Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 14 August 2018

Time to end rampant native vegetation clearing

Last week I was alerted to alarming news that “clearing of native vegetation in NSW jumps 800% in three years” courtesy of an exclusive story by Anne Davies based on figures released after an eight-month battle between Guardian Australia and the state tribunal

I learnt that NSW gave permission to clear over 7,000 hectares of native vegetation in 2015-16, the second highest rate of clearing in a decade, while the creation of new conservation areas and restoration of bushland correspondingly slumped under the Berejiklian government. Both are indications that something is seriously going very wrong.

In 2013-14, 900 hectares was cleared in total. In 2014-15 this jumped to 2,730 hectares and by 2015-16 it had increased to 7,390 hectares.

At the same time measures to conserve native vegetation, such as new conservation measures and restoration, slumped to the lowest level in a decade. Restoration of native vegetation areas fell to 116,170 hectares in 2015-16, less than half the decade average.

Weed removal programs also went into reverse, with just a tiny fraction of the areas being managed for weeds – 29,970 hectares compared to the decade average of 182,200 hectares.

The most recent report from 2016-17 has still not been released, with the department claiming it is still not complete.

Because the data had not been released for three years, Guardian Australia attempted to use freedom of information laws to make it public.

The data is particularly important because during that time, the Berejiklian government replaced the Native Vegetation Act, with a much more liberal regime –the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2017 – which allows farms and landholders to self-assess whether they need to make a formal application to clear land using satellite maps.

We should all be concerned, as environmental groups and the government’s own Office of Environment and Heritage have warned, that the new regime will lead to a major increase in loss of habitat, on a scale only seen in Queensland, which is the nation’s worst state for land clearing.

A document obtained by the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) under freedom of information revealed the new land-clearing laws would cause extensive harm to wildlife habitat but pressed ahead with the changes anyway.

“This is damning evidence that the environment minister approved these new laws knowing they would expose 99%of identified koala habitat on private land to clearing” NCC boss, Kate Smolski, said at the time. The department also warned of a 45% spike in land clearing.

“Clearing of native vegetation in NSW jumps 800% in three years. It’s a disgrace this information was hidden. Congratulations to Anne Davies for forcing the release of this material. Now to change the law” said Greens MP David Shoebridge. Spot on, David.

If the knowledge that koalas and other indigenous fauna and flora are seriously at risk isn’t enough to indicate that we are in serious trouble perhaps the knowledge that increased land clearing by a University of Queensland scientist has led ground-breaking research, which shows that clearing of native vegetation has made recent Australian droughts hotter, will convince.

Dr Clive McAlpine of UQ’s Centre for Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Science and Mr Jozef Syktus, principal scientist in the Queensland Natural Resources and Water Department (DNRW), headed a study which will be published later this year in Geophysical Research Letters, the journal of the American Geophysical Union.

In an Australian first, they showed that 150 years of land clearing added significantly to the warming and drying of eastern Australia.

The researchers found that mean summer rainfall decreased by between four percent and twelve percent in eastern Australia, and by four percent and eight percent in southwest Western Australia. These were the regions of most extensive historical clearing.

“Based on this research, it would be fair to say that the current drought has been made worse by past clearing of native vegetation.

“Our findings highlight that it is too simplistic to attribute climate change purely to greenhouse gases.

“Protection and restoration of Australia’s native vegetation needs to be a critical consideration in mitigating climate change” they said.

So, as the drought tightens its grip the knowledge that it is in large part human induced, and that part of that is land clearing, is food for thought.

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Public Performance of ‘As it happened: five micro-plays of the ongoing Nakba’

The public performance was quite a night. Though it started very late due to Alrowwad’s other commitments the show was good. A couple of late technical crews, but the actors were good.

It was the ‘after’ party that really got to me. An amazing celebratory experience and such an outpouring of love and affection!

I even danced – to Arabic rock, no less – and I haven’t danced for years. Me! It got even more unusual for me in that I was chaired at shoulder height around the dance floor (stage) by two of my 6 foot tall dancing boys. And all this without a drop of alcohol!

The sense of community that the shared endeavour of theatre making can create was strongly in evidence last night and it was a wonderful experience that I’m never going to forget – I think I can confidently say that at my age.

