War on the environment nears crisis

Subject: War on the environment nears crisis
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 12:33:01 +1100
While searching on the web last night for news of the latest HANZAB launch
(which by the way, I didn't find anything) I found this interesting article.
While not purely bird related I post it with the assumption it may be of
interest to other birding-aus subscribers
Publisher: The Canberra Times
Publication: The Canberra Times , Page 13 (Mon 17 Feb 2003)
Keywords: Australia (4) Birds (1)
Edition: CT


SINCE September 11 conservative forces have constantly proclaimed the start
a new age - everything has now changed, they proclaim, and go to war on
But we are about to enter a quite different new age, unheralded, and the
consequences for the world are far more devastating than anything Osama bin
Laden and his bunch of deluded lunatics could possibly throw at us.

We have been living in a post-industrial world, we are about to enter the
environmental world. Until now, throughout human history, we have been able
both to rely on the environment to maintain itself and support us as a
and to exploit it so that some individuals can make great fortunes. The
exploitation is about to reach the point where it is no longer possible for
environment to maintain itself and therefore it will be unable to support
The analogy with war on terrorism of course is not very close.

Weapons of mass destruction, of proven performance, are, however, at play:
greenhouse gases, pollutants of water and air and soil, genetically
organisms, and feral plants and animals. But in addition, and this is where
bushfires and hazard reduction come in, there is, all over the world, a
of attacks on every piece of natural environment remaining. This is being
accentuated in the case of forest and woodlands.

Under economic-rationalist rules, as the forests of the world have been
destroyed the value of the remnants has greatly increased and the pressure
be the ones to extract every last dollar from them increases. The same is
of the oceans and rivers.

In the last decade or so there has been a rise in the use of fire in forests
what is euphemistically called a management tool. Commercial and state
and national parks have all been persuaded to employ people called 'fire
managers' or similar titles. An industry has grown up, of people who write
about fire and its benefits, of people who study fire behaviour and of
who plan and set fires in forests.

The industry has its own jargon and literature and measurements and
It produces reports and holds conferences. It puts submissions to bushfire
inquiries and talks to politicians and talkback radio hosts. Whole careers
be built around fire, and the industry has become adept at promoting itself
so continuing to grow. It is very much in the interests of individual
and consultancy groups and companies that the use of fire in Australian
becomes bigger every year.

Fire managers tend to have training in and links to university forestry
departments, or departments of natural resources. They are not ecologists.
have been taught to see a forest as vertical timber. They have also been
to see fire as a cleansing agent in forests, removing extraneous matter and
leaving behind pure trees like a plantation. There is almost a religious or
mystical element to some of the writing about fire, as if it is a kind of
purifying force. When fire managers talk about the effects of fire they
mean the effect on the forest ecosystem, but how complete the burn has been
a result of their calculations of wind speed and fuel load and terrain, and
much the trunks have been scorched (reducing the commercial value of the
timber). They would be puzzled by concern for organisms other than the
because the other organisms have no commercial value and could be seen as
potentially competing with the trees or perhaps damaging them. A fire
using fire in a forest is like a farmer ploughing or spraying weeds in a

The constant emphasis on the benefits of fire, and on its long history, its
supposed use by Aborigines, and on the supposed ability of 'Mother Nature'
recover, and the intensity with which these views are presented by fire
managers seem to me to have helped create an environment in which arson has
grown greatly in frequency in recent years.

Television too, with its dramatic pictures of fires, and its constant
words about how everything will recover, has also added to an atmosphere in
which teenage boys and middle-aged men see arson as glamorous and exciting,
in which the public generally is not careful enough with campfires,
butts, and barbecues. The higher frequency of fires in turn creates a
atmosphere in which fire managers can claim to have the answers.

The interests of the fire managers coincide with the interests of the timber
companies. The people carrying out the logging and wood-chipping that are
removing the last of Australia's forests use fire afterwards to burn
that remains and sterilise the ground for monocultures of pine or blue-gum

Any plants that might compete have been removed by fire, in the way that a
farmer will burn stubble, and then, for good measure, animals are poisoned
might eat leaves from seedlings. Using fire in existing forests is a way of
cleaning them up ready for exploitation. Whether Kate Carnell realises it or
not, promoting hazard reduction and increased use of 'fire trails' (and
presumably 'fire breaks') is also a means of getting the access ready for
the remaining forests are logged.

Fire managers and forest industries also, I suspect, share a philosophical
about the role of forests in Australia. The spurious claims about Aboriginal
use of fire in the past, and about the adaptation of forests to fire, also
serve to support their view that forests have always been created and
by humans and that there can be no debate therefore about burning, logging
clear-felling. In this view a forest of pines has as much validity as an
growth eucalypt forest. Indeed I doubt that foresters can see any difference
between the two, or rather, that such differences as there are, in the form
complexity, are a bad thing.

If you were to dig deeper still I suspect you would find an even more
fundamental concordance of philosophy shared also with many farmers. A world
view indeed which lies deep within Western civilisation from the time that
agriculture was first developed perhaps 10,000 years ago. This is the view
wilderness is bad, a sign of failure by humans to do their job of running
Earth properly. People with this philosophy see wilderness with horror - all
land must be tamed and be economically productive in some way.

A Welsh friend of mine, from generations of farmers, pointed out to me with
horror some small area of Welsh sand dunes that had been barred to cattle
grazing with a view to preventing total degradation of the landscape, and
another small marsh, once drained, that had been allowed to regenerate as a
habitat for birds and insects. This was land, he said, that had once been
farming land, and he saw the conservation activity as being akin to a return
barbarism. In NSW too, any attempts to take unproductive farming land out of
production for conservation reasons are met with huge resistance by farmers
it is not the compensation that is the problem, it is the concept.

So the wilderness areas of Australia must be painted as having once been
managed, and must be managed again. Their wilderness to be portrayed as a
of failure to manage. With the increasing loss of the remaining small areas
forest available to the industry the battle has shifted to national parks.
public fear of the recent bushfires, the result of probably the most severe
drought yet seen in NSW, has been cynically seized upon by farmer's groups,
National Party, and forest industries, to start laying claims. The first
are the extensive use of fire and tracks and 'thinning out'.

National Parks and Wildlife Service staff are to be cowed or broken by the
of legal claims. Talkback radio trumpet the message that conservation groups
are to blame for the fires. Populist politicians will promise to get rid of
these dangerous parks. The forest industry will take over management of all
such areas and, since the park areas are all artificial now anyway, there
be no reason not to 'manage' them for profit.

A few more years will see the end of it all. The ability to make a profit
of destroying forests will disappear with the last remaining forests, just
the ability to make a profit out of fisheries will disappear with the last
fish. The public, suddenly in the post-environmental age, will look around
wonder how it all happened. Then they will increasingly feel the effects of
living in a world in which the environment can no longer sustain life.

I don't have an answer to the danger of bushfires. I suspect though that
frequent fires may actually add to the danger by drying out soil and
that all leaf litter on the ground is fresh dry litter. There must be
of how better to fight fires, and how to plan cities and design houses.
must be support with modern equipment for firefighters. There badly need to
education programs warning about fire and its dangers, to try to greatly
the incidence of such fires. There needs to be increased pressure on the
Government to start acting on greenhouse gases. But what there mustn't be is
successful self-serving campaign by vested interests in which the argument
put that the bush needs to be destroyed in order to save it. Dr Horton is
general editor of The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia and author of a
recent book on Aborigines and fire called The Pure State of Nature. He is a
retired prehistorian and paleo-ecologist.CTWar on the environment nears
crisisThe Canberra TimesThe Canberra Times1445813
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