Selected Articles from 2014
Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change
Electricity Prices and the Carbon Tax
When thinking about biodiversity, most of us tend to focus on land-based species - animals, plants, insects, fungus and the like - so it might come as a surprise to some to learn that levels of biodiversity occurring in our marine habitats are equally impressive.
The sheer numbers of species that occur in Australian waters is mid-boggling. Even in the polluted waters of Sydney Harbour researchers have identified 586 fish, 672 crustaceans, 118 species of echinoderms (such as sea urchins, and sea cucumbers), 1339 species of molluscs, (including squids and octopuses, slugs and snails, mussels and clams), and over 300 species of polychaetes (marine worms), and we haven't even started on plants. The number of fish species alone are triple the number recorded off the entire coast of the United Kingdom.
Australian marine diversity is further enhanced by the fact that the continent spans the border between Antarctic and tropical waters, to include the amazing diversity of the Great Barrier Reef, and WA's Ningaloo area.
However, all of this is threatened by global warming, caused by massive increases in greenhouse gas emissions through the burning of fossil fuels. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report: “Since the beginning of the industrial era, oceanic uptake of CO2 has resulted in acidification of the ocean” ... resulting “in a 26% increase in acidity”.
This acidification, if not reversed, stands to have a catastrophic impact, something that even Australia's Environment Minister acknowledges is a concern - yes the same man that recently approved the dumping of contaminated dredge material into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, to construct a coal export port.
Should the increased acidity result in poor skeletal development in some core species at the bottom of the food chain, that species' demise could trigger the collapse of entire ecosystems. The impact on the human race, a high percentage of which is dependent on fishing, both as an economic driver and a primary food supply, would also be catastrophic.
The IPPC is pleading with world leaders, particularly Australia's, to take immediate action to cut emissions.
- John Edwards
This article was published in The Daily Examiner on November 10, 2014.
Earth Charter Preamble: "it is imperative that we, the peoples of the Earth, declare our responsibilities to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations."
A group of people have gathered in the hall of the town of Kirkwell in the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland. Next door is St Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137. Just across the street are the remains of two ancient palaces, one lived in by a bishop and the other by an earl. There is a historical atmosphere and a powerful sea influence around as the annual Orkney Science Festival begins.
Washpool National Park in the mountains to the west of Grafton is far, far away, but it has a very significant relationship to these people of Orkney.
An address, part of the Science Festival, explaining this relationship, begins in this way –
"From out of the mists of an Australian landscape comes a story. It is the story of one of the world's greatest treasures. It is a story that has been millions of years in the making, and is one that will continue far beyond our lifetimes.
"Although its location may be in Australia, although its management may be by Australian agencies, although you may never experience its wonders first hand, it is a vital part of an Earth Community which involves all of us, the people of Orkney, the people of Australia and all the other forms of life.
"Its story embraces the present as well as the future, the heart as well as the mind.
"For this is the story of Washpool National Park, a World Heritage Area, a masterpiece of nature which belongs to you, the people of Orkney, as well as to the rest of the world, and to future generations."
The address proceeds and later concludes with these words –
"A teenager quietly reflecting on life in a rainforest pool. Gentle cautious movement of night-life in a dark forest. A breeze gently encouraging the leaves of a centuries-old tree to speak. This is Nature's artistry. This is life in Washpool, honoured and protected. This is your World Heritage Area."
- Stan Mussared
This article was published in The Daily Examiner on September 1, 2014.
Electricity Prices and the Carbon Tax
Over the last five years power prices have risen dramatically. A new Grattan Institute report, Fair Pricing for Power, states that in the five years to 2013, the average household electricity bill increased by 70%.
The Federal Government claims the carbon tax was the major reason for the price hike. If this was so, its abolition last month should result in a big decline in electricity prices. The Government has predicted that average households should expect savings of $550 over the next year on their electricity bills now that the carbon tax has gone. Whether these savings will happen remains to be seen.
However, prices started to rise well before the carbon tax was implemented. Furthermore, the carbon tax was responsible for a mere 9% of the price increase and costs associated with renewable energy (another culprit according to the Government) perhaps 4%. As prices increased by much more than this 13%, other factors obviously had a major role in price rises.
