framing a vision for the tarkine

framing a vision for the tarkine

Last year the battles were about logging native timber in the Tarkine, right now it’s about mining. On the one hand there is the economic growth argument about extracting valuable minerals, and on the other the recognition of the significance of the ecosystem. Finding sensible solutions must start with an understanding of the place and the issues, and finish with a spirit of compromise, because there are no right answers in these debates.

There’s no doubt that the Tarkine is one of the world’s great wild places. It is a landscape of such breathtaking beauty that it is impossible not to love it. It is an expansive 447,000 hectare wilderness area which contains remarkable natural and cultural values, including one of the world’s most significant remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

 The Tarkine is now generally recognised as that part of north west Tasmania bounded by the Arthur River and its tributaries to the north, the Pieman River to the south, the Murchison Highway to the east and the Southern Ocean to the west. Most of the land is either managed by Forestry Tasmania or the Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the Tarkine is listed on the Register of the National Estate and there are a number of reserves that provide the Tarkine with some level of conservation protection.  

The Cradle Coast Authority Master Plan for the Tarkine describes it as, “a place of sustenance for its inhabitants, a breathtaking, fragile wilderness for those in search of renewal, a robust landscape rich in minerals and forest resources, and a playground for the communities that surround it”. 

The Tarkine is Australia’s most significant tract of rainforest wilderness and Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness area. It is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as “one of the world’s great archeological regions” with aboriginal middens, artefacts and rock carvings that predate the pyramids. 

There’s been much debate and emotion about land use priorities in the area – for tourism access, primary production, logging and mining. Conservationists have sought to have the Tarkine classified under the world heritage listing. The Forests Agreement of September 2011 has brought timber industry and conservationists closer, although many issues remained unresolved. Tasmania, now facing reductions in contribution from commercial timber, is increasingly looking to the resources sector for economic growth.

How do we, as stewards of this 60 million year old wilderness, make sensible decisions on its future at any point in time? We can rest assured that it will involve compromise from all sides. As a plan is developed for the Tarkine, some guiding principles are needed, and these might be a good start:

  1. Manage the Tarkine for multiple end use according to the sensitivity and significance of particular areas, rather than lock it up
  2. Special parts of the Tarkine, notably the primary rainforest, should be totally protected from logging, mining and recreational vehicles (these areas may be the focus of world heritage)
  3. Controlled tourism access that leaves no footprint should be encouraged
  4. Community involvement in decision making is essential

 Such guidelines need fleshing out and adding to. They may well end up allowing a flourishing adventure tourism industry based on walking, some selective logging for value added timber in agreed areas and mining with appropriate rehabilitation, in areas other than primary rainforest. Honey production and agriculture in existing cleared areas would sit comfortably under these guidelines.

 They would not, however, allow clear felling of native timber in the region, nor allow projects such as the proposed open cut tin and tungsten mine in primary rainforest at Mount Lindsay by Venture Minerals. That particular proposal, for a 3.5km x 3km 200 metre deep mine, is not within the scope of these guidelines. It’s also the sort of project that depends on the price of tin to be high for its sustainability.

 If the right information is gathered and shared, and if there is willingness to compromise, worthwhile outcomes can flow. They will only be forged by people working together. As the old African proverb goes:

“if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

We also need to remember that we are transitory human beings making decisions in a microsecond of time, in the context of what has gone before us.

australia's creeping inertia

australia’s creeping inertia

There are many things that fill me with pride as an Australian. There are others about which I am increasingly embarrassed. We all have long lists on both sides of that ledger. The one which disturbs me most, and which can most impact our long term prosperity, is inertia.

I’ve been in the UAE, China and Singapore recently and returned wondering why we’re being beaten hands down in development of convention centres, bullet trains, sustainability programs, new hotels, freeways, and even knowledge economies. The world is moving at an incredible pace. In many areas, we seem to lag, even behind the developing world. Why?

Within the context of “free market” principles, national sovereignty is diminished as global markets, multinational corporations and global institutions play a major role in shaping our economy. While these forces also prevail in emerging markets like China, they are matched by a hunger to catch up and exceed, which is strongly nurtured by State. By contrast, inertia is rife in Australia, not so much in the private sector, but certainly in public policy.

