Earth First! (we’ll strip mine the other planets later)
Patient Peaceful Protest or Direct Action?
We all know what’s really going on, while we sit back and watch the plastic screens screening us from the real living world, our planet, our home; the Tree of Life is being chopped to pieces and burned to ashes all around us by a bunch of fat, greedy ignoramuses who think money and power is more important than life itself.
Naturally, some wiser folk are banding together to try and stop the rotters before it’s entirely too late. Last generation’s eco-warriors tried to save the global forests from loggers and cattle ranchers. For the most part they failed miserably. Despite some successes in some parts of some advanced nations, most of the world’s great forests have now been felled and their inhabitants exterminated. You and your children will never, ever get to see them; not even on a plastic screen. Like most people, you will probably never get to live in a clean natural environment as a result.
The planet’s climate and our food supplies are sorely suffering, and by the time people realise what they’ve lost it won’t be because they’ve developed sensitivity and uncommon sense, but because they’re gasping for air in heat waves, hunkering down and hiding from humungous storms, and their children are starving in front of them.
The last vestiges of our forests (and we ourselves) can still be saved, and great ecosystems can be regrown from these last bastions of seed sources and living biomes - but only while these scraps survive the ongoing depredations of stupid greedy people. You can’t bring a forest back from a storehouse of frozen seeds. They’re far too complex for that to work. Many plants won’t grow and reproduce until a number of inscrutable precursors are already in place.
Yet our original primordial homes can still regrow. The fossil record demonstrates that the planet has recovered from equivalent destruction in the past; that ecosystems have shrunk to roughly the same size as the island remnants they now occupy, and managed to regenerate into continent-spanning canopies. Yet the situation has never been worse than it is today – not since humankind’s progenitors first descended from the trees that birthed them and started cutting the world down to their own puny size.
‘Those who forget the lessons of history are oft condemned to repeat them.’
- Lord Acton
This hermetic hermit has been intimately involved in a number of efforts to save the biosphere from warlike predator apes over many decades. I’ve sat in tree sits, tripods, kayaks, holes in the ground and, worst of all, dreary electrically charged offices to help halt the spread of so-called ‘progress’ (as others have pointed out, the advance of industrial civilisation isn’t the same thing as the progress of humanity). I’ve camped in remote forests for years to help gather scientific evidence to (successfully) save them - with the help of many others.
But even when we were successful, wiser Greenies knew that we’d just have to save everything all over again from a new batch of gormless greedy fools in another generation. Now is that new generation. The forests we saved near the close of the last Millennium are now threatened by ignoramus loggers once again, and even worse, moneygrubbing miners. Our agricultural lands and all our groundwater is about to be destroyed by people who think what’s yours is mined, and all for a small bowl of temporary pecuniary potage.
Miners and loggers are blind to their own effects. Many come to regret what they’ve done when it’s far too late to make amends. Their mayfly lifespans are too short sighted for them to notice what they do until they’re too old to damage anything, when it’s far too late to undo the destruction. Almost all politicians are equally blind; useless ignoramuses who will only act when their power base is directly threatened. They can’t be trusted with the present, much less our future.
There are only two tried and trusted ways to save the world. One is through massive direct non-violent peaceful protest, whereby so many passive resistors are arrested (or in less advanced nations, murdered) that attrition finally wins out.
This is the best, most ethical way to proceed. When people stick to their ideals and work with the great invisible forces of nature, peaceful protest can work in time to save the places that need protection (truly sacred places tend to draw defenders to themselves in time of need and the collective consciousness works on the side of Life). But blowing up the industrial base and work tools of the aggressors is another, less ideal yet no less effective option. Industries are even more vulnerable than the forests and ecosystems they destroy – a salient fact that in dust realists know and that peaceful protestors usually forget when facing down armed thugs and bulldozers.
Time was on Ghandi’s side. It’s usually also on the side of the environment, but not on an industrialised planet. Not any more. Here’s a little lesson from history; make of it what thou wilt:
In the late 1970s peaceful protest saved the last remnant vestiges of the ‘Big Scrub’ – the ignoramus redneck name for a vast rainforest that covered much of the eastern part of the island continent of Australia. Most of this vast, unique, hundred metre high multiple canopy climax forest, which had taken millions of years to develop, was simply cut and burned without so much as a single fauna or flora survey beforehand; there’s no way to tell what miracles of evolution were wantonly destroyed. You can’t know what you’ve lost when it’s truly gone. And believe it or not, the last remnants are still being felled and burned without any adequate biological surveys, even in an ‘advanced’, ‘developed’ nation, right now. Today.
When they realised what was happening, hippies and other new settlers who occupied the abandoned dairy farms of the Rainbow Region - previously inhabited by the downtrodden Bundjalung Nation of aboriginal tribes and clans - stood up to the loggers and accepted lifelong criminal records in exchange for a healthy environment. Protesters occupied the forests and it all came to a head at Terania Creek, when the entire state government arrived in the forest to see what was happening for themselves.