The main reason for the price increase has been the investment in the delivery network – the poles and wires. Since 2009 electricity networks have spent around $45 billion on upgrading the poles and wires. Consumers are paying for this investment in their electricity bills.
The network upgrade was undertaken because of predictions that demand would rise and increased capacity was necessary to meet peak demand. Peak demand occurs for relatively short periods – for example on a hot afternoon in mid-summer – when electricity use rises dramatically because of air-conditioner use. If peak demand cannot be met, blackouts will occur.
However, since 2009, according to the Grattan Institute, electricity demand in eastern Australia has fallen by about 7%.
There are two main reasons for this. Consumers responded to price rises by becoming more careful with their power consumption. And the uptake of roof-top solar (by around 1.2 million households) means many consumers generate part of their household power requirements. So fossil fuel generators have lost market share.
Electricity prices will continue to rise unless governments heed the call for changing the way consumers are charged for their electricity.
- Leonie Blain
This article was published in The Daily Examiner on August 4, 2014.
Selected Articles from 2013
National Parks Are Not Locked Up
Australia's world renowned national parks are increasingly under attack, as right wing political agendas play out across the country. In NSW cattle grazing has been introduced as a trial, and a recent Shooters' Party led Inquiry into public land management has recommended logging also be allowed. One suggestion going so far as proposing to exchange logged forests for national parks that contain good quality timber.
The term “locked up”, a popular timber industry slogan when referring to forests in national parks, has now been taken up by those politicians who advocate in favour of exploitation of national parks by commercial interests.
However a team of researchers from the University of Queensland, led by Professor Marc Hockings has concluded that: “National parks are less “locked up” than almost any other land tenure. They are open to all. Where do you see the signs “Trespassers will be prosecuted”? Not at the entrance to national parks. Instead, Queensland government figures show national parks receive 51 million visits from Australians and 7.9 million visits from international tourists each year. Welcoming nearly 60 million visits per year is a strange definition of being locked up!”
The reality is that most of the national park estate, where native forests and other natural environments have survived the onslaught over the past 225 years, were areas least favoured by those wishing to exploit the riches they contain. They were too rugged, too remote, just too hard.
But now, having exhausted the more easily accessible mineral and timber resources, the exploiters want to move on, using “job creation” and “improved facilities for remote communities” to justify their profit driven activities.
This is an argument easily sold to mainstream governments, obsessed with “economic growth”. But growth on a planet with finite resources is, by definition, unsustainable. At current rates of consumption most of the world's commonly used minerals will be exhausted this century.
Conservation and ecological sustainability is the key, but the word “ecological” has been dropped altogether from NSW's proposed new planning laws, and previously mapped environmental zones have been scrapped altogether, seemingly to facilitate their exploitation.
- John Edwards, 29-7-13
USA cities addressing climate change
Increasing disasters across America by severe weather events and rising temperatures have prompted 45 US cities to develop far-reaching plans to prepare for worse to come.
Following Superstorm Sandy, New York City council has released a plan to address climate change, with 250 recommendations to prepare the people for its impacts.
Seattle, home to super giants Boeing and Microsoft, is also leading the way, with that city council passing a long-term climate action plan that projects a zero greenhouse emissions goal for 2050.
“We can do something meaningful, not just for the planet, but also to create the city we want to live in, one that is safer to walk and bike and has cleaner air and water,” Seattle city councilman Mike O’Brien said.
With consideration to building community financial stability through transport, land use, construction and waste, the plan presents a way to save home owners 35 to 50 percent of their current costs through a better, safer public transport system, safer infrastructure for cycling and walking, and removal of the regional light rail system. Flood prone areas are identified, and future land use elsewhere will have an eye on rising sea levels. New houses from now on will be emissions-friendly to both build and maintain, and future homes for sale will have energy performance ratings on them at the estate agent's desk.
