Firewood Conferences: Summaries of Papers Presented
Environment Australia, 2002
What a timely series of gatherings the firewood conferences have been. They have taken place just as the debate about the merits of firewood collection and woodheater use were becoming very divisive across the community. In such circumstances there is always a risk that a conference will turn into a slanging match between those that feel there is a serious problem and those that feel there is not. Or, equally as unproductive, the conference may present just one side of the argument and preach to an audience already converted.
What struck me about these conferences was the breadth of opinions put forward and the remarkable degree of consensus from such a disparate group of presenters and delegates. No issues were tucked under the rug as too hard or too divisive. The issues were aired; where possible solutions were offered; and where the knowledge was not good enough to identify solutions, a path forward was suggested.
What's more, the firewood conferences have not been dealing with simple problems. When we talk of restricting access to firewood supply we are impacting on people's livelihoods. The firewood cutters and fuel merchants were presented with well argued, yet inevitably emotive, reasons why ecological damage was occurring; but their response was productive: 'tell us what the constraints are and why and we will be able to work within them.'. The solutions include: use of different firewood species; leaving sensitive areas alone; ensuring ample standing and fallen dead wood remain; better integration with commercial forest operations; and firewood plantations. Once the ideas started to flow each objection was met with plausible alternatives.
If, as the conferences suggest, the firewood problems can be resolved through an ordered change to sustainable supply, the problem of smoke-filled suburbs remains. But to address this we must start meddling with people's homes - their hearths, the focal point of family.
'A mighty fire was blazing on the hearth and roaring up the wide chimney with a cheerful sound ... It is not very difficult to forget rain and mud by the side of a cheerful fire ... Overpowered by the warmth and comfort and the fatigue they had undergone, Nelly and the old man had not long taken their seats here, when they fell asleep.'
—The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens
It is not surprising that there has been a great reluctance by governments at all levels to interfere with such a central part of so many homes. But even on such sensitive matters, the conferences have put forward sensible approaches to addressing the wood-smoke problem.
So, to me, a regular conference goer, this firewood conference series stands out as a turning point in this debate, where complaints and concerns have been replaced by consensus and action.
John J Todd
Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
University of Tasmania
Each firewood conference was made possible by the involvement of the relevant State Non Government Organisation and its dedicated team of staff and volunteers.
Victorian National Parks Association
10 Parliament Place
East Melbourne Victoria 3002
Telephone: 03 9650 8296
Facsimile: 03 9654 6843
National Parks Association of NSW
PO Box A96
Sydney South NSW 1235
Telephone: 02 9299 0000
Facsimile: 02 9290 2525
Tasmanian Conservation Trust
102 Bathurst Street
Hobart TAS 7000
Telephone: 03 6234 3552
Facsimile: 03 6231 2491
C/- Conservation Council
120 Wakefield Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Telephone: 08 8449 6470
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust undertook the task of producing the final proceedings for the firewood conferences. Three publications will be completed by the end of 2002: executive summary; summary of each paper presented; and full publication of each paper presented.
The summaries of papers presented at the Conferences were compiled with the assistance of the Conference Convenors, the authors and the following people:
Bendigo, Armidale and Adelaide
Summaries compiled by:
C/- Tasmanian Conservation Trust
C/- Tasmanian Conservation Trust
Final composition, editing and layout of publication by:
17 Macquarie Street
Evandale TAS 7212
Telephone: 03 6391 8393
Facsimile: 03 6391 8393
The firewood conferences were made possible by funding from the Bushcare National Projects program under the Natural Heritage Trust.