On data, spin, and some new realities…maybe

1 June 2012 – Comment: Are people getting more hypersensitive, or has it always been uncomfortable to look at the raw data? “Raw” as in data without the spin that makes us comfortable, and that instead uses someone else’s prism to colour the information.

At a Green Capital forum in Melbourne on 23 May on the subject of “paper wars”, or what to buy and not buy for your office paper, we hear that some of the people present got rather agitated at the Wilderness Society position that we should not be buying paper made from old growth forests. Ever.

And that means not buying any paper at all made in Australia because even our recycled paper is sourced ultimately from a company, Australian Paper, which also plunders our native forests.

Better to buy imported recycled paper. Imported? With all those carbon miles?

The speaker – a panel member on the Green Capital forum– was Luke Chamberlain.

These days Chamberlain is the Victorian campaign manager for the Wilderness Society, but he previously worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and several other multinational companies, so he has something in common with the many corporates who attend the Green Capital events.

On Thursday morning he took part in the Sydney leg of Green Capital’s Paper Wars forum, which is part of its ongoing Better Buying program from Green Capital.

Luke Chamberlain, right, with ECO-Buy research manager Stephen Reardon at the Green Capital Paper Wars forum

We caught up with Chamberlain after the session:

“Just over two per cent of all global greenhouse emission, 2.3 per cent, come from all shipping, freight and rail,” he said. “About 18-20 per cent comes from loss of forests; add in logging and it’s 33 per cent or higher.

“Everyone talks about why we can’t import products but we can log our native forests. So I completely support the proposition to bring in paper form overseas rather than log our native forests.”

Overseas paper can be both recycled and guaranteed not to come from someone else’s native forests, he said.

The Wilderness Society https://www.wilderness.org.au/paper recommends the following brand, available at Officeworks and Office Max: Evolve; Vision – Pure White; Fuji Xerox Recycled; OfficeMax; and Ecocern.

Sure the whole issue of paper and wood and timber is confusing and the reason it’s confusing, Chamberlain said, is because in paper we’re mixing up plantation timber with native forest timber.

“We need our native forests for soil and water and air and carbon, all that sort of thing.

“Our plantation is where we should get all our wood products from, plantations in already degraded land.”

And guess what?

Amanda Keogh and Gordon Renouf

Chamberlain said that Australia has brilliant plantations, many created in the 50s and now ripe and ready to yield all the paper and wood products we could want.

But why are native forests used then?

“Because it’s cheap.” Chamberlain said that the Victorian government, which manages its forests on behalf of its citizens, allows mills to come in and rake off the proceeds of these forests, and subsidises.

“You pay for it in your taxes,” he said.


“For the jobs, the industry, the timber men.”

How many jobs?

“Less than half of one per cent. In Victoria it’s less than 1000 jobs, in a population of five million.”

Vic Forests doesn’t agree with Chamberlain.

Here’s what their spokesman said:

“VicForests made a profit of $2.3 million last year and we don’t receive subsidies from taxpayers.”

Has it always made a profit? Yes, in 2010-11, but not in 2009-10 because of the bushfires.

The spokesman said VicForests sold timber through a variety of means and was satisfied it received “going market rates” for this.

We went back to Chamberlain and he said that scrutiny of the annual report reveals there are grants from the government that are factored into the profit figure and that there is an outstanding loan to the government of $29 million.

On sources for paper, VicForests said that the commodities and paper produced was a byproduct of the high quality timber that could only be supplied from native forests for furniture and flooring.

“We simply can’t supply all the timber we need in Victoria from plantation timber,” the spokesman said.

Chamberlain said: “Ask why four years ago VicForests increased supply to Australian paper by 200,000 tonnes beyond the contract [amount]? If [paper pulp] it’s a byproduct there must be an increase in production in something else.”

VicForests’ spokeman said native forests employed 3000 to 4000 people when associated jobs were included, and altogether the timber industry in Victoria employed 25,000 people with all associated jobs included.