With the big end of Seattle being science based, it is natural that a large number of residents are college graduates in the higher wage bracket - the reason presented for them being able to see the trend and take steps to put things right. But still the plan pays particular attention to those at the lower socio-economic level, ensuring they are not disadvantaged while the city prepares for more adverse weather to come
It is rare for any government authority, at any level, to look much further than the next election, so the US's city officials and community residents can be proud of their long-term visions. We can only hope that Australia accepts the reality and takes up the challenge sooner rather than later.
- P Edwards, 15-7-13
CSG Mining and the Water Trigger
People concerned about the impact of coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mining were recently heartened by the federal parliament passing an amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
This "Water Trigger" amendment enables the federal government to assess the environmental impacts of large projects that are likely to harm rivers, wetlands and groundwater aquifers. The federal Environment Minister, after considering the advice of the Independent Scientific Committee, can now decide whether a project should go ahead.
Previously the Minister was only able to consider the impact of CSG and coal mining on water resources where a threatened species or Ramsar wetland was involved.
The passing of this important legislation was due to determined championing by the independent Member for New England, Tony Windsor.
Mr Windsor said, "CSG and coal mining projects can no longer be given the green light unless independent scientific advice concludes they won't damage our precious water resources."
"Federal oversight based on independent science will help protect Australia's most productive farmland from potential damage and encourage mining companies to pursue projects with lower risk profiles."
While this legislation has brought about an improvement in the protection of water resources, it could have been much stronger. The changes do not give the federal government the power to assess shale gas and "tight gas" projects. ("Tight gas" is trapped in rocks and requires extensive fracturing – fracking – to release the gas.)
Amendments to block this loophole were defeated in the Senate by both Government and Opposition senators.
Given that this is a very large loophole, there is cause to wonder just how serious the major parties are about responding to community concerns. It appears their policy is to give as little ground as possible so that the powerful mining interests in this country are not too strongly alienated.
There is a further question about the effectiveness of the "Water Trigger" if there is a change in Government at the upcoming election. As the Opposition is in favour of handing back all environmental powers to the states, the trigger may never be used by a Coalition government.
- L Blain, 8-7-13
Pillar Valley – An area of great ecological significance and potential
A significant swathe of bushland through Pillar Valley, extending from Pine Brush State Forest in the north to Glenugie in the south, has come under the spotlight in recent weeks as a result of the Clarence Environment Centre joining with a peak environment group to apply for a grant to tackle weeds and feral animals, and hopefully undertake some regeneration work in the area.
The 2010 Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan clearly identifies the environmental values of the area, both as a north south running wildlife corridor, and as a centre of endemism, an area that supports high numbers of species that occur nowhere else in the world.
The area supports an exceptionally wide range of habitat, ranging from wetlands, some of national significance, riparian habitats, rainforest, palm forests, sandstone heath communities, to wet and dry Sclerophyll forests with exceptional Eucalypt diversity, which in turn supports the highest numbers of threatened fauna anywhere in Australia.
Unfortunately, there is also a major down-side. The Roads and Maritime Service plans to clear a 150 metre wide swathe, mainly through adjacent native bushland, to build a motorway, creating an enormous barrier to wildlife movement in the process.
The Valley's struggling endangered population of Coastal Emus will be particularly hard hit, with their range divided in two, and with no proven effective way of allowing the birds to move from one side to the other as they traditionally have done.
A number of underpasses, including road bridges have been identified as wildlife crossings which will simply channel the birds and other wildlife into the path of traffic with an expected increase in road kill.
While we won't know the outcome of the grant application for some time, and there is every possibility that it will not be successful, the on-ground surveys of landowners undertaken during the process has nevertheless highlighted the area's needs within the community, with no less than 30 landowners expressing an interest in being involved, so already, I believe, the community has benefited.
- John Edwards
Selected Articles from 2012
Flying-foxes vital to our timber
The role of flying-foxes in maintaining a viable timber trade has been confirmed in Ghana by biologist Dr Dan Taylor BCI. By a prolonged study focussed on the major source of Ghana’s timber revenue, the Iroka tree, Dr Taylor has shown that only bats can scatter up to 300 million undamaged seeds nightly across many kilometres of forest floor.
A similar alliance has evolved in Australia, with eucalypts producing pale flowers at the ends of their branches and most nectar flows at night, ensuring nectar-dependent flying-foxes distribute pollen grains often up to a 50km radius.
