Places to see before they’re gone

With the conservative agenda being to unwind environmental protections and regulations, it saddens me to have to create a list of “Places to see before they’re gone”. Instead of protecting Australia’s precious places and species we have governments demolishing environmental protections and regulations.

Soon Australia’s precious places and species will be gone. There are pressures from increased expansion in mining; the frightening growth in fracking for coal seam gas; increased development and expanding urban fringes; continued use of unsustainable agricultural practices; and of course climate change. And this is on top of the fact that Australia has the highest rate of species extinction in the world.

The problem though is that once they’re gone they can’t be replaced. They can’t be rehabilitated to their original glory or restored. They can’t be magically brought back. It looks like it won’t be long before we’re actually visiting museums that hold holographic displays of different flora and fauna, or even landscapes.

It deeply saddens and disturbs me that my country seems to have too little regard and appreciation for our environment.

Here’s my list of places to see before they’re gone and they aren’t arranged in any particular order.

1. Great Barrier Reef

2. The Tarkine

3. Kakadu National Park

4. James Price Point

5. Kangaroo Island

6. Franklin River

7. Cape York

8. Victorian Alpine region

9. The Kimberley

10. Cape Barren

This is not an exhaustive list of “Places to see before they’re gone” and I’d love to know what additional places you’d add to the list.

NOTE: This was originally published at Alex Schlotzer’s blog on 18 January 2014

“These are matters for Tony”

Greg Hunt, the Federal Member for Flinders is the Minister for the Environment. He had only been sworn in a matter of days and he closed down the Climate Commission and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

I think the man is a hypocrite. Or gutless. This interview with Leigh Sales in December 2009 reveals that he is perhaps both. Here is a quote from it:

. . . But I do enjoy the environment – I’m passionate about it; I believe in the challenges of climate change – but these are matters for Tony.

Great. He wants to do something about climate change yet is happy to lick the boots of Tony Abbott – a man who thinks climate change is crap. He’ll leave it up to Tony. Wow, what a man of principle.

How does he sleep at night knowing he’s sold himself to the wrong bidder?

Guess who’s doing something to address climate change?

From the moment the Labor Party introduced policies to tackle the ravages of global warming, first with Kevin Rudd’s ETS and then Julia Gillard’s price on carbon, the Coalition have used just about every excuse to oppose them.

Prominent among these are the shallow arguments that Australia’s contribution to the carbon footprint is small, and more lamely, that while the big polluters like China and India sit idle in addressing climate change then why should Australia even bother.

I won’t myself bother with providing any links to their argument. Anybody who has read a newspaper, visited an online news service or listened to news radio would by now be well aware of these claims.

In government for less than a week, we have seen the Coalition try everything possible to send our efforts to address climate change back at least a decade.

Meanwhile, from one of those countries that they claim is doing nothing, India, comes this news: India Plans To Build The Largest Solar Plant In The World. In the Climate Progress online journal Andrew Breiner writes that:

Indian utilities plan to use 23,000 acres of land to build the largest solar power plant in the world, at 4 gigawatts of power, bringing prices and production of solar energy closer to competitiveness with coal.

The plant in Rajasthan is expected to commission its first phase in 2016, providing 1 gigawatt of power, enough to make it India’s largest solar power project ten times over. It will be a joint venture of five government-owned utilities. The other 3GW would be produced in an arrangement determined by the success of the first phase.

The finished plant would be comparable in power production to the four in-progress coal-fired Ultra Mega Power Plants (UMPP) under production, at 4 gigawatts of power. But those plants are struggling to hold prices low due to reliance on imported low-carbon coal. The solar plant’s operations won’t be subject to any such constraints.

In addition to cutting carbon, getting off of coal would help India reduce the 100,000+ deaths each year caused by coal plant pollution.

Jasmeet Khurana, of Bridge to India, said that these solar mega projects were intended to reduce the price of solar to INR 5 per kWh (USD 0.08/kWh), bringing it close enough to typical coal prices of INR 3.5/kWh to INR 4.5 kWh for solar to be truly competitive. In fact, coal’s relatively high prices made it so that even India’s largest coal company is turning to solar panels to lower its electric bills.

