Forest protectors have always been an exceptional breed. They lay down their lives before bulldozers and live in treetop canopies for days, weeks, months to ensure the safety of wild communities. I’ve always admired their elvin commitment – lean vegans with dreadlocks camped out in clans with their fierce hearts and wiles, defending all life.
On Saturday a handful of them from around the country converged in the halls of Brisbane’s legal complex in the centre of the city’s CBD, for the first Rights of Nature People’s Tribunal to be held in Australia. With forensic accuracy they told The People of the Tribunal just how the wholesale destruction of this country’s forest communities is progressing.
We are the only developed nation in the world represented in the top 10 international forest destruction hotspots.
Though we have a federal government framework, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, that is designed to trigger examination of proposed or potential threats and maybe, just maybe, apply restrictions from the top, our national government has relinquished this flimsy stick and given each state jurisdiction through Regional Forest Agreements; voluntary, self-assessed processes of ‘regulation’.
The current Forestry Act dates back to 1959 a time when our forests were regarded as scrub to be demolished for cash.
National Parks provide the best protection but if the Commonwealth Government decrees, these areas CAN BE MINED.
It turns out that Australia, despite its participation in international conventions like that of World Heritage, is breaching its obligations over and over again in the way our governments fail to administer the frail laws and regulations around forests.
As the forest protectors told this story in the halls of legal power, as they spoke of the wholesale desecration and destruction of the Karri forests of WA, the cool temperate forests of Tasmania, the brigalow and eucalypt forests of Qld and the subtropical rainforests of NSW…and all of the communities of life within these ecosystems…and as they described the failure of any government to uphold its own laws (flimsy and filled with gaps as they are), a great stillness and grief crept over The People of the Rights of Nature People’s Tribunal.
Tears streamed down the face of the Tribunal facilitator and she broke down, handing the questioning over to a fellow panellist.
We The People bore witness. For that 90 minute presentation we bore the weight of this world on our shoulders and in our hearts on behalf of humankind. We leaned into the grief of the world for this moment in time.
Afterwards when I bumped into my old friend and brother-in-law in the aisle of the courtroom, surrounded by The People, we clung to each other and sobbed. In these times of ecological and social collapse and the triumph of extreme capital and consumption that lays waste to all of nature and humanity, it is essential that we sob and wail and grieve and lament.
It has happened so fast. Surely it was only 30, 40, 50 years ago that the scientists began seeing and calling the evidence of change? “Silent Spring” was only published in 1962 a year before my birth and it was the first clarion call of impending danger. How did we lose this one so fast? How did the power of the dollar overrun governments and society so quickly? When I joined the environment movement in 1989 there was still a sense of hope and possibility that we could turn this thing around.
Where does this leave us now? After the bearing witness and the lamenting and the sobbing and the grieving, what then? What now?
My 20 year old son recently posted on Facebook the report that atmospheric carbon levels consistently exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) every month of 2015-16. The climate scientists tell us that this is the tipping point at which catastrophic global warming and climate change is unstoppable. When we will experience vast melting of the ice caps which in turn trigger sea level rises and the release of the intense greenhouse gas methane, formerly held in lockdown under those ice caps.
Huon’s post triggered my own personal meltdown and as I shared this news further on Facebook I asked my friends “how are we to live in such times? How are we to live?”
Miraculously over 30 people responded with their thoughtful wisdom. A conversation of depth spontaneously arose in that strange world we call Facebook and it revolved around love.
People, at least in my small part of the world, are bearing witness, breaking open and learning to live from love. No one has definitive answers any more – the questions are often too huge for us to comprehend – and so in this space of great unknowing, We The People, in all our brokenness are beginning to gather together to deeply listen, speak of our vulnerability, hold hands and learn to love again.
Longtime US social activist Parker Palmer says “our charge is not to save the world but to live in it flawed and fierce.”
Broadcaster and author Krista Tippett asks us these questions…”Where does it hurt? Where do you see new generative relationship? Where is the garden blooming?”
For me it hurts in a lot of places. In the forests and the oceans and the atmosphere. In the tragedy of the commons, as the ecological infrastructure – the gifts of Gaia that sustain all life – are destroyed.
And at the same time the garden is blooming in places where The People are gathering in love, in tenderness, in vulnerability; to create safe and sacred spaces where the wild, shy, sinewy soul can make an appearance and we can hear our truth. Finally.
I have a theory that they make contact with us consciously when they know it is safe. When they know peace is in the air or water. The birds. Currawongs and magpies at dusk as I walk in time to the setting sun. Black messenger birds make contact and I ask them what tidings they sing. Dolphins. At Tallows - the south edge of the most easterly point - the beach where we found the mythical swell had finally landed. In amongst the first waves for a month the dolphins made contact cruising with glistening breath, at an arms-length between surfers; Making contact. After all the meditation and resting in the breath, after all the seeking and distractions have eased, in the silence of the garden which is stirring after Winter's long rest, I would not be surprised if a butterfly were to land on my head. Or my shoulder. Or my hand. To make contact and with the power of ten thousand suns release the potential of love. Photographer unknown