In warmer months when flying-fox roosts become maternity and crêche sites, females in particular must find food in closer forests. Then defined fly-out streams indicate an abundance of native blossom, while semi-ripe domestic fruit is mostly ignored.
At this stage, if nectar flows fail, domestic and exotic fruits become the target. In drought times 25% of flying-foxes shot or wounded under licence are lactating or pregnant females. Wildlife carers also know that if banana and coffee plantations are attacked, the animals are starving.
During autumn migration periods forest fruits sustain energy over long distances. But Australia's most juicy native fruits occur mostly in rainforests, now so decimated that with domestic fruits fully ripe by this time it is unrealistic to expect hungry animals not to eat them.
Ghana has now granted full protection for flying-foxes and is establishing educational and viewing facilities to boost its tourist and forestry industries, while our government still hear only complaints from individuals, who neither know, nor want to know, the animals’ role in nature.
Instead of abusing animals that work to grow our most useful timber trees, people should try charging for coffee and cake and time on their verandas, for tourists and students to study and photograph these unique little animals.
- P Edwards
Beyond the Hour
On April 16th the following message appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald: "You switched off for Earth Hour, now it's time for more. Tell us what you're going to do beyond the hour at earthhour.org.au "
This message was authorised by the WorldWide Fund for Nature, the key organiser of Earth Hour.
What will we say that we are doing? Will we be able to show our children and grandchildren what we have done beyond the hour ?
Perhaps we have decided to get involved in the coal seam gas issue or to reduce our water, power and fuel usage. Or maybe we have decided to buy less "stuff".
In his book Prosperity without growth Professor Tim Jackson presents a strong case for re-thinking our society's great emphasis on consumerism. He considers that we have become very materialistic and have endowed mere "stuff" with significant social and psychological meaning. Our homes, cars, furniture etc have become powerful voices for telling the world who we are.
Professor Jackson wants human beings to flourish – to do well – but in ways which recognise the ecological limits of the planet. To flourish means to have the basics such as adequate food and shelter and other important elements which do not include that new 'super duper' lounge suite. Rather it will involve the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of our peers, to contribute usefully to society and to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community.
He suggests the most fundamental questions we ask about our world and our place in it are played out through consumerism. We have become deluded by material possessions.
But by creating real possibilities for people to flourish in less materialistic ways the economy will be helping to build a real prosperity which is within the ecological limits of the earth.
As we go "beyond the hour" it may be inspiring to remember Nelson Mandela's 2012 Earth Hour message – "Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet."
- S Mussared
The text of this article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 21 May 2012.
Is recklessly contributing to Climate Change a case of Ecocide?
British barrister, and international lawyer, Polly Higgins, has moved to put the case for Ecocide to the United Nations Law Commission, to stand alongside other crimes like genocide. This bold move gives hope to all those concerned about the ecological consequences of pursuing unbridled economic growth.
Under the proposed law of ecocide, company executives and government ministers can be held personally responsible, and are not able to hide behind clean-up and abatement orders levied on the corporate body. Essentially, the law of ecocide: “Imposes an International and trans-boundary duty of care on any person or persons excercising a position of superior responsibility”.
Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) delivered the stark warning in its “World energy outlook” that the world is on track for a 6 degree warming by 2100.
Ms Higgins' “Eradicate Ecocide” movement submitted a Concept Paper for all Governments in March, stating that: “Not one Member State can justify putting humanity at risk when the whole of civilisation stands on the brink of disaster”. So where does Australia, the world's largest exporter of greenhouse gas emissions, stand in all of this?
The answer is in Australia's “Energy White Paper” (2012), which boasts: “At current rates of depletion, Australia has many decades worth of known gas reserves, and at least a century of coal”, followed by the assertion: “Australia is currently the world’s largest coal exporter, and in future years will be the world’s second-largest liquefied natural gas exporter” .
The IEA states the burning of that coal will result in “catastrophic” climate change, yet Australia regards that as someone else's problem, the subsequent emissions being the responsibility of the buyers.
