It seems that ‘educating’ our emerging generation in environmental awareness starts young these days and, if the just completed annual conference of the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria (GTAV) is any guide, continues apace through secondary school with the same reliance on activist viewpoints to the exclusion of those who could impart a more balanced perspective to both the students and their teachers.
On its website, the GTAV boasts that it provides ‘quality independent professional learning in a number of formats’, including a three-day annual conference that:
…. brings together many wonderful Geography educators to share their knowledge and skills with their colleagues at the largest Geography conference in Australia. The quality of keynote speaker in recent years, such as …., Bob Brown, …, Jon Faine, Tim Flannery, … and John Thwaites ensures that the event is eagerly awaited each year by the Geography community.
With past keynote speakers of this pedigree it seems that our geography teachers are being informed on environmental issues from a ‘green-left’ perspective. Clearly Brown and Flannery need no further introduction. However, for non-Victorian readers, Jon Faine is a veteran Melbourne-based presenter on the ABC which has actively presented a lop-sided narrative on Victorian forestry for several decades. (Quadrant Online readers will get a deeper appreciation of Faine’s aggressive greenishness from this audio of his encounter with James Delingpole.) John Thwaites – now a Monash University academic and Chair of Climate Works Australia – was formerly the environment minister in Victoria’s Bracks Labor Government which overtly courted ‘green’ voters with pre-election promises of new national parks at the expense of rural industries. The extent of this was detailed by former Premier Steve Bracks in his 2012 autobiography:
More national forest and marine parks were created by our government than by any government in Victoria’s history, but this didn’t happen without a fight … However, as each reform was completed, the protests seemed to vanish into thin air, replaced by community support for the changes and the tourism jobs that flowed from them – new work opportunities that were three to four times greater than any related job losses.[iii]
In an interview on ABC Radio to promote his autobiography, Bracks articulated a personal view that Victorian Labor had an ‘unofficial policy’ to end all timber production in native forests. However, his belief that ousting rural industries through national park declaration had led to a surge in eco-tourism jobs is fanciful. In fact, the Victorian Government has never verified whether any socio-economic benefit has been generated by creating either the Great Otway National Park in 2005, or the Barmah (red gum forest) National Park in 2008 – both of which were instigated when Thwaites was Environment Minister.[iv]
The GTAV’s 2018 annual conference which finished last week (August 28), included two workshops of relevance to this discussion, as described in the program:
Logging Victoria’s Native Forests
Annette Thompson, Presbyterian Ladies College
This workshop is relevant to VCE Unit 3: Changing the land, and investigates the process of deforestation at a selected location. Following a brief overview of deforestation in Victoria since European settlement, logging as a cause of forest degradation and deforestation will be examined. Current logging processes will be outlined and the sustainability of logging practices questioned. The interconnection between logging and the natural process of bushfires in causing deforestation will also be discussed. Spatial technologies are used to show the distribution of forest types and to identify forests targeted for timber harvesting.
Using Stem to Justify the Creation of the Great Forest National Park
Laureate Professor David Lindenmayer AO, the Australian National University Fenner School of Environment and Society
Sarah Rees, Co-Chair Great Forest National Park Initiative
David will outline the results of 35 years of field studies in the wet forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria. The studies relate to biodiversity and conservation, carbon storage, fire dynamics, water production for Melbourne and timber harvesting in this region. He will link this information to the curriculums of Level 8: Landforms and landscapes; Level 10: Environmental change and management; and VCE Unit 3: Changing the land, with ideas for both class–based and fieldwork learning opportunities. Sarah will outline the Non Government Organisations involved in the Park initiative, from city to regional groups. The building of relationships with business and Councils to support tourism in a landscape that has been traditionally used for other purposes will also be considered. They will also discuss the ongoing engagement with traditional owners and local community in developing this regional plan.
Regarding the first workshop, one wonders what qualifies Ms Thomson – presumably a teacher – to present a workshop on native forest logging. Indeed, her credibility might strike some as suffering further from a failure to even distinguish between deforestation (ie. the permanent removal of trees to develop another land use) and cyclical logging and regeneration of forests for wood products. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding which is disturbing in 2018, particularly for someone charged with educating our next generation.
The second workshop is arguably more concerning given that it was delivered by an academic/activist double-act comprised of the two most prominent advocates for the Greens/ENGO proposal to create a so-called ‘Great Forest National Park’. Ms Rees’ claimed co-chairpersonship of a so-called ‘Great Forest National Park Initiative’ is somewhat disengenuous. While this creates an illusion of an official government initiative, the ‘Great Forest National Park’ is simply a construct of her environmental activist group, My Environment, created in conjunction with at least one conservation scientist as a vehicle for campaigning to end timber production.[v] On ABC News last Sunday evening (26th August) Ms Rees and this scientist, Dr Chris Taylor (labelled as ‘Researcher’), were featured advocating the end of native forest wood production.
