An Inconvenient Truth for forest protestors - No Old Growth Logs used here
ABC Online Opinion piece May 21st 2009
By Calton Frame
No‐one doubts, least of all we at Gunns, that our proposal to build the world’s most advanced pulp mill in Tasmania is contentious.
We welcome the debate, because it gives the company the chance to refute both lies and common misconceptions about the mill. Lies is a strong word, but there’s no other way to describe claims which were dragged out once again by The Wilderness Society that “Gunns' proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill threatens Tasmania's old‐growth forests” (ABC Opinion and Analysis, May 18).
Gunns has openly – and repeatedly – stated the mill won’t use old growth forest at all. The reason for this is simple economics. About 25 per cent of wood is actually fibre, or pulp. The rest is water and lignin (the ‘cement’ that binds the fibre together). Using plantation timber, this number rises to as much as 28 per cent – using old growth, it drops to about 22 per cent. Pulp from plantations simply makes more money.
It’s a disappointment to the mill’s opponents, who find a major leg of their argument kicked from under them. How can you galvanise opposition against the mill if you can’t use emotive words like “old growth”, “Styx”, “Florentine” and “Weld”?
You could do it by simply ignoring the facts. You could ignore the fact that at start‐up, the mill will use 60 per cent plantation forest and 40 per cent regrowth timber, with a capacity to rise to 100 per cent plantation within five years of operation. Most of that plantation timber will come from Gunns’ 200,000 hectares of plantation forests. Gunns plantations are a proven, sustainable resource – several of the older plantations are on their second or third rotations. Far from destroying forests, Gunns is probably the biggest planter of trees in Australia.
You could also ignore the facts by running anti‐pulp mill advertisements in Europe, where readers of the European Financial Times aren’t yet wise to the clever lies of the mill’s opponents. The ads this month, organised by The Wilderness Society and activist group GetUp tried to put pressure on banks not to fund the proposed Bell Bay pulp mill.
Leave aside for a moment the irony of an environmental group putting anti‐pulp mill advertisements in a newspaper printed on paper manufactured from pulp mills which are much less environmentally friendly than the one proposed for Tasmania.
The advertisements have served a purpose, although not, perhaps, the purpose GetUp and The Wilderness Society intended.
They’ve spurred Tasmanians into action to support the mill.
Australia’s largest union, the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union, has mounted its own campaign in support of the mill. Other groups, such as the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and both Tasmania’s Premier and its Opposition Leader, have also voiced support.
Earlier this month, pro‐pulp mill candidates polled more than 75 per cent of the vote in the election for the Tasmanian Upper House seat of Windermere, based around the pulp mill site. The Greens, who fielded an articulate, well‐known local candidate who ran almost exclusively on an anti‐pulp mill platform, polled just 16 per cent.
It put to bed the misconception in the GetUp ad that the mill is opposed by a majority of Australians. Certainly not by those who would be most affected by it.
They’re excited about the jobs that will be created – over 2,000 during construction and an estimated 1,600 during operation. This includes the new jobs in hospitality, service industries and support sub‐contractors who will all benefit.
Other businesses which opponents claim will be destroyed by the mill, don’t yet seem to have been affected by their close location to the Bell Bay Heavy Industrial Estate on the Tamar River for the past few decades.
There’s no doubt that the Tamar is beautiful. But it’s a bit rich to compare the Bell Bay Heavy Industrial Estate, as one mill opponent did in a recent newspaper article, with the Sydney Opera House ‐ unless Bennelong Point has suddenly sprouted an aluminium smelter, a power station, two woodchip mills, a ferrous alloy smelter, a sewage treatment plant, a major container port facility, and a sawmill.
We believe the mill will be the most environmentally friendly in the world. It’s certainly passed the most stringent environmental standards ever imposed on any industrial development in Australia.
It will use the very latest technology to reduce emissions which might once have had the potential to damage local agriculture. Old pulp mills around the world do smell, but new technology has eliminated the rotten‐egg odour by recycling it through boilers.
The wastewater from the mill which goes into Bass Strait (a government requirement) will actually be cleaner than the water flowing beside the mill in the Tamar River. Opponents of the mill regularly cite “64,000 tonnes of toxic pollution”, which is not true. The mill does have approval to output 64 mega litres of wastewater per day, but it is neither toxic nor polluted. It will contain just 0.074 grams – yes, grams – of dioxin a year. It’s 10 times safer than American drinking water, which has a dioxin standard (we don’t in Australia).
An independent assessment of the mill’s carbon footprint found it would actually reduce greenhouse emissions by 1.1 million tonnes a year. We can do this by not only reducing the number of ships used to take woodchips to less environmentally friendly mills (remember the 25 per cent figure – one ship carrying pulp instead of four carrying chips). But the mill’s co‐generation electricity plant, powered by burning the lignins and waste, will put enough surplus green‐rated power back into Tasmania’s grid to power Launceston.
The truly depressing part of the debate over the mill has been the refusal by opponents of the mill, not just to find out the basic facts, but to refuse to even engage with the company to ensure the mill meets the high environmental standards they claim they want to preserve.
Calton Frame is Corporate Relations and Sustainability Manager for Gunns Limited