The ‘Joker on TT’ (JOT) article ( HERE ) opens the question as to who the Joker(s) really might be.
One entry point might be to examine more closely the actions and systems of the Wilderness Society (TWS), which is a multimillion dollar publicly funded organisation whose mission is to protect, promote and restore wilderness.
Before we begin we need to be clear on what an organization stands for. This can be a real challenge when so much psychology has been embedded in marketing and persuasion campaigns.
One common technique is to rely on observed behaviours rather than the messages that come from the organization, which helps us to distinguish between real effects of organizational action and to avoid being persuaded by deceptive messages.
When organizational messages and behaviours are inconsistent with each other, we experience the same dissonance that Tasmanians report when they note how the actions of the State government are inconsistent with their messages.
JOT was in response to various inconsistencies that I (and others) noted when TWS promoted plantations and offered support for a Gunns pulp mill (with various conditions attached). Both were initiatives that appeared inconsistent with TWS claims of support for due process and care for communities.
Threats to communities
When Labor and Liberals demonstrated that they were uninterested in the impacts of Gunns proposed pulp mill on Tamar residents, community group TAP formed as the only organisation that represented the community’s wider socio-economic concerns that had neither been assessed nor recognised.
As a consultant, I held several information gathering sessions with up to 200 members of TAP to clarify their concerns. Their answers fell into 3 consistent groups – protection of health, lifestyle and investment. Their environmental concerns were mainly represented by other organisations.
Overall, Gunns project and government actions threatened residents because the processes:-
· Were one sided and only used information favourable to the project
· Were conducted without any meaningful community consultation
· Lacked any independent and rigorous process of review
The TWS connection
When a recent TWS brochure and card spruiking plantations and offering conditional support for a Gunns pulp mill appeared, I was amazed that TWS would take the risk of being seen to publicly promote plantations and a pulp mill to be built by an organisation whose actions were such a threat to the environment, communities and individuals.
In addition TWS campaign threatened to stimulate:
1. Increased political support for plantations, forestry and pulp mills
2. Increased public subsidies to forestry with decreased budgets in other portfolios like health
3. Further rural disruption from plantations including water losses in catchments
4. Increased possibilities of a pulp mill in the Hampshire area.
The TWS materials displayed the same flawed processes as those applied by the State government.
· Only information in favour of plantations/some Gunns pulp mill was presented
· There was no meaningful consultation with affected communities
· There was no independent and rigorous process of review
Here was an ‘environmental’ organisation employing the same methods used by the State government the results of which were threats to communities. The only differences were the people under threat and the nature of the threats.
On the basis of those materials, I asked 3 questions. JOT published responses by TWS to the 3 questions I raised but none of them answers the questions – instead they divert into other matters and discuss details. Exactly the kind of evasion we’ve come to associate with governments.
When we focus on behaviours, we appear to have ‘environmental defenders’ mirroring the behaviours of the governments that authorise the environmental destruction that they are fighting.
Becoming like our enemy
The risks involved in becoming like the enemy were well demonstrated by the Bush/Cheney administration who decided that it was time for the US to ‘ride with the bad guys’, thus destroying US credibility and alienating many of their friends. They also stirred up the Middle East bringing war to several major countries and costs and implications that still plague us.
JOT also smoked out some useful materials ( HERE ) from posters such as how useless most of our existing plantation estate is for anything except chips/pulp, and how expensive they are to grow ( HERE ).
These realities render pro-plantation messages significantly less credible.
The lesson is that becoming like the enemy is likely to lead to alienation of supporters and weaken attempts by the organisation to achieve its mission – its primary purpose for existing at all.
Lack of transparency is another area where TWS mirrors governments. This opacity results in the public having no idea where TWS funding originates. It’s possible for a donor to provide conditional funds to TWS and have them act as a proxy to get an environmental stamp of approval on donor’s projects. Such a weakness is unlikely to go un-noticed by any industry anxious to access public resources.
TWS methods are both legal and peaceful and include research, raising community awareness, working with the media, using government and legal processes and lobbying politicians and decision makers.
A critical question is whether those methods are working ‘to protect, promote and restore wilderness’ particular given the ascendance of forestry activities in Tasmania, the logging of the Tarkine and Florentine and the need for new organisations to protect our forests such as ‘Still Wild, Still Threatened’ ( HERE ).
Meanwhile media articles ( HERE )indicate little or no change in the substance of the ‘debate’ about our forests in over a decade.
On that basis, we would have some justification in questioning whether legitimate methods of protecting our remaining wilderness were working. It also raises the question of what to do when legitimate methods fail. When legal recourse doesn’t work, what is left?
It appears that the answer depends on why the legitimate methods are not working, and the desperation of the people affected.
Some groups, such as ‘PulptheMill’ ( HERE ) have been driven to sacrifice their personal freedom by engaging in peaceful civil disobedience and getting arrested and fined. The operating theory is presumably that the authorities will relent when they see people peacefully resisting.
A different theory is that the very structures that we expect to be ‘legitimate’ have been corrupted and therefore are no longer legitimate.
Green’s leader Bob Brown ( HERE ) spent money fighting the Wielangta forest clearance, was found to be right in the Court’s judgement so the government modified the law to allow logging to continue.
If our systems have been corrupted then other means may be required to stop the destruction.
When viewed through the lens of behaviours, we aren’t experiencing the ‘forest wars’ advertised at all. That description is a diversion from what is really happening.
We are experiencing a group of powerful interests persuading governments to transfer taxpayer money to them, and to find ways to transfer water and land to them, while exempting them from many of the laws that apply to the rest of us. They are, and have been, above our laws.
The environment is impacted because the forestry industry wants to log public forests. That same industry can divert government subsidies back into the accounts of political parties to keep the favours going. It’s a political money machine that launders taxpayer’s money through external accounts and its part of the armoury of ‘legitimate’ techniques available to industry.
Rural residents are impacted because plantations suck water catchments dry, creeks are poisoned with forestry biocides, food producing land is converted to plantations and rural cash flows dry up as tourists tire of plantation views and dicing with log trucks.
Back to the beginning
I don’t question TWS right to act legally and peacefully, but we’ve got to face realities.
TWS is an environmental organisation. It does not represent communities or rural dwellers except in environmental matters, neither is it focussed on socio-economic issues. It has no commitment to the public, nor are its actions, funding sources or motives open to public inspection or participation.
As a consequence of these limitations, whenever TWS environmental plans clash with community and rural interests, citizens must be entitled to raise objections.
If a TWS initiative to increase political support for plantations could threaten communities, then surely citizens are entitled to object.
I also question TWS support ‘Gunns’ building a pulp mill when experts like Dr. Warwick Raverty have indicated that Gunns may not be capable of responsibly managing any such project. Why Gunns when they could have supported ‘a competent operator’ or similar? Surely its legitimate to ask where TWS gets the expertise to make such a recommendation in support of a specific company?
In general, if TWS proposes any initiative that may harm the rest of us, why should we not object?
And if we don’t point out the danger, who will?
TasTimes was created to provide the opportunity for citizens to raise such issues in a public forum and I’m with Peter Henning ( HERE ) all the way on this.
Who is the joker?
· The citizen raising legitimate concerns, or
· the government subsidising environmental destruction, or
· the industry destroying ecologies for financial gain, or
· the organisation trying to shift problems from the environment to rural Tasmania?
You tell me.
Watch this space
Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive/management coach.
Note. The author welcomes constructive criticism and new information that adds to our understanding of these matters.