Chamberlain: “VicForests employs 123 people. It’s in the annual report.

“Their maximum number of contractors is 400; it’s in their Sustainability Report. Next is the more difficult number of people who work in the mills. There are about 23 left in Victoria. Some employ one or two people and one is very difficult [to gauge]; it’s about 100 people. The average is 20 people so 400 in mills altogether.

And then there is Australian Paper, with 900 employees, but only a quarter of those are [employed in] native forests.

“They say, 3000 to 4000; it doesn’t add up to that.”

Chamberlain said many of the mills are unviable and “waiting around”, some for the past 10 years, for a payout from the government.

“If you’re a milk bar and Coles moves into the area, do you get a payout from the government? No.”

Personal change? It’s useless.

Here are some more challenging views with an interesting “spin”.

They are from an article published in Orion Magazine in 2009 that say that the most pure green consumption patterns of us all would not be enough to save this planet.

Here’s a taste:

An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet?”

Carbon emissions:

“Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, US carbon emissions would fall by only 22 per cent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 per cent worldwide.”


“More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 per cent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.”


“Kirkpatrick Sale summarised it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”


“In 2005, per capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the US was about 1660 pounds (754.55 kilograms).

“Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though.

“Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 per cent of total waste production in the United States.”

The writer, Derrick Jensen, is radical. He says we are reduced to thinking of ourselves as consumers instead of potential activists who can agitate for change and even throw out the governments that don’t do what the majority of people (not corporations) want.

Yes it’s true that political power starts from the small and can move mountains. But do we have the time?

Read Jensen’s highly provocative piece in full here https://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801

And maybe you can be inspired or agitated enough to send us a response.

The salon

We tried something different a few weeks ago. We held a “salon” (recently flagged), a kind of working dinner where the guests come along, are lulled into a relaxed frame of mind by breaking bread and (some) sharing a bottle of wine while they get stuck into the more contentious issues of the day. The focus in this case was on visiting author and green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.

Yudelson knows a thing or two about green buildings. Not just because he consults on them, but because he travels the world speaking to designers and investors, soaking up information and bright ideas for his books and keynote addresses (most recently for ARBS in Melbourne.) In doing this he clearly notes useful new templates that work, those that fail and what we should be focusing on, such as absolute reductions in carbon emissions for buildings, instead of only relative reductions against a benchmark.

Yudelson is as relaxed and unconcerned about global political ructions and the backlash on climate change and the green movement as it’s possible for a man from Tucson Arizona to be.

Yes the politicians of the western world have lost the plot, he says. So what?

The big drivers of the movement will continue, just as they did in his protest days: the young. Number one.

They will do the heavy lifting of improving our world. In property, it’s the young generation taking over their parents’ empires that wants to leave a positive mark on the landscape. A generation of people such as Daniel Grollo, he says.

(We suspect there’s a degree of peer pressure going on as well. It’s just not cool to be brown these days.)

The other big driver is economic. The business case. Enough said.

Indoor air and the forgiveness factor in green

Our other guests at the salon were also interesting, delivering snippets of tantalising information we want to follow up with bigger pieces.

Such as from Richard de Dear from the University of Sydney: that in his specialty of indoor air quality the next move is towards zoned personal comfort controls.

De Dear also said there was a huge “forgiveness” factor in green. People will be far more accommodating of imperfect air temperatures, for instance, if they are in a green building. And not at all if it’s a conventional building.


The gap is narrow

From the Green Building Council’s Andrew Aitken we learnt of a new survey that shows quite low discrepancy between green building design and performance. This will be a great validation for this industry, and will put paid to the view of the naysayers who contend that there are “many” buildings that fall short of their promised performance.

As the conversation highlighted, it takes a while to commission new technology.

Green buildings are more and more like ecosystems, the “living, breathing” buildings we imagined in the 80s when these ideas started to surface. And like we “living, breathing” humans, it can take a while to get them to work properly … In fact for some of us, it can take decades!