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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Burning Forests for Electricity

Loggers and Tree Huggers Agree – Conservative Politicians Don’t

The forest peace deal signed by conservation and industry groups late last year still hangs in the balance. The upper house of State parliament, known as the Legislative Council, split evenly on the Bill which was to give effect to the agreement. They will re-consider whether to sign the Bill into law this year.

Meanwhile there has been no moratorium. I wrote in an earlier blog that we should support the deal if it was real. ‘Real’ means lines on 1:25,000 scale maps, time frames, and dollars. Anything less will simply provide political cover for clear felling to continue while isolating conservation concerns. That is precisely what happened with the Regional Forests Agreement where conservation goals were rorted but the agreement was touted as proof that the issue was solved.

How did we get here?

By 1991 everyone who understood the forest industry understood that the wood-chipping industry had around 20 years left in it before it collapsed. It was by then established in the literature that global plantations would provide a cheaper and superior resource in that time frame. Since over eighty percent of all the old growth timber is either wood-chipped or burned, plantation pulp would cripple the old growth logging industry. Heads of industry knew that, management of the (then) Forestry Commission knew that, and as a 17 year old wilderness activist, I knew that.

In 1991 I sat around a table at the Wilderness Society with a group of people and discussed how we could lock-up as much wilderness forests of world heritage significance as possible in the next two decades. There was also some discussion of what a post wood-chip driven industry might look like, and whether there was still a chance to save what remained of the small saw mill sector before the wood-chippers took the lot.

Around that time a very different group of people discussed how to ensure access to as much old growth as possible to make as much money as possible before the game collapsed. The result was Resource Security Legislation which destroyed the first Labor Green accord and government. I discuss this in more detail in my book.

What is now clear is that many saw a pulp mill as the saviour of the status quo. A pulp mill would provide a customer for the old growth wood-chips no one wants, plus plantation timbers that have been established on private land. However, even without environmental objections, this was always a high risk business venture. Eventually the pulp mill proponents made a strategic decision not to take old-growth chips, and to sell-off their wood-chip mill. Conservationists bought the chip mill.

Meanwhile what was predicted in the early nineties has now come to pass and the wood-chipping industry is in its death throes. For some reason no one thought to tell the workers and contractors in the industry that the status quo wasn’t going to last. What the CFMEU were thinking I can only guess.

But there is a plan B for industry. It is to burn the old growth in a furnace to generate electricity and pass it off as renewable energy. Never mind that old growth forests are carbon sinks, wildlife refuges, havens of biodiversity, vital components of an integral wilderness, linkages between different bioregions; or simply that they are ancient, wild and beautiful, free without reference to the needs of man. Maybe that’s the reason some people aren’t comfortable with them. Anyway, according to Forestry Tasmania it’s all OK because they will re-seed with eucalyptus trees and then log them on a 60 year cycle; so it’s all renewable and environmentalists are just being emotional. Burn the forests, turn on the lights.

I wish this was the stuff of conspiracy theorists but it isn’t. Forestry Tasmania detailed this in an article in the local news paper in which they said this was the best way to “out green the greens.” There is a real risk that without a meaningful forest agreement forests that have remained inviolate since the last ice age will simply be burned. The Liberal (read Conservative) party have already given tacit approval to this policy. It creates a neat wedge issue for them, and since they don’t really have a forest policy they may as well have a wedge.

On the other hand a big wood furnace would provide a focal point for protest in the same way that the Franklin Dam did for the South West in 1983. I must be getting old because I remember 1983. The community split down the middle, it became a State’s rights issue, and the Federal Government ended up sending F-111 bombers over Tasmania to take pictures of the Dam site. 1300 people got arrested including (from memory) a blind guy in a wheel chair. Maybe I am middle aged and conservative but I’m getting tired of this conflict. It only takes one vote from an upper house member to shift. The Feds have the dollars on the table. You can find out all about the Legislative Council here: http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ 

Please do!

Note: if these links don’t work copy and paste them into your browser.

Tag line: 1 forest peace deal, Christine Milne, Terry Edwards, Vica Bailey, Bob Brown, Dr Pullinger, old growth forests, high conservation value forests, The Wilderness Society, Tony Burke, Michael Hodgeman.

Tag Line 2: biofuel, logging, old growth, clearcut, clearfell, wood-chipping, world heritage, carbon sinks, forest peace deal, environmental protest

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