George Orwell and Environmentalism

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated.

Dismayed by the betrayal of the Left and depressed by the growth of communism, these are the fading words of George Orwell in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In Orwell’s partially imagined world, a one-party government controls the people of Oceania with four ministries:

  • the Ministry of Peace conducting war
  • the Ministry of Plenty dealing with rationing
  • the Ministry of Love administering torture
  • the Ministry of Truth producing propaganda
Image: NCMallory / Flickr
Image: NCMallory / Flickr

In today’s Oceania, the Australian Department of Environment could easily qualify for a fifth ministry. In the name of ecology this department destroys ecosytems, while in the name of environment it aggressively increases emissions.

Let us start with the Biodiversity Conservation Act. These are a series of new laws which will stop regulating “the harvesting of native timber on private land as a form of land use change” and allow farmers to proceed with “low risk” land clearance without having to seek any formal approval.

Applying Orwell’s doublethink, these proposals translate as “conserve native trees by not stopping people chopping them down” and “protect by removing protections”.

Image: Jeremy Buckingham / Wikimedia Commons
Image: Jeremy Buckingham / Wikimedia Commons

These laws might sound insane, but it is the colossal coal mine being built in the Liverpool Plains that is the Department of Environment’s doublethink masterpiece.

A few years ago Chinese mining company Shenhua Group asked for permission to bulldoze 2,000 acres of woodlands, so that in this freshly gutted landscape, they could build a gigantic open-pit coal mine.

The woodland in question is home to one of the country’s largest koala populations – so large in fact, that the local town describes itself as the “Koala Capital of the World”.

Economists pointed out that renewable energy would be a better investment than coal, scientists pointed out that coal undeniably increases climate change, and farmers pointed out that the mine would destroy underground water and render the land infertile.

With these considerations in mind, the NSW Land and Environment Court approved the coal mine.

That is to say – an environment court sat down, considered the environmental outcomes, and decided that a 13.5 square kilometre coal mine was preferable to a fertile farmland, clean air and a forest full of threatened koalas.

Image: Beyond Coal & Gas Image Library / Flickr
Image: Beyond Coal & Gas Image Library / Flickr

Shenhua Group admitted that “this project will impact directly on koala habitat by disturbances associated with the proposed development,” or as Land Water Future translate:

Like other animals, koalas aren’t very good at living where nothing exists.

The plan is not quite to demolish the trees with the koalas in them. Australia’s environment court have congratulated Shenhua Group for upholding “the principle of conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity” in their Koala Plan of Management.

In the first stage of this plan “the animals will be encouraged to naturally move away from the habitat that is being cleared”.

It might be worth explaining that a koala diet consists of tree leaves, which grow on the trees that they live, breed and sleep in. In short, there is nothing natural about any animal moving away from its habitat.

Encouraging koalas to naturally migrate away from woodland is like encouraging pigeons to naturally hunt mice at night. And at its root, it is doublethink for “naturally unnatural behaviour”.

Image: Lee Rhiannon / Facebook
Image: Lee Rhiannon / Facebook

The second stage of the Koala Plan of Management is something called translocation, again best explained by Land Water Future:

What this means is first you need to find koala, then sedate koala, catch koala, pop it in a bag, and take it somewhere else. That’s translocation, in the same way that the movie Taken is about someone who translocated Liam Neeson’s daughter. It’s also not very good for the koalas, especially when it goes a bit wrong, which it frequently does. In Queensland one study showed that up to 58% of the koalas moved in one such effort didn’t survive, and Victoria took out first place by managing to kill somewhere between 80-100% of the animals being moved.

So to recap – the plan is to encourage the koalas to “naturally” migrate away from the habitat, and if that somehow doesn’t work, forcibly remove the koalas in a process that has been demonstrated to kill up to 100% of the population. This is what Australian environment courts apparently consider “ecological integrity”.

The further stages of the Koala Plan of Management are equally astonishing. The people who will be demolishing 2,000 acres of koala habitat, are claiming to be protecting and revegetating koala habitat:

A range of mitigation and management measures are proposed to manage impact on the Koala including:

  • Habitat protection
  • Habitat revegetation and enhancement

The reason Shenhua Group cannot be sued for what might seem like an outrageous lie, is because of a controversial corporate practice called offsetting. Offset areas (in this case Mt Watermark Offset Area and Offset Area 6) are spaces of land that extractive companies like Shenhua Group promise not to destroy. In some cases, they even go as far as not stopping living things from growing in these areas (“habitat revegetation”). This allows Shenhua to respond to accusations like “you are destroying our living world” with statements like this:

Conservation and ongoing management of existing vegetation will occur within the Mt Watermark Offset Area and Offset Area 6 in order to maintain and improve ecological value and facilitate regeneration of native vegetation that currently contributes to Koala habitat.

The Koala Plan of Management has one final measure for when the dust has settled. When the woodland has been demolished, the digging has started, and mountains of coal are being burnt into our breathing atmosphere:

Information sheets will be prepared for employees, contractors and their families about their responsibilities to minimise impacts to the Koala at work and home.

That is, after the mining company have forcibly removed several hundred koalas and demolished the ecosystem they belong in, they are going to hand out pieces of paper to coal miners telling them how to minimise their impacts on Koalas.

This is the logical equivalent of telling Mad Max he should invest in renewable energy.

There is no shortage of doublethink in our ecologically crumbling world. In the United States people are lobbying to protect the outdoors by hunting wildlife with lead ammunition, while in the UK conservationists regularly burn the ground to prevent forest growth. Concerned by the illegal poaching of Finland’s remaining 250 wolves, the Finnish government recently decided to rally the hunters to shoot dead one third of the wolf population, in order to save them from being shot.

But while these examples abound, it is the rulers of Oceania who are the masters of doublethink, and world leaders are starting to pay attention. Last month oil magnate Sheikh Mohammed gave Australia’s environment minister Greg Hunt an award for being the “best minister of the world”.

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Image: Fazza

Despite the fact this very environment minister was instrumental in dismantling the carbon tax, and that the Great Barrier Reef is dying, and that Australia’s carbon emissions are rising, and that he has approved a coal mine so huge it will create more emissions than New York City – he is the best minister in the world for his hard work in reducing carbon emissions.

Down with big brother.

Keep it in the ground.

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