Trees Versus Renewables & the ‘Silver Buckshot’ Approach

East Gippsland Water's panels at Woodglen
East Gippsland Water’s panels at Woodglen

On the social media there has rightly been damning criticism of the ‘20 million trees’ being pushed by the current Government through their Direct Action Program (DAP) which is pathetic, and token at best. The response on the social media has been to put the question simplistically – renewable energy or trees – rather than condemning the government’s overall performance on climate and renewable energy. It is not the right question. We have to do both as quickly and energetically as feasible.

Washington and Cook in Climate Change Denial (Earthscan 2011) talk of Hume’s solution to ‘wicked problems’: “He suggests ‘clumsy solutions’ where you tackle the problem from several aspects, some of which may even be contradictory. Rather than just one ‘silver bullet’ to solve the problem, he suggests silver buckshot. No single solution is sufficient. The silver buckshot are the multiple solutions one applies to the problem. We agree that solving climate change – and the underlying environmental crisis it is a symptom of – will require several different approaches, a number of ‘silver buckshot’” (p.119)

The 20 million trees program is laughable for many reasons. It is a simple solution to a complex problem and as a ‘silver bullet’ appears well wide of the mark. Since the abolition of the carbon tax, which the DAP was meant to replace, our emissions of CO2 are on the rise again. This feeble DAP initiative is more than offset by continued clearing of native forests in Queensland and NSW and the destructive swathe of the loggers in Victoria. The DAP may distort rural markets as the blue-gum projects did – often planted in the wrong places, on good agricultural land and now being removed in many places. Finally the 20 million trees may be a less ambitious copy of the ‘one billion trees’ made by Bob Hawke in 1989 – also a grandiose failure.

The problem of global warming is complex and immense. In the end it is not just a question of trees or renewable energy. Simple single solutions will never be enough. When we have achieved 100% renewables – hopefully in less than 15 years – we then have to work on ways of drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere of which tree planting is one. I am a tree lover. I have lived and worked in the bush for most of my life. For much of that time I have propagated and planted local species in the cleared country. Equally my house was (and still is) powered by renewable energy. These are just two of the pellets of our ‘silver buckshot’.