Posts filed under ‘Environmental Issues’
June 8 marks World Oceans Day – a day that’s of special significance to me as both a sailor and an environmentalist.
When I sailed solo around the world in 1986/87, I looked forward to visiting the fabled Sargasso Sea at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. Instead of a ‘golden rain forest of the sea’, literally covered by seaweed, I found a fading legend carpeted by rubbish.
The horrific amount of garbage in the world’s oceans spurred me to form Clean Up Australia. From its very beginning, Aussies have demonstrated their overwhelming concern about the health of our waterways and rugged landscapes by taking action to conserve our natural environment.
But how much progress has really been made for our oceans?
Less than five per cent of the 16.5 million square kilometres of seas that ‘girt’ our shores are protected, despite many of our marine species being found nowhere else.
Pollution, over fishing and entanglement in nets are just some of the many threats to our extraordinary oceans and marine life. Since Clean Up Australia began in 1989, the number of Australian fisheries that are overfished has increased from five to 15. Australian fisheries are among the most highly regulated in the world and yet the decline in our fish stocks continues.
Action to protect both our marine environment and boost fish stocks has all too often been stifled by election-cycle hysterics. Claims that marine protection costs jobs are not supported by social, economic or scientific evidence.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international treaties, Australia has a responsibility to manage our waters, not just for economic gain, but for conservation as well.
We need to take notice about what is now happening in the Sargasso Sea. The Bermuda Government is showing leadership and has formed an alliance with science and conservation groups to ensure the sea without shores has a future.
Protection of our oceans is the new frontier for conservation.
Our own south west marine region contains a greater level of unique marine life than the Great Barrier Reef – but less than 1% of these waters are protected. This massive area, between Kangaroo Island and Geraldton, hosts some of Australia’s biggest and most mysterious seafloor creatures and oceanographic life-giving currents. It is no surprise that it is a special place for marine life, including the world’s great whales.
Community consultation has opened for protection of the south west marine region. The outcome will influence federal decision making about whether our treasured coastal lifestyle and the long-term protection of this unique marine environment is secured.
Research from Australia and around the world provides compelling evidence of both the benefits and the urgency for action.
There are numerous economic and social benefits protection and informed management offers Australia’s marine based industries of the future – medical breakthroughs from the pharmacopeia that our oceans hold, new eco-tourism ventures that underpin the economic security of our coastal communities, and a truly sustainable fishing industry.
It is not a case of there being a choice between protecting the marine environment and jobs or local industries. They are interlinked and a network of marine sanctuaries would ensure our oceans remain healthy and keep fish on our plates.
Ian Kiernan AO
Imagine this scenario. You’re planning to go out sailing with a group of friends, but the day before you leave you hear a warning that there might be a severe storm warning, the worst in 20 years. Would you risk it?
Obviously, you wouldn’t. This is because even though you’re not certain something might go wrong, it isn’t worth risking the lives of you and your crew. Scientists call this idea the ‘Precautionary Principal’ – that if there is lot at risk, you have to put safety first.
This idea is particularly important when it comes to protecting the waters like Sydney Harbour. Right now, the state government is trying to rush a $6 billion dollar development on Sydney harbour. In doing so, they are taking a risk with our Harbour.
It’s a risk because there is major contamination at the site. Up until 1915, Barangaroo was the site of Sydney’s major ‘gas works’ – where coal was turned into a flammable gas that was used for heating and lighting. Gas from the site was pumped all over Sydney, from Marrickville in the west to Randwick in the east.
Gas works also produce a whole cocktail of toxic by-products. The common practice of the times was to bury waste product on site. Some of these toxic by-products left buried in the Barangaroo include coal tar (which contains carcinogens), cyanide and petrol.
From there, the story gets worse. As the gas works expanded, land was reclaimed by ‘filling in’ the harbour. In those days, that meant building a stone wall and just filling in behind it with anything they needed to dispose of. I had the cartoon seen here drawn to show you what I mean.
When you’re dealing with a complex and contaminated site it’s easy for things to go wrong. We know that because we’ve seen the state government rush other projects, like back before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
At the time, the government was facing the clean up of a site that had been contaminated by a range of toxic materials being dumped there over more than fifty years of chemical manufacturing at Homebush Bay. Compromises created by commercial greed have seen commercial fishing banned in Sydney Harbour after toxic dioxins continue to leak out of sediments around the site.
