Italy. On September 27, I’ll be at Chevalier’s Books in Los Angeles with Brian Merchant for a joint launch for my new book The Internet Con and his new book, Blood in the Machine.

As a teenager growing up in Ontario, I always envied the kids who spent their summers tree planting; they’d come back from the bush in September, insect-chewed and leathery, with new muscle, incredible stories, thousands of dollars, and a glow imparted by the knowledge that they’d made a new forest with their own blistered hands.

I was too unathletic to follow them into the bush, but I spent my summers doing my bit, ringing doorbells for Greenpeace to get my neighbours fired up about the Canadian pulp-and-paper industry, which wasn’t merely clear-cutting our old-growth forests — it was also poisoning the Great Lakes system with PCBs, threatening us all.

At the time, I thought of tree-planting as a small victory — sure, our homegrown, rapacious, extractive industry was able to pollute with impunity, but at least the government had reined them in on forests, forcing them to pay my pals to spend their summers replacing the forests they’d fed into their mills.

I was wrong. Last summer’s Canadian wildfires blanketed the whole east coast and midwest in choking smoke as millions of trees burned and millions of tons of CO2 were sent into the atmosphere. Those wildfires weren’t just an effect of the climate emergency: they were made far worse by all those trees planted by my pals in the eighties and nineties.

Writing in the New York Times, novelist Claire Cameron describes her own teen years working in the bush, planting row after row of black spruces, precisely spaced at six-foot intervals:

Cameron’s summer job was funded by the logging industry, whose self-regulated, self-assigned “penalty” for clearcutting diverse forests of spruce, pine and aspen was to pay teenagers to create a tree…