The Trauma of Ecodefence

This was a paper I wrote that got published in the James Cook University student newspaper (sometime around the mid-1990's). I am an activist, not a psychologist, and was a student at the time.

Trauma of Ecodefence

Alexander J. Thomas*

Introduction

My main message is that while defending our ecosystems can be a strengthening experience for individuals and communities, it is less well recognised that it can also be a traumatising one. Ecodefence is a widespread and growing phenomena that varies in intensity across the world, appealing to the young as a lifestyle in countries such as Australia, yet inviting death and maiming in countries such as Thailand. In Australia, activists can underestimate the power of the direct action situation, and overestimate the power of individuals to tolerate and understand human behaviours. The consequences of trauma to participants in direct action campaigns can overwhelm up to a quarter of participants, although few panic, and so it is preferable to anticipate and manage this outcome.

The extent of ecodefence

When the concept of the trauma of ecodefence first came to me I must admit that I had in my mind an impression of the look on the face of a young, dreadlocked, para-booted, greenie squatter coming to terms with the experience of a confrontation with red- necks, and the awesome sight of clear-fell logging coupe carnage. In fact, the history of ecodefence is as old as mankind, and its practioners cut across all race, age, class, gender definitions. Examples of ecodefence in the history of the Western tradition stretch can be found as far back as antiquity, and their are plenty of meaningful stories in traditional cultures as well.

Much of our modern conflict is driven by competition over natural resources, and appreciating this link is bringing about a revolution in the philosophy and practice of politics and warfare (Prins and Stamp 1991; Homer-Dixon et al. 1993). If we take warfare for example, Prins (Prins and Stamp 1991) has not only identified a shift in the deployment of military forces toward instances of environmental conflict, and just one Australian instance of this was the use of an F-111 jet in the Franklin Dam protest, but set a framework for a change in policy and practice which may help strengthen the defence policies of the Democrats and Greens in particular.

For some reason we need to keep reminding ourselves of this ecology-conflict link at an intellectual and political level, and I would suggest that this is because too few of our intellectuals and politicians are grounded in their earth reality. An earth reality that most of the planet's citizens are still well and truly in contact with. Ecodefence is the intuitive response of earth grounded citizens, because they understand the healing power of nature, and the link between a poor environment and the extent of disease. For all the technology and genetic engineering that the Western medical tradition can leverage, the link to our environment is still the one which determines the health status of the overwhelming majority of us (Conrad et al. 1995).

Direct action is being adopted as a lifestyle, particularly by young people, however few realize that it can be a life of trauma. Naive activists say things like "... you can take on the establishment by doing something as simple as sitting in front of a bulldozer.", without recognizing that although conflict may be non-violent the feelings still run high. More experienced activists realize that when push comes to shove blockading and conflict in the field are the tactics of last resort, because this form of political resistance always involves individuals putting themselves at risk.

The modern practice of direct action in ecodefence has been facilitated by writings such as Abbey (1973), Mitchell (1970), Watson (1995) and Sharp (1973) to which I would add Ueshiba's (1992) 'The art of peace' as a counterpoint to the often mentioned Tzu's (1963) 'The art of war'. The internet has also had a significant impact on the timeliness and availability of resources, and for the provision of this service I think a laurel would have to go to Pegasus networks. Ecodefence is also embodied in legal structures, for example the Worldwatch Institute now includes a chapter on environmental justice in its annual report (Worldwatch Institute 1996), and Australia has a number of Environmental Defenders Offices supported by the Federal, State governments and professional legal associations. These provide a non-profit community legal service for environmental law in the public interest.

Examples of ecodefence campaigns

In Thailand, traditional peoples are defending their forests by ordaining the trees as monks . These trees are not cut by the local people employed by the timber companies, because killing a monk is considered one of the most unspeakable crimes imaginable. In response, they are being killed, their wells are poisoned and in a chilling twist being denied access to water, forests and fields by the use of anti-personnel mines.

In Australia, my impression is that recent instances of conflict and direct action in ecodefence have become much more site specific, yet more intense. Although the bigger picture is no less relevant, there seems to me to be a more fertile field of public and political will for these debates than there was even a decade ago. Still, at the coalface these changes are resisted at a local level in remote communities, where there is very much a pioneer ethos and mentality.

