Politics Opinion

Mark McGowan must stand tall on future promise to protect forests

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Premier Mark McGowan has said that logging of native forests will end in WA from 2024 (Screenshot via YouTube)

After half a century of continuous efforts by the community to protect forests in Western Australia, an end-of-logging announcement from the State Government has left environmental activists hopeful but wary, writes Gerry Georgatos.

WE DEPEND on forests for our survival, most importantly in terms of the quality of the air we breathe.

According to science, forests purify the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, prevent erosion and act as an important buffer against climate change.

More than half the world’s forests have been destroyed or "irreparably degraded”. We are surviving on 40 per cent of what’s remaining. There are about four billion hectares of forests left.

Millions of hectares are lost each year to deforestation, mostly to supply non-essential throw-away wood products.

We toil as if knee-deep in mud and know no peace for a loaf of bread, felling our home. We go to bed and rise and do the same, eventually for half a loaf, while our house falls. What do we tell our children – those left who have not turned their eyes from us – and their children?

A decade ago, I lived three years in the centre of Western Australia's mighty southwest heartlands, in Bridgetown, where I met the convener for Western Australian Forest Alliance Jess Beckerling — I have known her for more than a decade.

Beckerling tells Independent Australia:

"It’s been nearly one year since the Premier made the major announcement that Western Australia will end native forest logging and complete the transition of the timber industry to plantations.”

About the WA Labor State Government announcement regarding the end of logging in southwest native forests, she says:

“After half a century of continuous efforts by the community to raise the alarm and have forests finally protected, it was a huge breakthrough.”

However, our peace remains brief — until billions of heartbeats accelerate and gather power, we remain in alien treacherous transit.

Beckerling agrees:

“Until the forests are securely protected, Western Australians would be ill-advised to take their eyes off the commitments. The forests of WA’s southwest have been logged, cleared and burned with impunity since the Europeans invaded this magnificent part of the world.”

Explains Beckerling:

It was only 200 years ago that forests along the southwest coasts were seamlessly connected to the Wandoo woodlands. Numbats, cockatoos, phascogales, chuditch and myriad other wildlife moved between forests and woodlands. Rivers and streams ran, connected, crystal clear, right across landscapes out to the ocean. Intact forests moderated rainfall and climate in balance developed over millennia.

In the near two-century-old invasion by the British, more than 80 per cent of the southwest’s forests have been cleared. Indisputably, this rapid environmental destruction has led to the drying of our southwest and a rise in climate temperature regionally at one of the world’s contemporaneous fastest rates — reduced rainfalls, atmospheric fallout and aberrance including the tumult of the ozone hole.

Our mortal home – Earth – is made effectively of three layers: the crust, the mantle and its core. It is volatile in its vulnerabilities.

The Earth is not some immutable solid rock in a celestial canvas of permanence. It is an imperfect storm of thin-density rock, basalt and granite layered over hot rocks that temper above molten rocks, where at the Earth’s core temperatures reach up to 50,000°C.

The Earth has enough of its own shocks and tumultuous tempests as it orbits the sun and does its daily spin in a galaxy forever moving through a universe — also endlessly moving through an infinite cosmos. It can do without many of the indiscriminate dull thuds by the human species that disturb and wound and which in turn make our own lungs squeal.

Its surface is drying; the seas are warmer and rising, and what we are doing to the planet’s lithosphere below us is yet to be fully understood. But we do know what we are doing to the Earth’s filament — the surface of its crust and the residue oceans, seas and rivers — and to its atmospheric strands.

Jess Beckerling remains hopeful:

“After all this loss, it was a salve for the soul to hear our Premier say that we have logged way too much and by ending native-forest logging and protecting at least 400,000 hectares of forest that otherwise would have been logged, we are working to repair what was a terrible historical mistake.”

But she also warns:

Still, today, while we wait for this policy change to come into effect at the end of 2023, ten football fields of forests are being cut down for logging or mining every day in the southwest and most of the wood is being sold as woodchip, firewood and charcoal. We are still seeing giant ancient trees trucked around the southwest. When this finally ends, the relief will be palpable.

Because similar promises are not new, says Beckerling:

The community has heard big promises before and then watched injustices continue as climate change worsens and as biodiversity decline accelerates. In 2001, WA ended old-growth forest logging, but under a contrived definition of old growth — logging of ancient forests with all the structure and function of old growth continued. The only places that were protected – and thankfully still stand today – are the 230,000 hectares of forests formally protected in national parks and nature reserves.

Beckerling explains further:

Had logging continued at the same rate as seen in the 1990s, all that forest would have been logged by now. The only way to protect forests for climate [benefit] and biodiversity, and future generations, as the Premier promised, is as national parks and nature reserves where they’ll be safe from logging, mining and policy changes.

 

Over the past few months, we’ve heard complaints from vested interest groups and their mouthpieces who don’t want to see forests protected. We’ve heard wild suggestions about how mining forests can somehow miraculously be a climate solution. We’ve been asked to feel sorry for people who confess to being bored with climate change and whose first concern is about their suburban fireplaces.

The Western Australian Forest Alliance convenor also stressed:

I’ve always supported a just transition. It’s good to see the WA Government taking this seriously, but let’s keep it real and proportionate. In a time when there’s so much hinging on action, but public policy is failing to keep up with science and with overwhelming community expectations, the State Government’s recognition of the climate and biodiversity values of the forests and their commitment to securely protect an additional 400,000 hectares is a beacon of hope.

"The next few weeks really matter — while the next ten-year forests' management plan is being written." 

Last year, about 17,000 Western Australians contributed to a multifaceted survey which ultimately called upon the WA State Government to protect the native forests of the southwest. On this occasion, the Government listened.

Argues Beckerling:

The next few weeks really matter — while the next ten-year forests' management plan is being written. Everyone is waiting to see promises delivered on climate and biodiversity — the Just Transition Plan. The optimism the Premier infused into the broader community nearly a year ago was significant. We need to see the integrity of this vital environment policy delivered, with at least 400 000 hectares – that otherwise would have been logged – protected securely.

This concourse bespeaks of loving heart and significance. It cannot turn around old wounds but least disturbs the Earth. There will still be unfinished business and long-standing debts but, importantly, seemingly nameless people in otherwise endless twilights did not accept powerlessness.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus on social justice. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos.

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