Trees are the lifeblood of the Greens political movement in Australia. The party can talk all it likes about social justice policies but it is the chopping down of forests that delivers the votes. The picture tells the story to city slickers who might never see majestic tall timber. Clearfelled native bush looks like rape and pillage. Greens pleas against such desecration by wood chippers tugs at the heart strings of many in an almost religious way. When Bob Brown can mount a decent trees campaign his vote goes up in metropolitan seats around Australia.

Global warming, the environmental crusade of the moment, suffers somewhat because there are no moving television pictures to accompany the forecasts of doom. But if Senator Brown, one of the great politicians of our time, gets his way there soon will be with those trees again in the starring role. He hinted at the strategy when talking on Radio National last Friday before charging off to begin his crusade against the coal industry. “Both the big parties are in favour of burning more forests,” he said. “They are putting the match to massive amounts of forests as if it does not matter”.

I was puzzled enough about the connection between burning forests and greenhouse gases to ring and ask him what he meant. For a start, I wanted to know if he was against controlled burning as a means of preventing the severity of bush fires and was quickly disabused of that idea. The fires Brown is about to start ratcheting up his objection to are those that follow the practice of clear felling that is so widely practiced in the forests of Tasmania and Victoria.

When the timber cutters have cleared away the logs suitable for the woodchipping machines, everything that’s left is burned in what Brown calls “hot fires” that leave nothing but ash so that replanting is easy. Massive amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere in a process that is similar to what happens when Amazon rain forests or Queensland scrub is cleared for various forms of farming. According to the Stern report, argues Senator Brown, putting an end to the practice would be of more benefit in curbing gas emissions than stopping every transport system in the world.

I can see in my mind already the television commercial showing the before shot of the pristine wilderness and the aftermath of clouds of smoke as the forest vandals prepare the ground for replanting.

Peter Fray

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