Why Kicking (Some) Corporations Off the Land Is Essential for Surviving Climate Change

There is almost universal agreement that humanity needs to rapidly transform how our food and wood supplies are produced in order to avoid the worst effects of rapid climate change. However, the transformation from high-carbon industrial practices to climate smart solutions faces an enormous obstacle – the Wall Street corporations who have colonized much of our prime forests and farmlands, especially in the US.

The very DNA of these investor-owned corporations is antithetical to the kinds of long-term commitments to the land needed to replenish both above ground and soil carbon stocks and diversify land cover so it is more resilient to climate change. Bloated corporations like Tyson Foods, Monsanto or Weyerhaeuser are stuck in the past with their models of plantation monocultures managed for high outputs and export markets. The ecological devastation and climate impacts of their practices are extreme as are the economic and community effects of these mega-corporations on the rural economy. Chronic poverty, unstable employment, and a host of social pathologies like suicides, depression and addiction are manifestations of the ‘resource curse’ that plague rural economies overly dependent on these extractive corporations.

In the fall of 2019, CSE teamed up with Oregon’s Community Rights Network to begin developing a plan for phasing out corporate ownership of prime forests and farmlands by reforming corporate land ownership laws at the state level to exclude the most egregious corporate offenders from holding title to or controlling management of these lands and opening the door for a new generation of family farmers, foresters and community enterprises to regain control. Nine midwestern states have laws on the books constraining corporate ownership of the land and as climate change accelerates these laws can serve as a national model for catalyzing the land reform movement we so desperately need.

CRA’s vision of a social benefit enterprise for working forests.

In a new report, Oregon’s Coast Range Association (CRA) amplified this message by laying out key elements of a Green New Deal for Oregon’s forests. The two major initiatives proposed include land reform through the buyout of most industrial forest owners and the transfer of purchased lands to locally owned and operated social benefit enterprises. As CRA notes, new ownership models can go well beyond just family enterprises. The social benefit enterprises CRA describes would have a legal structure similar to electric co-ops that were birthed during the New Deal’s rural electrification programs of the 1930s. They would be state-chartered, nonprofit corporations grounded in local, democratic control. And as with electric co-ops, federal tax-exempt status will be granted under appropriate easement criteria.

Reforming corporate land ownership laws to replace Wall Street owners with those whose mission is to restore climate resiliency and maximize community benefits is a strategy that goes to the heart of the issue over gross mismanagement of our forests and farmlands throughout the nation. The CRA report is well worth the read and we applaud their efforts to think through the details – including workable financial models – of how this transition can be catalyzed.

Read: Willer, Chuck. (2021). Climate and Oregon’s Industrial Forests: A Green New Deal Proposal. Coast Range Association, Oregon.

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