Tasmania’s ever-present forestry debate has recently become a lot more heated. On Saturday, I attended a rally and march for preserving what’s left of Tasmania’s old-growth forests. It was very successful, and the attendance was estimated to over 10,000 (10,000 was the most conservative estimate – I have seen other estimates of 12,000 or 15,000 people attending). This was answered by an opposing rally on Tuesday in Launceston, where up to 10,000 people gathered to support the forestry industry. Some of the people who attended the Launceston rally did so on company time – they could do their regular work or go to the rally and be paid either way. This brought accusations of “rent a crowd” by the Greens.
Digressing from the environment for a moment, I have to say that after living in the post-9/11 USA, there was something very refreshing about attending this protest. The good thing was that I was able to join a very large group in front of the Tasmanian Parliament House, make a lot of noise, and go marching through the streets of down-town Hobart without any fears of a violent police crack-down or that environmental concern would be interpreted as unpatriotic and supporting the terrorists (see this Salon.com article, Outlawing dissent).
One Tasmanian commentator has likened the ongoing environmental debate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – because of its longevity and intractability . I don't agree with that analogy – we don’t have suicide bombers and state-sanctioned assassinations going on in Tasmania. There have been some acts of vandalism, violence and intimidation, but certainly not any wars. All that notwithstanding, this is a very deep-rooted and polarizing conflict.
Both sides claim the middle ground. Environmentalists don’t hate the workers of the forestry industry, we don’t oppose responsible and selective logging, we support the manufacture of value-added timber products in Tasmania – as opposed to just woodchipping the lot to sell for a pittance so somebody smarter can make the paper for us.
For its part, the forestry industry says that it is committed to conservation and that it has the statistics to prove it. Then the debate gets very murky, with both sides producing statistics to show there is or there is not enough protection of Tasmania’s old-growth forests.
I met somebody from Lawyers for the Forests in this rally. I gather that they provide some pro bono legal assistance for the Green movement in Tasmania, as well support the movement in other ways. I might join Lawyers for the Forests. My sister’s a member of Doctors for the Forests, a group which has been around for a little longer and has been even more effective at getting out its message.
Why isn’t there a group of Librarians for the Forests? Yes, in the eyes of the general public, librarians are a lot less important than doctors or lawyers. But who cares?! The forests are our common heritage and citizens who are librarians have just as much right to express their views about this as any one else.
Many novels and books of poetry have been inspired by forests and end up in libraries. The biodiversity of forests have produced medicines which have been written about in science journals, which end up in libraries. The library is the record of our changing perceptions of the environment, from the times when “improving land” meant chopping down and burning all of its trees, to storing information about the first environmental controversies and the development of environmental law.
I was imagining that if such a group ever happened, it could have a few different purposes. Similar to Lawyers for the Forests, Librarians for the Forests could support the Green movement with their research skills. We are trained to find all sorts of information and evaluate the sources of information. This could be very helpful.
Another focus would be within the library profession. Of course libraries hold and consume a lot of paper, and I know from first-hand experience that we waste a lot of paper too. How much paper do law libraries discard from loose-leaf services alone? I’m not saying that paper loose-leaf services should be cancelled as soon as electronic alternatives are available, but that a library’s environmental footprint (which includes everything, not just paper consumption) should be a factor in its decisions. Of course, serving the information needs of our users would always be the reason for our existence, but there is no harm in trying to do this in a more environmentally friendly way. This way we will be doing our part.