Ms Rees’ workshop co-presenter, Professor Lindenmayer, is also well known as a strident scientific advocate for the proposed new national park. Over a long period he has directed and overseen the publication of a large body of peer reviewed scientific papers examining the Central Highlands forests co-authored by research associates mostly from the ANU Fenner School. However, much of this science is contentious to say the least, largely because it and the associated media commentary (most often featuring Lindenmayer) studiously ignores the critically important context that only a minor one-third portion of these forests is actually designated for sustainable wood supply. In the absence of this significant reality, the narrative flowing from this research has often made substantially unwarranted claims about supposed impacts of logging, particularly in relation to bushfire risk, carbon emissions, and biodiversity.
Furthermore Lindenmayer’s frequent public advocacy for the new national park – which includes spruiking (and even once ‘launching’) it at Greens political events and involvement in fund-raising for an enviro-political campaign – has raised widespread concern that he is both an academic and activist. Indeed, one of his most recent papers co-authored with controversial US ecologist, Reed Noss, recommended ways for the environmental movement to counter “strong resistance from communities, industry groups, and governments” to efforts directed at increasing protected areas in developed nations. The paper cited Victoria’s Central Highlands as a case study without mentioning that two-thirds of its area is already formally and informally reserved (ie. ‘protected’).[vi] Surely scientists who formally advise environmental activists in how to prosecute their campaigns are engaging in academic activism.
Despite their obvious bias, these conference workshops would have been tolerable if the GTAV had facilitated alternate views being aired in additional presentations on the topic. However, there is nothing to suggest the conference attendees were exposed to informed alternative perspectives on forest and fire management and wood supply, including the socio-economic and environmental consequences of sacrificing a valuable timber industry for the proposed new national park. The only exception seems to have been some consideration of tourism as a replacement industry, no doubt glossing over the major impediment of just how to attract significant year-round visitation to tall, dense forests in one of the nation’s coldest and wettest landscapes where visibility is often restricted to less than 100 metres during six months of each year.
In the absence of such balancing perspectives, the attending geography teachers were surely imbued with a one-sided, ill-informed and consequence-free view of the topic and will presumably go on to teach their students accordingly. Surely forestry is not alone is suffering this treatment, and the mind boggles at how climate change and energy is probably being taught in our secondary schools with minimal consideration of the potential for gross societal damage to be wrought by overly ambitious emissions reduction programs that would consign affordable power to the annals of Australian history for no discernible conservation gain.
That decades of teaching a ‘green-left’, consequence-free narrative on major environmental issues can foster a politically-toxic conservation culture is all-to-apparent from the past decade of dysfunctional national governance. With an ever-growing cohort of intransigent voters simplistically educated to expect that ‘saving the environment’ is just a no-brainer with nary a blip to their envious lifestyles, Federal and State governments are likely to be forever caught between the pragmatism of what is needed to sensibly manage environmental issues without unnecessarily damaging society against what they can do without squandering their electoral appeal. So far it seems like appeasement is outstripping compromise as the preferred way forward.
Mark Poynter’s recent book – Going ‘Green’: Forests, fire and a flawed conservation culture – can be purchased online from Connor Court Publishing: www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au
[i] Early Learning Centre project wins international recognition, Melbourne University Staff/Students E-news, August 2015/165
[iii] Bracks, Steve with Whinnett, Ellen 2012, A Premier’s State, Melbourne University Press, p.278.
[iv] In April 2016, the Victorian Division of the Institute of Foresters of Australia wrote to the then Victorian Minister for the Environment, Lisa Neville, to enquire whether any work had been undertaken to verify claimed socio-economic benefits derived from creating the Great Otway National Park in 2005 and the Barmah and Gunbower (red gum forest) National Parks in 2008. The Government response confirmed that the only work showing these supposed benefits was that which had been done by VEAC before the National Parks had been declared.
[v] Dr Chris Taylor (then of the University of Melbourne) described himself as an ‘architect’ of the Great Forest National Park proposal when he spoke alongside Bob Brown at a Greens public meeting held on 19 June 2016 to promote their national parks policy just weeks before the 2016 Federal Election.
[vi] Lindenmayer, D.B., Thorn, S. and Noss, R. (2018), Countering resistance to protected-area extension, Conservation Biology, 32:2, 315-321