Radio 'shock jock' attacks bid to silence eco-critics

Australian radio 'shock jock' Alan Jones is hardly a greenie. 

Jones in pontification mode

Jones in pontification mode

The flamboyant conservative commentator -- and wildly popular radio personality -- has declared that he doesn't believe in significant human-caused climate change and has suggested that Bob Brown, the former leader of the Australian Green Party, be taken out to sea and drowned.

So when someone of Jones' ilk comes out in strident opposition to the Australian government's scheme to hamstring eco-critics, it has to grab your attention.

What is going on? 

In a recent ALERT blog, we highlighted the scheme by the conservative Tony Abbott government to undercut its many environmental critics -- by making alarming changes to the country's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

This all arose over a government gambit to build one of the world's biggest coal mines.  After facing stiff environmental opposition, the Australian government responded by calling its opponents “vigilantes”.  It then proposed to wipe out the right of environmental groups to challenge decisions that violate the EPBC law.

This isn't the first time the Abbott government has attacked environmental groups -- but it might be the last, if Jones has his way.

Jones has lambasted the Abbott government, saying that "I may live nowhere near the Liverpool plains or the Great Barrier Reef, but I sure as hell am concerned that they are protected."

“The latest move by the Abbott government puts at risk not just our environment but our very democracy.  It is quite simply unbelievable," said Jones.

“This legislative restriction is divisive, it isolates us.  It means we are not allowed to care,” he said.

Jones has not attracted a lot of fans among the environmental crowd, though no one disputes he is unafraid to speak his mind. 

Maybe the Australian government will finally begin paying attention.  When a prominent and popular conservative turns around and bites it, perhaps it's time to start listening.

 

Australian government favors coal mines over environmental protection

Things are getting hot Down Under.  Australian researcher Dr April Reside tells us about the Australian government's scheme to gut key provisions of a vital environmental protections law.  And as if the planet weren't warm enough already, it's all about digging up and selling more coal. 

Abbott fiddles while the world burns

Abbott fiddles while the world burns

The conservative Tony Abbott government in Australia is proposing alarming changes to the country's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 -- a remarkable move that would prevent environment groups from challenging many damaging development projects.

This has all come to a head over the Carmichael Coal Mine -- a plan to build a massive mine in central Queensland in order to export 60 million of tons of coal to India each year. 

Coal, of course, is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and India's plan to burn it by the shipload for electricity is bad news for the planet.

The Abbott government is in a tizzy after after a community organization, the Mackay Conservation Group, challenged the approval of the Carmichael Mine in Australia's Federal Court. 

The community group says Environment Minister Greg Hunt didn’t properly consider the impact the mine would have on two threatened species, the yakka skink and ornamental snake.

The mine site also sustains the largest population of the southern subspecies of the Black-throated Finch, which is endangered. 

The implications of the mega-mine go well beyond a few imperiled species.  If the mine goes ahead, it will be one of the biggest in the world -- and the emissions from burning its mountains of coal would cancel out all gains made from Australia’s current emissions-reduction strategy.

On top of the frightening precedent it would set, the Abbott government appears to be double-dealing. 

There was an agreement among the Environment Minister, the mine's proponent (the Adani Group from India), and the Mackay Conservation Group that the mine's approval should be set aside temporarily, until the conservation issues could be properly considered by the Minister.  The parties agreed that the decision would be reconsidered in six to eight weeks.

But the federal government responded by attacking environmental groups opposed to the mine, calling them “vigilantes”. 

And now, the government wants to wipe out the right of environmental groups to challenge decisions that violate the EPBC law -- despite the fact that less than 0.4% of all resource-development projects have been halted under the EPBC Act. 

All this comes amid increasing calls by Australia's neighboring nations for a moratorium on new coal mines to prevent dangerous climate change.

The mine continues to attract heated controversy.  Building it would require a major upgrade to existing port facilities on the Queensland coast and could have negative impacts on critical wetlands, culturally important indigenous lands, and even the Great Barrier Reef

And despite all the fuss, many believe that the mine won't even be financially viable in the long term because of declining coal prices and India's pledge to halt coal imports in the next few years.

This isn't the first time the Abbott government has attacked environmental groups, and it may not be the last.  It's time to turn up the heat on the coal-loving Abbott government -- by signing this petition -- before it makes the world hotter for all of the rest of us.

Australia talks the talk but will it walk the walk for conservation?

Australia's environment minister, Greg Hunt, has a tough gig. 

Hope or just politics?  Will Australia help to save imperiled rainforests in the Asia-Pacific?   (photo by William Laurance)

Hope or just politics?  Will Australia help to save imperiled rainforests in the Asia-Pacific?  (photo by William Laurance)

Hunt seems legitimately interested in advancing nature conservation but his boss, the conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, clearly is not.  Abbott's government has the worst environmental record of any Australian government in living memory

That leaves Hunt in a difficult spot.  Few doubt that if he were to push conservation too strongly -- or fail to support Abbott's pro-coal, pro-mining, no-new-parks, anti-renewable-energy policies -- he'd soon be gone.

