LHe statistics have a diminishing effect. They flatten a complex reality into a figure, a curve, a dimension. This summer’s wildfires are a good example. Day after day, the media painfully counted thousands of hectares of forest across France reduced to smoke zones. But which forest are we talking about? What do the Forest of Prosiliante in Brittany, the cradle of Arthurian legend, and the “Forest” of the Landes, the industrial estate of the Second Empire, have in common? The first is swampy and rich in biodiversity, while the second is forest in name only.
In the second half of the nineteenth centurye century, after a law privatizing communal land, the large wetland located between the Gironde and the Adour was transformed into a plantation of maritime pines. Some make a fortune Pignatas (“Pine Forests”); Pastoralists have to switch to tapping trees that are exploited for their resin. In 1911, the author Joseph-Honoré Ricard recognized his book as a commercial success, though he admired it. In Landes countryLands have nothing to do with forests. “The ear perceives no sound, the chirping of birds, the trembling of joy, the wind raises only a long, clear and dull cry. Sometimes a flat mound: a symbol of fire. »
Now affected by climate change, the Lands played an important and little-known role in posthistory. At the beginning of XXe century, their timber enabled England to mine record quantities of coal. Mines with hundreds of kilometers of gallery were actually huge consumers of wood. Subject to pressure from the surrounding rock, props must be replaced regularly. Britain, which had almost no forests, imported almost all its timber. The British ships unloaded coal at Bordeaux, replenished their berths and left Bayonne. This trade was strategic enough that the United Kingdom sought to protect it by signing a “poles for coal” barter agreement with France in 1934.
From wood to coal
This historical example illustrates two important points. First, the transition to a “new” energy, in this case coal, was considered as a substitute for a large-scale raw material, wood. Ironically, at the beginning of XXe century, British mines burned more wood than in England 150 years earlier, and it was only in the 1960s that coal mines freed themselves from this complete dependence on wood. We have to believe that renewable energies will very quickly become independent of the fossil fuel economy that gave birth to them.
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