On World Environment Day ACF’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy says politicians need to start acting in the interests of the people they represent
By Kelly O’Shanassy
I spent part of my childhood in the city and part of it in the country. My love for the natural world was nurtured and fed in both places.
And in my experience, whether people are city slickers or country folk, almost everyone is united in wanting a healthy environment and a safe future for themselves and those they love.
The only exceptions to this general rule are the representatives of the most backward companies — the ones that profit from environmental degradation — and the politicians who listen to them.
Most Australians want to do the right thing for the environment, but we are seriously lacking in political leadership on protecting nature, life and our shared future.
This was brought home to me very strongly on the Australian Conservation Foundation’s recent Count Me In tour, which visited Bendigo, the Blue Mountains and Ipswich, as well as capital cities across Australia.
I heard stories of local climate action groups working with councils and businesses to reduce their impact on the planet. I heard about Landcare groups restoring creeks and replanting trees on degraded land. I heard about solar panels going up on rooftops all over Australia. (Did you know one in five Australian households now has solar power?)
On this World Environment Day we should celebrate these acts of leadership which are actively creating a better future.
If only our political leaders would follow suit. Unfortunately political inaction is holding us all back. In fact, some political decisions are driving environmental destruction.
In the Galilee Basin, in central Queensland, the Indian company Adani plans to dig one of the biggest coal mines in the world. Politicians have given a tick to the Carmichael mine; investors are still considering whether or not to finance it.
If this mine goes ahead, the habitat of endangered wildlife will be wrecked, it will suck around 12 billion litres of water a year from local rivers, leaving them dry for 18 days a year, and the coal will be shipped across the Great Barrier Reef to be burnt in other countries, escalating the world’s climate problem which is, in turn, killing the Reef.
The Point of No Return study by Ecofys, for Greenpeace, identified 14 fossil fuel projects across the globe that together would increase global emissions by 20 per cent and threaten human life. The proposed mines in the Galilee Basin are one of those so-called ‘carbon bombs’.
But instead of putting the brakes on this project, that will have such a damaging impact on the whole world, the Federal Government may end up supporting it with taxpayers’ dollars. This year’s budget allocates $5 billion to a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility that will give concessional loans for new roads, rail, water, electricity, ports, airports and communications projects in the north.
I’m worried that Adani, the proponent of the Carmichael coal and rail project and the port expansion at Abbot Point, which is currently looking for funding, might apply for a loan. It could be that this new fund becomes a ‘Dirty Energy Finance Corporation’ by turning Adani’s Galilee Basin coal dream into reality.
It is an example of politicians making decisions that go against the interests of the people. And right now across Australia decisions affecting our future are being made.
The NSW Government and Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will have to decide whether to let Wollongong Coal expand its Russell Vale mine within Sydney’s water catchment, even though to do so could affect Sydney’s drinking water. A bushwalker found wandering within the catchment can be fined up to $44,000 but a coal company might be allowed to mine there!
The Victorian Government has to decide the future of the Hazelwood mine and power station, the dirtiest coal plant in the developed world. In 2014, the mine caught fire causing health problems so serious that locals were told to stay inside for weeks. Thankfully the state government has re-opened the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry to get to the bottom of community health concerns and consider mine rehabilitation. An Inquiry is good but the mine and power station should be closed and replaced with clean energy.
When environment groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation speak up against coal, we don’t do so because of an ideological opposition to it, but because it’s dangerous to nature and people.
The good news is clean energy is here, ready and waiting, and other countries are deploying it at a fast and furious pace. We just need the political will in this country to move towards a clean and safe future.
At a national level we desperately need multi-partisan support for strong climate change action, after all, it will take more than one term of government and therefore more than one political party to solve climate change.
Most political leaders around the globe are getting on board the clean energy train. It makes me wonder why our Prime Minister is still on the coal train. Why is he putting the interests of coal-dependent companies like Adani, Rio Tinto and Origin over the health and safety of the Australian people?
I think one of the most important ways to tackle Australia’s environmental challenges is to raise the voices of people in this country who love nature and who want a safe future for their family and friends. That pretty much describes all of us.
My aim is to make it so that our political leaders and business leaders find it impossible to ignore these concerns.
Kelly O’Shanassy is chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation
This piece was first published by ABC Environment