When they actually witnessed what was happening – and what had already happened – with their own eyes (instead of believing the lies of industy ‘experts’) they stopped all rainforest logging in the state. The Terania protests are often cited as one of the greatest successes of the Green movement.
But the truth is that by the time the logging was stopped, literally only a few hundred acres of virgin, untouched rainforest remained in the entire state of New South Wales. Almost everything was gone, or sadly depleted – largely trashed not by loggers, but by ‘soldier settlers’ who were forced by governments to completely ‘clear’ the stolen land they were granted on repatriation from bloody foreign wars. Three thousand year old trees took an hour or two, or sometimes a day to fell in the olden days of handsaws and axes; with chainsaws, it only takes only a few minutes.
How long does it take to grow a three thousand year old tree? How long do you suppose it take to regenerate a three thousand year old forest? It takes a lot longer than three thousand years before successive canopies can climb that high towards to the sky. Yet it’s possible, if only a few seedstock areas are preserved - if they can be preserved through the fiery doom and desertification that follows in the wake of most logging. That’s what the Greenies’ ‘success’ represented; a final holding action to save the last great arks of biosphere diversity.
Deserts and bleached bones are the true heritage of most vanished ‘civilisations’. They’re usually destroyed by greed, ignorance and war. That’s also what happened to the famous Cedars of Lebanon, and to the great forests of Spain – destroyed to make nothing but war, they now rot on the floor of the English Channel.
But now we supposedly know better. Following the great result at Terania, a band of dreamers who’d developed and honed their protesting skills set their sights on another nearby piece of Paradise. At the turn of the decade they determined to save some of the last littoral (coastal) forest that still remained on the beach land around Middle Head, a couple of hundred miles south of the Rainbow Region - exactly halfway between the population centres of Sydney and Brisbane. The beach was slated to be mined for a heavy metal called rutile; mainly to construct titanium nuclear submarines in the United States in the profitable old Cold War.
Whenever rutile – which is concentrated in black sand beaches - was mined by dredging (shallow mining) operations, it was taken to nearby centrifuges which left huge sand hills of associated heavily radioactive sands in their wake; just left lying there, on popular beaches, for kids to play in. And to get to the most readily available rutile the last, rare, coastal rainforests must first be totally destroyed.
Of course, the miners assured everyone they’d ‘rehabilitate’ the land afterwards (That was in 1980. Despite their cosmetic efforts ‘afterward’ is still some time far in the future)…
Protesters moved into place, ready to obstruct the sand miners using exclusively peaceful methods. They established a base camp under the low coastal canopy and slowly attracted more and more people as news spread far and wide. At the time, this writer was regularly travelling up and down the coast on tours with various bands and theatrical troops. I managed to drop into the protest camp every few weeks, staying for a week or so each time before going back to work in the Big Smoke – the Emerald City of Oz, three hundred miles (500 km) to the south. This provided a jerky, time lapse view of the protest – and the slowly progressing destruction.
Most of the protestors felt far more at home on the beach than in forests; most had been raised in urban centres lined with white sand beaches and were far more accustomed to the seaside than to deep climax forests. The Middle Head protest proved very popular and was continuously replenished by fresh new sunburned faces.
I’ll attempt to cut to the chase for the sake of brevity; today’s attention spans aren’t what they were back then. An interesting diversion is always readily available to distract people from learning, or from saving themselves and their children.
The protesters adhered to the highest possible ethical principles. Every morning a circle assembled to discuss the plans for the day. The entire camp was run in accordance with the best, most egalitarian methods known at the time. No decision could be taken until everyone’s view had been heard. After hours of ongoing (and often frustrating) argy-bargy, everyone knew what was happening and a consensus was usually arrived at without any rancour or aggressive politicking.
Decision making was consensual, not democratic; somehow, plans manifested and were ratified without the group even taking a vote – in most cases without so much as a show of hands or verbal vote. The usual problem of charismatic leaders doing most of the talking – and real decision making – was usually miraculously avoided, as everyone present knew what was at stake and tended to agree on the basics.
The meeting circles waxed and waned over many months, while the rusting hulk of the sand mining dredge hovered just offshore and the bulldozers waited to shovel sand into its saurian maw. Usually there were only a dozen or two people present; sometimes the protest swelled until hundreds gathered together in the baking antipodean sunlight.
The government and miners wouldn’t give an inch. Neither would the protestors. Slowly, inexorably, the littoral forest was being bulldozed into the sand, foot by foot, yard by yard, and the bulldozers were approaching extremely important sacred caves of the Gumbaynggirr people (which involves another, perhaps even more interesting story for another dreamtime). One fine sunny day, when all seemed lost, the morning sharing circle was interrupted by a pair of bearded, long haired men who descended from the hinterlands of the nearby Great Dividing Range. Like everyone else, the strangers were allowed their say.
“Look,” one announced to the assembled scores of peaceable hippies. “You see that dredge?” He pointed to the rusty old dinosaur that lurked at the edge of the beach, and continued in terse sentences. “Do you know something? That’s the only one on the entire east coast. We’re Vietnam vets. I’m an explosives expert. We’ve got enough explosives in the boot of the car to completely destroy that dredge. They won’t be able to get another one here for months. Maybe years. We can stop them right now. What do you reckon?”