There is little doubt that these actions, taken by leaders who are fully informed about the consequences on their actions, represent a huge failure in their duty of care, and a prosecutable offense under the proposed law of ecocide.
We believe the world needs to get behind Polly Higgins' proposal, and we wish her and her team success in their endeavours.
- J Edwards
The text of this article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 28 May 2012.
Once again, people v flying-foxes
Yet another furore is raging against an influx of flying-foxes, this time into the Maitland suburb of Lorn, with all the same old accompanying resident angst.
Several residents admit to finding the flying-foxes interesting, but once again negative views are carrying more weight, stacking public opinion against a small native animal.
Maitland ecologist David Russell, who has 15 years experience in assessing the status of threatened species, says: 'I understand the distress of residents in the immediate vicinity of the camp, and agree urban areas are not the best places for flying foxes, but the sad fact is that optimal habitat for flying-fox camps has been cleared for agriculture – that is, floodplain forests. This is a major reason behind the dramatic decline in numbers, along with persecution and increased disease resulting from stress. It has led to the species pressing further and further south from its original range, which once ended at around the Hunter River. Due to the magnitude of habitat destruction this species faces, it has been forced to seek out sub-optimal habitat wherever it can find it.'
The grey-headed flying-fox was listed under federal and state laws through evidence of a 30% decline in numbers, from over 560,000 individuals in 1989 to around 400,000 in 1999. With no clear understanding of how many flying-foxes make a viable population, their continued decrease remains a major concern, 'The massive decline in numbers is a clear sign the species is headed for extinction.' Mr Russell says.
With the Mercury reporting firm belief by some Lorn residents that living near the flying- foxes is a health risk, Maitland councillor Loretta Baker suggests there should be a recount of (grey-headed?) flying-foxes, to determine whether they should remain a threatened species.
'Flying-foxes are a major pollinator of our forests,' Mr Russell says. “The houses of Lorn are likely to be built from timber grown from a seed pollinated by a flying fox: maybe we actually need them.'
This being the case, then we should all agree on one thing - there should most definitely be a recount of flying-fox numbers.
- P Edwards
This article was published in The Daily Examiner on 5 March 2012
With increased development of farming land into residential blocks, the number of domestic dogs has increased accordingly, with almost every household owning at least one dog at some time or another. Many of these dogs are allowed to roam freely around the neighbourhood, and while often generically referred to as dingoes, are still considered domestic animals. As such, any complaints about roaming dogs in urban areas should be directed to the local council ranger.
Even friendly pets, however, can band together to become problem pests to neighbours, adjoining farmers, other wild and domestic animals, and can even pose a serious threat to children. Wild dogs are now the major pest species on the north coast, regularly attacking and killing smaller livestock on outlying farms, and even mauling some adult cattle. Domestic dogs are also at risk of being killed by packs that have come to see an area as their territory
Native animals are also vulnerable to wild dog attack. Chicks and eggs of ground birds such as quails and plovers are regularly predated, while young ground dwelling bandicoots and rufous bettongs, left in their nests while the mother goes out foraging, are prone to attack, as are koalas caught on the ground between distantly spaced trees, faced with an oncoming pack of dogs
Control of wild dogs, including dingoes, is a requirement by the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998, and also of the Pest Control Order (PCO) No 17 (Wild dogs), meaning the responsibility of wild dog control in NSW rests firmly with the private landowner, who needs to contact the local Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA) for help.
However dingoes on public Crown lands, National Parks, and State forests (Schedule 2 lands) do receive some added consideration under the PCO. These populations require specific management processes defined by the LHPA, to conserve the pure dingo strain while trying to lessen the impact of wild dogs on adjoining properties.
While control is a factor in this effort, the difficulty of treading the fine line between conservation and eradication requires caution, tolerance and understanding by all parties.
- P Edwards
This article was published in The Daily Examiner on 19 March 2012
Articles from 2011
Clarence Valley Birdos Attend Bird Camp
The annual 10-day Gould League Bird Study Camps are held in different areas of the state each year – the venue last year was Jerilderie and the year before it was held near Moree.
This year's camp, the 71st, was at Baradine's Camp Cypress at the beginning of October. Baradine, a small town in the Pilliga, is about 50 km north-west of Coonabarabran.
