1000 issues of green activism

Saturday, January 25, 2014
A front cover of Green Left Weekly in 1991.

As Green Left Weekly approaches its 1000th issue, more than 20 years after it first hit the streets, we will be looking back at some of the campaigns it has covered and its role as an alternative source of news.

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When Green Left Weekly was launched in 1991, it was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between ecological and socialist politics.

At the time, environmental politics had emerged as an important new force, which was not always taken seriously by the existing left.

The big environmental campaigns in the 1980s, such as the campaign to save the Franklin Dam and the success of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, had convinced many people that governments had to act to stop the threat of environmental destruction.

GLW saw itself as part of this scene. Letters to the editor in the pages of the first few issues debated whether socialist politics could or should become “green”. One contributor said: “Those on the left spend too much time pandering to the environmentalist agenda without understanding the depth of the differences that exist between left and green.”

Another letter in response said: “It’s no longer enough to campaign for jobs for jobs sake. A job in a car factory is not as good as a job in a bike workshop because cars are an environmental disaster.”

The same year GLW was launched, then-independent MP Bob Brown called for the formation of a national Green party and argued it should exist in parallel with the Australian Democrats, moving towards amalgamation as soon as possible.

GLW covered the many debates along the road to forming the Greens, which happened in September 1992.

Over the years, GLW has reported on, and its journalists have taken part in, many environmental battles as part of its aim to be a paper that is a voice for “the left of the greens and the greens of the left”.

One ongoing issue is the battle to protect Australia’s old-growth forests. The first issue of GLW carried a feature article on the need to protect these forests and their complex ecosystems.

From Tasmania to Western Australia, far north Queensland to south-east Victoria, GLW stood with activists who were protesting against the clear-felling of native forests, blockading the construction of forestry roads and chaining themselves to bulldozers and trees.

In July 2012, a brave GLW reporter, Daryl Davies, interviewed record-breaking tree-sitter Melinda Gibson on her platform 60 metres up an old-growth tree as she campaigned to protect Tasmania’s forests.

GLW has also always opposed nuclear weapons, nuclear power and the mining and export of uranium. It has commemorated and informed new generations about the British nuclear tests in the Australian desert, which sowed illness, death and environmental catastrophe in its wake.

It has consistently opposed the ALP’s “three mines policy” that allowed uranium mining at Ranger, Roxby Downs and Nabarlek, and the flouting of that policy to include the Jabiluka mine in Kakadu National Park.

In 1997, GLW scooped the establishment press when contributor Jim Green exposed the flawed arguments and the misquoted evidence behind the federal government's decision to build a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.

One of the biggest anti-uranium protest happened in 1998 when thousands of activists joined traditional owners at Jabiluka to block the construction of a uranium mine; the blockade lasted for eight months. As part of the same campaign in 1999, GLW reported on thousands of high school students walking out of school and attending anti-Jabiluka protests. The campaign was ultimately successful, with the company pulling out and later rehabilitating the site.

More recently, GLW has followed the growing movements against coal and coal seam gas (CSG). In 2008, the first “camp for climate action” was held in Newcastle where more than 1000 people gathered to shut down the world’s biggest coal port.

In 2010, GLW reported on a new coalition of farmers in Queensland who formed a group called Lock the Gate to stop coal seam gas companies drilling on their land. Since then, the campaign to stop CSG has spread throughout the country.

From saving the whales to opposing live cattle and sheep exports, protecting koala habitats to challenging intensive farming practices, GLW has reported on many issues involving the treatment of animals.

The issue of whether animals have rights and whether they should be used in medical experiments have been debated in GLW’s pages.

Hopefully the bridge between socialist and green politics has narrowed substantially in the past 23 years. GLW will continue to report on ecosocialist issues — showing that the ecological crisis is part of the crisis of capitalism and that there can be no fundamental solution to it in a society that places capitalist profit above social and environmental survival.

From GLW issue 994