Members of Maroon 5 and Guster, who traveled last year to the Guatemalan rain forest, are featured in a new documentary on illegal logging of the hard woods used to create musical instruments. The project also explores sustainable sources for wood.
The 20-minute film, Instruments of Change: Lessons from the Rainforest, premieres tonight (May 17) at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
James Valentine and Jesse Carmichael of Maroon 5 were joined on the December trip by Adam Gardner of Guster and his wife, Lauren Sullivan, co-founders of Reverb, whose work includes helping acts reduce the environmental impact of their tours.
At 8 p.m. PST tonight, Reverb’s Facebook page will livestream a discussion about the documentary and offer fans a chance win a guitar made from sustainably harvested wood from Bedell Guitars.
“James and I got involved,” says Carmichael, “because Adam Gardner and his band Guster partnered with a group called the Environmental Investigation Agency.” The non-profit advocacy organization EIA has campaigned against illegal logging for 25 years.
“It’s the demand for these woods that drives this whole industry,” says Valentine. “I don’t think consumers are aware of the problem, and change could happen if consumers start to ask where their wood is coming from.”
In 2008, EIA’s efforts helped change the Lacey Act, a federal conservation law that dates back to 1900. The revised law now prohibits the trade of illegally sourced timber and wood products.
In 2012, Gardner testified before Congress to oppose proposed weakening of the law. Reverb asked musicians to pledge support for the stronger law and ask about wood sourcing before buying new instruments. Those who supported the campaign included Mick Jagger, Bob Weir, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Sting, Lana Del Rey, Lilly Allen, and Brandi Carlile. Reverb also has publicized the issue during tours by Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five and Guster, asking fans to send postcards to their congressman to support the Lacey Act.
In addition, EIA and Reverb have created a short video, “Getting in Tune: Musicians for Legal and Sustainable Wood,” with contributions from Linkin Park, Jason Mraz and Michael Franti.
“This issue is very similar to blood diamonds,” says Gardner. “It’s about knowing that what you buy has deep impacts far afield from the store you bought it from.”
Carmichael says EIA “came to us with this proposal about going in to where the wood comes from for our guitars, and seeing all the connections to illegal logging. And, on a more positive note, to the connections to sustainable logging that Guatemala, in particular, is practicing.” Carmichael says he was struck by the “multiple levels” of the illegal logging issue.
Clear-cutting in rainforests has a greater impact on climate change than air, road, rail and shipping traffic combined, according to findings cited by Reverb and EIA. The practice of illegal logging in the rainforest is associated with human rights violations, economic hardship, species extinction violence against activists, and drug trafficking, the groups say.
“In Peru, there was a fire bombing of an environmental protection agency,” says Carmichael, referring to an attack in November against the government forest monitoring office.
“Drug cartels will clear cut sections of the Guatemalan rainforest, next to the border with Mexico, so they can build temporary landing strips,” he adds.
Carmichael, a native of Boulder, Colo. who grew up in Southern California, credits his “nature loving” parents for his environmentalism, recalling inspirational family camping trips to Joshua Tree National Park. (His sister runs a solar power lobby company; his brother-in-law, Matt Lappé is executive director of Alliance for Climate Education, which provides environmental sessions and training for high school students.)
One highlight of the trip to Guatemala, says Carmichael, was his conversation with a man who runs a community sawmill.
“I was taking to him about how to meet the demand of the world for wood. He looked at me and said, really, the only way is to let the forest itself set the demand, because there are only so many trees you can cut down to be in a totally sustainable logging situation. Each tree takes 60 to 90 years to reach maturity.
“His comment to me that it’s the forest sets the demand was really just heartbreaking and eye-opening, because it’s so clear we’re not looking to natural systems to let tell us how much we’re capable of doing. We’re just taking what we want,” says Carmichael, “and hoping that there’s no fallout from it.”
But Carmichael says the trip, and the documentary, leaves him hopeful.
“This is a great time in our history, because with all the connections we have on line, it’s easier for information to spread,” he says. “So I’m optimistic. Because I feel like if people know about the issue then they’ll make the right choices.”