Hoping against hope won't save the Reef
In a different era, I voted tactically in a couple of general elections in the UK in the mistaken belief that the Liberals could beat the Conservatives in true-blue, stockbroker-belt heartland in the county of Surrey. I hoped with all my might against the inevitable; in the face of blind faith – my mother always said Tories would vote for a donkey if it had a blue ribbon on it; and against the odds. By election day I believed that, this time, there was a chance reason rather than self-interest would prevail. I was wrong, of course.
In my new home, I espouse environmental rather than political causes, and I still have hope. A big difference is that I now commune with like minds on social media; and I blog in order to raise the profile of environmental battlers. In a way, all this communing raises my hopes further. Eventually, the coal mine, or the coal-seam gas field, or the port expansion, or the forest clearance gets approval from the so-called Minister for the Environment, either at state or Federal level. Then I realise that, contrary to my wildest dreams, there are still not enough people on side; prepared to give up aspects of their privileged lifestyle (thus reducing emissions); appreciating the importance of biodiversity; believing Australia has a global responsibility to protect World Heritage.
Like tens of thousands of people who called and emailed, I rang the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to register my disapproval of the latest plan to dump dredged spoil in the marine park as part of the expansion of Abbott Point coal terminal. But hundreds of thousands didn't call. Just as hundreds of thousands didn't join the nationwide climate march last November. I would like millions to engage.
Friday was the delayed decision deadline. The Marine Park Authority approved dredging and dumping once more. Hopes dashed once more. They are accused of succumbing to pressure from Canberra not to scupper resource development. Many politicians in Canberra are under pressure from a powerful mining lobby.
According to CSIRO, almost 90 per cent of Australians believe the Great Barrier Reef to be Australia's most inspiring national icon. (One of the others, the koala, is in equally serious trouble.) They're an environmentally complacent bunch in Canberra, relying on Aussies not getting off their arses and complaining, or demonstrating, or even debating.
The Reef needs rather more proactivity than any of those, however.
Activism requires huge effort, I'm afraid. Last weekend, instead of gallivanting around the Scenic Rim, I should have been at Maules Creek in the Leard State Forest in New South Wales, supporting those trying to stop the construction of an opencast mine. Meanwhile, I should be moving my money from the ANZ bank, big funders of coal. It's hard, though, isn't it? A lot of work; hassle even. As well as hope.
One can hope that coral will adapt to warmer water, increased acidification, fertiliser run-off, sedimentation, toxic spoil, and predatory starfish. And that adaptation will happen in time. One can hope that in just over a year's time Queenslanders will elect a more democratic government; and in two and a half years Australia will elect a Federal government that isn't in denial about anthropogenic climate change. One can hope that the value of fossil fuel investments will collapse because China and India have enough coal of their own or, hey, they're investing in renewables. One can hope that all new houses here soon have to be fitted with solar panels, by law. That somehow sea levels won't rise and heatwaves won't become more intense and extensive.
I hope that my children's children won't have to face insurmountable problems that I helped perpetuate by not speaking up or making my presence felt.
This weekend there have been protests coast to coast in Australia against Western Australia's decision to cull sharks that may be a threat to swimmers off their shores. Someone I know posted a link to Support Our Sharks on Facebook. As I went to hit the 'like' button, I noticed a comment that ran along the lines of, 'it's OK to support till your loved one is taken...' If you go to the SOS website you will see that education is one of three pillars of their mission.
I hope that better education – and science education in particular – produces a better-informed basis for debate about key environmental issues. And I hope conflict of interest between decision-makers and those who stand to gain from resource development is recognised and rooted out decisively.
In the meantime, GetUp! are going to challenge the GBRMPA's decision in the courts. They need funds. Tick.
With thanks to Jim Grainger for the Puffer Fish