Politics And The Natural World

The “Stand Up For Nature’ Conference

 

I attended a meeting today, held to inspire people to stand up to our current Federal government that is retreating from environmental issues such as climate change and the protection of forests and marine environments, in favour of business interests.

 

Speakers included Lyndon Schneiders, director of the Wilderness Society, Dr Sylvia Earle, world renowned scientist and oceanographer, Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Christine Milne, leader of the Greens.

 

All speakers followed the same theme: The Abbott government is tearing down environmental protection at an alarming rate, weakening already weak national environmental laws, and pushing for forests and farmlands to be turned into gas fields and coal mines, marine sanctuaries to be eroded and climate change to be ignored even though scientists have proven our planet has limited capacity to absorb the waste of our industry.

The speakers mentioned the continuing battle for renewable energy, and how it is an embarrassment that the government has pushed for coal and gas when all other first world countries are looking toward renewable alternatives. It was mentioned that the government is also pushing for a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that allows multi-national corporations to sue any government if their licenses to log or mine are taken away.

 

Sylvia Earle, barely able to look over the lectern, made up for her smallness in frame by voicing powerful messages. She spoke of enormous changes to the Great Barrier Reef since she first visited there in 1975, and spoke of ‘smart animals’, some the same old age as her, as noticing change, but they ‘cannot know what we know, only feel that things are not right.’ She revealed shark numbers have declined by 90% and tuna, even more so.

“We are good at killing, but we have to be better at caring.”

She spoke of humans having the knowledge to change things, but our changes usually only occur to suit us. She reminded the audience that “our lives depend on a natural world that works in our favour,” and instead of “changing the nature of nature,” we should be inspired to put a halt on destruction, before it is too late.

 

Mark Butler, spoke of similar concerns and mentioned the Whitlam government in the 1970’s as instigating the first environmental protection of the Great Barrier Reef, monumental in its day, yet the current government is tearing it down with new management plans and Labor has ‘no idea what they are.’ He spoke of Australia as once being the fourth most attractive place in the world to invest in renewable energy, yet now global companies with this interest, are withdrawing under Abbott’s favouring of coal and gas.

 

Our Senator representing the Greens, Christine Milne, also spoke of the definite road to extinction for a rare possum in Victoria, due to climate change. It cannot live in temperatures above 27%, and numbers are dwindling. She spoke of renewable energy as a goal we must plan for, setting targets ‘not just an emissions trading scheme, and that we should not allow the government to sign on for the TPP agreement.’

She urged finally, “it will all be in vain unless we tackle global warming.”

 

 

Harriet Jones

 

The Great Barrier Reef Open For Dirty Business

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive reef ecosystem in the world, holds 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays, 150 inshore mangrove islands, and an abundance of marine life from seagrasses and sponges to tropical fish, turtles, dugongs, rays, sharks and whales. It stretches from the Northern Tip of Queensland in Australia, reaching down to a town called Bundaberg.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981, to be protected under the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act. The EPBC Act prohibits a person from taking an action, without approval from the environment minister if the action is likely to have a significant impact on a ‘matter of national environmental significance’. However, the current Australian Federal Government, Prime Minister Tony Abbot and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, along with the Queensland State Government, lead by Campbell Newman, have ignored latest scientific evidence, compiled by scientists and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority, that states the reef is deteriorating from human intervention and climate change. Rather than looking at ways to minimize further damage and restore the marine park, the Australian Government have plans for massive coal and gas port expansions. This fossil fuel facility includes additional industrial shipping paths through these waters, creating excessive noise and traffic to a marine habitats and the necessity to dredge the sea for these pathways. The companies involved claim it is cheaper to dump millions of tonnes of sediment offshore into the reefs world heritage waters, rather than inshore.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and various scientific groups involved in the protection of the reef have submitted to the government that the Great Barrier Reef faces enormous pressures already from multiple sources related to climate change that is causing coral bleaching, cyclones, declining water quality from agricultural run offs and the outbreaks of the Crown of Thorns starfish, and that expanding coal exports in this area to overseas investors will cripple the park. In response the Queensland Resources Council argue they have to supply for a demand, and that demand is the worlds energy. They are drawn to the lucrativeness of coal and a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Concerns at Barrier Reef contractor’s humanitarian , environment record, Sept 5, 2014) has said that an Indian billionaire businessman, Gautam Adani, has lavished gifts on Australian politicians while his plans are being decided. It is also reported that Gina Rinehart has interests in expanding the coal port.

If our Government has mentioned that science is significant in their decision making, why have our scientists had drastic cuts made to their budgets under the Abbot government. For instance, the Australian Institute of Marine Science has had an 8 million dollar cut to its budget, making their capacity to work on this matter, very limited.

The government has also cut 129 staff from the Environment Department, which enforces strict environmental rules on areas such as the Great Barrier Reef marine park. The Australian government has also cut 40 million from the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, a group that look at the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef from catchment areas.

Documents released under the freedom of information laws have uncovered that the funding cuts to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority have put pressure on staff to become redundant, resulting in less scientific expertise. There are also suggestions of the possibility of board members with links to the mining industry. A document released by the Greens suggests a non Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority trained bureaucrat approved the offshore dumping.

The science of the reef is being politicized by a government accepting bribes in favour of our natural world and its future survival.

Evidence from scientists and concern from the general public about the pressure the reef is under, seems to have no significance to the State and Federal governments, the Ports and Industry groups, the mining companies and coastal developers, who have mentioned they are committed to the environment, yet are increasing their industries within it.

However, the Australian Greens are opposing the Federal and Queensland government, and have the support of not only a growing amount of people in the Queensland community, but also fishers, tourist operators, reef scientists and the UN World Heritage Committee. This renewed support has come about from a recent disaster with a Coal Seam Gas facility in the Gladstone Harbour area, where dredging and dumping from the coal facility brought sedimentation, turbidity, noise and disruption of fish habitats. The facility caused mass dolphin, turtle and dugong deaths, mutilated fish, and crippled the fishing and tourism industry. The poor management of this facility has apparently not been independently investigated and the Australian Greens have set up an inquiry into it.

I believe our government is not only irresponsible and motivated by money, but truly, insane. Our reef is a beautiful natural wonder of the world, and should not be flippantly passed off as a rubbish dump to foreign investors. Financial gain and convenience in a heritage site is a disgrace and the business of coal over an environment that is not replaceable is criminal.

 

 

Harriet Jones