Once $6 billion dollars worth of development and construction is completed at Barangaroo, it will be too late to fix any mistakes. What is needed here is a responsible review of the proposal and well informed action. With the whole Harbour at risk, let’s make sure that prudence is not sacrificed for ignorance and greed.
Ian Kiernan AO
Across the top end we have the awe inspiring gorges of the Kimberley, world heritage sites like the Great Barrier Reef, and vibrant cosmopolitan gateway cities like Darwin.
Inevitably special places get special attention in the form of tourism – and in an increasingly prosperous and populous world the pressure on these unique areas will only increase.
Tourism can bring development, jobs, prosperity and healthy cultural diversity, but it’s not the only thing left behind as tourist seasons draw to a close.
Across Northern Australia the end of the tourist season leaves communities burdened by pockets of rubbish, a by-product of an industry that trades on the natural beauty it’s partially responsible for defiling.
So how do we combat this? Where does responsibility lie in keeping our environment pristine for future visitors, locals and future generations?
Inevitably it has to be the collective responsibility of tourists, the businesses that profit from them, local government and local communities.
Behavioural change can come from many sources, but education, incentive and example is a powerful combination – something that’s been clearly demonstrated by the success of Clean Up Australia Day over the last twenty years.
When Clean Up started in 1989 the phrase ‘sustainable tourism barely existed but we now have more and more tourism operators waking up to their responsibilities – it’s a trend we wholeheartedly encourage.
However, we should be working towards the day when ‘sustainable tourism’ is a redundant expression – where it’s taken for granted that the tourism industry follows a sustainable code of practice.
What role can government play? Following the Northern Territory and South Australia’s lead in putting a commercial value and incentive on recycling with a beverage container scheme would be a good start.
Banning plastic bags would be another positive move, not to mention investing in the latest and smartest recycling and waste management resources.
What role do local communities have to play? With the establishment of the Great Northern Clean Up a chance is created for communities to seek out those pockets of rubbish and give the local environment a spring clean.
It’s basic psychology that people are far less likely to drop litter if the environment is already well maintained. If Northern Australian communities take care of their environment – the chances are that tourists will also show it more respect.
I don’t pretend to know all the issues or the answers to sustainability challenges in the tourism industry; what I do know is things are starting to change and there’s a wealth of energy, will and talent out there to take things to the next level.
Do you think we’re doing enough to protect our environment from the impact of tourism? If not, what do you think are the main sustainability challenges that face the tourism industry? And how do you think we can go about solving them?
Ian Kiernan AO
Anyone can register a Clean Up site or volunteer for the Great Northern Clean Up by visiting www.cleanup.org.au or by calling 1800 CUA DAY (1800 282 329). The cut off point for registration is August 29 2010.
We have a long history of volunteering in Australia. It began with the First Fleet, where I imagine there was not much of a spirit of volunteering among the convicts, and probably even less among the military as they landed on our shores, but from resentment and hardship grew action. From action grew independence and a sense of shared responsibility. From shared responsibility grew volunteering. From volunteering grew community, and the tradition continued.
Those brave young men who answered the call to become our first ANZACs were volunteers; our surf lifesavers are volunteers; our rural fire fighters are volunteers.
And the three quarters of a million people who annually take to their streets, parks, waterways, beaches and bushland on Clean Up Australia Day are volunteers – and they’ll be out in force again on Sunday 7 March.
Each year on this iconic day, volunteers remove thousands of tonnes of rubbish from our environment. Just imagine if those hundreds of thousands of people that get involved on Clean Up Australia Day decided to just sit at home instead of getting out and lending a hand. Those thousands of tonnes of rubbish they remove would just sit there, year after year, polluting our environment, damaging our health and eroding our communities.
Every day volunteers make a valuable contribution to society in both economic and social terms. Without them, we’d be lost, and vital events like Clean Up Australia Day just wouldn’t exist.
The latest ABS statistics reflect this fact. Approximately 35 per cent of the Australian population aged 18 years and over volunteer at least once a fortnight.
Without volunteers, who would take care of the injured wildlife? Who would spend that hour brightening up the day of an elderly person in a nursing home? Who would be there to teach our children how to kick a goal? Who would be there to hand out a blanket to someone in need?
