Reef to Rainforest: Tell Our Politicians to Stop Selling Out Nature

An analysis of my trips to two very different activist camps to save a forest and the reef, and the surprising similiarity between both destructive causes.

 Exploring the wilderness where the Adani mine is set to be built. Photo by  Matty Hannon

Exploring the wilderness where the Adani mine is set to be built. Photo by Matty Hannon

There are many places on our planet which are environmentally valuable, biologically diverse, and culturally rich, yet do not offer a direct lining of the local politician’s pockets. Often these places offer significant local economy and employment opportunities through tourism, yet that is not direct enough for those in power to patiently wait for the benefits to roll in. 

This is happening all over the world. In my humble and limited experience of visiting activist camps and gaining deeper understanding of the specific issues, I have seen a pattern emerge.

From staying with FLAC (Frontline Action on Coal) in Queensland who are fighting to stop the Queensland government from handing over aboriginal owned land to a notoriously dishonest foreign company to desecrate wildlife habitat, pollute freshwater sources, and massively contribute to climate warming at a time when the rest of the world is taking drastic action to reduce carbon emissions. 

To my experience visiting the Bob Brown Foundation’s Activist camps in the Tarkine, Australia’s only temperate rainforest that is home to some of the oldest plants on the planet (some older than 60,000 years old!), rare wildlife, and of course which belongs to aboriginal people. This forest is already being logged for Forestry Tasmania that reported a loss of $67 Million in 2016, yet will shred all of this ancient timber into the cheap building material of plywood for a scandalised company in Malaysia. Such dishonour and indignity for these great giant trees. 

Two back to back excursions for me supporting what I thought were quite different campaigns, yet had such parallel root causes.

Government officials making sly deals with foreign companies to sell off the natural “resources.” How do they get away with this? Both Queensland politicians and Tasmanian politicians have promised impoverished communities jobs in these destructive industries. Queensland and the Adani Corporation have promised depressed mining towns like Townsville and Bowen more jobs than actually exist to get local support for the otherwise controversial activities. Tasmania has promised depressed towns bordering the Tarkine forest work in the logging of the forest. So the towns folk get active, they support these people into power to protect this offer of income, this light at the end of the tunnel they have been praying for. 

 

The truth is it’s all lies. 

 

Malaysian Plywood vs. Tarkine Rainforest

Even though Forestry Tasmania (the logging company) has been reporting massive losses for years they are clinging to their industry and begging the Tasmanian government to open up more of the protected ancient rainforest for them to keep their industry alive, or let’s be honest, hanging by this thread. The government has been subsidizing this industry for years with $22 million dollar subsidies. In an act of manipulative logic, their argument to reduce the millions in subsidies and protect the 700 jobs in this industry is to open more protected forest for the loggers to clear. 

 The forest is being destroyed for woodchips, says the Bob Brown Foundation.

The forest is being destroyed for woodchips, says the Bob Brown Foundation.

The precious timber is then shipped to Borneo logging and palm oil giant Ta Ann. YES, PALM OIL. This company is so fucked, they have been blacklisted by Norway for “severe environmental damage.” This decision is based on investigation results finding “unacceptable risk” of large-scale forest destruction, non-compliance with environmental laws, and poor forest management practices. This investigation stemmed from inquiry into the stakes held by Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global in Palm Oil companies; which included Ta Ann. 

Increased global scrutiny on Palm Oil--one of the leading causes of world rainforest destruction—has caused the industry to suffer, as Ta Ann’s reports reflect. Naturally they are looking to account for such losses by increasing efforts in their other industries, such as plywood timber. The Australian Government was all to happy to log the Tarkine to support this company in their time of hardship. An analyst from Ta Ann notes that “compensation from Australian Government has helped to support Ta Ann’s earnings.” (Source) “The Australian government has agreed to make a compensation payment of A$28.6 million to be disbursed in two tranches.”

In a statement, a SST spokesman said the area was classified as “production forest” and that the “harvesting operation is located on Permanent Timber Production Zone land that has been specifically set aside for the purpose of supplying timber to industry.” It’s true, the local government has expanded the boundaries for the timber company to continue supplying Malaysia with chips for plywood.

A dying industry propped up by a limited resource, for how long? Until all of the precious ancient rainforest is scrapped and the red earth left gouged and barren? The wildlife displaced and the potential for a sustainable tourism industry empty and lifeless?

 Source: https://www.slideshare.net/djgraygray/2011-year-8-geography-rainforests-geographic-processes

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/djgraygray/2011-year-8-geography-rainforests-geographic-processes

Rainforests are essential to keeping our atmosphere and climate in balance by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. We of course need oxygen to survive, and the carbon plays a helpful role by absorbing the sun’s rays, which keep the temperature in our atmosphere stable. Forests breathe in and store massive amounts of carbon, without the forests absorbing carbon, it collects in the atmosphere. This imbalance has increased the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15% each year. Deforestation and forest degradation is fuelling global warming.  Read more about rainforests’ planetary role here.

For more information on this issue, please find a great podcast called “Wild Asset,” on Soundcloud here.

