Tasmania like Soviet Siberia

19 Comments

A drive around Tasmania is breathtaking. And heartbreaking. Surrounded by cathedral-like forests, the visitor feels inspired and humbled. Then suddenly the sight sharpens. 'Managed by Forestry Tasmania'.  It’s easy to miss those signs. Managed. A tricky word. Particularly in Tasmania, where the stunning trees that peer down on the visitor are often just a façade, forestry rarely means looking after forests. The façade cheers and appeases the tourist. But behind lies a battlefield.

'Look carefully behind the tree line', the bus driver advised me. A field of ruins just a few metres from the glorious canopy on the side of the road. Logging roads pierced the forest, and it was then that I also noticed the logging trucks. One, two, three of them. 'Sixty, seventy of them, every day!', the driver was outraged. Yes, they were taking the forest away.

'They normally don’t touch the trees close to the highways', an officer explained at a visitors’ centre, with a smile that was half embarrassment and half revelation. 'Yes', confirmed a parks officer, 'In the Styx Valley you see 400 year-old trees, up to 80 metres high, being felled. It’s heartbreaking'.

'And what about the Northern forests, those that are threatened by the pulp mill in the Tamar Valley?' I ask him. 'The Northern forests are stunning … so much beauty,' he sighed. Tasmania’s forests are being eaten away.

A thought started to haunt me. Tasmania is like Soviet Siberia. The comparison might prompt a smile. And yet there is a deep and utterly disturbing truth about it. For Tasmania today is a land without politics. No real left or right, no Liberal or Labor parties. What one finds in Tasmania is a powerful economic bureaucracy that lives off the destruction of unique and priceless natural treasures. Apparatchiks are called politicians. A careless administration with no vision and no mission is engaged in politics. Short-sighted greed can be called public interest.

Tasmania like Soviet SiberiaAnd so we are told Tasmania needs a huge pulp mill. A timber giant has been pushing for it. The Government has hastily approved it. The apparatchiks know best. And those who disagree are enemies of the people. 'A bunch of millionaires' — that’s how the Premier of Tasmania dismissed the organisers of a campaign in Sydney to pressure the Federal Minister for the Environment, Malcolm Turnbull, to seriously assess the pulp mill, before bowing to economic pressures. How disgraceful to speak the language of Stalinism, in 2007, in Australia. Welcome to the past.

Tasmania is like Siberia. The latter was an ancient land too, where the wilderness ruled. It had a natural wealth so humbling it seemed sacred. But the sacred was erased from the land of the Soviets, and was replaced by Stalinism, and the battle to subjugate nature. Siberia quickly became a target. Its forests were plundered, its natural resources given away in the name of "development". Siberia was the remote province of a rapacious empire. Sustainability was not in the vocabulary back then.

The land was “managed” by two all-powerful Leviathans — Minvodkhoz and Lespromkhoz. For these, read Hydro and Forestry. The same disregard for beauty pertains. The same lack of a strategic vision.

Siberia is vast, and Tasmania is tiny. Russia’s old growth forests, the largest portion of which is to be found in Siberia, comprise 289 million hectares — and this is still just 25 per cent of the country’s forested area. Tasmania’s native forests stretch for approximately 3.3 million hectares. The whole of Tasmania is but an invisible dot on the map of Siberia. And yet, Tasmania is called to produce more pulp than Siberia.

Tasmania like Soviet SiberiaSiberia awoke and rebelled. It dared to do so while in the grip of a totalitarian regime, in which people had no power, no vote, no voice. Siberians spoke out. Against the plight of their land. Against the theft of their future. They managed to save Lake Bajkal, the jewel of Siberia. The threat was, interestingly enough, a pulp mill on the shores of the lake.

The people of Siberia mobilized. They did what they could do — wrote letters and protested. After saving Lake Bajkal they saved their rivers. The Soviet Hydro wanted to reverse their flow. It proudly called its scheme 'the Project of the Century'. But the people, again, said no. Lake Bajkal today is a World Heritage site. Like much of Tasmania. Siberia has been scarred, but it is alive because people saved it. This makes the fate of Tasmania even more shameful.

