Wednesday 22 March 2023


It’s broadly accepted that climate change is the greatest threat facing mankind, although those responsible for addressing the challenge don’t appear to appreciate the urgency.  

While most of us perceive climate change to be a matter of higher temperatures, easily addressed by better home insulation and the use of air-conditioners, fire is by far the greatest climate related threat, not only to humans, but to all other life forms.

We had a taste of that in 2019–20, and with temperature rises locked in for generations to come, the bushfire threat simply must be addressed. 

Following the bushfire crisis, we had an Independent Bushfire Inquiry established by the NSW  Government and a Federal Royal Commission which, we had hoped, would have identified effective actions to respond to wildfire during periods of extreme fire danger.   (For the inquiry reports check  report of the NSW Inquiry and the Royal Commission report .)

The Bushfire Royal Commission  recommended the establishment of an authoritative disaster advisory body (R 3.2), seemingly needed to manage disasters generally, rather than a focus on bushfires alone.

That is effectively what the NSW government did when setting up the $770 million Resilience NSW under bushfire hero Shane Fitzsimmons, whose first test was the Lismore flood catastrophe. The emergency services’ response to that catastrophe was so appalling, that within weeks, Fitzsimmons was fired and Resilience NSW shut down. 

Now it seems that last year’s catastrophic floods may have taken a lot of the focus off bushfires and, three years on from the last fire catastrophe, we have grass fires raging out of control in the NSW Central West near Hill End and Sofala, with firefighters able to do little more than protect homes. For the first time in three years our firies have had to face a major bushfire fire threat and it seems little has changed.  

Claims that the SES (State Emergency Services) lacked enough volunteers and they were poorly trained, merely points to poor government planning. With the climate emergency well and truly upon us, governments at all levels need to get serious about dealing with these emergencies and reduce reliance on volunteers.

They also need to spend more on resources to prevent these catastrophes, rather than focussing on recovery.

-        John Edwards

 Adapted from the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent  15th March 2023.





Thursday 16 March 2023


With the NSW election just over a week away, the community is being bombarded with both promises and warnings by political parties and their candidates as well as by independents.  Unsurprisingly the promises are to encourage people to vote for a particular party or candidate and the warnings are about not to vote for the other mob or disaster will strike.

I attended a state election candidates’ event in Grafton several weeks ago and heard both promises and warnings from the four candidates (three representing political parties and one independent) who were seeking to become the Clarence MP.  Some environmental issues were discussed and I was heartened to hear that all candidates were concerned about the Clarence River and opposed any mining in its extensive and fragile catchment.  That was the only issue on which they all agreed.  Since that event another four candidates have emerged so that the state electorate of Clarence now has eight candidates in the March 25 election.

Our new state government has many challenges ahead of it on the environmental front.

NSW is facing accelerating biodiversity loss.  Many people are aware of this in relation to iconic species like the Koala which is threatened with extinction in NSW by 2050 if effective decisive action does not halt its decline.  But biodiversity loss affects all species across all ecosystems – not just the iconic ones.  Our three levels of government - local, state and federal -  are responsible for decisions and legislation which are accelerating species decline.

So what needs to be done at the state government level?  One of the really major improvements would be protection of existing healthy natural habitat from degradation – for example forests, natural\grasslands, wetlands or estuarine habitats.  This means broadscale land-clearing that is currently happening in NSW must be halted and backed up with effective monitoring and compliance procedures.

Another major improvement would be taking into account the cumulative impact of the many apparently small actions or developments on patches of biodiversity across the landscape.  This has been referred to as “death by a thousand cuts” and while it is something  dismissed by politicians and bureaucrats, it is having an accelerating impact on our biodiversity.

Protection of habitat is the key.  Funding must be directed towards this basic need – not at cosmetic, feel -good projects that do not address the basic problem - continuing habitat loss.

-        Leonie Blain



Tuesday 7 March 2023


Single-use plastics are increasingly being seen as a major problem.  Over the years Australia has done very poorly in disposing of used plastic with various failed exporting programs and limited local recycling programs.  The continuing problem has recently been highlighted by the collapse of REDcycle, the company contracted to around 2000 supermarkets to collect soft plastic returned by consumers for recycling.

Filmmaker Craig Leeson, who attended COP27 in Egypt where plastic pollution was discussed, left there wondering if humanity could address this problem.  In a recent article in “The Saturday Paper” he pointed out that humans are still manufacturing and throwing away more single-use plastics than ever before because of convenience, habit and a lack of government regulation.

Leeson said, “We have been sold the lie that we can keep using plastics as long as we consumers recycle them.  But recycling doesn’t work.  It never did and wasn’t designed to. It’s a con.”  We have been conned by big companies and governments.

Currently more than 12% of oil goes towards making plastics and over the next 20 years the oil industry is planning to build more plastic production plants globally. According to Carbon Tracker, BP expects plastics to represent 95% of the net growth in demand for oil from 2020 to 2040.

Leeson says the obvious solution is a global ban on single use plastics.  Some bans on specific items have been introduced in Australia and elsewhere by governments and by organisations in their operations.   Importantly, there is considerable community support for a global ban.  However, any ban will be strongly opposed and likely undermined by the plastic-producing companies.  These are the same companies who have extensive experience in cozying up to politicians and publicly undermining action on climate change.

Urgent change is needed to stop further pollution of our oceans and land and the growth of microplastics in our food chains which is having a growing impact on the health of humans and other life forms.  And then there’s the problem of cleaning up the existing mess.

-        Leonie Blain

Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , February 22nd,  2023.