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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, 15 May 2013

Harry Potter and the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement – Lessons from Canada

It’s official – Canada has a forestry peace agreement. The agreement has been signed by 21 forest companies and nine environmental organisations. It covers 76 million hectares of publicly owned boreal forest across northern Canada. Included in the agreement is immediate cessation of logging in 29 million hectares of caribou habitat in return for a cessation of ‘divest and boycott’ campaigns by environmentalists, and a joint approach to future management. See further here: (http://www.canadianborealforestagreement.com/) and here.

If you thought Tasmania’s forest wars were unfortunate go to Canada. The level of conflict, violence, and sheer bloody minded devastation over decades makes one weep. It would take a wizard to fix that mess -and it did. JK Rowling (God bless her) is credited with helping tip the balance. Rowling, in part at the urging of Canadian ENGO ‘Canopy’ insisted that paper for her books come from sustainably managed forests. Her decision to print the last of her Harry Potter books in 2007 on recycled and sustainable paper sent reverberations through the publishing industry. Industry had a choice – miss out on multimillion dollar contracts for book printing and face ongoing market sanction, or get their act together. See further here: (http://canopyplanet.org/news/4/299/JK-Rowling-Accepts-Award-in-Toronto-Recognizing-Her-Role-in-Protecting-Canada-s-and-the-World-s-Forests/)

The Canadian boreal forest agreement has many parallels but there is a warning. Canada has struggled to make real headway because of lack of legislative support and because of some examples of industry failing to abide by the agreement. This has led Greenpeace and one of the prime ENGOs behind the agreement to withdraw. See here: (http://canopyplanet.org/canopy-seeks-new-path-for-boreal-forest-protection/)

What does this mean for Tasmania? Put simply it means:
a) forest agreements can happen;
b) they require good will, independent verification, and government backing;
c) they create wealth and stability;
d) they can protect the environment;
e) markets want forest products that meet specific sustainability criteria;
f) while Tasmanians have been fighting the world has moved on; and
g) the world will continue to move on whether Hodgeman wants it to or not.

Some years ago I read Gerry Adam’s autobiography. Some may remember him as the Sinn Fein leader who led the IRA to the negotiating table. Others will remember him as a terrorist. Either way his explanation for how theNorthern Ireland peace process came about was startlingly simple. He wrote simply that the people who were participants in the ‘troubles’ grew up, had kids, their kids grew up, and suddenly they didn’t want their kids getting blown up. Middle age does that. Both parties realised they couldn’t ‘win’ so they decided to talk. Tasmania’s ‘forest wars’ date from the mid-seventies. Many of the original protagonists are now grandparents. Neither side can ‘win’. If the Irish could more or less settle 300 years of conflict in which thousands have died, surely Tasmania can settle a 30-40 spat over forestry?

Much has been said and will be said about how the peace deal is all a Labor Green conspiracy. It is nothing of the sort. The forest industry approached environmental NGOs because they had run out of options. Roughly eighty percent of all the old growth (that isn’t burned on the ground or bulldozed into rows) gets turned into woodchips as the first stage in paper/cardboard manufacture. This product, for sound technical and economic reasons, cannot compete against plantation timber from New Zealand, Australia, Chile and elsewhere.

Without a market for chips it becomes hard to manage the forests for sawn timber, veneer, and special species. It is getting harder to sell those products to environmentally conscious markets without environmental certification. Certification is hard to get if green groups are running international boycotts and corporate campaigns against you. Add the GFC and a high dollar and the industry is on its knees. The last time I looked they were getting $120 tonne for woodchips and paying $4.00 royalties. No wonder Forestry Tasmania can’t record a profit. Of course Gunn’s strategic decision to get out of old growth, sell the Triabunna woodchip mill, and not pay its debts, created huge problems for the industry as well. Gunns was responding in part to green lobbying. However they were also taking a long term strategic view of markets. If the economics of old growth woodchipping were so great, why is it that no one in the industry could get finance to purchase the Triabunna mill?

And so we come back to the current agreement. Enter the Liberal Party…..

State Liberal leader Will Hodgeman has vowed to tear up the forest agreement. It appears that the Liberals inhabit a universe where, if only those pesky selfish vego left leaning greenies would get out of the way decent hard working men could make a living cutting down high conservation value forests and nothing would need to change. There is probably more truth in Harry Potter. As the Canadian experience has shown, the world has changed whether Hodgeman likes it or not. So how might this play out in the event of a Liberal victory?

A Liberal State government can be expected to enact vicious anti-protest legislation. I well remember being on the East Picton blockade in 1991when the Groom Liberal Government introduced legislation that would have sent us to prison for three years – roughly the same period of incarceration you might get for rape. Anti protest legislation may largely shut down ‘direct action’ at State level, but what direct action does occur will be more militant.

Industry has already been paid tens of millions of your hard earned tax dollars and not a tree has been protected. They won’t be giving it back, but they won’t get any more from a Labor federal government either without a forest peace deal.

Environmentalists will press the case for world heritage listing and Federal protection of forests. There will be no rational outcome to this. A Liberal federal government (aka Eric Abetz) will reject listing on principle. A Labor federal government will do the maths in the marginals. They have hung the Tarkine out to dry to save Sid Sidebottom’s seat but they may well try and shore up green votes elsewhere by supporting another forest lock-up in Tasmania. In that event they might even splash some money around and try and buy some blue colour votes back from the Liberals.

Local ENGOs will join hands with international organisations like Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund to run international ‘divest and boycott’market campaigns against Tasmanian forestry. This will hurt Tasmania but the movement will have nothing to lose and nowhere else to go.

Forestry may just burn a lot more timber on the ground –unless someone decides to build a pulp mill to take the chips. Gunn’s won’t take them even for a mill so this would require a new proponent and a new approval from the Feds. Forestry could try and turn chips into chemical products or burn them for electricity. That latter option is really the wild card – the unstable element in an explosive cocktail. An Abbot Liberal government in Canberra might even be nutty enough to ‘green wash’ such a proposal.

Nothing else would galvanise or unite the green movement like burning world heritage value forests for electricity. We would see a movement betrayed with nothing to lose and nowhere to go, powerful international players, a neocon government, an industry struggling to stave off collapse, a single power plant, hundreds of miles of vulnerable power lines, ….. I would say there is potential for things to get very messy. I would rather it didn’t. Where is JK Rowling when we need her?

Tag line: Canadian boreal forest agreement, canopy JK Rowling award, JK Rowling environmental record, Tasmanian forest peace deal, Tasmanian forest agreement, Harry Potter, markets for change, divest and boycott, Canopy forest campaign, canopy publishers campaign.

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