 I’ve spoken with a few wise heads to get an angle on our malaise (in the spirit of “first seek to understand”) and have developed some thoughts. I wondered whether to tackle the ultimate sacred cow by asking “is democracy itself the problem – and do democracies inevitably tend to inertia?” On reflection, I think the issue is more the way our democracy is manifested. Australian democracy today is being impacted by four forces:

  1. The shape of politics today

- Reform is always slow and politics is about compromise  – a challenge enhanced by the current political mix. Without masterful negotiations or bipartisan support for reform, we have a melting pot for inertia.

- As membership of, and interest in, political parties diminishes, the influence of factions and divisions increases, resulting in a sub optimal mix of candidates. There are too many poor performers, insufficient diversity, too many lawyers and union officials, too few business people and visionaries. As a consequence, we have fewer issues focused debates and more fixed partisan positions, with vested interests buried in ideology and inaction.

      2.    Our relative comfort and apathy

Australians have not faced any prolonged shock or discomfort since the end of the WW2 more than 60 years ago. While there is poverty and disadvantage in our country, standards of living have continued to improve. As consumerism grows and people increasingly “have what they want when they want it”, they are becoming less happy, readier to find fault and carry a higher expectation for “the Government” to fix things. We’ve become more apathetic and short sighted and this flows on to major projects – where is the next Opera House, Harbour Bridge or renewed public transport system? Are they a priority today?

      3.   Media

Lack of media diversity and standards is a major concern. In many of Australia’s media markets, only one single company dominates.  John Faulkner captures the argument – “the media’s freedom to publish was once a safeguard for our democracy. Today, as trash tabloids and opinion-for-hire commentators destroy any semblance of a debate of ideas, the principle of informed decision-making at the heart of the ideal of democracy drowns beneath racy headlines and print-now, retract-later coverage. Radio shock-jocks and shallow television infotainment do the same”.

         4.    The digital revolution

Technology has shrunk and accelerated our world, generated more choice and shortened our attention spans. There are greater demands on our time and more attention to the short term than the longer term.  Faulkner again – “opinion pollsters report a lack of interest or understanding in politics from the very same people racking up massive mobile bills voting for an Australian Idol contestant. This disinterest breeds a vicious cycle, for those who don’t speak up will find nothing so certain as that they won’t be heard”

Solutions?

These four elements are causing indifference, distrust and disengagement about politics and democracy – and apathy about our future. What can we do? Here are four thought starters:

  • Achieve electoral reform at candidate selection level through absolute transparency
  • Win bipartisan support for application of the benefits of the resources boom into infrastructure and other long term benefits, such as creating a knowledge economy
  • Overhaul media laws to achieve diversity, debate and responsible reporting with a view to the future of the country and the globe – not just selling papers. As this is being posted, there are cries for a media review based on the events in News Corp.
  • As individuals, bother to be heard. The world is changing and solutions are not always driven in the traditional way. Look at what GetUp is achieving, for example.

We must achieve major reform and progress in these relatively strong economic times, rather than having to wait to react in the bad times. What about a sovereign fund? That aside, it’s up to us all to make a difference, in a democracy that’s tested but not broken.

conservative ideology and climate change

conservative ideology and climate change

I see that lobbyists are paying to bring Christopher Monckton – the high-profile climate denier – on another speaking tour of Australia. Earlier this month, Monckton accused Australia’s climate advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, of being a fascist. People’s behaviour in the climate change debate, or what passes for sensible debate in this country, has been interesting and frustrating. Denial and spoiling tactics have been adopted by people who seem to carry an agenda. It is an immutable fact that the vast majority of these people are conservatives and reactionaries, rather than progressives and true liberals. Apart from their characteristic resistance to change, I’ve struggled to understand this particular conservative rationale and driving purpose, until reading the insights presented by Tim Dean in the Drum in March 2011.

 My blog post is stimulated by his piece, but largely expresses my own frustration with the situation we find ourselves in today. Of course, these views don’t apply to all climate change deniers or all conservatives. I am trying to understand the motives of deniers rather than to bash them. It is not about conservatives being bad and progressives being good. Clearly all conservatives and progressives don’t think and behave in the same way and not everyone will agree with this generalisation of the conservative view, however analysis of specific demographics, ideologies and patterns of behaviour can be instructive.