This comes as IBM and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation finalized a plan to link technological infrastructure in a massive stretch between India’s business and political capitals. Grid improvements will be necessary to fully take advantage of the new solar plant, as India’s often experiences outages and rationing, especially outside of big cities.

Meanwhile, another effort is underway to use solar energy in India in an innovative way. A company called Sarvajal is developing solar-powered “water ATMs” for remote villages, where tens of millions of Indians drink contaminated water on a regular basis. The ATMs would allow entrepreneurs to profitably sell water in smaller villages where transporting bottled water is prohibitively expensive.

As coal and water stress in India drive prices higher, wind is already competitive with new-build coal, and solar parity is getting closer as well, with cost-competitiveness expected sometime between 2016 and 2018. A future of renewable energy may be within reach for India.

Gosh, those people in our government are fairly good at telling lies, aren’t they.

Image courtesy of Associated Press

Image courtesy of Associated Press

Have we earned our place in the future?

A few coming events in our planet’s future – some predicted, some certain – will see the human race wiped off the face of the earth, literally. Of course there’s also the unpredictable, such as a rogue comet sending us the way of the dinosaurs or the absurd such as the sky eventually crashing down because of the ‘carbon tax’. There might also be a virus, currently unknown and exposed to life on earth that delivers a catastrophic pandemic and of course there is always a religious loony warning that God will strike us dead with a bolt of lightning if we keep sinning. Steven Spielberg likes to assure us that creatures from another galaxy will one day develop a taste for human flesh and every one of us will end up on a galactic dinner plate; a fate that could have already befallen us if it weren’t for the likes of Flash Gordon or Sigourney Weaver.

But, science tells us we are all doomed unless there is some intervention or miracle to save our battered souls.

Ignoring the unpredictable, we could face our first real crisis in roughly 100 years, according to Professor Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University who has predicted that the human race will be extinct within the next 100 years:

He has claimed that the human race will be unable to survive a population explosion and ‘unbridled consumption.’

Fenner told The Australian newspaper that ‘homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years.’

‘A lot of other animals will, too,’ he added.

‘It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.’

Since humans entered an unofficial scientific period known as the Anthropocene – the time since industrialisation – we have had an effect on the planet that rivals any ice age or comet impact, he said.

Well, that’s his opinion, rightly or wrongly. None of us will be here to see if his crystal ball was working, however, I can’t disagree that humanity has played a big part in sending the planet on a downward spiral. It’s up to our generation, to a large degree, to ensure that humanity is still here in a 100 years. Our generation could cause either the demise of the human race or the seed of its longevity. Let’s face reality; we can’t always rely on science to repair what we have broken.

If we survive Fenner’s prediction, and those with similar apocalyptic prophecies, science tells us that the unstoppable forces of evolution conspire to ensure our demise anyway, in roughly 10 million years, unless of course science or nature can discover a way to halt the unstoppable. We males will be the first to go:

Among the more alarming rumors prompted by genetics research was the impending  extinction of the Y chromosome. The classic male marker seemed to be shriveling.  Would the human race become an all-female species? The Y is, after all, just a  tiny nub of a chromosome, having undergone serious shrinkage in the past.

The time frame of 10 million years was heard on a radio show some months back, so it’s only speculation. But I’m not going to argue if it’s right or wrong.

There has already been a significant shift in the gender balance in my life time. In the mid 1960s males represented 51% of the human population. They’re now on the skids, making up 49%. Unless there are sperm banks on every street corner in 10 million years time it will be very hard to find a dancing partner.

Of little interest to any of us is the unavoidable obliteration of the planet from the dying sun. Of this we are doomed:

The sun is dying, and when it finally kicks, it will take Earth with it. We probably won’t be around to see it, though: The sun’s death throes will have taken out life here well before it swallows the planet.

The good news? We’ve got a very, very long time before any of this happens.

