Forests – our ally on climate

Early in 2021 three films have emerged arguing for a stop to logging native forests in WA, Tasmania and more generally a stop to environmental vandalism across Australia. The films are: Cry of the Forests – a Western Australia Story, Forest Defenders -the fight for Tasmania’s native forests, and Wild Things, a year on the frontline of environmental activism. They all support blockades as an effective means of stopping uneconomic, government-subsidised forest logging and coal extraction. They say the forests are our chief ally in preventing man made climate change.

Some History of blockades
The Terania Creek blockade in northern NSW was Australia’s first grass roots successful action to stop logging of native forests. Every week people would cycle, drive or walk into the forests near Mullumbimby, set up camp and block the bulldozers. After a long campaign they forced the Wran government to order an end to logging and declare it a National Park. That is what should be happening in the Tarkine in North-West Tasmania and in the ancient native forests of West Australia. Look at the banner photo on this blog and you will see one of the most beautiful forests in Sout-East Queensland, the Lamington National Park.

One of the Terania Creek ‘blockaders’ being arrested in an anti-uranium march on 22 Oct 1977 (along with 417 others).

West Australia

Cry of the Forests is a 54 minute documentary film which examines the plight of Western Australia’s unique forests and their real value in drawing down and storing carbon. Forests are a real ally in the battle to slow down run-away climate change yet we are cutting them down for low value products like firewood, charcoal and woodchips and burning them.

Forest Defenders: The fight to protect Tasmania’s native forests, takes you straight to the frontline where ordinary people are stepping up, joining Bob Brown Foundation to protect some of the most incredible forests in the world from the archaic practice of native forest logging. Made entirely by the activists living the fight this film has a simple aim: To inspire you to join us and take Action for Earth.

Defenders is a Bob Brown Foundation film about saving the Tarkine forest in Tasmania’s North-West.

WILD THINGS: A Year on the Frontline of Environmental Activism

Wild Things spends a year on the frontline with environmental activists hell-bent on saving
their futures from the ravages of climate change.

Armed only with mobiles phones, this growing army of eco-warriors are mobilising against
forces more powerful than themselves and saying, enough.  From chaining themselves to coal trains, sitting high in the canopy of threatened rainforest or locking onto bulldozers, their non-violent tactics are designed to generate mass action with one finger tap. Against a backdrop of drought, fire and floods; we witness how today’s environmentalists are making a difference. Surprisingly the methods of old still have currency when a groundswell of school kids inspired by the actions of 16-year old Swedish student Greta Thunbergsay, ‘change is coming’ and call a national strike demanding action against global warming.

Sign near Camp Bimby at the site of the Adani mine

How effective are blockades?
On the frontline in Queensland, both state and federal governments still support the Adani mega-mine in the Gallilee on aboriginal land never ceded. This is despite lack of finance for the company to build a railway line to carry the coal to the coast for shipping. The company even re-badged itself Bravus Mining and Resources to avoid the ignominy of the name Adani. Ironically, bravus means “A crook, or a bandit, or a cut-throat.”

One important question is how effective have blockades been in changing the system so that environmental destruction is not possible. Friends of the Earth (FOE) have been at the frontline of this struggle for over 4 decades. For the most part they have avoided converting the struggle into electoral advantage. FOE has not attempted to change the system from within the parliaments narrow confines preferring grass roots campaigns and non-violent direct action.

The Greens have been the most successful electoral force in the struggle to save forests and the environment generally. Thye have won political balance of power in some states and in the Commonwealth. If electoral success was the goal, Bob Brown made a serious tactical error in the 2019 Federal Election by taking that fight into the heartland of coal in Central Queensland.

In Australia, non-violent and very large climate change rallies have had no real impact on the policies of either of the two major parties and played little, if any role, in the outcome of the 2019 Federal Election. Although it could be said that Bob Brown’s fateful foray into central Queensland, after fairly large and successful demonstrations in the south, polarised the electorate. It hardened the Queensland government’s resolve to back big coal and may have tipped the balance in favour of a Morrison election victory. Labor did very poorly in Queensland and lost the Federal election in this state.

Bob Brown fronts a hostile media in Queensland during the Stop Adani convoy

Many of the interviews on environmental vandalism I have conducted in recent years end in a question of what can people do to bring about change. The most popular response from the experts has been contact your local member (is this a legitimate response given the failure of MPs to put forests before profit?) Another response has been to donate money to the cause. NGOs have built reputations on the back of environmental campaigns, but have they been able to get to the systemic issues? Increasingly, interviewees have asked listeners to support rallies and more direct action.

But still, no organisation has been able to come with a plan that will address the systemic issue that capitalism is dependent on environmental destruction for its survival. Extinction Rebellion XR say that if you organise a committed minority willing to participate in direct action, the majority will follow. But this has not happened and the Queensland government’s restrictions on democratic assembly in Brisbane’s CBD has prevented XR’s actions from spreading. The government has zealously banned the humble lock-on pipe.

Member for Maiwar Michael Berkman, then the state’s lone Greens MP: “The government is using this fabricated notion – that peaceful protesters are using dangerous, booby-trapped tools – to silence dissent and distract from their own hypocrisy on climate change… These are dangerous, anti-democratic new laws that pretend to solve a nonexistent problem.” The solitary voice speaking up for the humble lock-on pipe was a role Berkman would have to get used to.

Jobs, jobs, jobs
Most people are trying to survive and jobs have been more important to them that getting involved in saving forests and stopping coal mining. For some of the campaigners who have rejected mainstream society, it has become a lifestyle choice but their lives are more tenuous without money.

No political formation capable of addressing systemic issues seems likely to emerge in 2021.

Ian Curr
4 Jan 2021

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