For example, the coastal community of Cardwell is where the Port Hichinbrook resort proposal is still being bitterly fought. During the most recent on-site conflict the defenders of the mangroves were removed not by the police, but by Keith Williams' hired hands who were deputised by the police. Defenders reported extreme sexual threats, even videotaping the action did not prevent the excessive use of force and personal injuries were sustained. The local doctor, in what would be a gross dereliction of duty, was reported to have refused to treat these injuries (Kingston 1994). At a community level the trauma of the protest persists to this day, with shops variously refusing to serve local residents involved in the defence, shots fired at houses and numerous threats of violence.  

The nature of ecodefence trauma

Trauma is not a new or unstudied phenomena, and has been particularly studied in war, natural disasters and car accidents (Watts and de L Horne 1994). Tragically, it is increasingly being understood in Australia in terms of civilian massacres such as Hoddle Street, Queen Street and Port Arthur, and in terms of chronic social dysfunction such as child abuse. Lessons from these traumas can be adopted for use in ecodefense.

The trauma to an individual is a matter of relative stress, and in the context of ecodefence is about their reaction to the death, loss or threat to an ecosystem or its defenders, which may be sudden, untimely, violent and shocking. Because the violence of ecodefence is perpetrated by the hand of mankind the trauma is generally more stressful, and where developers and organisations are involved, the denial of responsibility, failure to offer an apology, absence of regret and use of lawyers and legalisms (such as SLAPP writs) can be profoundly painful (Erikson 1994). Furthermore, if the habitat destruction becomes inevitable there will be a period of 'inescapable horror' before the individual bears witness to it.

For young people in particular, the trauma may be the shattering of their assumptions about their personal invulnerability, the failure of human institutions (such as the police force in particular), and the cruelty and hostility of strangers (Janoff-Bulman 1992). Consider that people who have been in an environment of trust, respect, decency, charity and concern may suddenly find themselves confronted with hostile strangers who treat them as if they belong to a different order of humanity and have no qualms about being cruel and violent to them. Ecodefenders are considered so much like trash that they are increasingly met with police or goons in protective clothing, as if ready to handle toxic waste.

The effects of trauma can manifest themselves as specific and non-specific signs and symptoms, and in severe cases in a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can affect 70-90% of people exposed to a traumatic event for up to a few weeks. The trauma of ecodefence in Australia also occurs in at least one other form, namely the constant erosive and disillusioning news of the state of our environment. These can compound and exacerbate a trauma reaction, in the sense that someone who has been exposed to continuous bad news may have a disproportionately more traumatic reaction to a direct action confrontation.  

The trauma of ecodefence in Australia is manifestly unlike war, civilian massacres, natural disasters or car accidents, where the important difference is human death, but this would not be so for overseas situations, like Thailand. However, it may only be a matter of time. Just consider the signs of escalation, such as the street riots following France's recent nuclear tests, and in a more local example the recent televising of a physical fight which broke out over the loping of a significant fig tree somewhere on either the Sunshine or Gold Coast.

Signs and symptoms of traumatised people

There are specific and non-specific reactions to trauma, and activists may choose to keep a list of these as an aid in identifying people who have been particularly traumatised and who may develop PTSD (Table 1).

* intense yearning for the lost ecosystem

* preoccupation with images of the ecosystem

* pangs of grief triggered by any reminder

* disorganisation

* numbness

* anxiety

* anger

* dreams of the ecosystem

* angry protest 'Why did this have to happen?'

* sadness, crying and pain

* difficulty with sleep

* nightmares about the event

* depressed feelings

* tendency to startle (indicating arousal)

* irritable feelings

* mood swings * bad conscience, self-accusations or guilt

* fears about approaching the site or similar situations

* tension in the body

Table 1 - Specific and non-specific reactions to trauma. Adapted from Watts (Watts and de L Horne 1994).

Preparing for trauma of ecodefence

Preparation for the trauma of ecodefence consists of: •    alerting people to normal reactions to the situation •    identifying what people can do when they have these reactions •    nominating a place and/or person for defusing and/or debriefing

It is important to let people know that there will be support for their continued engagement and that this often helps their future satisfaction and capacity to accommodate the trauma, while at the same time it should be affirmed that are allowed to select their own point of dissociation.

