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Time to investigate 'Green' media spin

By Mark Poynter - posted Monday, 26 March 2012


Last week, the ABC's Media Watch program (19/3/12) was at pains to point out the failure of journalists to investigate errant claims about environmental issues made by some community groups in media releases.

While this is a worthy and long overdue sentiment, the program used it to justify an attack on a particular group (the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF)) and an associated scientist (Dr Jennifer Marohasy) whose views about the future of the Murray River are at odds with the conventional wisdom being pushed by Australia's mainstream environmental groups.

As the Media Watch episode was entitled "What's in a name?" its primary purpose appears to have been to denigrate the AEF for having a title which implies that they are an 'environmental group' when in fact they support natural resource use and farming, and are sponsored by industry elements associated with these activities. Clearly, to the Media Watch presenter and his production team, a real environmental group opposes such activities – a politically correct view which is no doubt shared by most of the ABC's audience.

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Having spoken about forestry issues at two AEF annual conferences several years ago, I would agree that they differ substantially from the mainstream environmental movement. Mainstream environmentalism is typified by extremists such as the Wilderness Society which sees environmental issues in simplistic 'black and white' terms, ignores unintended consequences and strives for absolutist outcomes such as evicting resource use industries through national park declarations. In stark contrast to this, the AEF accepts human resource use as both necessary and inevitable and advocates carefully managing it to minimise environmental impacts as part of an overiding balance between conservation and resource use.

While the mainstream envirionmental movement's campaigns against Australian resource use industries simply shifts our environmental impacts offshore; the AEF approach acknowledges that Australian industry is amongst the most advanced, technically skilled and highly regulated in the world and is far better at managing its environmental impacts than developing countries with lower technical expertise and under-funded and often corrupted regulatory regimes.

Forestry perhaps provides one the starkest contrast in these two approaches. As Australia's mainstream environmental movement has progressively influenced state governments to move towards ending our native forest harvest, Australians are increasingly using imported hardwood timbers from developing countries where timber industries are associated with permanent deforestation and lax controls over impacts to biodiversity, water and soils.

At the behest of mainstream environmental activism, Australia is essentially eschewing a highly skilled and carefully regulated local system of timber harvesting and regeneration that was restricted to only a minor portion of our forests, for far more extensive and less controlled systems in developing countries which are known to have far greater environmental problems.

While it unfortunately seems to be beyond the comprehension of most journalists, it is clear that the more complex approach to natural resource use issues and environmental management being advocated by groups like the AEF is far superior to the simplistic 'lock-it-up-and- leave-it' ideology espoused by Australia's mainstream environmental groups.

Nevertheless, the mainstream environmental movement has achieved stunning political success, particularly over the past decade. This is increasingly resulting in the unwarranted demise of significant parts of our resource use sector in favour highly dubious conservation outcomes. An example reported in The Australian last week (Cast out, 17/3/12) is the Federal Government's intention to create the world's largest no-take marine park in the Coral Sea. This is expected to substantially decimate Queensland's commercial fishing industry even though its allowable catch from the Coral Sea is tiny, averaging just 192 grams of fish per square kilometre per annum!

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While decisions such as this are certain to make Australia the poster-boy for the world's environmental activists, its consequence of pushing our demand for seafood onto countries that are fishing unsustainably tags us as environmentally irresponsible while at the same time decimating our primary industries and the rural and regional areas which rely on them. It is becoming almost laughable to think that were once striving to be known as the 'clever country'.

The success of the mainstream environmental movement in driving such perverse outcomes owes much to the failure or refusal of the media to keep them accountable by challenging their many dubious public utterances. On an almost a daily basis these are littered with half truths and lies that simply misrepresent the real on-ground situation to a gross extent.

An example appeared in Melbourne's The Age on Wednesday 21st in the form of an opinion article entitled 'Woodchipping agenda up in smoke for now'written by Lyndon Schneiders, the national director of the Wilderness Society. His article was a response to the Federal Parliament's vote to disallow a proposed amendment to clean energy legislation which would have allowed bioenergy generated from the native forest timber industry waste to be eligible for renewable energy credits.

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About the Author

Mark Poynter is a professional forester with 40 years experience. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and his book, Saving Australia's Forests and its Implications, was published in 2007.

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