Volunteers are the backbone of our society, they’re what makes our country the great place it is. On Sunday 7 March we’ll see about a million people get out and lend a hand on what will be the 20th anniversary of Clean Up Australia Day. Make sure you’re one of them.
Not everyone is able to dedicate a day a week or a fortnight to volunteering, but a couple of hours on one day of the year to help out our environment is a terrific way to be part of your community.
On this the 20th Anniversary of Clean Up Australia Day, do you have a clean up story that will inspire others?
Ian Kiernan AO
Clean Up Australia Chairman
Arguably one of the most important meetings of nations about the health of the planet that we’ll witness in our lifetime is now taking place in Copenhagen. Leaders from the developing and developed world, including Australia, have descended on the Danish capital to thrash out a global strategy to deal with climate change.
It is already clear that a binding global agreement with firm targets for action to cut greenhouse gas emissions will not be reached at this meeting. The obvious disappointment about this must now be turned to a renewed resolve to forge an agreement in 2010 that achieves the ultimate goal – to reduce and stabilise greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Let’s be clear about the need for action. The experts on climate change are the scientists who study it. And the consensus of qualified climate change scientists around the world is that the debate about it being real or not ended years ago.
The challenge now for the global community is how to cut 14 billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions by 2020. We have agreement on how to cut the first 8 billion tonnes, now the question is how to cut the remaining 6 billion.
The highly politicised climate change dispute in Australia is just a distraction to this global reality. We’ve heard much discussion about what role, if any, Australia should play in tackling climate change. Kevin Rudd planned to go to Copenhagen armed with Australia’s economic-based plan to tackle the problem – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) – but political jockeying oiled by the well funded and orchestrated sceptics camp, in bed with industry determined to avoid responsibility, turned the debate into something akin to a comic tragedy.
As a result, we stalled on setting a market price for carbon.
We stalled the economic viability and vast commercial opportunities in the renewable energy market in Australia.
We stalled the potential for local innovation and green jobs.
And while the opening day of the Copenhagen meeting saw the Danish Prime Minister describe the event as “an opportunity the world cannot afford to miss”, back in Australia we saw more evidence of the intention to continue the stalling tactics from the new Opposition leader, embellishing claims that somehow climate change is not real.
This despite well recorded global temperature rises for the last three decades.
Try telling the people of the Torres Strait islands who are experiencing more frequent king tide inundation that their world is not changing, or explain to the Australians who have suffered through natural disasters of unprecedented intensity that the predictions that these sort of events will become more frequent is something we can ignore.
Try telling the people of the Maldives or Tuvalu they are just seeing things when they raise further alarm that their ancestral lands are disappearing from beneath them as sea levels continue to rise.
The bottom line is that climate change is real – we’re already seeing the warning signs of what is certain to become our reality.
To prevent warming of more than 2°C – the threshold many scientists see as dangerous – atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases cannot exceed 450 parts per million (ppm). This will require cutting annual emissions by at least 30 billion tons (30 gigatons) by 2030, or roughly what the world emits today.
The task is as ambitious as it is essential; continuing with “business as usual” is likely to lead to catastrophic and irreversible consequences.
Given the unacceptable risks of inaction, our most urgent objective is to identify realistic opportunities to reduce emissions, and then seize those opportunities. The practical actions we can take to combat climate change are ready and available now. I want to know why we are not focusing on things like:
• Protecting our native forests, which store vast amounts of carbon pollution;
• Improving public transport to reduce vehicle emissions;
• Adopting a national energy efficiency strategy to ensure the energy we use already goes further;
• Enforcing building standards to lock in energy efficient design, water use and waste minimisation plans, and;
• Raising the renewable energy target to encourage greater investment in non-polluting technologies such as geothermal, wind and solar power.
Now’s the time to get serious and commit to change.
What would you like to see come out of the meeting in Copenhagen? And what do you think Australia should be doing to tackle climate change?
Ian Kiernan AO
Clean Up Australia Chairman
So what’s happening to everyone’s old phones? And where do our microwaves and other electronic appliances go when we’ve decided they’ve done their dash?
Chances are you threw the old phone, electronic toothbrush, curling wand and countless other electronic goods in the bin. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released last week suggest that nearly a quarter of electronic equipment and more than half of household appliances thrown out in the 12 months prior to March ended up in our general rubbish bins.