Managing the trauma of ecodefence

During the action individuals who are traumatised may lose the ability to function, and become a danger either to themselves or others. There are two ways of managing this situation. Either the individual is given psychological first-aid through kind and reasonable compassion for their suffering, and escorted to a comfortable place to defuse, or they are kept close to the action, made aware of it and are expected to remain involved in it.

After the event there will be a period during which the experience engrains the community of participants, supplying its mood and temper, dominating its imagery and its sense of self and which governs the way its members relate to one another. This period is a make or break time, during which there can be a wave of euphoria and good feeling, or corrosion and splitting apart.

The immediate activity after the action is to defuse the experience, which is best done by reviewing what happened in small groups. During the defusing people can unload their feelings, share their distress and resolve to move on.

Shortly thereafter a group debriefing can be held. The purpose of the debriefing is to be constructive, and any discussion of perceived mistakes or negligence should be deferred because this can lead to guilt and distress. There is also a myth that forcing the recollection of the event is somehow useful, but this is not so. Attempts to do so are often well meant, but they should be swiftly and kindly disabled.

Because debriefings can easily become negative situations, care must be taken with them. Activists who facilitate these debriefings may find the format provided in Table 2 useful to them.

1. Introduction •    Right to be silent and confidentiality •    Discussion of procedures deferred •    People talk only for themselves •    People should be made aware that it could get worse before it gets better •    If leaving then please do so quietly and encourage to return •    If leaving in distress then someone will leave with them to support them

2. Fact phase •    Identify the facts of who, what, when and where. Defer why for later.

3. Thoughts •    Peoples thoughts are often clues to the core of their anxiety, and form the basis of intrusions into their thinking. •    Ask what did you do and why, what did you hear, see or smell

4. Reactions (longest) •    Never cut someone off when describing their reaction •    Ask 'How did you react?', 'What was the worst of what happened for you?', 'Have you ever experienced something like that before?' and 'How did you feel when that happened?'

5. Symptoms •    Describe the possible responses people may be having.

6. Preparation •    Describe the common elements of peoples experience •    Foreshadow their possible experiences, and affirm that these will decline with time

7. Re-entry •    Encourage self-help if symptoms persist beyond six weeks, increase or person can't function •    Arrange follow up meetings

Table 2 - Direct action debriefing format adapted from Watts (Watts and de L Horne 1994).

Conclusion

Conflict in direct action ecodefence can be a traumatising experience for people, and the nature of the trauma is particular because it often involves a personal loss, violent human action against other humans, and the shattering of the assumption that public institutions (such as the police) are benevolent. The experience of trauma can be strengthening when there is a recovery of function and an adaptation and mastery of it into a more resilient, re-evaluated world view. It is not about 'getting over it', but an accommodation of it into the assumptions of how life is, without becoming excessively disillusioned. The shared experience of a trauma can be a positive force which creates spiritual kinship and community identity amongst people.

The essence of helping people accommodate the trauma of their experience is about having compassion for their suffering, recognising that the event was traumatic for them, affirming that their reactions are normal, and identifying their strength as a survivor. Acknowledgements This paper was kindly improved and encouraged through discussion with Helen Myles, Dr. John Winter, and Kerry Stelling, and was inspired by a recent journey with the support of the Tarkine Tigers.

Bibliography 

Abbey, E. (1973). 'The monkey wrench gang.', London:Pan Books Ltd.

Conrad, L. I., Neve, M., Nutton, V., Porter, R. and Wear, A. (1995). 'The Western medical tradition: 800 BC to AD1800.', Cambridge University Press.

Erikson, K. (1994). 'A new species of trouble: explorations in disaster, trauma and community.', New York:W. W. Norton & Company.

Homer-Dixon, T. F., Boutwell, J. H. and Rathjens, G. W. (1993). 'Environmental change and violent conflict', Sci. Am. , 268(2): 16-23.

Janoff-Bulman, R. (1992). 'Shattered assumptions: towards a new psychology of trauma.', New York:Free Press.

Kingston, D. (1994). 'Doctor 'turns away hurt protester'' The Australian, 15 Nov 1994, Pp. 1.

