Obama eco-speech infuriates Aussie conservatives

Can somebody please bring Australia's right-wingers a crying towel?

Climate-deniers spit the dummy...

Climate-deniers spit the dummy...

In addition to attending the G20 Global Leaders Conference in Brisbane last week, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a hard-hitting speech on climate change at the University of Queensland. 

This had Australia's right-wingers in a tizzy, because Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had specifically ruled out climate change as a topic for discussion at the G20 summit.

Obama, fresh off a major deal to reduce carbon emissions with China -- now overwhelmingly the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitter -- wasn't willing to be gagged on the issue.  Hence his speech at the University of Queensland.

Abbott and company were especially annoyed by Obama's assertion that climate change threatened the iconic Great Barrier Reef, as suggested by a number of studies of coral bleaching and mortality during past heat waves, as well as rising ocean acidification.

Abbott is notorious as a pro-coal, pro-mining, no-more-parks, no-carbon-tax leader who considers global warming a minor annoyance -- a manageable environmental problem that's been massively overstated by wild-eyed greenies.

So perturbed was Abbott by Obama's assertions about global warming and the reef that he had his arch-conservative Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, attempt to rebuke Obama

Bishop -- well-known for other anti-environmental tacks such as her heated opposition to Australia's illegal-logging act -- decried Obama's speech and claimed that Australia was actually looking after the reef very nicely, thank you very much.

So nicely, in fact, that UNESCO has repeatedly threatened to declare the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage Site in Danger.

So nicely that Distinguished Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, immediately labeled Bishop's comments as "not credible".  

"I loved Obama's speech," said Hughes.  "I thought it was spot on."

Such exchanges show that the Abbott government is sorely out of touch -- not just with many Australians but with the leaders of many other industrial and developing nations. 

Abbott and his colleagues are now clearly part of the problem rather than part of the solution on climate change.  And no amount of crying on their part will change that.


Australia scuttles funding for endangered rhino

Australia had promised $3 million to help save the Sumatran rhino, one of the world's most critically endangered animals.  But now the conservative Tony Abbott government is breaking that promise, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Struggling to hang on...  (photo by Bill Konstant, International Rhino Foundation)

Struggling to hang on...  (photo by Bill Konstant, International Rhino Foundation)

Abbott's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, announced that the commitment--made by the previous Labor government--would not be honored. 

Only 200-300 Sumatran rhinos are estimated to survive today.  One of five living rhino species, it was formerly widely distributed across southern and eastern Asia, but today persists only in a few tiny, relict populations in Sumatra, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

Sumatran rhinos are suffering both from rampant habitat loss--their forest homes are being destroyed faster than just about anywhere else on Earth--and from poaching for rhino horn, which is used in Vietnam and East Asia for traditional medicines and ornaments.

A particular concern is forest loss and road-building in the endangered Leuser Ecosystem and adjoining Aceh region in northern Sumatra, the last stronghold for the species and an issue in which ALERT is playing an active role (see blog below and our associated press release).

The director of the conservation group Wildlife Asia, Claire Campbell, called the decision to cut the funds "potentially pretty devastating for the Sumatran rhino."