A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon



Oct 19, 2018

The Aboriginal “Wild”: Tackling Conservation in Tasmania’s Takayna

In the battle for takayna, the Aboriginal name for the forests, is rooted a cry of cultural and social endangerment that calls into question our basic ideas about conservation and wilderness.


Kela Fetters

Tasmania, an island 45 minutes off the coast of mainland Australia, bears little congruity to its parental landmass or anywhere else on the planet. Its northwest flank is ornamented by the cool, temperate rainforests of the Tarkine, or “takayna” in the language of the Aboriginal palawi kani (Palawa) people. This biome is a Paleocene relict of the Gondwanan supercontinent and plays host to the epoch’s astonishing evolutionary prowess. Swathed in takayna’s primordial Myrtle trees and man ferns, a salmagundi of endangered endemic species thrive, including the notorious Tasmanian Devil and the charismatic giant wedge-tailed eagle. Steeped in the cool mist of condensed ocean air is a vibrant ecosystem replete with both ecologic splendor and aboriginal relics. The Palawa Aboriginals lived in a reverential symbiosis with their environs, and early 19th century English colonists at least marvelled at the astonishing natural diversity before they began whaling, mining, and logging that splendor.

Geography and land division of the Tarkine. Creative Commons

a preview of the “environment vs. economy” dichotomy of the region’s strife.

Though takayna enjoyed 60 million years void of humanity, the forest’s history is incomplete without an exploration of the area’s 40,000 years of anthropocentric stewardship. But mainstream coverage of the 20th century’s “forest wars” pits the virginal jungle against a monolithic entity of plunder-for-profit, an oversimplification that stonewalls a radical conception of cooperation in the Tarkine.

Emphatic environmentalists decry extractive industry in the Tarkine as a prime example of human intrusion on a vulnerable wilderness. “Greenies”, as they’re dubbed by state officials, protest mining, logging, and off-road motorization in the heart of the contested ecosphere. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has likened “Green ideology” to economic stagnation. His comment is a preview of the “environment vs. economy” dichotomy of the region’s strife.

Decades of state and Greenie embitterment comprise takayna’s “Forest Wars”. The Tarkine’s official website outlines specifics of the conflict. In 1973, Tasmania’s Forestry Commission commenced a harvesting campaign on State Forest land south of the Arthur River. Operations expanded, and with them, the need for roadways through tracts of protected land. Opposition to a Timber Tasmania road resulted in a temporary suspension of activities under the Labor-Green Accord of 1989. Despite growing support for World Heritage listing of the Tarkine throughout the 90s, the half-finished “Road to Nowhere” was given the go-ahead to recommence construction. Over 100 locals, Aboriginals, politicians, and environmentalists were arrested in an ensuing slew of protests.

The Tarkine covers 450,000 hectares Photo: Seeboundy

“a blanket heritage listing of a region that would stop further growth in an industry that will underpin the economic benefits and opportunities of our state”

The “Road to Nowhere” lost claim to its namesake, but the protests did catalyse awareness of the indelible natural and cultural value of the Tarkine. The Australian Government placed the area on the Register of the National Estate in 2002. While the formal recognition was one step in the right direction, Tasmanian state government has since oscillated in its commitment to protecting the contested lands. Labor Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings expressed in 2013 that “The last thing we want to see is a blanket heritage listing of a region that would stop further growth in an industry that will underpin the economic benefits and opportunities of our state”. And a recent piece of legislature, 2014’s Forestry Act, revived tensions by outlining a plan to unlock 400,000 hectares of high-conservation-value forest to fulfill a pulpwood quota set and subsidized by the state government. The move was intended to resuscitate the declining timber industry, which has provided jobs to Tasmania’s poverty-stricken rural population. Tasmania’s Liberal party resources minister Guy Barnett says cutting production would result in the loss of “up to 700 jobs” in communities with traditionally high rates of industry employment. “Big Timber” is fighting to retain its place in the Tarkine and communities are reliant on logging jobs. It’s a situation consonant to myriad others in the States, where traditional blue-collar employment has diminished, locals are left scrambling for livelihood, and environmentalists vilify the industries who have traditionally provided jobs.

