Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement: Orwell’s sections of a “prefabricated henhouse”

blissful in the henhouse?


George Orwell,  or more accurately Eric Arthur Blair, through his many writings wrote about the importance of honest and clear language and said that vague writing can be used as a powerful tool of political manipulation.

I couldn’t agree more… evident every day in the empty bumpf language of today’s scientists, policy analysts, politicians, and various advocates for whatever cause. And thus why I have a specific category on this weblog dedicated to Bumpf including the ever-popular Bumpf-word Bingo card.

In 1946 George Orwell wrote: Politics and the English Language, in the essay he suggests:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, which is being touted as the “world’s biggest conservation agreement”


I can’t bloody-well keep up with all of the European countries that the ‘size’ of this agreement is being compared to.

In one article it’s Italy, in another France, in some criticisms the U.K. has come up.If one has not traveled in Europe, these analogies mean nothing. (For one who has ridden a bike from southern California to Seattle – and points north – comparisons to those areas make more sense…)

Confusing, really.

Ok, maybe not… through these comparisons it’s clear who this “historic agreement signifying a new era of joint leadership in the Boreal Forest” is being marketed to.

Orwell Politics and the English Language:

Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid [morally degrading] process of international politics

hmmm…  “international politics”… comparisons to European countries… trying to secure a package of “competitiveness measures and marketplace solutions” for logging companies (in the Agreement “whereas” section — article “M”)

_ _ _ _ _ _

Ok, so let’s put some of the pieces of the henhouse together:

First panel of the “prefabricated henhouse.”

Agreement: Whereas article "L"

Hmmm… Welcome to the world of business — I seem to remember learning in microeconomics about: supply and demand — externalities (e.g. pollution, environmental degradation, etc.) — and changing consumer preferences…

(So I guess we can conclude that the first few boards for the prefab henhouse aren’t coming from “Canada’s forest sector”…)

Moving along…

Second panel of the “prefabricated henhouse”.

Active Adaptive Management” the first phrase defined in the Agreement.

what the [enter active expletive here] is this?  I’ll take a couple of stabs:

In this case — active adaptive management — I’m not sure any of the signatories could suggest which is the adjective, which is the verb and which is the noun. Is this meant to highlight that the signatories will be “active” or that they will be “adaptive” or that they will conduct “management”.

Is not management, as a noun, have a sense of activity already? And a sense of adaptation to changing circumstances every second of every minute of every hour? Is not “adaptive” already suggesting “active”?

Would we say to our kids: “hey kids lets go outside and do some active activity?… Oh, hey kids, make sure that it is adaptive active activity?”

Yeah, because when kids play catch if they are not “actively adaptive” in moving that glove to where the ball is coming — they take one off the noggin…  You know, the kid practices adaptive active management by moving glove—to—ball.

Or, when they’re out riding there bikes on the road. “Oh kids make sure you actively adapt your management activities at each stop sign and road crossing; for example when you approach one of these areas be sure you actively look both ways and then adapt your management activities accordingly…”

No! (for crying out loud) (VERY LOUD!)

That is not how we speak to kids or even to each other. We speak in plain language.

But wait, to better understand what is being said here lets look at the “Definitions” section of the Agreement to get a better understanding of active adaptive management:


page 3 "Definitions"


Does not “definition” mean: “The act of making clear and distinct; The act or process of stating a precise meaning or significance; formulation of a meaning”?

Well… yeah… it does. (I looked it up… just to be sure).

So what the [enter actively loud expletive here] does that definition say?


…The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render.

Let me see if I caught some ‘keywords’ in the definition:

  • “uncertainty of outcomes”
  • “learn by doing”
  • “careful observation”

Part (d) of that definition…? sorry folks I’m not even going to go there. That is one of the finer collections of horseshit, bullshit, and cowshit phrases I have seen in some time.

I’ve got a simpler definition of “adapt” for the signatories: “To make suitable to or fit for a specific use or situation”

uh, huh. let’s think about that definition for awhile….

Orwell, to conclude this post:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.

It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

I’m just curious when the chicken shit hits the fan, and things get a little more heated near the end of the timeline (2012) on this agreement — how much are the foolish thoughts and slovenliness of language going to create a whole lot of trouble in the henhouse…?

2 thoughts on “Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement: Orwell’s sections of a “prefabricated henhouse”

  1. priscilla judd

    Great posts!
    They made me think about there being no excuse for not knowing the law meaning that we ought to be able to read and understand the law in order to comply with the law. So one might think that a legal agreement (written by lawyers) ought to be understandable by people. After all, the people doing the observing (scientific work in the forest) ought to be able to refer back to the agreement in order to …… I won’t bother repeating the above words – I think you know where I’m heading.

    PS – anyone who has ever found themselves on a landing with a bag of trees on their hip – knows that what is written in this agreement has nothing to do with protecting “bou”.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    I hear ya. And the whole bizarre part of the legalese of this agreement is that it’s a “voluntary” agreement, and “aspirational” document, as you can see on yesterday’s post. And I’ve seen your comment on “aspire”… and completely agree.

    And yes, I’ve certainly found myself on a few landings with trees on my hips in years past. I’ve also, actually seen ‘bou in the same situation. ‘bou and logging don’t mix too well. Yet, sadly, many of the enviros involved believe their own bumpf… you can see CPAWS’ response on their site:

    It’s unfortunate in many ways, as some really good folks were involved in the negotiations — well intentioned, intelligent folks. However, it seems some directions were lost along the way. The map was left at home. And hence, co-opt at work.

    thanks a lot for the continued comments and info Priscilla.

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