Feature

Eco-activists

Green Lifestyle magazine

Being an environmental activist can be a hard road to follow, especially when the financial interests of big business and the threat of arrest stand in your way. We spoke to five campaigners about what motivates them to take a stand.

Miranda Gibson

Miranda Gibson

Bradley Smith

Bradley Smith

Sara Keltie

Sara Keltie

Merryn Redenbach

Merryn Redenbach

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Miranda Gibson

Anti-logging campaigner
Miranda Gibson lived in a tree in a Tasmanian forest in protest against destructive logging practices.

What motivates someone to climb 60 m up a 400-year-old eucalypt tree in the Tasmanian wilderness and not come down for over a year? For 31-year-old forest campaigner Miranda Gibson it was the devastating effects of logging.

“The first time I saw a Tasmanian forest, I was completely blown away. It’s so humbling to stand under these giant trees,” says Miranda, speaking from her lofty platform in the state’s southern forests. “Sadly I have seen so much of these forests destroyed from industrial scale logging. That is what has driven me to dedicate my life so wholeheartedly to this issue.”

Miranda took her climbing ropes to the tree on 14 December 2011, two days after contract logging companies moved in to the Tyenna Valley area, which is managed by state government-owned Forestry Tasmania. Within a week, the loggers packed up and left the area around Miranda’s tree. So far, there’s been no attempt to remove her but logging goes on elsewhere.

“If I‘d come down, then probably the next day they would have come back and starting logging again,” Miranda says. “It’s not a win until there’s a guarantee it’s not going to be logged. This area is still on the logging schedule.”

As well as some Tasmanian Devils that have wandered past, Miranda’s visitors have included an array of bugs, local birdlife and the occasional politician – former Greens leader Bob Brown and current leader Christine Milne have both been hauled up to the canopy. Miranda’s mum also spent four nights up there. “It was great to have her come up. She’s never really been camping and certainly hasn’t been to the top of a tree,” says Miranda. Her dad and sister also paid visits.

Miranda uses her website www.observertree.org to document her experiences up the tree with blogs, films and pictures. Her one-year anniversary was met with over 300 photographs of support from people across the world. For about five years she has been heavily involved with the campaign group. Still Wild Still Threatened (www.stillwildstillthreatened.org), which is fighting to protect Tasmania’s southern forests. “It has led me to spend a lot of time in forests and monitoring wildlife and forest surveys and looking at endangered species in this area.”

Miranda is a qualified teacher and hopes to secure a teaching job once there’s a guarantee the area is safe from logging. And that guarantee could be in sight. In June, the World Heritage Committee will consider a federal government recommendation to extend the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which would safeguard Miranda’s tree and 170,000 more hectares of forest. “Part of what I’ve achieved hopefully is to inspire people to know that one person can make a difference,” Miranda says.

After Green Lifestyle interviewed Miranda, she ended her 449-day tree-top protest after a bushfire threatened her safety.

Bradley Smith

Coal and climate change campaigner
A rational assessment of climate change evidence meant Bradley Smith couldn’t ignore the need for direct action.

Bradley Smith has locked himself onto conveyor belts, climbed on top of trains, rowed in front of a ship and been wrestled on television by Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minders – all in the name of blocking coal.

The 29-year-old engineering tutor and lecturer at the University of Queensland says his risk-taking comes from a rational assessment of the scale of the climate change problem and the role coal plays in it. After reading scientific journals and reports on climate change while at university, he was perturbed by what he says is a “really worrying future”.

“Suddenly this simple concept of leaving the world in a better way than I’d found it became conflicted with living a ‘normal’ life in this society. It makes it hard to go on living the myth that we can carry on and only care about our own lives and ignore the massive impact our society is having.”

In 2008, Bradley helped form a coal and climate change protest group called Six Degrees (www.sixdegrees.org.au),part of Friends of the Earth in Brisbane. “This huge expansion of the coal industry was on the cards then – and still is – and so we decided to provide a voice and get active,” says Bradley. During his first foray into activism, in a protest with about 60 others, he was arrested for climbing on top of a coal train.

Later in 2008, Bradley and a fellow activist used thumbcuffs to lock themselves to a conveyor belt delivering coal to a Queensland power station. He has also been arrested for hanging a banner from the roof of Queensland’s Parliament House, which read “Don’t Undermine Our Farms”.

During the 2010 federal election, Bradley featured in the media after gatecrashing Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s climate policy launch with shouts of “fossil fuels have to go”. His latest ‘direct action’ saw him climb with another activist up a stockpile of coal near a mine at Jondaryan in Queensland, where residents have complained about coal dust.

“People want to make a profit from digging up coal but they don’t want to know about the problems they’re causing. There’s a real responsibility problem there. I’m constantly asking myself what should I do – what has to be done. Direct action is a really important part of what needs to be done.

“So often we’re disempowered by large corporations and by our supposed representatives in parliament who are more concerned about royalties from coal or political donations than they are about doing what’s best for Australia and what’s best for the future of the planet.

“In the past whenever great social change has happened it has come from people who were willing to break the law. We have to take those lessons from history.”

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