Traditional Euro-American “Edenic wilderness discourse” eschews the idiosyncrasies of the situation; the notion that cities and human activity are antithesis to nature ostracizes the rural communities who both depend on timber jobs and love the rugged Tarkine. These stakeholders have an economic and emotional claim to the region, and they deserve a revitalized role in the debate. But the reality is, the region’s timber and mining groups are no longer sources of wealth and employment without significant government assistance. A report by The Economist noted that in 2014, Tasmania’s timber industry employed just 4,000 people compared to the 6,000 employed in 2008. Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s 2016 annual progress reports revealed a net loss of nearly $67.4 million, prompting a complete operation overhaul and state-sponsored woodchip quota. To contend with the decline of timber jobs, ailing communities must diversify economically. For now, with heavy subsidies, Sustainable Timber Tasmania will continue to produce an enforced minimum of pulpwood for production’s sake.

The economic decision-making framework has been top-down and informed by traditional industrial land-use priorities. This model effuses the testimony of generations of Aboriginals who inhabit the Tarkine. A contemporary aim of conservation in the Tarkine is to make salient the Indigenous narrative.

Aerial view of the Norfolk Mountain Range in the Donaldson River Nature Recreation Area of the Tarkine.

“We don’t have a lot of faith in [the government’s] respect for Aboriginal heritage”

Why is the Palawa outcry muted in the concatenation of takayna conflict? Due to contemporary bias and a history of oppression and eradication, Aboriginals are often portrayed as powerless and exploitable. English colonization in the 19th century disposed Tasmania’s aboriginal Palawa people of their land and life. Just a smattering of Palawa survived the incursion of English colonial interests and subsequent genocide, but their claims to their ancestry were often delegitimized. Today’s descendants battled discriminatory policies throughout the 20th century that forced assimilation and denied cultural autonomy.

Despite deliberate cultural subordination, Aboriginal leaders are some of the most preeminent and unremitting in the fight for the Tarkine. But even when Palawa are included in conservation efforts, the multiple-use ideology of sustainability in takayna fails to adequately address indigenous concerns. For example, the Office of Aboriginal Affairs critiques Eurocentric archaeological conservation criteria, which prioritize protection of site-specific, tangible artifacts. According to the group, this approach dilutes the interconnectivity of specific artifact sites and may exclude modern Palawa from unfettered access to their traditional lands. Heather Sculthorpe, executive officer of Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (TAC), Tasmania’s chief indigenous community body, summarized overall sentiment in her remark that “We don’t have a lot of faith in [the government’s] respect for Aboriginal heritage”. She made the comment in response to a 2015 draft plan of a “joint management arrangement” whose creation she felt betrayed earlier agreements by rezoning parts of the World Heritage Area for private development and logging.

an engrained harmony with Tasmania; the Palawa incantate that “the land owns us”

The Australian Heritage Commission recognizes that “indigenous custodianship and customary practices have been, and in many places continue to be, significant factors in creating what non-indigenous people refer to as wilderness.” The Aboriginals shaped the Tarkine, and evidence of that heritage percolates the landscape. Bill Gammage, professor at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University, has researched Palawa land stewardship. Isolated on Tasmania since 8,000 BP, native peoples stratified vegetation, quarried spongolite stone, cleared undergrowth, and burned systematically in a complex, cohesive management system. Gammage notes the synergic ethos of the Aboriginals; they were hunter-gatherers, luring choice animals and managing an ecosystem in accordance with geographic rhythms. Greg Lahman of the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies asserts that their ontology reflects an engrained harmony with Tasmania; the Palawa incantate that “the land owns us”. Remnants of their stone tools, shell middens, and other cultural artifacts habituate the Tarkine’s wind-swept coastline.

By comparison, Sustainable Timber Tasmania and other local operations are supported not by Indigenous knowledge of optimal ecological cycles, but by government subsidies. Sustainable Timber Tasmania publicizes their corporate documents, and their library makes palpable their prolific research on forest areas of high conservation value. But corporate documents also admit that “the dieback and death of trees and the lack of regeneration in the rural landscape… continues to be a matter of concern since it was first raised in the 1970s”. This dieback is associated with the company’s primary strategy of old-growth clear-felling. Monitorization of environmental impact, including the implementation of an ecological research site, are clearly a high priority—the industry has a vested interest in long-term productivity. According to another document, company research, often in collaboration with other state agencies, has “optimized the benefits to the public and the State of the non-wood values of forests’”.