Mitchell, J. G., Nader, R. and Stallings, C. L. (1970). 'Ecotactics: the Sierra Club handbook for environmental activists.',

Prins, G. and Stamp, R. (1991). 'Top guns and toxic whales: The environment and global security.', London:Earthscan.

Sharp, G. (1973). 'The methods of nonviolent direct action', in The politics of nonviolent action Eds. Sharp, G. and Finkelstein, M. Boston:Porter Sargent. Pp. 109-902

Tzu, S. (1963). 'The art of war.', Boston:Shambala.

Usheiba, M. (1992). 'The art of peace: teachings of the founder of Aikido.', Boston:Shambala.

Watson, C. P. (1995). 'Earthforce: An earth warriors guide to strategy.',

Chaco Press. Watts, R. and de L Horne, D. J., Eds. (1994). 'Coping with trauma', Melbourne:Australian Academic Press.

Worldwatch Institute (1996). 'State of the World', Worldwatch Institute.

* PO Box 100, JCU QLD 4811, AUSTRALIA. Alex.Thomas@jcu.edu.au

Boreholes - Estimating Their Effect on the Terrestrial Vertebrate Fauna of Weipa

It is estimated that over the 35 year life of Comalco's Weipa bauxite mine 2.6 to 4.7 million amphibians and reptiles (equivalent to 9.6-28.4 tonnes of biomass) have fallen into uncapped exploratory boreholes.

This is unpublished work presented and recorded in the 'Proceedings of the postgraduate conference of the Department of Zoology, James Cook University' in 1994.

You can get the PDF scan of the printed proceedings pages for free from my Products page.

The presentation was memorable as it was the first time a MacBook computer had been hooked up to a projector. At one point the cable fell out of the port and there was a collective gasp as I walked around and simply plugged it back in. Everyone (except me) was expecting the projector or the PC to blow up, which is what did tend to often happen in those early days of PC's.

It was also notable because I used HyperCard to create an animation of what was happening with fauna falling into the boreholes. Because of a default setting in the step where the reptile fell the computer emitted an unplanned sound like a squeal. The audience laughed, which was extremely rare, but it totally distracted me and so I forged on with the content. I worry it made me come across as humourless.

Stupidity or Science. Who are you with?

I got quoted in the paper  ('The Age') whilst at the March for Science in Melbourne:

 http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/fact-over-fiction-thousands-rally-to-melbournes-inaugural-march-for-science-20170422-gvqc5q.html

The precise text is: 

Data scientist Alex Thomas, who was among the crowd, agrees.

"I'm here because I think we have to choose between stupidity and science," he said. "I think we're dealing with a very dangerous phenomena, that is the rejection of science. Although science isn't everything, it's the grounding and the underpinning of modern life and many of us wouldn't be here without it."

 

Access and use: Improving digital multimedia consumer health information

Won an award for (and presented) this paper at HIC2016 in Melbourne. 

http://ebooks.iospress.nl/volumearticle/44299

The award was the Branco Cesnick  award for best student scientific/academic paper http://www.hisa.org.au/awards/.

The paper was also featured in Australian Policy Online http://apo.org.au/node/66780

A Guide to Stream-dwelling Frogs of the Wet Tropics Rainforests

This booklet is an illustrated key to the disappearing stream-dwelling frogs of the Wet Tropics Rainforests of Far North Queensland.

It is novel because it is printed on 100% waterproof paper, and because we got it sponsored by Freddo Frog (Cadbury Schweppes).

Turns out that printing it was a major challenge, because the ink would not dry enough in the printing press. This was a combination of the paper and the humidity of the tropics.

Bulletproofing Sea Shepard's IT

A couple of years ago I began a fantastic journey with Sea Shepard, and now with their permission I can tell the story of some of the things we have done to help bulletproof their shipboard IT.

In 2011 I read a great account of life on a campaign. Shortly after this I learnt that Sea Shepard were setting up their Southern Ocean Headquarters nearby in Williamstown, Australia, and I lived a mere 10 minutes away.

I did a weekend tour of the ships and as well as the mission I loved the energy, warmth and wildness of them and what they were doing. After considering various ways of getting involved I simply decided to take direct action.