So is Tasmania worse than Siberia? I hope not. There is no excuse for pillaging Tasmania. One can only hope that Tasmanians too will awaken and reject the pulp mill. But time is running out. They might well awaken one day, only to discover that someone robbed Tasmania of its future.

 

 

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No stringent conditions or economic rationalisation can justify pulping Tasmania's trees. They have been there no doubt for thousands of years and create a cathedral to the Creator, or mother-nature, whatever we believe in. Profits cannot justify something that is unethical and contrary to conservational principles.
Milly | 06 September 2007


One of the things that Forestry Tasmania / Gunns Ltd and its political friends fear most is moral (even religious) outrage at their actions and plans. Their impact assessments deal with the two most priveleged knowledge systems of our time - science and economics. When Minister Turnbull calls for public comments on matters under the EPBC Act, you're restricted to commenting in scientific (legal-rational) terms. What happens when we comment in moral, religious, spiritual terms? What happens when we say that science and economics aren't the whole picture? What did happen in Montana USA is that the forestry lobby took legal action on the basis that it claimed the State could not consider the anti-forestry lobby's views because they were religious. The argument hinged on the fact that, like Australia, the USA is a constitutionally secular state and that therefore no religious position could be priveleged. The forestry lobby lost but the same argument has emerged here. Gunns et al. claim that The Greens and other opponents of pulping Tasmania are irrational and that the basis of their opposition is religious. Beyond the arguments as to what 'religion' actually is, there's something very substantially going on. Part of it is a rejection of the tyranny of rationalism - the view that only that which is rational is valid, the upshot of which is that emotions are deemed invalid. Of course this is one of many Western self-delusions that serve particular economic and political agendas very well. Every thought is emotional, even when it claims otherwise. Even the claim to being rational to the exclusion of emotion is emotional - just observe how fervent the rationalists (economic and otherwise) are in their 'objective' defence of rationality.

Science is only true to its self when it is self-reflexive. Mostly, it isn't, and EIAs/EISs etc are a great example of this. We see science supporting Gunns' case and we see other science doing the opposite, with some having a bet each way. Clearly normative science isn't the way to answer the question about the proposed pulp mill. The same can be said for economics. These are only partial truths at best.

So let's get beyond the science and the economics. Let's not exclude their contribution, but let us not be captured by their claims to ultimate truth. Let's say it as we see it - the pulp mill proposal is immoral because of the nature of the logging needed to feed it, irrespective of the dioxins and other toxins and greenhouse gases it will generate. There is a social justice argument in terms of employment and economic well-being to be considered, but the principle of ecojustice says that this must be considered concomitantly with the ecological justice issues - they are only ever separate in our minds and our constructs. There is one whole Creation of which we are but a part.
Steven Douglas | 06 September 2007


Don't you get it! "This is a working forest".
Bernadette | 06 September 2007


As an ex-Tasmanian I can vouch for the total power of previously the Hydro, and now Forestry (aka Gunns). I believe Tasmania's "clean and gree" reputation will be ruined forever by the clearing of the forests. Vale Tasmania.
Liz | 06 September 2007


When I subscribed to Eureka Street I did not think I was paying to read a green point of view. Why doesn't Eureka Street stick to Christian issues?
Kevin Prendergast | 06 September 2007