But what about Indigenous input? Entrenched in the collective Palawa experience is a land-use ethos developed over 20,000 years of Tarkine stewardship. Co-management of land-use decisions between all players in the Tarkine diversifies and dynamizes conservation by prioritizing social justice, sustainability, and cooperation in the legislative process. Without Indigenous consent, logging in the Tarkine is a contemporary incarnation of the colonialist activities that devastated native peoples 200 years ago.

The Tarkine plays host to both unbelievable biodiversity and unprecedented opportunity—the opportunity to redefine this “wilderness” as an ecosystem of man and environment. Collaboration between all stakeholders would include marginalized Palawa, local workers, environmentalists, and state government. A sustainable conservation will require a shift from traditional multiple-use state policy. Contemporary state legislation channels vast monetary resources into an ailing industry by mandating the lumber quota. Justification for this policy rests largely on the employment of rural Tasmanians on lumber mills. But there are other ways to address unemployment than mandating woodchip minimums; environmental degradation should not be the only viable employment avenue for rural Tasmanians. Transformative policy could invest research and subsidies into diversifying living-wage jobs. Bob Brown of the Bob Brown Foundation, a nonprofit group deeply involved in the fight for Tarkine protection, suggests that eco-tourism has potential. “This is not 1950. This is 2018 in Tasmania, which is trying to become a world icon for eco-tourism,” he expounds. Brown contends that employment solutions that rely on infinite productivity of a finite resource are ultimately unsustainable. Finally, progressive reform must explicitly recognize the legacy of environmental violence against Aboriginals and shape policy to reflect the concerns of the least advantaged of Tasmania’s population. TAC spokesperson Lisa Coulson opines that governmental processes “must have Aboriginal community decision making at its core, but that is exactly what is still lacking in Tasmania”. Tarkine management should prioritize the livelihoods of affected parties, not a woodchip surplus; after all, the common denominator in all stakeholders is a dependence on takayna.

Cover photo: Arthur Pieman Conservation area The Pieman River Tasmania. Helen Pearly

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Mar 22, 2019

Youth Climate Strike Goes Global

On March 15th, 1.4 million students in 128 countries boycotted classrooms to rally for climate change. Their message: "Decarbonize, NOW."



Kela Fetters

There is perhaps no better example of the complexity of our relationship with science than in the present discourse on climate change. It is, after all, science that gave us the knowledge to extract oil, coal, and natural gas from the earth and harness from their potent molecules the energy to power our cars, homes, and civilizations. The “fossil fuels”, that pantheon of concentrated carbons, have provisioned us with luxuries unimaginable a century ago. They’ve lifted millions of people out of poverty, fed countless hungry children, and erected the infrastructure that bulwarks the modern world. We burn them to transport ourselves across oceans and to the grocery store. By all accounts, the application of science to fossil fuels has resulted in unprecedented progress.

Of course, as most modern scientists, businesspeople, politicians, and kindergarten students can avow, the carbon narrative is not so simple. In fact, “carbon”, an unassuming element with six protons in its nucleus, has become a four-letter-word invoking extractive industry, toxic pollution, and gluttonous capitalism. In an expanding body of scientific research, observers have documented the rising sea levels, erratic weather events, and general planetary imbalance resulting from our injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One striation of scientific ingenuity graced us with a potent source of energy; another damns its overuse. Those committed to a system sustained by fossil fuels champion the best science of yesterday. If the best possible science of today advises opposition to the status quo, our response as individuals and societies reveals our relationship with science. If we don’t heed the sirens of climate change, we are “deniers of science”. It’s difficult to get behind science that prescribes a radical overhaul in lifestyle when fossil fuel science has been doling out apparently limitless comforts. We should also remember that last century, science offered up oil and natural gas as cleaner alternatives to “dirty” coal. But with 97% of climate experts in agreement that fossil-fuel use is causing global climate change, the scientific pendulum has swung again, and we must respond in turn. Perhaps our acquired comforts have made us complacent; as of 2019, we have failed to slash emissions to the targets espoused by our most qualified scientists.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Winston Churchill, in a 1936 essay entitled “Fifty Years Hence”, addressed our vacillatory relationship with science. His warning, made in the context of burgeoning communism in the Soviet Union, resounds with global aptitude in the contemporary context of climate change:

“There are too many people maintained, not merely in comfort but in existence, by processes unknown a century ago, for us to afford even a temporary check, still less a general setback, without experiencing calamity in its most frightful form.” -Winston Churchill

As he concludes his essay, Churchill calls for precaution and moral sensibility in our pursuit of science:

“After all, this material progress, in itself so splendid, does not meet any of the real needs of the human race…forces terrific and devastating will be in their [our immediate descendants] hands; comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.”