Why is it that so many conservatives appear immune to the overwhelming scientific evidence and rational argument that suggests Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real? The answer may lie in the fact that to conservatives, climate change is not about science or economics – it is about an ideology and politics, as Clive Hamilton points out in his book “Requiem for a Species”. Most of us decide at some time or other where our political beliefs sit and rarely stray from this belief. When a concept like AGW comes along, we tend to reference our political belief system before assessing the evidence. When facts don’t support the pre-existing belief system, then the facts must be wrong! Often rational thought processes are subsumed in the emotional responses to challenges to a political belief system or to our implicit worldview. AGW represents a fundamental threat to the conservative ideology or worldview. Denying it doesn’t make climate change go away, it only makes dealing with it even harder, for us and future generations. There is also an argument that the more climate change is associated with the Greens, the left and environmentalists, the less comfortable conservatives are about embracing it.

 Various Newspoll and other polls have consistently shown that a big proportion of the conservative demographic behaving as climate change deniers, are over 50 year old males. Why? Maybe they want to eliminate challenges to their comfortable existence, despite the consequences for future generations, at any cost. Dealing with climate change is uncomfortable for many of them as it requires, at least to some degree, embracing social consciousness and stepping away from selfishness and mass consumerism. Unfortunately the vested interest of many conservatives is so strong that only climate related disasters of increasingly devastating magnitude, which personally affect them, will have any chance of changing their world view.

 The one thing that intrigues me is the veracity of their sense of purpose on this issue and their relative indifference to other issues. Maybe it relates to control – one thing this demographic holds disproportionately strongly. The thought of losing control of control, control of wealth, and control of assets certainly sharpens their minds, as do potential changes in power relationships in society. But have they really thought things through? Ironically, conservatives have the most to lose from the impact of AGW, as they control most of the money! Why can’t conservatives see nature as an asset that supports humanity? Failure to do so is to support an unsustainable world. Perhaps, as Lewansoky points out, conservatives with a free market ideology will be more able to accept AGW science when it is framed in a favourable context (lots of technology, opportunities to make money etc.)

 In even further irony, the tactics many deniers adopt, either deliberately or unknowingly, generally become supporting proof for the issue they are trying to discredit. Spoiling tactics take on many forms including exaggeration of potential harm, use of irrelevant issues, appeals to personal freedom and magnifying disagreement among scientists. Suddenly, non-scientists claim that science is about opinion rather than fact. Or they talk of the need for more peer review. Clutching at straws, they selectively search the haystack to find the needle represented by a dissenting scientist. Whether by ignorance or spoiling, they confuse weather patterns with climatic change. They confuse El Nino and La Nina cycles, and Ice Age effects, with AGW. They reserve the right to “make up their own minds” on this issue, while accepting what science says as the truth on other issues.

When their arguments start to flounder, they resort to saying that Australia (as the biggest per capita polluter in the world) shouldn’t act because the rest of the world isn’t acting! You should see the massive greenhouse gas reduction programs in the latest 5 year plan for China!! When all else fails, they play the man rather than the ball, attacking the motives and integrity of the scientists.  Assisted by News Limited media and “shockjocks”, who have irresponsibly confounded the debate on this subject in Australia, they throw mud so that some sticks, causing doubt where there should be acceptance and a desire to understand more and seek the best solutions. Please forgive me for drawing the analogy with conservative Anglicans who thought that Darwin was a left wing activist as he used massive amounts of scientific evidence to overthrow dogma and ignorance.

 Perhaps we should cut some slack to those people not trained as scientists, because they don’t know what they don’t know. Doing post graduate science, I can remember my professor saying, “a science graduate is a person who is introduced to bodies of knowledge in such a way that he or she can continue to relate to them”. The undergraduate degree taught us to gather evidence, test, analyseand think in a logical way and establish hypotheses that can be subsequently confirmed. I’ve heard deniers and sceptics who claim to have better knowledge and the right to be heard as they have “read many books on the subject”, yet understand neither the concepts of theory, probability and proof in a scientific context. It’s amazing how many of them believe they have the technical and intellectual capacity to look at the data themselves and arrive at the correct conclusion, and how their conclusions are radically different to those with the relevant training and expertise. Then there are others – people with a genuine desire to learn, who are vulnerable to manipulation by legitimate sounding conservatives without adequate science, and to the propaganda of some hard line Christians and the resources sector lobby.