A panel of scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science described the situation in 2000, and it still holds true. Astronomers generally agree that the sun will burn up its hydrogen fuel supply sometime in the next 5 billion to 7 billion years. As it does, gravity will force the sun to collapse into its core, which will ratchet up the heat on the remaining hydrogen and cause the sun to expand into a red giant.

At this point, the sun will swallow the Earth.

“Earth will end up in the sun, vaporizing and blending its material with that of the sun,” said Iowa State University’s Lee Anne Willson. “That part of the sun then blows away into space, so one might say Earth is cremated and the ashes are scattered into interstellar space.”

By then, the sun will be hot enough to burn all its stored helium and the sun will fluctuate in size. The sun isn’t quite massive enough to explode in an awesome supernova, so it will merely collapse into a relatively cool white dwarf.

Perhaps a moot point, though, because we’ll most likely be long dead before this occurs. As the sun revs up to its red giant phase, it’s getting about 10 percent brighter every billion years. At that rate, scientists estimate that all the water on the planet will evaporate in the next billion years.

That gives us a mere billion years to find way of getting off this rock and re-establishing our species on an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star. Not everyone can go. If the human race was to survive past this point then it would be with thanks to a handful of intergalactic pioneers.

In a billion years the human race will find a way of ensuring it survival, subject of course, to having survived every other uncontrollable threat to it extinction along the way.

But I want to go back to the more immediate threats and our immediate future. Do we really deserve to be a part of it? Just look how we’ve shamed ourselves over the last 100 years; killing ourselves with war, turning a once fertile planet into an infertile lump of rock, wiping other species off the planet at an alarming rate, and choking the life out of every waterway, paddock or city.

We have a poor record. Since the beginning of the last century we have killed an estimated 200,000,ooo fellow humans in wars alone.

We have polluted the planet so badly that it is estimated that 40% of all deaths worldwide are caused by the damaging effects of pollution. And that’s just us humans.

Pollution is one of the primary ways in which humans have caused drastic modifications of wildlife habitat. Historically we have regarded the air, water, and soil that surround us as waste receptacles and have given little consideration to the ecological consequences of our actions. As a result, wildlife populations are confronted with a bewildering array of pollutants that we release into the environment either by intent or accident.

Not content with wiping ourselves out, we are also intent to wipe out all life.

The planet would be better off without us. Have we earned our place in the future? Unless we can evolve into a higher level of consciousness we’d better start looking for another planet about a billion years earlier than expected.

But as it is, the earth is a very dangerous place. Nobody gets off alive.


A Big Mac and a Coke: No Thanks!

A Big Mac and a Coke have not been some Australians’ idea of happiness in recent months. Something about the fast food and drink mob inflames the passions. Two of my posts this week for Global Voices Online look at activists’ responses to the two biggest global names – McDonald’s and Coca Cola Amatil.

Firstly, some old-fashioned protest action:

Residents’ opposition to a new McDonald’s in the Melbourne hills suburb of Tecoma has linked direct action with online campaigning. In October 2012 an administrative tribunal overturned the local Council’s unanimous decision to reject a Maccas’s proposal for a new fast food outlet.
Australia: Locals Fight to Stop McDonald’s in their Hills

Plenty of fire on both sides. In a rare response to the increasingly personal debate, Global Voices closed comments at 293, after removing a few that had been flagged.

In separate action, Coca Cola has faced a national campaign:

A nationwide campaign against Coca Cola has followed their successful legal challenge on March 4, 2013 to container deposit legislation in the Australia’s Northern Territory.
Coca Cola Machine ‘Out of Order’ in Australia

An anonymous Facebook group ‘Out of Order’ have been encouraging people to put the signs on vending machines. The Australian Coca Cola facebook page has nearly a million Likes. Can’t help feeling that the protesters are just nipping at the heels of the transnationals.

First Dog on the Moon responded at Crikey:

The ‘El Gordo Effect’

Anybody who has been to Hong Kong recently would have noticed it is suffering from the dreaded el gordo effect. The condition is terminal.

“What is the el gordo effect?” you ask. Let me digress a bit in order to explain.

