Act: Informal Processes

Section
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
Page
4.7

Having just made a case for participation in formal processes of consultation and influence, it seems strange immediately to qualify it, but I would be dishonest if I said formal processes are as effective as they used to be. This is not to say they are redundant and should be abandoned, but to recognise, sadly, the general societal decline of the last 20 years or more which has seen the rise of profoundly anti-environment sentiments, a polarisation and hardening of political stances, and a reduction in the number and openness of consultative processes. Corporates, political parties and the media are less and less accessible, and there is now a whole group of people and entities who are openly anti-environment and aggressively proud to be so.

This ‘capitalist/humano-centric’ fundamentalism and populism make participation in even simple processes, like voting, very difficult. For an example, at my latest local elections there were 18 candidates who had to present a manifesto before the election to aid the decision-making of voters. Not one of their manifestos mentioned ‘the environment’, ‘nature’, or the modern-day surrogate, ‘climate change’! What is one to do in such a situation? Similarly, one of my state’s major parties went to an election in the 2000s with no environment policy whatsoever, and was elected!

When it is acknowledged that this hardening of position and opportunities is running in tandem with run-away environmental decline, then it means that more people are turning to informal ways to be heard and to have influence. These ways are many and varied, but can include everything from ‘guerilla vegie gardening’ of a patch of vacant land, to protests and demonstrations, to sit-ins, blockades, purchasing or non-purchasing of certain goods from certain businesses (including investments), independent printing or circulation of information, social media campaigns, creation of activist art or spectacles, setting an example through lifestyle choices (e.g. running the house on renewable off-grid energy), and so on.

The effectiveness of these actions depends on the zeitgeist and the duration, size and intensity of the action. The saving of the Franklin River in the wilderness of SW Tasmania (as mentioned in Section 1.8.3) was due, in part, to the large-scale demonstrations in capital cities, and blockades of the dam site by thousands of people. On the other hand, public unrest was insufficient to save Lake Pedder, also in Tasmania, a few years beforehand, or to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline in central northern USA in the last several years.

(Sinclair, J. 19941. Fighting for Fraser Island.)

One of the most insightful conservation cases in Australia that demonstrated the full gamut of environmental action, from formal to informal, from individual to group action, was the campaign to save Fraser Island from sand mining and logging from the mid ‘60s to the present day. Fraser Island is a huge, unique, sand island off the coast of south-east Queensland that was being mined and logged. A group of people with a deep love of place collected together to protect the island and their story is told through the book, ‘Fighting for

Fraser Island’, by their leader, John Sinclair. (I know there is also a fine documentary on John Sinclair’s struggles for Fraser Island by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but try as I might, I can’t find it). Sinclair, a quiet and gentle man, worked – ultimately successfully – for decades to protect the island and this is a wonderful, priceless achievement, but as with so much environmental activism, it came at great personal cost. He was sued and bankrupted by the Queensland Government, his house was stoned, his career as a teacher was destroyed as he was hounded and bullied from posting to posting until, finally, he had to leave the state. With great doggedness and courage he persisted, but there must have been times when he felt the price for himself and family was just too great.

Sadly, such state-sponsored repression and intimidation is not a thing of the unenlightened past, as a most recent case (November 2021) in my state of Victoria attests. A private detective has alleged that he was engaged by the state-owned logging agency VicForests to follow and dig the “dirt” on an activist working – through legal means – to stop logging in the Central Highlands. ( VicForests accused of ‘spying’ on protesters and environmentalists – ABC News ), and the video footage can be viewed here (7 mins): VicForests accused of ‘spying’ on protesters and environmentalists – 7.30 (abc.net.au) .

 

ABC News File. 2011. Logging protestors, Toolangi, Vic.)
(ABC News. 2021. Sarah Rees: state logging agency is accused of spying on her)

 

Logging interests, private and public, have been nothing if not energetic in their response to environmental protests, and despite their continual financial losses and subsidies, are bulwarked by ever-more-draconian laws, enforcement, and sentencing. The singling out of such dissent in the USA and the creation of breath-takingly severe laws and sentences is a very sad case in point, and it is this world that forms much of the backdrop of the wonderful ‘Overstory’ examined in Section 1.3.1, ‘Books’.

 

(Johnson, C./Lost Coast Outpost. 2016. Redwood tree-sitter to prevent logging after five years occupation, near Trinidad, California)

 

While conflict between logging companies and agencies and environmentalists is many decades old, more recent ‘direct action’ movements have arisen, such as Extinction Rebellion, which formed in 2018 in the UK, and describes its aim as: a global environmental movement with the aim of using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.”

An example of their work can be seen here, taken from their most recent update on their UK website – https://extinctionrebellion.uk/ – where they have been protesting outside Amazon distribution centres in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands against Black Friday overconsumption.

While I have a few reservations about their manifesto (I think it is perhaps overly optimistic about ‘citizen’s juries’ and the like) and there have been some absurd anti-parks articles coming out of the UK branch that have just rehashed egregious old ‘parks versus people’ rhetoric (see Section 6.1, ‘Media’), these reservations aside, the urgency and profile they have brought to the situation is overdue and much needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Sinclair, J., Corris, P. 1994. Fighting for Fraser Island. Kerr Publ., Alexandria, Australia.

Explore Other Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4.1 Introduction

I am often surprised when meeting and talking to people that they will say, “I like/love/enjoy” the environment, but then, in the next sentence, tell you about their work, or recreation that damages the environment, and their voting behaviour that...

4.2 Work I: Background

It is not a good idea to commence a webpage by ‘running up the white flag’, but it has to be admitted that it is almost impossible closely to define ‘environmental jobs’! This difficulty was brought home to me most pressingly while managing the Gr...

4.3 Work II: Search and Preparation

Getting started in any endeavour is always the hardest part and environmental work is no exception. There are relatively few jobs of this nature and the paths to them can be diffuse and unclear. If you are lucky enough to attend a university or te...

4.4 Volunteer

Alongside working for the environment, there are few greater ways one can contribute than volunteering for the environment. One of the largest environmental volunteering projects I know of is The Atlas of Australian Birds. It was started in the...

4.5 Change Resistance, Jack Harich, 2010

“This paper seeks to help solve the global environmental sustainability problem by approaching it from a novel and possibly more effective perspective. Instead of beginning with the usual “What are the proper practices needed to live sustainably? ...

4.6 Act: Formal Processes

There are three main poles of power in the majority of countries: political, corporate, and media. Here we will introduce ways of interacting with political power (corporate power is examined in Section 9 and media power in Section 6). To avoid...

4.7 Act: Informal Processes

Having just made a case for participation in formal processes of consultation and influence, it seems strange immediately to qualify it, but I would be dishonest if I said formal processes are as effective as they used to be. This is not to say th...

4.8 Action Through the Lens of Power

Action for the environment has been presented so far in Section 4 as largely singular and independent, but, of course, it can only be understood fully within a broader context of power: power structures, power operations, power dynamics. Richard H...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

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I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
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6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
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7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
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8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
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Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
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10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
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