 Climate change deniers don’t have a mortgage on being selective in the information they seek and use to support their ideologies. While progressives are more accepting of the science, they can also be selective in mounting their arguments, and can also be driven by their own worldview. So how do we break the deadlock of our implicit, and often irrational, worldviews or our political attitudes? The circuit breaker is awareness. When considering an issue such as AGW, we should pause and reflect on whether our feelings are inspired by evidence and reason, or by a strong emotional inclination. Think about how we’re approaching the issue, and how we’re injecting it with value, and the benefits of keeping an open mind.

 Science has established beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect (without which our planet would be a frozen wasteland), increases in CO2 levels produced by humans and increases in global average temperatures. The science has also established, on the balance of probabilities to at least a 90% level, that humans are the primary cause of that change. We should be at consensus on this point and now be sensibly considering what action to take. That’s the subject of another blog post.

reality of climate change - the trees don't lie

reality of climate change – the trees don’t lie

A few weeks ago, I was standing in awe of the forest giants in the world’s second largest temperate rainforest, the Tarkine, in Tasmania’s north-west. Little did I know that these trees are silent recorders of the environment. Not until Mike Peterson, an experienced forester, unlocked the secrets of dendrochronology – or tree ring analysis.

Many trees produce a single ring of growth in a year. Because climate and environment affect the way trees grow, the size of the annual rings varies from year to year. Dendrochronology requires knowledge of the exact years during which individual rings grew, which is achieved by carbon dating technology. In Tasmania, 1500 year old Huon pines from Mount Read have been cored with a small 5mm increment borer, and with other samples from dead tress and partially buried logs in the stand, it has been possible for tree ring scientists to develop a chronolgy of more than 4000 years.

Climatologists use the statistical association between ring width and weather data to estimate climate variation in the past. Mike sidled up to the back of his ute and pulled out some cores from old Huon Pine specimens that dated back more than 1000 years. He then showed me his published work, in conjunction with the University of Tasmania, on temperature variation over this period. Guess what? There was about 0.5 degrees Celsius of average variation for the entire 1000 year period until we get to the 1960′s. From that time on, the tree rings suggest that temperatures have climbed an incredible 1.0 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in an unbroken upward trend line. The trees don’t lie. They are detecting and recording global warming, deep in the Tasmanian rainforest.

I was amazed at what I’d been shown, not that I need any convincing about global warming, and the contribution of man to it – and yet the sceptics continue to give our decision makers licence to stall action. John Quiggin (AFR Feb 3, 2011 – no hyperlink because of Fairfax content charging policy!) captures my perspective when he argues that “the spoilers generally lack the understanding of basic statistical analysis of trends in time series, or the fundamentals of the greenhouse effect. Worse, they haven’t bothered to learn”. Regardless of their scepticism in the light of overwhelming scientific evidence, it would be pretty hard for these people to mount effective arguments against the evidence that I saw – presented first hand by the mighty Huon Pines of  Tasmania.

If you’re really interested in the subject, then you might even be interested in attending the second Asian Dendrochronology Conference in Xian, China in August 2011! And I’ve just heard that the next major international conference “World Dendro 2014″, will be held in Melbourne, with several excursions and field studies planned for Tasmania.

a leadership crisis

I’m glad our current political leaders are not running businesses. The liquidators would be working overtime. Where is the context? Where is the strategy? Where is the mid to long term thinking? Where is the courage to forge public opinion rather than follow it?

In yesterday’s press (Aug 6), there were three items that were poignant.

Firstly, the leaders of the major infrastructure businesses in Australia put the population and immigration debate in context. We need more people in this country. We are not at risk of being resource constrained. The boat people issue is a media and political beat up that panders to prejudice. Both parties are guilty of taking the easier option of limiting migration, rather than facing the challenges of infrastructure development for a bigger and better Australia.