The circle became a hubbub of uneasy dissention; some for, most against, many undecided. At that point one of the camp’s defacto ‘leaders’ (later to become a member of parliament) climbed onto his hind legs, rearing above the seated circle. “This is a peaceful protest,” the equally bearded young man pointed out. “We only use non-violent methods here - and if you guys do anything violent we’ll have to tell the police."
“Hey man,” the veteran said, “We’d make sure no-one was hurt – we can do it at night and make sure nobody’s anywhere near the dredge. Hard targets only.”
“Listen, buddy - you’d better take those explosives away from here right now.” The consensus view soon agreed, and that’s just what they did. But not before the objecting protest ‘leader’ followed them to their vehicle - with me trailing in their wake.
“Look,” he said to them in relative privacy, “we really appreciate what you’re trying to do but you made one big mistake.”
“Oh?” said the explosives expert. “Really?”
“Yeah. If you’d just gone ahead and done it that would be one thing – but what you’ve done this morning implicates everyone here.” He nodded towards the fragmenting circle; “Who knows how many government agents are sitting there, listening? If we agreed to what you were doing we’d all be conspirators – we could all be locked up, even the kids and grandmas.” The veteran frowned and said nothing further. He climbed into the car with his friend and drove off along the sandy track to the nearby highway, never to be seen again.
A few weeks later I stood on a sand dune, playing saxophone with a number of other protesting musicians, while the bulldozers moved in. The band played on while the great sculptor (and unsung national treasure William Ricketts) placed a priceless sandstone bas-relief representing the local Aboriginal elders and their children in the path of the machines.
They rolled right over it and soon trashed most of the forested beachfront. Many of the protesters went home while others moved off to the next forest action. They formed the core of a group that continuously stood in front of bulldozers for the next two decades in dozens of forests, honing their skills, learning how to effectively stop the death-dealing machinery of industrial ‘civilisation’ – and learning how the law really worked. But the fantastic little coastal forest at Middle Head was gone forever and the Tridents submarines - with hundreds of useless nuclear weapons apiece - rolled off the slipways; their lifespans far shorter than the trees that died to make them.
I hasten to add that on other occasions peaceable, non-violent, non-destructive protests have been totally successful – some within cooee of that very beach. We’ve saved literally tens of thousands of acres from wilful destruction by hopeless morons working for greedy corporations and their equally greedy shareholders (including most workers in the country, as their pension funds invest heavily in so-called ‘resource companies’). In most places no-one even had to spike the trees with metal or ceramic rods and leave signs to warn the workers (to destroy the chainsaws, sawmill blades and potentially the lives of loggers stupid enough to proceed after being warned off). This is always an option; a last resort.
Yet now a new generation of industrialised idiots working for sickening corporations is at it again. We have to save it all over again, and as you can imagine the protestors who developed those skills are now much, much older – and the newer, post-baby boom generations have NOT taken up the baton of peaceful protest. Most are content to simple press plastic buttons attached to the plastic screens that stand between them and the real living world, and imagine they’re making a difference.
But not all. Some of us know what’s really at stake here. Failure just isn’t an option.
When we stopped the logging we saved barely enough forested lands to ensure the survival of all the rare, unique and unknown species dwelling in them, according to the best science of the day. We now know it wasn’t enough; not when you include the effects of climate disaster. Now the koalas, rock wallabies, Tiger quolls, gliding possums, phascogales and a horde of creatures you’ve almost certainly never seen nor even heard of are being slaughtered, out of sight and out of the minds of readily distracted urban citizens who are far more concerned with the latest sports scores and celebrity gossip than their (own) survival.
Now it’s time to get up and actually DO something – to make another Last Stand, to once more protect our sacred heritage from loggers and miners. The rare, remote forests are being felled again, and even worse, the miners are moving on them, too. Even some of the forests we ‘saved’ are being illegally destroyed by government-sanctioned koala killers and their post-logging burning operations. Heavy metal miners are poised to spill arsenic into the last pristine rivers on the driest continent on Earth –not somewhere ‘out back’ and beyond, but in the most populous and agriculturally useful parts of the land. Coal gas mining will poison us all and destroy the last pure waterways and aquifers if we – if YOU - don’t DO SOMETHING NOW!
How vulnerable do you suppose the leaky head of a gas well is? How combustible is an oil-soaked, woodchip-floored timber mill? How secure is a mineshaft subjected to a stick of dynamite? If loggers, miners and governments won’t deal honourably with peaceful protestors representing the interests of the majority of the public – and the entire biosphere – there are always veterans of some ungodly war or other waiting in the wings. The choice is up to them – and you.
Peaceful protest or more direct action? Decide. Quickly. But DO something while there’s anything left to save – before your starving, cancer-riddle kid asks, ‘What did you do to save the planet, mummy?’
And either way – Earth First! No compromise in the defense of Mother earth!
Turn on. Tune in. Opt OUT of the filthy morass of industrial ‘civilisation’ and find your true self – in a forest!
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