Friday 31 January 2014


While Australia ramps up its export of greenhouse gas emissions (coal and gas), at the expense of national icons such as the Great Barrier Reef, spare a thought for the recipients in south east Asia as reported in The Guardian.

According to a Greenpeace-commissioned report by Dr Andrew Gray, a US-based expert on air pollution, emissions from coal plants in China were responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths annually, and are damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children.

The statistics are staggering, with estimates that coal burning in 2011 alone, “led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight, was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits, and 141 million days of sick leave”.

In Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces, pollution levels have repeatedly been off the charts, leading to soaring sales of air purifiers and face masks, with retailers struggling to meet demand. The city of Nanjing recently issued a red alert for pollution for five consecutive days.

It is well known that coal burning, even in modern power plants, produces heavy metal and particulate pollution which, according to the editor of China Dialogue, an independent website that publishes information and debate on the environment in China, is now occurring in China, “on a scale that is getting quite extraordinary”.

Dr Gray reports “while the growth of coal consumption has slowed, 570 new coal-fired plants are either being built or are planned, and if they go ahead would be responsible for a further 32,000 premature deaths each year”.

The Chinese government has announced a plan to tackle air pollution including, for the first time, measures to cut coal consumption by 2017.

So the Australia will have four years of increased production.  Does this justify continuing its plans to increase Hunter Valley air pollution, and spread it to areas like Gunnedah and Boggabri ?   Does it justify polluting the Great Barrier Reef, destroying the critically endangered woodland communities of the Leard State Forest, Bimblebox Sanctuary, and the Pilliga State Conservation Area, along with the threatened wildlife that call those forests home?
-           John Edwards

This post was originally published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on 27 January, 2014.

Saturday 25 January 2014


The Great Barrier Reef is 2,300km long and 9,000 years old, and it annually pumps some $6 billion into the Australian economy. Each year 2 million people from around the world are drawn to experience it, stoking up the coffers of Queensland's boating, swimming, snorkelling, diving and hospitality businesses that employ in excess of 50,000 people.

Several other nations once boasted similar wonderful reefs, but through waste, ignorance, overfishing and other dire exploitations almost all are collapsing, dying, or already gone.

The delicate algae that supply corals with nutrition are being killed by over-warm waters. With temperatures regularly reaching record heights, reefs around the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the tourism-driven Asian Pacific islands are on the brink of no return.

Corals are not just another renewable form of vegetation, as governments appear to think. They are the fragile, chemically-derived creations of numerous microscopic animals. As such our reef is already jeopardised. Storms are increasingly violent. Floods wash massive amounts of agricultural chemicals and unnatural debris into the sea. The breakdown of tonnes of agricultural and domestic waste is altering the ocean's natural chemical make-up. And now the quick and irreparable impact by wealth-driven corporations, encouraged by our present government, is threatening to deliver yet another blow.

While the sea is capable of absorbing 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere can do, the constant over supply we are pouring into it is reacting with the corals, rendering them weak and easily broken by rough conditions that they would normally withstand. Marine biologists predict total disintegration of the harder corals once CO2 parts per million (ppm) levels in the atmosphere reach 400 to 500 ppm. Currently those levels stand at around 385 ppm.

Our reef is facing extinction. But to our current government this sensational asset is apparently dispensable. Instead of fiercely protecting this particular goose that  lays the extraordinary egg that reliably feeds so many people, our governments are a patsy to industry that will in time destroy it. The loud warnings are aggressively ignored, setting our fragile reef well on track to follow the others into obliteration.

-          Patricia Edwards

This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column of the  The Daily Examiner on Monday 20 January 2014.