Thirty-nine keen birdwatchers assembled to study the birds of the Pilliga.Eleven campers travelled from the Clarence with others hailing from Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens, Sydney, Berrima, Wagga and the Rylstone area.
As well as visiting the nearby Warrumbungle National Park, the campers explored the area around Baradine using the comprehensive Bird Routes of Baradine and the Pilliga, compiled by veteran local birdwatcher David Johnson.
|Grey-crowned Babblers Photo: Pam Kenway|
One evening David gave a photographic presentation on the local birds and related many fascinating stories about his years of birdwatching. A highlight of the camp was an evening of spotlighting where playback of calls resulted in sightings of Barking Owls and Australian Owlet-nightjars. In addition the spotlighters were fortunate to observe a Yellow-bellied Sheath-tail Bat, one of the largest microbats. One of the evening sessions was an update by forest campaigner Carmel Flint on plans to mine coal seam gas in the Pilliga and the threat this posed to this wonderful area and its ecology. On the last full day of the camp some of the birdwatchers assisted scientists carrying out bird surveys in an area threatened by mining.
One hundred and fifty nine bird species were observed during the camp. This included a number of threatened species – Barking Owl, Brown Treecreeper, Diamond Firetail, Grey-crowned Babbler, Little Eagle, Little Lorikeet, Turquoise Parrot, Speckled Warbler, Spotted Harrier and Varied Sitella.
The camp proved a wonderful experience for both experienced and novice birdwatchers.
Camp organiser Greg Clancy is happy to talk to anyone interested in attending future bird camps. Next year's bird camp will be held at Mt George Station in Sturt National Park, near Tibooburra in the far west of the state.
- L Blain
The text of this article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 24 October 2011.
Why still those plastic bags?
In 2002 the Irish government placed a 25 cents (Aust) levy on plastic shopping bags. Immediately usage dropped by 90%, equating to a reduction of 1.1 billion plastic bags.
Forty years ago groceries were packed into big paper packets, with two together if the load was heavy, while Franklins stores kept their cartons for customer use. More recently McDonalds started using only paper packets in their restaurants, and since 2001 Aldi customers have had to BYO or buy reusable bags at the checkout, a move that hasn't slowed their custom one iota.
The useful function of the 6.4 billion plastic shopping bags carried away annually in Australia usually lasts as long as its transport from store to home. So why are major supermarkets so reluctant to take a step back and stop providing such a harmful 'service'?
The nuisance value alone should be enough to ban plastic bags. At least 80 million each year end up as unsightly litter by the roadside - blowing into the paths of motorbikes and cars, caught in fences, blocking drains, killing cattle, attracting children in playgrounds and even disabling racing cars, with virtually every one of them making someone, somewhere, cranky and edgy. Add to this the devastation within the marine environment, where literally thousands of sea animals die each year from swallowing plastic, and it would seem natural for any government, community and retail outlet to stop supporting the problem.
As usual it's likely the consumer will make the change in the end. Reusable shopping bags may not be great environmentally, but they will reach a saturation point and have a long period of usefulness. For many years we personally have kept an esky full of bags in the car, the esky for cold foods and the bags packed with groceries at the car from the shopping trolley.
Employees love not having to pack endless groceries; customers like not having to wait, and supermarkets benefit by not having to buy and store mountains of bags, or replace those neat chrome racks they hang them on for packing.
Win-win for all. It's that simple.
- P. Edwards
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 25 July 2011.
Barbie in the firing line
The news is out! Rumours are running rife. Ken has finally dumped Barbie, because she uses packaging that is helping to drive destruction of vital Sumatran tiger habitat. Ken will have nothing more to do with a woman who supports destruction of Indonesian rainforest in any way.
It's all cute stuff, but the message Greenpeace is sending directly to the world's largest toy company, Mattel, is powerful and hard-hitting. Mattel sources its tonnes of throwaway packaging material from the major forest destroyer, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). So while Barbie struts her stuff on little catwalks in every girl's home, the 400 remaining big cats of the only remaining Sumatran tiger species battle to survive in a rapidly-shrinking habitat.