One of the things that Forestry Tasmania / Gunns Ltd and its political friends fear most is moral (even religious) outrage at their actions and plans. Their impact assessments deal with the two most priveleged knowledge systems of our time - science and economics. When Minister Turnbull calls for public comments on matters under the EPBC Act, you're restricted to commenting in scientific (legal-rational) terms. What happens when we comment in moral, religious, spiritual terms? What happens when we say that science and economics aren't the whole picture? What did happen in Montana USA is that the forestry lobby took legal action on the basis that it claimed the State could not consider the anti-forestry lobby's views because they were religious. The argument hinged on the fact that, like Australia, the USA is a constitutionally secular state and that therefore no religious position could be priveleged. The forestry lobby lost but the same argument has emerged here. Gunns et al. claim that The Greens and other opponents of pulping Tasmania are irrational and that the basis of their opposition is religious. Beyond the arguments as to what 'religion' actually is, there's something very substantially going on. Part of it is a rejection of the tyranny of rationalism - the view that only that which is rational is valid, the upshot of which is that emotions are deemed invalid. Of course this is one of many Western self-delusions that serve particular economic and political agendas very well. Every thought is emotional, even when it claims otherwise. Even the claim to being rational to the exclusion of emotion is emotional - just observe how fervent the rationalists (economic and otherwise) are in their 'objective' defence of rationality.

Science is only true to its self when it is self-reflexive. Mostly, it isn't, and EIAs/EISs etc are a great example of this. We see science supporting Gunns' case and we see other science doing the opposite, with some having a bet each way. Clearly normative science isn't the way to answer the question about the proposed pulp mill. The same can be said for economics. These are only partial truths at best.

So let's get beyond the science and the economics. Let's not exclude their contribution, but let us not be captured by their claims to ultimate truth. Let's say it as we see it - the pulp mill proposal is immoral because of the nature of the logging needed to feed it, irrespective of the dioxins and other toxins and greenhouse gases it will generate. There is a social justice argument in terms of employment and economic well-being to be considered, but the principle of ecojustice says that this must be considered concomitantly with the ecological justice issues - they are only ever separate in our minds and our constructs. There is one whole Creation of which we are but a part.
Steven Douglas | 06 September 2007


Tasmania has over 42% of its total land area preserved in conservation areas. How much has Victoria, or any other mainland state, for that matter?

Stopping the approval of the Pulp mill will not stop logging of regrowth or plantation timber. (Logging of old growth forest is almost non existent as old growth timber has low pulping qualities compared to younger timber)

Stopping the approval of the Pulp Mill will, however, ensure that Tasmanian woodchips are processed into pulp, then paper at overseas facilities in countries such as China and Malaysia that do not have the environmental credentials of this proposed project.

"Not in my backyard" is the cry I hear, but not many are concerned about the environmental health of the planet. A rather small minded and emotional attitude I would have thought.
Barry | 06 September 2007


I have lived in Tasmania for fifty of my fifty four years. The picture painted in this article is not my Tasmania. My Tasmania has been dominated by the exodus of its youth, the poverty of those left behind and the condescention of Mainlanders-most of whom are in secure employment. Tasmania cannot be the mainland's museum and wilderness as many wish it to be. Man dose not live by bread alone but he does not live by wilderness either!
I wonder how many Sydney siders would b ehappy if I decided we should return Sydney Harbour to the way it was in 1787.
Tasmanians are mature enough to make their own minds up as to what works. Forestry like agriculture is about sustainable outcomes not unchanging landscapes.
Gerard Gill | 07 September 2007


Thanks to Mario Rimini for a hard-hitting article. It is no exaggeration.
Dr Christine Wood | 07 September 2007


Mario has written and brings to light the destruction of Tasmania. The Australian economy and greed seem to dominate the govering of this fair land.
Francis Brown | 07 September 2007


Tasmania, Siberia, Brazil, Antarctica, Iraq. Untouched environmental nature was beautiful everywhere until the likes of Gunns came along, greased the right palms and got to work making their fortunes.

With Gunns ex-chairman Edmund Rouse jailed for attmpting to bribe and campaigns for re-elections funded by Gunns, it is no surprise to find another legal process interpreted favourably for Tasmania's forestry oligarchy. The law of the jungle applies to Tasmania's forests and Gunns is its pride.