Secondly, a letter to the SMH from Wayne Duncombe (no on-line link) suggests that we are “in an era where a few outer suburban seats dominated by selfish, narrow-minded voters ….will determine who holds government”. I guess the rejoinder is that we get what we deserve, but those of us in non-marginal seats do have courses of action available (see later).

Thirdly, Ross Garnaut, in his Hamer Oration, criticised both major parties for lack of leadership in climate change. He said that it represents the “nadir of the early 21st Century political culture, in which short term politics and accession to sectional pressures has held sway over leadership and analysis of the national interest”. Leadership does seem to be an essential ingredient missing in public policy today.

It is surprising that since the elevation of a conservative over a moderate (or social progressive) in the Liberal Party, that vision on issues like climate change is lacking. Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey showed great courage in their stance on the ETS. Sadly, we won’t progress on this issue under conservative control of the Coalition. Tony’s own definition of a conservative in his book Battlelines, is “someone who is focussed on precedent”.

I am more disappointed with the ALP, starting from the time that Kevin Rudd dropped the ball on climate change after Copenhagen. NZ saw fit to introduce and ETS and China will follow soon. The subsequent pandering to the polls and electorate on this and other issues by the incumbent PM is sad, and as it is transpiring, counter-productive to her re-election.

Australians are demanding vision, courage and leadership. In the unlikely event that the trend identified by Ross Garnaut is turned around, what can we do? Parliaments in a democracy can be a handbrake on progress, but a democracy does allow free expression of speech. As we have seen with organisations like Get Up, movements of like-minded individuals will increasingly be responsible for telling the story, creating awareness and shifting public opinion. The politicians will then have no choice but to legislate.

We are also likely to see a fresh force in politics that represents forward thinking, social progressiveness and authenticity in a global context. A fresh force that is not only sought by Gen Y voters, but also by some old baby boomers like me! Now that the ALP seems to have deserted this space, Bob Brown’s successor (hopefully someone in the Nick McKim mould), will have the opportunity to create a modified Greens Party with a broader social agenda – one that could transform the political landscape.

beware reality television politics

 “Never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate” has become a throw-away line in Australian politics. A more relevant mantra for the next election might be, “never underestimate the desire of the electorate for authenticity and leadership”.

In this era of poll driven politics, there is a growing concern from informed Australians about decision makers in the Parliament seeking populist solutions. There seems to be less appetite from those in power to form policy based on principles, on sound analysis and with longer time horizons. The balance between consultation and leadership has swung to consultation as those at the helm (I hesitate to use the term leaders), fear being voted off in today’s reality television politics.

Why should this worry politicians? Voters are changing as society norms change and as awareness and knowledge grow at an alarming rate. Voters who decide elections (as opposed to those locked into their fixed loyalties, beliefs and prejudices) have never been better informed. They are also looking for meaning and authenticity – as they are in their work and personal lives. Their bullshit detectors have never been more finely tuned. They are increasingly intolerant of political opportunism and of leaders who play the man rather than the ball.

Polls and surveys reflect opinions about the known world at a point in time. They don’t measure responses to a different world, one which can be created when a leader takes a stand on a clearly articulated principle. For example, Julia Gillard appears to have lost an opportunity to tap into the latent values of an informed electorate on the complex asylum seeker issue.  A more humanitarian line on asylum seekers, is a potential election winner. Courageous leadership and clear communication around the context and principles used in reaching such a position, has the potential to actually change attitudes – and as a result the polls. Espoused views can and will shift as people are given permission to allow their better understanding and desire for authenticity, to be expressed.

Another sleeper is climate change. We saw the exodus of swinging voters to the Greens as the Government dropped the ball on their previously expressed principles. I have written previously about the Moderate Green Majority, environmentally conscious Australians who are waiting for clearly communicated logic and policies to follow leadership – leadership based on issues and outcomes, rather than on responses to polls in their known world.

