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The Vanishing

An “unbroken forest” of oaks and conifers blanketing the highlands of Iraq and Iran . . . The hills of Palestine and Lebanon, crowned with cedars and pines . . . “Dense forest growth” in arid North Africa . . . Juniper, fir and sycamore woodlands blanketing Syria, and oak groves dotting the Arabian peninsula.

Sound fantastic? It shouldn’t.

Ancient Greece was a fertile and wooded land where even lions roamed. Germany’s Black Forest consists of trees imported from North America, the natives felled to house Europe’s masses. San Francisco’s peninsula provided the redwood trees that built the great city, leaving it barren and ripe for sprawl. Today less than 5 percent of native forests remain in the continental United States, and even those are under attack. Plans are in the works to “manage” the majestic trees of Sequoia National Monument.

Derrick Jensen and George Draffan’s Strangely Like War is rife with such depressing facts and figures, and predictions even more terrifying than those threatened by ecological doomsayers like Marc Reisner, Mike Davis and John McPhee. Our natural forests are disappearing at such a rate — two football fields every second worldwide — that we’ll no doubt see the end of them in our lifetimes. Every day, 130 species of animals go extinct and countless indigenous peoples are displaced. Meanwhile the taxpayer-subsidized timber industry buys 400-year-old trees for “less than the price of a cheeseburger” and sells the lumber for immense profits, replacing them with profitable managed plantations.

Surprisingly engrossing for a terminal diagnosis, Strangely Like War offers few answers but presents many intriguing questions, from the obvious (Why are we so reliant on paper products made out of trees?) to the more complex (Why do we continue to permit our environmental policies to be manipulated by corporations?).

Despite the grim forecast, Jensen and Draffan still manage to leave us with a crumb of (somewhat pessimistic) hope. “Most of us environmentalists are holding on by our fingernails, trying to save whatever scraps of forests we can,” says Jensen. “And we are praying, every moment of every day, for civilization to end. For this culture to run out of oil, to collapse in on itself. For this long and awful nightmare of deforestation and dispossession to end.”

STRANGELY LIKE WAR: The Global Assault on Forests | By DERRICK JENSEN and GEORGE DRAFFAN | Chelsea Green 192 pages | $15 paperback

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