 

Adani vs. the Great Barrier Reef

 Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk shakes hands with Gautam Adani, Port of Townsville, 6 December 2016. (IMAGE: AAP)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk shakes hands with Gautam Adani, Port of Townsville, 6 December 2016. (IMAGE: AAP)

10,000 new jobs promised in Queensland, were revealed to in fact be 1464 jobs. 

Adani’s own economist rejected the 10,000 figure under oath, and said in court of the project’s impact on employment:

It’s not many jobs.  We can agree on that.

It’s not many jobs.  We can agree on that.

The booming tourism industry in this region is under huge threat to the continued warming of the climate, due to fossil fuels being burned. This mine going ahead means that the Great Barrier Reef, a supposedly protected World Heritage Site and marine park, will die. So will the 64,000 jobs in the tourism industry. As will the economy suffer great loss from the $6.4 billion it contributes each year. 

The coal mine has admitted most jobs will go to fly in fly out workers, who notoriously do not engage with the local community which means no contribution to local economy and also does not bode well for the many Queenslanders who supported this project and expect employment.

Based on hundreds of court documents, The Adani Files reveal a catalogue of environmental catastrophes linked to the mining and energy giant – from a giant oil and coal spills, extensive mangrove destruction and illegal dredging, to ocean pollution and tourism impacts, to mass pollution of drinking water and attempts to cover it all up. Now Adani Mining wants to build a mine that risks our Great Artesian Basin - the water source for a quarter of Australia. Their history of bribery and intimidation to get what they want and cover up any damage in their wake is appalling. 

 Men wearing masks of Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Adani chairman Gautam Adani protest outside Parliament House in Canberra. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Men wearing masks of Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Adani chairman Gautam Adani protest outside Parliament House in Canberra. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The investigation, released by Environmental Justice Australia, highlights The Adani Group’s long record of failing to comply with environmental law – a very deep concern for our already at-risk Reef if their plans for the world’s biggest coal mine are approved.

 

WHY

It seems hard to believe this is all happening in plain sight. Yes there are media campaigns to inspire our support and articles in defence of the corrupt foreign companies or championing the epic economic opportunites. However, the laziest bit of googling reveals the shittiness of these deals. 

May I digress to analyse the psychology of the decision makers, who are made offers behind closed doors in air-conditioned high rises that perhaps have beautiful views of oceans or forests, but are separated through thick glass and steel. Their relationship to the natural world through various windows, from their vehicles to offices to homes. Breathing processed oxygen, walking on dyed, processed wood, preparing food on processed marble counter tops. Elements of nature all around, but this element of separation, processing, distance, desecration of the natural integrity. 

I am making a massive generalisation that certainly could never be true of all politicians that accept money from corrupt corporations in exchange for defiling mother nature. I am just trying to understand the lifestyle and mentality that allows for such disconnection and myopically selfish sacrifice of nature that does not rightfully belong to them.

Whatever the reason for their complete disregard for the planet, the people, the future, and anyone besides themselves, we must take action our own selves and do our best to maintain connection to nature to avoid any such personal corruption from ever tainting our morals to such an extreme. Get involved in the preservation of our planet, saving of threatened natural sites, and be sure to walk barefoot in dirt as much as possible to stay connected. 

 

HOW

Here are some options:

1. JOIN A PROTEST: Don’t be scared. In fact be brave and be VOCAL. Help break the stigma around environmental hippies and become your own version of activist. Support the direct action that is doing the real work to prevent destruction of nature. You can chain yourself to a coal conveyor belt to stop production for a few hours or sit in an ancient gum tree to prevent it from being cut down.  Read your rights to protest in line for the bus or on the plane. There is no free standing right to protest, but protest is protected directly and indirectly by the law. Common law protects protest as a fundamental right and freedom and there is also implied freedom of political communication. 

2. DONATE: If you cannot go to the site where political corruption is sacrificing nature, send resources to support environmental justice. Send funds. How much is clean water and clean air worth to you? Become a regular donor and convince your networks to support as well.

3. GET POLITICALLY ACTIVE: WRITE to your local and federal politicians. Voice your interest in protecting natural sites and send them economic reports that back up your position. Get signatures on petitions. Write to the media to help build stories around the corruption, destruction, and the disasterous impacts of these sneaky deals. Vote for legends to join government who promise to protect the environment and support them to hold to this. Run for office! March in marches! Attend community and organisational meetings!

4. BE VOCAL: Don’t agree with me quietly in the safety of your home. Don’t be afraid of what your neighbor might think or your uncle who works in mining might comment on your Facebook post. Be boldy courageous with your defense of the environment. Be radically committed to a healthy planet. You may recieve some heat, but use it as an opportunity to have a public discussion to work through the issue. You might create more support through your honest approach to the dissent. If you are unsure how to respond, call out for some support on another page or forum. 

Good luck out there. It’s a big world full of naughty people and gorgeous nature. 

Keep the balance. Stay light. Stay brave. Stay active.

 Throwback to my Save the Mermaids days! 

Throwback to my Save the Mermaids days!