Even so, my mind moves on to next year’s project, directing Abedlfattah Abusrour’s ’21 Positions’, an English language play that we are planning for August 2019. There was lots of conversation about it last night so I’m confident that it will go ahead.

Last day on ‘As it happened’

My last day in Bethlehem today.

Last night we filmed ‘As it happened’ and tonight is the public performance. I used the first take of each of the microplays as basically a rehearsal and the second take as the real thing, making up for the shortage of tech runs this week.

I was pleased with last night. Lights and sound were pretty much as I’d requested and the filming went very smoothly. I was especially pleased with the student actors, who had settled into the space well and were acting characters rather than playing themselves. They can now relate to the given circumstances of each play and play the actions of the intentions of the character they are playing – all a big step forward.

There is a good feeling of cooperation and camaraderie among our team, a sense of having worked cooperatively and hard to achieve our project, and that’s a good feeling.  The sense of community and shared endeavour that any good theatre project can achieve.

Tonight is performance night to an audience and of course things could still go wrong, especially given the paucity of tech rehearsals, but if things go as well as each second take last night I’ll be well pleased.

‘As it happened’ tech rehearsals

Tech run yesterday was pretty good. Some lighting and sound states are still a bit improvised, for Ahmed hasn’t been able to have much time at the lighting and sound desks, as the performance space is being used to capacity for other projects.

I’m pushing Alrowwad’s capacity towards its limits so I know not to be too greedy. All being well I’m getting the visuals and sounds I wanted, including some great video clips. Certainly what I have seen so far is very good.

Acting wise I was thrilled by the students’ improvement. They have adapted to the performance space (as opposed to the rehearsal room) very well, and are playing their characters’ intentions in the given circumstances (what, who, where, when and why) equally well. They are really delivering the goods – well, almost all of them.

Filming tomorrow, performing to an audience the day afterwards.

My DA Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 August 2018

We need a climate change adaptation plan

As the northern hemisphere endures another summer of extreme heat and resultant bushfires, tropical storms and floods (and the south will follow in our summer) global warming and climate change came to mind.

I have two responses. What are we and the rest of the world doing to combat global warming and halt climate change, and secondly, what are we doing to manage the risks if some degree of climate change isn’t avoided?

That second question becomes increasingly urgent as it becomes clearer and clearer that we are doing precious little to reverse global warming.

Let’s look firstly at the 21st United Nations Paris Agreement, with 196 countries reaching an unprecedented agreement to reduce emissions and slow climate change. The agreement commits a shared effort to keep temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a target of 1.5°C.

However, global efforts to mitigate climate change are tokenistic given the size of the problem. Fossil fuels continue to burn our future; in Australia, over 80 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuel.

The Turnbull Government is in fact yet to show any real action following the Paris agreement, tokenistic or otherwise, even though it is clear Australia’s climate policy will require a major overhaul if it is to comply with higher emission reduction targets set under the agreement.

We currently employ a ‘direct action’ climate policy centred on the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which has virtually run out of money. If the Government hopes to reach the Paris target by 2030 it needs to be replaced with something similar to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Also, with Tony Abbott advocating tearing up the Paris Agreement and with the connivance of the ill-named Monash Group hell-bent on building more coal fired power stations we have even less chance of meeting our Paris commitments, so it’s high time we took a good hard look at that we are doing to manage the risks of climate change.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail to halt global warming, because we certainly should be.  

I was alerted to our lack of preparation by ABC TV News, which reported that the United Kingdom has just published a far-reaching and thoroughly impressive plan to manage risks from climate change.

The UK’s recently released Climate Plan is a strategy to save lives from heat, flood and fire. That’s right, bushfires, even in the UK!

It should be compulsory reading for the Australian Government, because we have no such plan.

Clearly the UK has got the message that current emission reduction efforts are inadequate to prevent coming disasters and priority must be given to protecting the public. They recognise that human health depends on environmental health.

The UK plan means that the Government must publish a climate change risk assessment every five years, based on scientific information from the Climate Change Committee. This assesses the risks for flooding, heat, drought, food, pests and natural capital risks. The adaptation plan also anticipates water shortages for agriculture, energy generation and industry. In response, it plans to increase water supply and drive greater water efficiency.

