How Much is Too Much?

Posted by on February 1, 2014 in Featured, Thoughts | 0 comments

HowMuchIsTooMuch2

 

Yesterday we were greeted with the news that the Abbott government, particularly the office of Environment minister Greg Hunt, approved the dredging and dumping of up to 5 million cubic metres of soil from the port near Abbot Point in Queensland. The government’s official stance, according to Mr Hunt was that, by means of strict and careful management, the reef’s water conditions would improve by 150%. The dredging is aimed to help increase the ability for Australia to export coal dug up from Queensland’s coal fieldsĀ  more efficiently.

To me, this seemed a little too much, a little too hard to swallow, and yet comes as no surprise from the current Liberal government. But to do my job properly, far be it from me to jump to conclusions, I thought I’d better do some investigations.

While the government assures us that all the science points toward a safe and sustainable solution while dredging and dumping this soil, sand and silt, an article published yesterday in New Scientist has another viewpoint. From the article:

“The decision comes despite more than 230 scientists signing a letter to the head of the authority asking for the dumping to be stopped. ‘The best available science makes it very clear that expansion of the port at Abbot Point will have detrimental effects on the Great Barrier Reef,’ the letter said. ‘Sediment from dredging can smother corals and seagrasses and expose them to poisons.'”

In fact there were 233 scientists who signed the letter in question, and all are condemning the dredging as irresponsible. But what is the real harm? Well there are several.

While the contractors and the government assure us that the coral and sea grasses will be unharmed, and that the dump will take place in an area that is primarily mud and silt already, it is clear that investigations into the impact of sediment in near-shore ecosystems (pdf) show that these sediments can travel large distances, and that the potential destruction of sea grasses would not only pump huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, but would also threaten the lives of the dugongs that feed there. The sediments, mainly the smaller particles, are easily resuspended after settling, by tidal, cyclonic or other weather activities, and are a potential threat due to the fact that they can effectively block UV light from penetrating, thereby reducing the ability for marine plants to photosynthesise.

The plans show that the dredging and dumping will take place within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef marine park, a park which currently is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO World Heritage listing means:

“… the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”

The decisions to list these wonders of earth are considered carefully, and it is in the interest of all of humanity to strive to protect them. It seems, however, that since this site has already been an active port for many decades, that it is within reason to expand it further. What is worrisome, though, is that it has been suggested that this is just the beginning of the many works to be done along the Great Barrier Reef over coming years, and that as much as 140million cubic metres of clay and silt will be dredged and dumped along the reef’s periphery.

But the plot thickens. It seems that two of the “Reef Board” who approved this decision have until recently had vested interests in mining and mining companies. From an article from the Sydney Morning Herald from October 29 2013:

“The board has been asked to take a position on a series of massive port developments being planned along the Queensland coast, which environmentalists warn will devastate the reef.

“Board meeting minutes show it changed it’s [sic] position in September 2012 from not supporting any developments with the potential to degrade inshore biodiversity to saying that new developments should take inshore biodiversity into consideration.”

While the men in question have since been reported as leaving behind these interests, this is still unproven, and the board has not issued a statement on the matter.

As seems to be the way with business-minded conservative governments, the environment in this case is an outlier to the decision making process. While they are assuring us that no harm will come, the government also plans on delisiting Tasmania’s old-growth forests for logging. Not only that, but we see minister Hunt coming out in favour of the needless cull of endangered great white sharks in Western Australia, all for the safety of the people who swim there, exempting WA from national environmental laws. All these decisions, and more, are chipping away at the environment we have left. Like holes in Swiss cheese, decisions such as these, in Australia and around the world, are leading to the endangerment and extinctions of species and habitats at an unprecedented rate, and all in the name of fiscal gain. As we have seen historically, these remote and discreet pockets of environmental damage grow, become linked, and combine to become large areas of environmental damage.

And the ultimate irony of the situation is that this whole dredge-and-dump exercise is done in the name of exporting coal, one of the main reasons for anthropogenic environmental degradation on the planet. In a time when we should be looking for cleaner and sustainable energy models, this government is doing everything in its power to continue this cycle of destruction.

As a world population, we owe it to ourselves, our children, our grand children and every other member of the planet, to preserve what’s left of these amazing ecosystems. We need to see a massive, if not polar, shift in the way we view the planet’s resources if we are to continue to inhabit it. Much like the talk of religious dominionists, who claim that the world’s resources are here to pillage and plunder, the current business climates seems to be a race to see who can finish off the resources first, all the while lining their pockets. It’s a sad state of affairs, to say the least. I ask you, how much is too much before there is no longer a planet to live on and enjoy?

You can show your disgust at this decision by signing this petition at Change.org, write to Mr Hunt himself:

Greg Hunt MP
Member for Flinders
Minister for the Environment
PO Box 274
Hastings Vic 3915

Or you could write a letter of concern directly to UNESCO:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP, France

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