Have we seen the last of courageous leaders like Jeff Kennett and Paul Keating? Is considered decision making and vision being eroded by reality television politics and polls? Both of the major parties are being seduced by populism and are missing the opportunity to win respect and votes through courage and true leadership. If they fail to see the light, watch out for the emergence of a powerful third force that provides principle, freshness and authenticity, in much the way that Nick McKim has achieved in Tasmania.

hope, optimism and high expectation

 Mates often give me grief about looking through rose coloured glasses. When you’re a “glass half full” person, it’s a challenge to strike the right levels of hope, optimism and expectation. Kevin Rudd’s recent demise led me to dust off my article from the 2020 Summit, which highlights the difference between having positive expectations about what we want (hope), and assigning a high probability to those outcomes (optimism). At the time, I wrote:

The spirit of optimism, hope and inspiration, in abundance at the 2020 Summit, reminded me of the mood that engulfed Sydney during the Olympic Games. Equality, respect, enthusiasm and pride in being Australian, transcended personal biases and partisan views.  This Summit was about starting a dialogue right around Australia that will continue. It has energised and enabled people to feel listened to, and relevant. Let’s hope that the infectious enthusiasm and debate generated by the Summit can continue throughout Australia as part of the fabric of our society. Let’s also hope that the culture of the weekend – where different views were offered and listened to, where there are no rights or wrongs, where opposing arguments can coalesce in consensus – transcends our lives and cuts through the dogma, parochialism and inflexibility that are all too common. 

Only 27 months later, the central figure giving stimulating the hope and optimism was removed from office. Why? Not because he offered hope, but because he failed to manage high expectation through effective delivery and relationship management. As a result, he dampened the hope and optimism of millions who believed in him. The danger in today’s world is that if hope rises and gets squashed too often, it struggles to rise again, giving oxygen to sceptics, shock jocks and conservatives preoccupied with precedent.  

High expectations, well managed (by parents, partners, or corporations) often lead to high performance and achievement. However, poor delivery and failure to bring people on the journey, mostly leads to spectacular falls. To make it even tougher, the bar is set high in this country as “tall poppy syndrome” and the media do their bit to foster “glass half empty”. That movement is also in full swing in the USA where the Murdoch media are doing a job on President Obama as he offers hope on ground breaking health reform.

 Markets love business leaders who “under promise and over deliver”. Effective sales men and women get rich on “under committing and over delivering”. They’ve learned to overcome that part of human nature that wants to promise what we think people want to hear. And yet we continue to fall into the trap. Setting unrealistic expectations can mean that an effort (like carbon pollution reduction) becomes the victim of its own promise. When we fail to deliver, excuses and denial become part of the landscape.

 Despite the constant negativity in parts of the Australian media and despite the natural resistance to change in every one of us, we need to encourage hope and optimism for a better world. Martin Seligman makes a strong link between “learned optimism” and happiness. Katie Couric explains the genetic programming of optimism and tells us that optimists live longer. Hope is a powerful motivator.

 Effective management of expectation is an enabler of legitimate hope and optimism, which can give people confidence, infectious energy and courage to become involved. We saw the start of that process at the 2020 Summit. Let’s hope that our political and community leaders, with the support of the powerful media, can embrace some issues that transcend politics and allow us to unite on some exciting journeys full of hope and optimism, against a background of realistic expectations. What are the most critical issues on that list?

maturity and dignity required on asylum seekers

 It would be uplifting to think that Australians had the maturity and dignity to deal with the challenging asylum seeker issue without the interference of politics and prejudice. A broader context needs to be seen – one which includes recognition that there are more than 50,000 illegal overstays (mostly from Europe) at any point in time, the fact that we have 300,000 legal immigrants annually, and an appreciation of the dire situations in countries from which the few hundred annual asylum seekers emanate. We also need to understand the legal requirements under the UN convention, capably outlined by Greg Barns in ThePunch on July 6  Simplistic calls to send the boats home are not acceptable on humanitarian grounds and in most cases, not legal.
Sensible outcomes will not be helped by “boat counts” and comments that deliberately fuel prejudices, often based on ignorance. I can understand certain sections of the media playing this tune, but just don’t understand the intolerance from some Christians in the Parliament, who can’t see the hypocrisy and contradictions between their publicly proclaimed faith and their public positions. To many of these people, it would appear that they can rationalise their Christian and humanitarian principles, as they lust for power in a world of poll driven politics.