Protecting Australia's Forests Is About to Get A Whole Lot Harder

When Australia and its island state Tasmania signed the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement in 2011, it seemed to offer a peaceful conclusion to the fight over the country's natural forests that had raged for decades. That agreement, which expanded the protected area of Tasmanian forests and provided resources for logging companies to develop alternative plantation-based pulp production, may be in danger if Tasmania's new state government gets its way.

Will Hodgman, whose term as the premier of Tasmania started at the end of March, announced plans this week to repeal the agreement and open up around 400,000 previously protected hectares of forest for the timber industry.

Even more troubling, this news comes days after Australia's federal government announced a review of competition laws that members of parliament hope will altogether ban environmental boycotts. Under current law, secondary boycotts (any boycott not coordinated by employees against their direct employer) are illegal, except for those "substantially related to environmental or consumer protection." The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Richard Colbeck, said last week, "I do think there is an appetite in the government for changing these laws."

The 2011 agreement was largely a result of successful campaigning to better inform foreign manufacturing companies about their Australian suppliers. Facing the declining market value of products made from unsustainably logged forests, Gunns Limited, Tasmania's largest private forestry company, announced it was exiting native forest harvesting. With their ability to stage similar campaigns now threatened, conservation and environmental advocacy groups are furious.

"It's quite outrageous in our view," says Peg Putt, the CEO of Markets for Change, an organization that researches and informs markets about companies driving environmental destruction.

Colbeck cited Markets for Change's 2011 investigation of major Australian furniture retailer Harvey Norman's supply chain, and subsequent advertisements criticizing the company, as an example of the type of dishonest campaigns the proposed ban aims to stop.

"Advocates of the forest industry, when they can't actually argue their case, just smear the people who are conducting the campaigns to protect the forest," Putt says. "They give no actual evidence. Whereas we have researched evidence of what's actually going on."

Sam Mclean, the national director of GetUp!, an online campaigning organization in Australia that partnered with Markets for Change for the "NoHarveyNo" campaign, agrees with Putt about the proposed ban.

"It's a nonsense idea," Mclean says. "And one which I think the vast majority of Australians would find very concerning."

When asked his reaction to Colbeck's statement that environmental campaigns are "dishonest," Mclean shared a conversation he had with Colbeck two weeks ago. Colbeck told Mclean that he thinks it is misleading to tell companies and the public that cutting down forests is bad.

"I said, that's not misleading. That's just what we think. We think destroying the forests is bad," Mcleans says. "He said that it's not bad, so it's a misleading campaign. So it's very clear that his definition of misleading in this instance is one we don't agree with."

Putt worries about the ramifications this ban would have on political speech.

"We could only talk to the producers. We could only talk to the bloke with the chainsaw," she says. "And that just undercuts a major action that any ordinary person can take to influence what goes on with their natural environment."

Mclean also framed the issue as a threat to political freedoms.

"The first thing we need to do is call on the government, which calls itself a free speech government, to live up to that standard," he says.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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