How do you stop
Jay Leonard | 07 September 2007


Where is the comment from the Catholic Earth Care Commission under the chairmanship of Bishop Chris Toohey
Phillip Moore | 07 September 2007


I live in Tasmania in the Tamar valley, and have done so for over 30 yrs. I have bush walked most of the island planted trees on various properties.
I don't think Ihave read such an emotive article . It lacks factual basis.
Over 45% of Tas.forests are locked up and cannot be logged, now or later. The mill will use only plantation wood except for the first 5yrs. when it will use some native forest [not old growth] until sufficient plantations come on line to meet all it's requirements; but at all times it shall comply with the regional forrest agreement.
It is strange that no credit is being given to the Tas, upper house which is a non party house approving the bill br 10 to 4.

The auther of the article should at least have referred to the expert findings in the executive summary and made some factual comment & criticism instead of simply presenting emotion & generalisations.


p.j. sullivan | 07 September 2007


This article is profoundly patronising to the Tasmanian environment movement, the Tasmanian political and community leaders who have opposed the pulp mill approval process, and the many ordinary Tasmanians who oppose it too.

There has been far more dissent on this issue at a political and community level in Tasmania than nationally.

Tasmania is far from perfect. But what I see here is the nation as a whole, through authors like Rimini, projecting its own shortcoming on to a convenient target.

Rodney Croome | 07 September 2007


I wish to register my support for no more logging of native forests! Log plantations only and save this beautiful island.
Helen Norman | 07 September 2007


Interesting comments by Mario. Is it also unethical and somewhat misleading to have a photo of Queenstown in your article and not identify it as such? I didn't know that that place had anything to do with this current debate.
Elsie Stuart | 13 September 2007


Whilst I do not doubt Mario’s passion, his "feature" article does no justice to his cause. Indeed his strident propaganda and avoidance of the facts would do Stalin proud!

1. The two photographs are simply dishonest. One is of protected forests in Lake St Clair National Park. The other is of mining damage at Queenstown. Neither illustrates forestry.

2. The assertion that, for Forestry Tasmania, "forestry rarely means looking after forests" flies in the face of the facts: 47% of Tasmania's forests are in conservation reserves. Only 0.8% of State Forest is harvested each year. And all harvested forests are re-established.

3. Comparing Tasmania with Siberia is unhelpful. Harvesting of Tasmania's State Forests is strictly limited to levels whose sustainability is independently audited. And the implication that Stalinist plundering of Siberia's forests has now ceased as a result of local activism is misleading. Instead, Russia is today exporting gargantuan volumes of unprocessed logs from Siberia, mainly to China and Finland.

4. Linking the proposed Gunns pulp-mill to the management of Tasmania's State Forests is wrong. The volume of native forest timber harvested from Tasmania's State Forests will not increase if the pulp-mill is built. The additional wood is to come from plantations. And the pulp-mill will not use oldgrowth.

I accept that Mario does not want the proposed pulp-mill to be built, and does not like the government approval processes. But please do not confuse these issues with the management of Tasmania's State Forests.

I presume that the editors of Eureka Street believe that forest management and the pulp-mill deserve discussion because they have moral and religious significance. I agree. But stooping to emotive caricature, both in word and picture, simply reinforces prejudices, and does nothing to help dialogue in a sadly polarised debate.

Martin Stone | 18 September 2007


Gunns has no right to Tasmanian trees.
It is money that rules, not human sensitivity and tree huggers. Sometimes, at 72, I feel like hugging trees. It is so sad to see them go the way to wood chips.
Theo Dopheide | 04 November 2007


I can see where woodchips have their place in the whole picture, what gets me is where all the smaller businesses that pay royalties to source the leftovers from these operations hardly get given the time of day. Where does your firewood come from? What about those manferns you buy from the nurseries on Saturday mornings? or the souvenirs in craft wood you pick up for friends at the duty free shop at the airport? that is all someone's lively hood, slowly being eroded by people over-reacting and want everything locked up, or large greedy mills wanting everything for themselves and forgetting the other smaller businesses that survive from what they class as their rubbish. they would rather burn it than let someone make use of it and call it 'regeneration' burn-offs.
barry sullivan | 25 January 2008


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