It is necessary to expand the scope of Churchill’s prophecy to account for the ubiquity of the modern problem: “…their planet will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.” Fossil fuels saddled us with the comforts, activities, amenities, and pleasures of the late 20th and early 21st century: air conditioning, cars, coffee, and capital. But now it is the voices of youth raised above the cacophony of a billion combustion engines who demand the change prescribed by climate science.

They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the students propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

They are led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Stockholm, Sweden, who sat with a sign on her local parliament steps for the first three weeks of school demanding of her politicians a radical stance against anthropogenic climate change. Since August of 2018, she has attended classes four times a week and went on strike every Friday, initiating the now-global “Fridays for Future” movement. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren from the EU and Australia traded algebra for advocacy and joined Thunberg at the end of the school week in a demonstration. One such event galvanized over 35,000 people. They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the protestors propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Last December, TOJ spoke to Marlow Baines, a high school student in Boulder, Colorado who is a regional crew director at the youth-based environmental advocacy group Earth Guardians. The non-profit is involved in the Juliana vs. USA climate change lawsuit, in which the youth plaintiffs have asserted a constitutional right to a habitable environment and injurious abridgement of that right by a federal subsidy of fossil fuels. Baines says that since we last spoke, the plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. To tease apart the judicial jargon, this is a court order that would prevent the federal government from issuing new leases and mining permits for extracting coal on federal public lands, leases for offshore oil and gas exploration, and approvals for new fossil fuel infrastructure. According to Baines, the motion for preliminary injunction will give the court an opportunity to mitigate exploitation of Public Trust resources while it considers the Juliana case on interlocutory appeal.

Marlow Baines, regional crew director for Earth Guardians.

Another term plucked from the annals of the judiciary, an interlocutory appeal is issued when the trial judge determines substantial discrepancy over an important question of law that would affect the final outcome of the case. For Juliana vs. USA, the legal questions being challenged are assertions of “specific injury” by climate change, the extent of the public trust doctrine, and the “constitutional right” to a “stable climate system capable of sustaining human life”. If dissent muddies even the premise of the climate change lawsuit, the case has little chance of being heard in court.

“Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance…smoothing their path with pleasant-sounding platitudes.” -Winston Churchill

With the lawsuit locked up in legal purgatory, Baines and the Earth Guardians took a page from Thunberg’s book and organized a youth climate strike on March 15th in Boulder, Colorado. The event was one of 950 registered strikes in over a hundred countries in which hundreds of thousands of youth boycotted class to fight for an uncertain future. The Boulder locale focused on demands for 100% renewable energy, which was one of governor-elect Jared Polis’s key campaign pledges. Globally, the effort prioritized indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, who are among the most vulnerable demographics. American demonstrators called for ambitious entreatments such as compulsory education on climate change in grades K-8 and the declaration of a national emergency in response to the climate crisis. Given the partisan nature of the topic, these ultimatums will face at least as much pushback as the Juliana lawsuit.

Fridays for Future rally in Germany. Photo by Jorg Farys via Flickr.

“Why should we go to class if you won’t listen to our most educated scientists?”

Why are young people ostensibly more receptive to the realities of climate science? Historically, it’s taken the outcry of a generation poised to confront the consequences of a problem to galvanize action to address the problem. Human myopia is limitless, but time and tide wait for no man. That worn proverb is remarkably applicable to the context of rising sea levels. Also, climate change departs from previous problems in its scale and complexity; it seems preposterous that humanity has subsumed the power to alter entire planetary systems. But the prognosis hits home when you’re young enough to experience the cataclysmic effects of such imbalance.

Fridays for Future rally in Berlin. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

“The changes have been so sudden and so gigantic that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.” Churchill’s remark could be severed from its subject—the pace of scientific progress in the 20th century—and neatly reapplied to the erraticism of an over-carbonated climate system. While the March 15th protests were the largest manifestation of the climate change coalition to date, it will take the adults currently in positions of power to implement appropriate policy. Our sitting president has been criticized for his “childish behavior”, but such assertions are a disservice to the children of the climate change movement. Should his administration align itself with scientific consensus, they may yet preserve climatic configurations conducive to the life and liberty of the nation’s youngest citizens.

An Earth Guardians youth climate rally back in Oregon in 2018.

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