Burning Native Forest Is No Win For The Environment

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Right across the country a shift is happening. Communities are ditching the old, destructive, polluting industries of the past and embracing the new, clean, innovative ways of the future.

For the big polluters the future is bleak. For the rest, the future is exciting, but now we are facing a choice: the old way or the new way.

This week, the Senate is looking at the deal between Labor and the Coalition to reduce the Renewable Energy Target, and the Abbott government has insisted on including the burning of native forests for electricity as ‘renewable’.

This is well and truly a backward step. The transition away from logging these centuries-old native forests is well underway, and it is not where the jobs of the future are for these communities.

Across the country, we’re seeing community-minded business people lead the way in the industries of the future. They’re employing local people, respecting the environment and giving people from around the world the chance to experience Australia’s unique natural wonders.

They’re people like Dave Whyte, who I met in East Gippsland.

Dave runs Wilderness Coast Adventures, which takes people on cycling tours through some of the spectacular natural landscapes of East Gippsland which include pristine wilderness which his business relies on.

Dave says they experience the occasional logging coupe now but would not want to see more. People want to experience the natural beauty of the area and breathe in the fresh air.

Nobody wants to ride through freshly logged forest or through the matchsticks of regrowth.

Dave's story reflects the potential for these communities.

This potential is lost when we destroy our native forest, which is what the government is seeking to do. Industrial logging in public forests has had its day.

But like a rundown car, the government wants to jump-start the native forest logging industry so that it can splutter along for a few more kilometres. It might be dirtier and it might cost more to run, and everyone else has moved on to the next model, but the government is determined to stick to its 1950’s ideology and prop up the industries of the past.

Over the last 40 years, native forest logging in Australia has been dominated by the production and export of large volumes of low-value woodchips. But the market for these woodchips has crashed.

The inclusion of wood from native forests in the Renewable Energy Target is aiming to find a new market for the 80 to 90 per cent of logs that are considered unsuitable for sawn timber.

This is what the industry calls “wood waste”. It only takes a quick look to realise that this is not waste at all. It is the vast majority of wood being removed from native forests.

If it were only about sawmill waste, then the regulations would only be about sawmill waste. If it were only about cleaning up tree heads and branches, then that would be what the regulations specified as well.

If you visit logging areas, you will see truck after truck with whole logs. But you will never see a truck carrying timber offcuts, bark and branches that would otherwise be discarded. Never.

It is simply not worth it to pay the costs involved in transporting bark and branches. Any promises that biomass will be limited to otherwise discarded wood are simply nonsense.

The future of the timber industry is in plantations.

Already, 85 per cent of the wood products produced in Australia come from plantations. The most backwards thing we could do would be to hold up the complete transition out of native forest logging.

Yet including the burning of our native forests for electricity under the Renewable Energy Target does the exact opposite. It would hold up this inevitable transition at the expense of the climate, the taxpayer, our native forests and communities around Australia.

Let's be clear: burning wood from native forests for energy is not clean energy. This is a desperate act from a government that is ignoring climate science in favour of their big business, flat-earther mates.

Reducing the Renewable Energy Target is a wilful denial of its entire purpose. We need to be aiming for 100 per cent renewable energy as soon as possible to give humanity and the planet the best chance of a healthy future.

The inclusion of burning wood from native forests for energy pours salt on the target’s wounds.

It reduces the number of renewable energy certificates available for truly clean energy sources like wind and solar.

It destroys the clean, green brand of renewable energy. Who wants to buy renewable energy when it has come from the logging of our precious native forests and has destroyed the homes of animals and birds like koalas, spotted quolls, swift parrots and powerful owls?

And it destroys one of the crucial tools we have to tackle climate change – the old growth forests which soak up carbon and clean up our polluted atmosphere. When it comes to our forests, we must protect them, not log them.

The Prime Minister isn’t happy with the deal on the Renewable Energy Target. In a radio interview last week he called it “imperfect”. Referring to the genuinely clean energy source of wind, he said he “would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more”.

What Tony Abbott wants is another big notch on his environment-destroying belt and he has native forests in his sights.

It is no surprise then that the genuine clean energy industry’s biggest rivals are lining up to cash in on this deal.

One of our filthiest power stations, Hazelwood in the Latrobe Valley, already has accreditation to use wood waste under the Renewable Energy Target.

This big, old, hulking coal fired power plant is pushing for renewable energy certificates in direct competition with wind and solar.

The Prime Minister thinks wind turbines are “visually awful”. I would invite him to visit the Hazelwood coalmine, which burned last year for 45 days and spread ash over the entire region.

The big polluters are waiting to pounce and they know Tony Abbott has got their backs.

This brings us to the choice this deal presents. Who do we want to prosper?

Is it the big polluters who are set in their old ways of destroying our most precious natural assets at the taxpayers' expense? Or is it the hard-working small business owners like Dave Whyte, the magnificent forests that provide us with so many benefits and the clean energy innovators who are facilitating the shift to the economy of the future?

I know who I side with.

We must side with the community. We must not let the Renewable Energy Target to be tainted even further. 

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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