In such a setting, where domestic policy is so clearly being driven by a growth-first agenda, what is an environment minister to do?  One 'safe' strategy is to focus not on matters at home, but on those abroad.

That is precisely what Hunt did this week in Sydney with his "Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit" -- a forum that proclaimed it will help Australia's tropical neighbors to protect their imperiled forests.

After interviewing Hunt, ALERT director Bill Laurance just wrote this lively critique of the event

It's worth a quick read to see how nature conservation -- and politics -- are playing out in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

 

Scientists slam Australia for being, well, stupid

Our apologies to the many millions of Australians who did not vote for the Tony Abbott government.  For those that did, one of the world's top scientific organizations has a nuanced message for you:

You are idiots.

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Mind you, the organization -- the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, which is meeting in Cairns, Queensland this week -- did not actually say that. 

What they said was that they had a great number of issues and concerns with the Abbott government's approach to climate change, national parks, World Heritage sites, illegal-logging legislation, endangered species, and renewable-energy initiatives

But what they really meant was this: If you voted for the Tony Abbott government and care a whit for the environment, you need to have your head examined.

The ATBC is the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.  Several ALERT members, including Priya Davidar, Pierre-Michel Forget, Tom Lovejoy, and Bill Laurance, are former presidents of the Association.

The Cairns conference has delegates from 55 nations, many from developing countries.  Most of those delegates found it incredible that a relatively wealthy nation like Australia could justify so many anti-environmental actions by blaming its economy -- which in fact is quite robust.

Yesterday Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian Green Party, gave a keynote talk at the conference.  She castigated the Abbott government's environmental stance -- and received a standing ovation.

Virtually everyone agrees: The Tony Abbott government is sending an appalling message to the world, especially to developing nations that are often making far bigger commitments to nature conservation with far less national wealth.

Australian government "most hostile to the environment"

"BREATHTAKING AND RELENTLESS". 

Even the ostriches are impressed...

Even the ostriches are impressed...

Those are the words used by a mainstream politician to describe the Tony Abbott government's savage approach to the Australian and global environments, in a formal submission on Monday to Australia's national parliament.

In a parliamentary speech that must have shaken the building's rafters, the Honorable Kelvin Thomson repeatedly decried the Abbott government as "the most hostile to the environment in nearly 50 years" in Australia.

Thomson, the Member of Parliament for the Division of Wills in Victoria, laid out a barrage of environmental complaints against the Abbott government.  These include efforts to:

- Carve out 74,000 hectares of World Heritage forest in Tasmania for industrial logging

- refusing to include climate change on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 global leaders summit in Brisbane, despite urging from many other nations

- approving plans to dump 3 million tons of sediment in the Great Barrier Reef -- a move that might have the iconic ecosystem declared a World Heritage Area in Danger

- gutting federal environmental protections in favor of a 'one-stop shop' that would devolve responsibility for environmental matters to the Australian states, many of which are stridently pro-development

One might expect members of the Australian Green Party to castigate the Abbott government's environmental stance.  But when a centrist like Kelvin Thomson feels compelled to speak out so forcefully, one realizes we really have entered the dark ages Down Under.


Green groups in 'desperate' bid to halt Australian eco-calamity

DESPERATE.  That's about the only word that could describe the last-ditch efforts of Australian green groups to slow the Tony Abbott government's relentless march to push business and development interests, no matter the environmental cost.

Greenies are feeling blue Down Under...

Greenies are feeling blue Down Under...

Having had no luck at all in influencing the Abbott government, a coalition of Australian environmental groups are now imploring the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity -- a longstanding global accord to which Australia is a signatory --- to censure the government for its anti-environmental ways.

Specifically, the green groups want the CBD to slam the Abbott government's scheme for a so-called 'one-stop shop' -- a greatly simplified way to approve environmentally risky projects by devolving responsibility to the individual Australian states, where pro-development interests usually have more sway.

it's a formula for disaster, say conservationists, especially given the conservative nature of many Australian state governments right now.

Such measures are likely to lead to lower environmental standards, conflicted decision-making, and ultimately a loss of biodiversity -- all of which are contrary to Australia's commitments under the CBD, say conservationists.

Having exhausted virtually every possible avenue within Australia, conservationists are now being forced to look abroad for help.

It's a sign of the times and -- as summarized in this excellent essay by ALERT member Corey Bradshaw on his ConservationBytes site -- a telling indication of just how bad things have gotten for the Australian environment.

 

The 'environmental group' that's anti-environmental

George Orwell would have appreciated the Australian Environment Foundation.  That's because Orwell was a master of doublespeak--where words don't really mean what they say.

