Cork. Environmentally confused.

A number of related questions out of confusion.
Aside from whether cork or plastic is better for wine. . .

Ok, so I was under the impression for the last few years that plastic “cork” usage was good because the cork forests were being overharvested, etc. Now I read an article about (some) environmentalists getting together with cork farmers to argue for real cork: the argument goes that if they don’t keep up the forests they’ll be replaced with something more economically viable like eucalyptus.

Since that side of the argument, at least as far as the article that I read reports, is to the benefit of the farmers, I can’t see it automatically as disinterested but now I’m confused. What’s the environmental impact? Are they overharvesting the cork forests and endangering them, or are the farmers the only stewards of the forests and if they don’t use them economically they’ll just get mowed down? If anyone gives a damn about them, why can’t a government just protect them as natural forests? Does “wilderness” have to be lucrative to be allowed to survive? Is this a disingenuous argument on the part of the farmers to improve their business? Are all cork forests at risk, or just, ahem, theirs?

Wow. Is this a harder question than I thought, or just much more boring than I thought?

Well, I think the bottle-cork issue is a lost cause, but there are lots of cork flooring options being touted as being “green”, so maybe they will pick up the slack.

Better than either are a screw top for still wine and a crown seal for sparkling. Pretty much all wine here in Australia comes that way now. Plastic corks, whatever their merits environmentally, did not make as good a seal as corks did at their best, as they don’t swell when wetted. I think people prefer an honest screwtop than a faux cork.

And if you are considering environmental issues, you really can’t do so without taking into consideration the environmental cost of spoilt wine due to cork taint. You see various figures (I’ve seen from 1% to 8%) as to how much wine is spoilt in this way, but even if it’s only 1%, that means that 1% of the entire production, transportation, packaging etc etc environmental cost of wine goes to nothing.

Cork belongs on bulletin boards, not in wine bottles. If the other uses for cork can’t take up the slack, then TFB for the farmers. The world shouldn’t stand still for a few cork harvesters.

Nonono, I don’t give a damn about the harvesters. I’m wondering if, without cork farmers, the cork forests themselves are doomed. See my point? Analogy, don’t like Weyerhauser, like trees; if Weyerhauser goes tits up is it curtains for trees?, et c.

There, I don’t know. I doubt that there would be a wholesale clear-cutting og cork trees just because they cease to be prifitable. Too expensive to replace them…easier to just switch to something else completely. I think.

I agree.

Indeed, the cork plantations of Portugal have been there so long they are the local forests, in effect. With the decline of cork they are discovering that eucalyptus trees make more money anyway, but of course they are not native to Europe so don’t support any wildlife.

Depends on whether the forests are privately owened. If they are privately owned as a money making asset and they no longer make money then they will presumably be replaced with something that can.

The government probably can protect them as natural forests provided it is prepared purchase the land and provided the owners are ready to sell, or else sieze someone’s property without compensation. Neither course of action is without peril morally, economically and politically.

I’m not sure what you mean by overharvesting. Cork is produced without killing the trees that produce it.

It can be, however if it is not harvested in a narrow period from mid-spring to late summer it will damage and quite possibly kill the tree. This was historically a problem with intinerant people harvesting from common lands since the chance to make money now was preferable to waiting a year and risking someone else harvesting.

Whether this remains a problem today I don’t know, but since human psychology hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years it is perfectly possible.

In many parts of Europe wooded areas have been managed by human intervention for hundreds if not thousands of years. The local ecosystems are adapted to fit around man’s activities so abandoning them to the go wild can lead to an unbalanced ecology. Often one species will thrive and dominate leading to a reduction in biodiversity.

I’ve posted on this subject before. The bottom line is, the cork forests are mostly there because of the cork industry. The cork is sustainably harvested, and the forests are a valuable habitat. If the cork industry goes pop, then chances are that pressure on the land will lead to at least some of the forests being replaced by some kind of monoculture farmland, with a big loss of ecodiversity.

Howvever, the cork oak is a protected species, so in theory at least, the forests should survive. In practice, though, if the cork farmers’ livelihood is taken away then I would expect a major increase in unexplained forest fires…

Yes, it is a disingenuous argument on the part of the cork industry. I’ve been seeing these reports for a few years now. The WWF is a big proponent of the latest claims. They’re also getting some hefty funding from the cork industry. Shocking, I know.

From Amorim’s own site:

Doesn’t sound like they’re in such dire straights to me.

It’s a ploy on the industry to ride on the ‘Go Green’ train. Scare tactics and doomsday scenarios to continue lining their pockets.

Wine closures are without a doubt the cash cow of the cork industry. (And it’s a lucrative one, I’ve been to some parties, they spare no expense believe me.)
But they aren’t in danger of disappearing.