I had in my shed a bunch of technical outdoor gear from my past life as a field ecologist that I realized I was never realistically going to use again. I loaded them in my car, drove down to the ships and donated it all. It turned out the waterproof cases were used to store the radios on the ships smaller rubber boats.

On a later visit I learnt that our tour guide - Rolf - was the ships Comms Officer. I had been doing some professional work with devices known as solid state disks. These replace hard disks and have no moving parts. Disk failure from vibration was a big problem on the ships, so as I was walking off the ship I asked Rolf if they could use solid-state drives.

Rolf was extremely enthusiastic, so we began systematically renovating all the hard disks. These devices work at lower temperatures, use less energy and are resilient to vibration.

It turned out their ship the MV Steve Irwin had a bunch of IT problems at the time. Among them was the state of the ship's IT infrastructure. As the other ships joined the fleet they typically had similar issues, and I got to work with the other Comms Officers, including Tim and Tux.

Most of the mobile phones were second-hand. The computers were ancient PC's. Laptops were rare and personally owned. Networking was primitive, unreliable and wires were actually sticky-taped together. There were no routers, switches or uninterruptible power supplies. PC's were operating as network servers. There was no wireless networking.

I made it my mission to fix that, and was blessed to have the support of an anonymous donor who after learning what I was doing financed pretty much whatever we asked for.

We made a running list (spawning the Amazon wish lists in use today), prioritised the items on it and just got on with doing whatever we could whilst the ships were in port. A slew of donations were made, including UPS's, networking hardware, cabling, a big bunch of slightly second-hand laptops with SSD's, iPods for social media posting and iPads for visitor email collection.

One outcome of which I am particularly proud is that media files are now transmitted wirelessly between ships, replacing dangerous small boat transfers of USB devices at sea.

I had the honour of having my photo taken in the Captains Chair of the Steve Irwin.

Thanks Sea Shepard.

iPad donations

Rainforest walk in 360-degree panoramic video

Come on a virtual tour of a rainforest on the outskirts of Melbourne using a 360-degree panoramic video I took with my iPhone 4S and a GoPano Micro camera attachment. http://www.gopano.com/embed/MjIwMjE

The attachment had dust (or something) inside it which you can see in the video, but it gives a sense of descending into the interior of the rainforest.

My takeaway's from the YOW Conference

Late last year I attended the YOW software developers conference here in Melbourne.

My takeaways include:

* AI 2.0 - Using principles of the brain to computationally detect anomalies. www.cept.at and numenta.org

* the movement to stream vs batch processing (exemplified by real-time music programming and algoraves, but things like StreamInsight)

* the rise of JavaScript (Linux and Amiga OS emulation in JavaScript within a browser) and functional programming

* Polyglot data storage (Graph databases, MongoDB) 

* Visualisation

* Natural interfaces

* Agile coaching

* Mobile

What I laughed the most at were many precious moments in Scott Hanselman's keynote.

Unfortunately, I still don't know what problem Lambda's are meant to solve.

Thank you Dave Thomas (no relation) for bringing us YOW yet again.

First fire alert via Meerkat

Today the first live voice notification about a neighbourhood fire was sent via Meerkat.

Meerkat is a Node.js API with Twillio integration. You send the API a message and it fires a collection of calls to Twillio to ring the landlines of a collection of neighbours to tell them something (in this case a fire threat) is occurring. It sends notifications MUCH faster than formal alerts via the FireReady app, etc. 

Being developed voluntarily with a work colleague who has a house in a fire-prone area.

More to follow ... 

Using Processing and Arduino for the Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2013

The Gertude Street Projection Festival 2013 is on between Friday 19th and 28th July 6pm - Midnight. It includes an installation at Rose Chong Costumes (disclaimer: family business) in which I used Ben Fry's Processing to project various fabric patterns onto clothes hanging out in the street, and a Freeduino to synchronise the lighting of corresponding buckets of fabric.

The projection uses an Apple Mac Mini running the visual art programming language Processing 2.0.0.

The display randomly selects from a pool of six JPG files that are scans of fabrics from the costume shop. The scans are significantly larger than the resolution of the projector, and are animated using an algorithm that slowly moves the image in a random direction until it hits the boundary of the file, then begins moving it randomly in another direction. It does this for a fixed period of time, then loops through with another unique image.

