'To save the environment, we have to organise ourselves'


This is the text of a speech to a rally against woodchipping, which drew 5000 people in Hobart on March 18. It was given by REBECCA MECKELBURG on behalf of the Environmental Youth Alliance.

The federal Labor government's December decision to renew woodchip export licences is the latest example of Labor's lack of concern for the future of our environment and the future of young people.

While the federal government has tried to back up its decision not to protect our old-growth forests from woodchipping on the grounds that it needs to protect jobs, reports from the government itself and from the Wilderness Society show that the biggest destroyers of jobs are the employers, the big companies responsible for the destruction of our forests.

While the woodchip export sector of the timber industry uses 45% of native forest timber, it employs less than 2% of the national timber work force. Woodchipping uses lots of machines and very few people. The fact that woodchip-driven forest management is costing jobs is most clearly seen here in Tasmania, which supplies 40% of Australia's total woodchips and where jobs in the industry were cut by 25% in 20 years while wood consumption almost tripled.

So the jobs vs forests "debate" is a big lie. And either the federal government can't read its own reports, or it is only interested in protecting the profits of the big companies. Neither our environment nor our jobs are safe. Young people are concerned about both.

Destroying jobs in rural communities is a disaster. Suicide rates amongst teenage boys in rural areas are often the highest in the country. The government does have a responsibility to protect jobs: by ensuring that companies plan for the future of the forestry industry, a plan that ensures the protection of jobs and the environment.

Young people have to have a bit of foresight. We can see that stopping environmental destruction today means we have a better chance of a livable environment in 10 years' time. We can look beyond today and the next election — especially if we're too young to vote. The need to save our environment is too urgent to wait until we're 18 or the next election comes around. Young people know we have to act today — but we face a few difficulties.

The first one is being taken seriously. People say to us, You're too radical, but it's because you're young and you'll become a bit more realistic as you get a bit older. But the environmental crisis will be a lot worse when we're a bit older.

We don't have the jobs or the positions of power or the seats in parliament. We don't have money or access to many resources.

But we do have energy and enthusiasm and commitment to make our world a better place, and we want to work with anyone who will help. We want to build a united green movement that involves everyone.

Our future depends on whether we can seriously act to save our environment. Stopping woodchipping in our old-growth forests would be an important first step. But winning on this issue would do more: it would give us the confidence that participation and active mobilisation by all those who want to protect our environment is central to our ability to save our environment.

World Environment Day is an opportunity to highlight the most immediate environmental issues and to educate the broader community on the crisis and the ways we can solve it. In Australia in the last five years, it's been primarily young people who have organised many of the activities around World Environment Day.

This year activities will be held on June 3. The Environmental Youth Alliance and Resistance have initiated activity for WED, and planning meetings are under way. We'd like to invite everyone, but especially all young people, to get involved. Build it at your school, your college, your university and your workplace. We will be demanding the government immediately protect all our old-growth forests and that they stop all road work in the Tarkine wilderness.

Our organisation in numbers is our real strength. This is the way that ordinary people can have our say in what happens to our environment. Our aim is to inspire, educate and empower young people to be active today to begin the process of change. To save the environment, we young people have to organise ourselves. So get active and get involved today in the campaign to save our forests and to build a world worth living in.