While much energy has been devoted to obtaining a ‘just transition’ in the Latrobe Valley little has been said about obtaining the same for the bush. Government policies have been gradually destroying the bush and small country towns for decades. In the 70s I used local timber in my owner-built house long before I had heard of global warming. The mill workers wages stayed mainly in the local community and their children kept the school numbers up. Now there is one mill (Swifts Creek) where once there were four. And this mill imports its timber quite large distances from areas close to Melbourne, mills it and then sends it back again – fossil fuel intensive and an economic absurdity. We have the unusual spectacle of log trucks going both ways on the Great Alpine Road. And the other mill is in Heyfield a further two hours travel away. A true carbon tax would make both these operations uneconomic. More than anything else the lack of employment opportunity has been a major factor in the drift to the cities. Climate change and a just transition to a low carbon economy is the means by which this process can, and must, be reversed. And a just transition in the bush means that the jobs must be there before the loggers are completely closed down.
With effective policies on global warming we are left with few options. Native forests must now be protected and managed as a carbon store. Logging – a fuel intensive process – must be rapidly phased out and replaced with plantation timber. Native forests should also be protected against severe fires where possible. Protecting the forests adequately – in particular against ‘crowning’ bushfires, but out of control fires in general – will boost employment in our remoter regions. Various means of radically increasing the store of carbon need to be explored and evaluated including revegetation projects, soil carbon on farms and biochar production from waste.
Control burning using low intensity fires should be much reduced and used only sparingly – burning can be in the mix amongst other tools including green summer crops along rivers, removal of combustible materials with protected areas, mowing, pruning, and creating fire breaks along communications routes. Other aspects of a low carbon economy should also include adoption of renewable energy where ever possible, energy storage and using micro-grids, and other energy efficiency applications.
Thus the major changes should be as follows: end logging in native forests and replace with plantation timber, protect native forests with increased employment and a using a variety of tools including a reduction of control burning. Protecting local communities and communications from bushfires should also remain a priority. There is a need to start planning for the end result – a low carbon future – now and then act to reach that state as quickly and seamlessly as possible. It is now imperative that we protect all the native forest that remains as a carbon store.