The fabric design imagery is projected against cutouts of garments suspended in a tree outside the shop window.

When the image changes it drives a custom Arduino-based lighting rig that illuminates a bucket of the corresponding fabric located in the front of the display.

The Arduino board is the Australian-made Freeduino (purchased from Jaycar), and some big white LED's, with plug-in leads and encased in a box.

There is more to the display than described, but the full description, code and photos will have to wait until the festival is launched.

20130729-145846.jpg

Only zoologist/SQL Server DBA known to have performed on stage and film with Nicole Kidman, whilst dressed as a camel

I am the only known zoologist to have performed on stage and film with Nicole Kidman, whilst dressed as a camel. That's me who was dressed as a camel. Not Nicole Kidman.

I am also the only known certified SQL Server database administrator to appear on stage and film with Nicole Kidman.

OK. The story is that a very long time ago I was 'Assistant Stand-by Wardrobe' on the film 'Wills & Burke' (or as it was released in the US 'The Wacky world of Wills & Burke').

I was roped into being an extra, and had my moment-of fame as the lead actor was the proto-famous Nicole Kidman. As I was young and foolish I was indignant that as a crew member I had been roped into being an extra. In hindsight it was clearly my crowning professional achievement.

The two screenshots show 1) the credit, and 2) a still from the exact scene (albeit I am only shown from behind) and 3) a 14-sec clip from the movie.

Screen grab of credits to 'The Wacky World of Wills & Burke' that show Alex Thomas as Assistant Stand-by Wardrobe.

Screen grab showing Alex Thomas performing on stage and film whilst dressed as a camel, with Nicole Kidman

[wpvideo nqx4fKZ3]

A Guide to Stream-dwelling Frogs of the Wet Tropics Rainforests

Image In the mid-90's I helped Dr Jean-Marc Hero produce this booklet to aid in finding the missing (now extinct) stream-dwelling frogs of the Wet Tropics Rainforests.

The document was published using Adobe PageMaker on an 8MHz Macintosh SE with 4Mb RAM (I think) and a billion disk swaps (this was before affordable hard disks).

It was the first time the James Cook University printer had ever used waterproof paper, and the ambient humidity caused havoc as the pages didn't have time to dry as they came through the press.

I arranged sponsorship from Cadbury's, and the booklet was freely distributed.

I don't have any copies to distribute and doubt if any are available now other than possibly the James Cook University library.

Contributing to Open Source GIS

I have made a donation to the open source GIS program QGIS. http://qgis.org/en/sponsorship/donors.html

GIS is a key enabler for understanding so much of our world and life, and I can distinctly recall my frustration in the late 90's when GIS investments were the only technology specifically excluded to community-based environment organisations. In fact, I threw the application booklet across the room at the time.

This is a more positive response.

Computing memories

Came across this artefact at the Australian Technology Park whilst in Sydney at the Healthevate Conference - a supercomputer retired in 2007. Image

It's specs are 2 CPU's at 8 Gflops each, 12Gb RAM and 287Gb RAID 5 storage.

To put this in perspective this post is being written on a machine with 1 CPU with 4 cores at about 20 Gflops each, 8Gb RAM and 600 Gb SSD storage.

Just saying ...

Implementing an SMS message wall for The 2012 Gertrude Street Projection Festival

For the 2012 Gertrude Street Projection Festival I implemented an interactive SMS message wall. A cardboard tableau of a woman bathing in a bubble bath with a comic-style voice bubble provided the projection surface.

Rose Chong texting the first SMS to the Rose Chong Costumes message wall.

 

Festival goers texting their SMS messages to the Rose Chong Costumes message wall.

Solution implementation consisted of a low-end PC running Microsoft Windows 7, a UPS, a Telstra 3G USB modem, the iWall software and a projector plugged into a graphics card.

Messages logs in CSV text format were generated daily.

At the end of the festival the word cloud was visualized using the www.wordle.net website and rendered as a PDF - RCC_ProjFest2012_Wordle.

To achieve this the individual csv files were concatenated using a DOS command and cleansed using Excel 2010.

Cleansing was required to:

  • Remove duplicates
  • Remove surnames
  • Remove phone numbers
  • Remove system messages

A hard copy of the PDF was printed on A3 at OfficeWorks and framed for Rose.