Arguments have been raging for some years now as to whether the planet is faced with the horrible prospect of world-wide climate change or not. I believe it is, but that’s not the argument I’m presenting here. I don’t have any problem with people arguing that climate change is just a big beat up, but I do disagree with the blinkered argument they thrust upon us. The disappointing argument they continually push is that in the case of Australia, as we only contribute 1.34% of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions it is hardly worth the while for us to initiate any action about climate change. We’re too small. Too insignificant.

So then is Hong Kong, who only contribute 0.13%. In carbon dioxide emissions per capita we leave them in our wake, scoring 18.3 metric tonnes to their 5.5.

Hong Kong thus sounds like a squeaky clean place. But it is not. Again I must digress.

A further disappointing argument from the opponents of climate change is that they see no problem with polluting the country, again based on the argument that we are too miniscule to cause any damage to our environment. It’s quite OK to pollute the waterways, the soil and the air because, after all, we are so insignificant. Goodness, we only contribute 1.34% towards the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions so who really cares what we do? With any luck we’ll slip by unnoticed.

Hong Kong is a shocking example of where unrestricted pollution can choke a city despite being a minnow, like Australia, in the emission charts. Subsequently, it has fallen victim to the dreaded el gordo effect.

I now return to the question, ‘what is the el gordo effect?’

The el gordo effect is the result of:

sterilising a country because it’s OK to ignore climate change as it doesn’t matter to us so we can continue to trash ourselves.

So then, what has the el gordo effect had on Hong Kong? Simply, it is ecologically dead. It is a sterile lump of dirt where nothing can live in its natural state. There are no flies, spiders, insects or even ants. It is too sterile for them to survive. You won’t see any birds. It is too polluted for them. If you don’t like bird shit or spiders then you’ll love Hong Kong, unlike the thousands of people who walk the streets wearing face masks as the air is too putrid for them to breathe.

A bit like the Sydney of the future, really.

Is the el gordo effect coming to a city near you?

In the year 2050

Tony Abbott has lamented that the introduction of the carbon tax has not been “absolutely catastrophic” but warned Australians they will be $5000 worse off by 2050 unless it is abolished. Because of that dastardly Julia Gillard the carbon tax will take $2.53 a week out of our pockets for the next 38 years, quipped Blogotariat.

So that’s the worse thing Abbott reckons can happen to us and our future generations over the next 38 years. I can live with that.

In 2050 Australia will probably be a good place. Thanks to a long-gone Prime Minister way back in 2012 we’ll awake to clear blue skies and we’ll have jobs to go to. Our economy will continue to be the envy of the world and our telecommunication systems have been modeled around the world, as have our green technologies.

There is no such thing as a minority group as Australia will be a country where all people are equal. Even our Indigenous brothers and sisters can walk down the street without being racially vilified.

Tertiary education is affordable and there are enough hospital beds to house the sick.

The image of Australia in 2050 paints a very attractive picture.

But I wonder what it’ll look like had Tony Abbott have been Prime Minister way back in 2012. Allow me to amuse myself with the following picture.

Those people lucky enough to have jobs – and there aren’t many of them – will don face masks before they leave for work. The streets will be empty; acid rain has been forecast.

Twenty people have been killed by the riot police in Melbourne’s shanty town.

The nation’s capital, Port Hedland, now has a population of four million.

Areas of Western Australia that were once sacred sites containing art work from a lost civilisation are now big holes in the ground.

Prime Minister Thomas Rinehart dismisses calls to end Australia’s ties to the monarchy.

Meanwhile, the war with Malaysia goes well. It’s also good for the economy and helps line the pockets of the billionaires.

The unemployment rate of 46% is steady.

Refugee boats are sank as soon as they enter Australian waters. Tony Abbott’s long ago promise to stop the boats has been a success.

The reintroduction of the assimilation policies have failed so Aborigines are again sent to reserves.

Gay marriage is illegal.

It’s now been 12 years since a fish has been caught in the Murray. The waters are too polluted to sustain life.

Plans are being drawn up to move the major coastal cities inland due to the rising tides. This should help employment.

Meanwhile the war with India goes well.