The problem is, while we are fascinated by the latest model of everything, our landfills are clogging up with electronic waste and even worse, much of it also gets illegally dumped in our environment.
On average, we upgrade our computer every 2-5 years, our microwave every 5-8 years, our mobile phone as soon as our plan runs out. We go through countless batteries to keep all our household appliances running – an estimated 8,000 tonnes of alkaline batteries go to the tip every year.
It’s no wonder then that electronic waste, or e-waste, is our fastest growing rubbish type. In fact, it’s being sent to the tip at three times the rate of general waste.
The environmental effects of e-waste are also potentially much more frightening than those of general waste because of what it contains – toxins. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt – your innocent looking household appliances are full of these toxins, and when they’re dumped in landfill or in the environment, those toxins can seep into our groundwater, contaminate the soil and potentially even enter the food chain.
We recently had a breakthrough on e-waste in Australia, with the Federal Government announcing a new recycling scheme for TVs and computers as part of a National Waste Policy. See the details here.
This scheme was developed at the urging of manufacturers – so it’s great to finally see industry and our political leaders working together to come up with a solution for e-waste. But that’s by no means the end of the problem – we all still need to take action at work and at home to help curb our growing e-waste.
AVOID: Buy products that will last and are repairable. You might even consider leasing?
REDUCE: Repair your old appliances and gadgets wherever possible instead of buying new ones.
REUSE: Check if local schools or charities can use your old appliances, and always buy rechargeable batteries and refillable ink cartridges.
RECYCLE: Take your old appliances to be recycled – most councils provide e-waste recycling services. You can even donate your old mobile phone. Clean Up offers a free service – simply go to our website www.cleanup.org.au for a satchel.
We can’t help the fact that electronic items will go out of date and we’ll need to replace them, but we can try to minimise the impact our e-waste has on the environment.
Does anyone have any e-waste tips?
Ian Kiernan AO
Clean Up Australia Chairman
I, like many Australians, fondly remember the days when a soft drink can or bottle could be returned for a bit of pocket money. A bottle found on the ground wasn’t simply kicked around, it was picked up, removed from the environment and recycled, and the lucky finder was rewarded for their efforts.
It’s about time we brought back those beverage container refunds.
With our addiction to bottled water continuing to grow, it has never been more important that the scheme be reintroduced. On Clean Up Australia Day each year, volunteers find themselves removing tonnes of beverage containers – beverage containers that could, and should, be recycled. About 40 per cent of all rubbish collected during this year’s Clean Up Australia Day was beverage related.
Australians are pretty good at recycling at home, but where we fall down is when we’re out and about. It’s when we head to the beach, the park, or our beautiful bush – away from our household recycling bins. What we need to encourage is an incentive to recycle wherever we are, and while protecting our environment for our future generations should be incentive enough, it’s clear we need more.
South Australia has taken the lead and increased its refund from 5 to 10 cents, with great success. SA enjoys a recycling rate of cans and bottles of between 75-85 per cent while the rate in other states is less than half this. The benefits are there for all to see – waste becoming a resource, reducing the use of virgin materials, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water usage, less contamination in recyclables, the creation of jobs; the list of indisputable benefits goes on. Combine that with the fact that a poll commissioned by Clean Up Australia found that 87 per cent of Australians want a national container refund scheme and it defies belief that our leaders aren’t jumping at the opportunity to take a CD scheme national.
The issue has been on the agenda of the Environmental Protection and Heritage Council – a council made up of State and Federal Environment Ministers – numerous times, and it was there again at their meeting in Perth on 5 November.
But the process stalled …… again.
Why are we overcomplicating this issue?
Why is the beverage industry so threatened by the introduction of a solution like container refunds?
Why are our political leaders ignoring the communities they’ve been elected to represent?
Why do we continue to accept the waste of finite resources?
At Clean Up, we’re doing our best to force the wheels of change. Why? Because I know there are direct environmental benefits from a refund scheme on containers; because I also know that such a scheme provides income for those who are prepared to make the effort to collect and return their containers; and because I know our kids will also have another source of pocket money.
How do I know this? Because with the money I raised from bottle refunds when I was a kid I bought my very first boat.
Does anyone else out there remember how good those refunds were?
Ian Kiernan AO
Clean Up Australia Chairman