It also highlights strategies already underway in public services. The National Health Service, for example, plans to embed adaptation into daily practice as early as 2023.

However, despite a sometimes worrying tendency to rather slavishly follow the UK (when we are not following the US) there is no Australian Government adaptation plan to address the health impacts of climate change.

Instead, there are different responses by state and territories public health authorities, all of which are mostly inadequate.

Non-Government organisations (NGO’s) such as the Climate and Health Alliance have detailed what federal, state and local governments must consider when, if ever, they decide to act.

Worryingly there is no national leadership on this issue. Leaders must be able to explain vital policy and carry us, the people, with them. This means explaining the threats to our life-support systems such as stable climate, water, biodiversity and productive land, and what we will do so that these threats can be avoided. It’s time Mr Turnbull got on with it, with other parties calling out his lack of action at every available opportunity.

Rehearsing ‘As it happened’

A great couple of days rehearsing ‘As it happened’, which is a good thing as Production Week starts tomorrow.

We fixed detail on both Motasem and Ismael’s stories, but also I was really impressed with the emotional depth and maturity the students displayed today. I bodes well for the rest of the week.

A scheduling problem arose with student availability for the filming and performance days, as Alrowwad staff had double booked them, and they were also supposed to go to Hebron and Ramallah respectively on those days, but it was all sorted out quite sensibly. We are simply filming and performing in the evening on those days.

Good rehearsal and future prospects

A very productive rehearsal on Fatma’s story: the actors are now responding to each other and also not cluttering up a scene with unnecessary business.

The story like is also much clearer.

I visited the University of Bethlehem yesterday through a chance meeting with a staff member I met on a bus. We lined up some possible volunteer work for me for next year – possibly as program of play readings of short plays as hopefully I’ll be mainly working on ’21 Positions’ at Alrowwad.

Speaking of which I’ve tracked down the composer and the music for ’21 Positions’. It’s amazing what you can do with Google if you vary the wording of what you are looking for often enough. I’ll check with Abdelfattah to see if it is in order for me to follow up the contact.

So a very productive couple of days.

Much better day on ‘As it happened’

A much better day on ‘As it happened’. We had more students, and so I was able to rehearse both Momen and Shayma’s plays.

Mohamed had gone to Jordan, which left a hole in a couple of the plays, but I’ve adopted a policy of substituting another actor for the lead – which works if the are enough spares around, and it today there were. So I was able to substitute Omar for Mohamed in Shayma’s play, and Qusai for Mohamed in Momen’s play.

Today we also did good very work on the prison dialogue in Shayma’s play. It’s really the only scene with intensive dialogue in any of the plays, and as it comprise the family’s visit to their son in an Israeli prison it is very intensive. I scripted it as few days ago, and Ahmed translated it into Arabic, but today was really the first time we had a chance to work on it.  It was very good work all round.

Difficult day for ‘As it happened’

Difficult rehearsal today in that less than half the actors turned up. I knew two had a funeral to attend and of course that was totally acceptable, but the absence of the others meant it was hard to work properly.

A couple of weeks ago, even a week ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but with only just over a week to filming and a week and a half to performing with an audience, I’m getting worried that we won’t be able to present anything worthwhile.

As the film of the performance, and Sara’s documentary will go up on You Tube (and presumably also be seen via other platforms and forums I’m concerned that if the quality of our work isn’t good it won’t help Alrowwad’s public relations, let alone fundraising efforts.

Anyway, enough of such thoughts. Even with a much diminished cast we did manage to fix one problematic scene, and it was good work.

As it happened … The design/tech production elements are now getting sorted.

Today I called a production meeting and so now  have 3 staff + one senior student to look after the design and tech production (essentially lighting, sound, sets, props, costumes, special effects etc).  I’ve even got a stage manager! We’ll need him, as wrangling these students is not the easiest thing in the world.

I’ve also worked out a schedule to get us through to filming on 7 August and staging it for an audience on 9 August, including tech rehearsals. This is a huge relief as I had worries about the production side given that I have loaded up each little micro play with lots of design/tech elements. One play even features a stun grenade and several feature attacks by the Israeli air force and ground troops.

So it’s a great feeling to have the production side of things sorted and also to have a clear schedule ahead of us.