There is great excitement in the country after the Government announces the go-ahead of a National Broadband Network.

In the finance sectors, interest rates have dropped to 26% and the dollar is 35 cents against the Greenback.

A new university is planned for Port Hedland. The country will then have five universities.

Religious Instructions are compulsory in primary schools.

The skies are black, the riverways are murky and the beaches are sludge. Nothing grows.

The billionaires thank Tony Abbott for their lucky life. And for a white Australia.

Meanwhile, the war with Somalia goes well.

From The Great Barrier Reef: a message

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the most remarkable gifts of nature.

As for much of this tired, sad old world today the pressures are steadily increasing and impacting upon its very life.

Previously identified threats to the reef include:

  • Water quality impacted by water temperature, salinity, nutrients, sediment concentrations, and pesticides. This is currently estimated to being at critical threshold level.
  • Quote: “…the most significant threat to the status of the Great Barrier Reef and of the planet’s other tropical reef ecosystems is climate change..”.  Many of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are currently living at the upper edge of their temperature tolerance.  **Reef scientist Terry Done has predicted that a one-degree rise in global temperature would result in 82% of the reef bleached, two degrees resulting in 97% and three degrees resulting in “total devastation”.
  • The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish is a coral reef predator.  Although large outbreaks of these starfish are believed to occur in natural cycles, human activity in and around the Great Barrier Reef can worsen the effects.
  • Unsustainable overfishing of key species such as the Giant Triton and sharks, can cause disruption to food chains vital to life on the reef.  Fishing also impacts the reef through increased pollution from boats. Overfishing of herbivore populations cause algal growths on reefs.
  • Shipping accidents are also a major concern, as several commercial shipping routes pass through the Great Barrier Reef. It is estimated that about 6,000 vessels greater than 50 metres in length use the Great Barrier Reef as a route. From 1985-2001, there were 11 collisions and 20 groundings in Great Barrier Reef. The leading cause of shipping accidents in the Great Barrier Reef is human error. A total of 282 oil spills occurred 1987-2002.

The Great Barrier Reef now faces the possibility of being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list within 8 months.

According to Greenpeace, ““There are 35 major development applications seeking approval within the next 18 months that would impact on the reef.”

Knowledge of many of these impacts has been with us now for several decades. Is it only when it becomes Crisis Time that Australians are prepared to take action?

In a report described as scathing criticism, UNESCO has stated that no further major development should go ahead without an overall assessment of the reef’s health.  The response from Premier Campbell Newman was that although his government is committed to protecting the reef, that he will not be stopping development connected to the coal and liquified natural gas industries.  He added that this was not going to happen.

We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat, we all need to understand that,” Campbell Newman said.

That which followed almost immediately was a statement from Environment Minister Tony Burke who suggested that the Commonwealth would “take back control of major environmental approvals from the Queensland government”.

The two governments had been working on a single environmental approval process for (Gina Rinehart’s $6.4 billion) Alpha Coal Project in central Queensland. However that the Queensland government had not upheld its end of the deal, “because the State government’s assessment report does not meet Commonwealth standards“.

Burke labelled the Queensland government’s input as “a shambolic effort”. Campbell Newman then countered with a plea for PM Gillard to rein in “her rogue minister”.

Enter the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman last night expressing ”deep concern and disappointment” about his state’s environmental assessment of the proposed mega-mine and its associated rail line, which the federal government has branded flawed.

The Prime Minister’s concerns include Queensland’s claim that no green turtles, dugongs and dolphins would be affected.

However, it was noted that these species lived in waters likely to be affected by run-off from earthworks and a railway loop: ”including sediments and nutrients flowing into the Great Barrier Reef”. As per above, these are one of the major environmental impacts contra to the survival of the Reef.

So, this is where things currently remain; we have a UNESCO report calling for a thorough assessment of environmental dangers to the Great Barrier reef with a timeframe of only 8 months, when in their estimation things will reach critical level. We then have a Queensland state government who say that they are “in the coal business”. Let’s hope for the future of one of our greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef that the Federal government holds its ground.