So long as governments remain in the pocket of the logging industry, we will continue to destroy our forests and kill the planet, writes Dermot Daley.
SOME AUSTRALIANS may remember logging protests from the 1970s and throughout the 1990s in Goolengook and Errinundra in eastern Victoria, where passionate conservationists resisted indiscriminate logging and encountered aggressive police, as well as violent assaults by enforcers employed by the logging contractors.
The State Government had sold contracts to harvest timber, however, the “protected” contractors failed to acknowledge their obligation to safeguard endangered native species and nor did they always stay within allowable coups. The urban public was besieged on the television news with images of dishevelled protesters being dragged into custody by the police.
Some began to wonder why anyone would risk so much. Why would protesters feel such passion and spend days, weeks and years arguing for the protection of old-growth forest and the variety of animal species that it supports? Why would they give up their time and risk personal liberty to save a few trees? And why would a democratic government take sides with a cartel having the singular objective of making as much money as they could?
People now realise that trees are more important than they imagined and they are becoming increasingly alarmed at the tangible effects of what is now known to be a man-made climate crisis. Scientists have long stated that energy cannot be destroyed and that centuries of burning coal and other fossil fuels have served to convert that potential energy into kinetic energy, releasing sound, light and heat.
Mathematically, it was never a question of whether the practice of slowly heating the atmosphere would tip the scales of environmental balance; it was a matter of when.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store the carbon (C) as they grow, and they process oxygen (O2) back into the atmosphere. Tree roots form an underground network as large as the canopy of the tree itself and link in with the root networks of adjacent trees to stabilise the ground and lower the water table.
Leaf litter on the surface physically slows down overland water flow during flood events. People now understand that trees are literally cool. Fully mature trees in foliage, alone or in groups act as a natural evaporative cooler. Aesthetics aside, trees are our readily available and proven tool to combat climate change.
There was a time when logging was essential work. Land was needed for farming, timber was needed for construction. Woodcutters identified suitable trees, which were felled by saw and axe and dragged out by bullock teams. The industry in those times employed lots of people.
Twenty-first-century logging is mechanised and entire tracts of land are stripped bare. A single operator using a specialised machine cuts a tree, trims it and lops it to length. Another single operator transports the load to a mill, where the logs are chipped. Much of the harvest becomes waste. The “timber industry” in Australia is now a very small employer and the profits are going to parent companies in Canada, China and the USA.
But forget nostalgia about the good old days of woodcutting and take note that the cyclic flooding of Lismore and surrounding districts began with the untrammelled clearing, in the 19th Century, of the 1,600 square kilometre tropical rainforest known as the Big Scrub.
For decades, Tasmanian governments have sided with private companies to allow the logging of old-growth forests, with resultant loss of topsoil and erosion of land due to the unprincipled practice of clear felling. Minimal effort has been put into replanting depleted pine species such as Huon, King Billy and celery-top and of beech myrtle and others indigenous to Tasmania.
The unchecked clearing of land in Far North Queensland will inevitably lead to land degradation and soil loss, and result in catastrophic inundation as has been experienced in the southeast of the state in recent seasons.
In March 2022, the NSW State Government passed legislation providing penalties of $22,000 and gaol terms of two years for “non-violent” protesting against the global climate crisis.
In a frenzy of bipartisanship, the Victorian Government approved a Bill in August 2022 providing for prison terms of up to 12 months and fines of more than $21,000 for obstructing or interfering with timber harvesting operations.
Is this sinking in? Here in Australia, where we have lambasted and occasionally gone to war against totalitarian regimes, we are now subjecting our own citizens to draconian laws to prevent freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
As the saying goes, “follow the money”. The corporate-owned media depicts individuals in our society who have no commercial interest in wood-chipping and who understand that irresponsible clearing of established old-growth forests will destabilise the water table and destroy habitat for diverse species already facing extinction as villains.
While perversely, and with corporate media sponsorship, global corporations can purchase the assistance of democratically elected parliaments and associated arms of law enforcement to legalise their long-term pillaging of territories in which they do not live and do not contribute taxes.
It is apparent that a pact has been in place in Australia between governments and logging companies to pervert the guidelines of sustainable forestry.
Tamed politicians have acted for the influential loggers by weakening environmental impact regulations and by enacting laws to make protesting illegal. This is not clumsy “hand in the till” pilfering, but complicit engagement to help commercial actors to defraud the public interest.
COVID has been an awakening. We puny humans are not the superior beings we imagined ourselves to be. We are vulnerable to a virus. And we don’t yet know the end of that story.
Meanwhile, raging in the background is irrefutable evidence that we are killing our planet. We are guests, passengers on our Spaceship Earth and we have trashed it. We are, at best, vandals. But realistically, we are Kamikaze happy to die for our fossil fool emperors.
Come on Aussies, we can do better than that!
Dermot Daley is a fourth-generation Australian living in Victoria, who is now retired from construction project management.
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