These guys make perfect sense to me...

These guys make perfect sense to me...

The AEF is not pro-environment.  In fact, it's arguably anti-environment, at least by any recognizable definition of that term.

The AEF opposes lots of things--wind farms, many mainstream efforts to combat climate change, and what it labels "green thuggery".  And it likes the Tony Abbott government's efforts to carve out 74,000 hectares of Tasmania's World Heritage forests for industrial logging.

In fact, the AEF likes Abbott's anti-World Heritage efforts so much that it's written to all of the members of the 21-nation World Heritage Committee, stridently urging them to back it.

The AEF was established in 2005 by the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs, which has received funding from a number of major oil, mining, and industrial corporations and is closely affiliated with Australia's Liberal Party--"Liberal" in this case being another term that would make Orwell proud.

And one shouldn't be surprised to learn that Alan Oxley is closely associated with the AEF.  Oxley is the industrial lobbyist and former Australian trade ambassador who's become notorious for opposing a wide range of environmental initiatives both in Australia and internationally.

Three years ago, ALERT director Bill Laurance debated Oxley at Australian National University, and that day did not go well for Mr Oxley.  Laurance and others have tried repeatedly to have a video of the debate posted on Youtube, but Oxley evidently bullied ANU and so the university declined to release it.

However, Laurance did summarize his comments about Oxley in a talk at Stanford University--which you can see here.

As the debate about Tasmania's World Heritage forests heats up, the AEF is finding itself back in the headlines.  If George Orwell were still alive, he'd surely enjoy their pronouncements--for entertainment purposes only.

 

IUCN slams plan to de-list Tasmanian forests

The Tony Abbott government's scheme to carve out 74,000 hectares of Tasmania's World Heritage forest for industrial logging is looking increasingly battered.

Lots of criticisms of the Abbott government plan...

Lots of criticisms of the Abbott government plan...

First there was the revelation that the government's proposal was prepared without consulting outside experts at all.  This is tantamount to building a brick house without mortar--the whole edifice is likely to be exceedingly weak.

On top of that, a trainload of prominent Australians and Aussie organizations have lined up in opposition to the proposal, and it got a giant thumbs-down from the Australian Senate.

And now the IUCN--the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world's largest coalition of conservation organizations--has flatly denounced the Abbott plan.

The IUCN's report to the World Heritage Committee--which will consider the government's bid in Doha, Qatar next month--is unreservedly critical of the scheme.

The report labeled the government plan "clearly inappropriate" and said it provided "relatively scant information" to support its case. 

Among other criticisms, it said de-listing the forests would "impact negatively on the outstanding universal value of the property".

Nothing is certain, but many believe the IUCN's detailed report--by so resoundingly slamming the Abbott government's scheme--could heavily influence the World Heritage Committee's decision.

 

Illegal logging still a scourge for forests globally

Some people with very loud voices are trying to play down the importance of illegal logging.

There's really nothing to worry about...

There's really nothing to worry about...

Among these are the lobbyist Alan Oxley, who's on the payroll of big international timber companies; and the Tony Abbott government, which is trying to sink Australia's hard-won illegal logging legislation

But even a cursory look shows that illegal logging is still at appalling levels in many developing nations: 

- Nearly 90 percent of the timber extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo is illegal, according to a report from the respected UK think-tank Chatham House, a recognized authority on the illegal logging issue.

- In the Peruvian Amazon, illegal logging has been described as a "crisis" in a recent scientific analysis led by Matt Finer and Clinton Jenkins.  They found evidence of major violations in 68 percent of the timber concessions they assessed.  The Peruvian government has already cancelled 30 percent of its concessions because of rampant illegal activities. 

- In Indonesia, the Anti Forest-Mafia Coalition, an alliance of local environmental groups, has decried the ease with which anti-illegal-logging rules are being circumvented.  Indonesia's timber-certification system is so loose, the group declared, that it is "nearly impossible" for companies to fail to be certified. 

These are merely a sampling of stories that have appeared in the last ten days. 

In reality, illegal logging imperils forests, promotes criminal activities, and steals market share from legitimate timber producers.  It also defrauds developing nations of around $15 billion annually in direly needed revenues, and its toll approaches $100 billion annually if its environmental impacts are included.

The bottom line: Don't let anyone tell you illegal logging isn't a massive problem, or that we shouldn't be working hard to combat it. 

Sweeping crackdown on political criticism in Australia

Hear no evil, see no evil...

In Australia, the Tony Abbott government is continuing its war on public discourse.

Scorched-earth policies Down Under...

Scorched-earth policies Down Under...

For starters, it has proposed to ban consumer boycotts of corporations that destroy or degrade the environment--a tack for which it has been strongly criticized by ALERT.

Now, it has enacted sweeping new rules to limit criticism of its actions by Australian public employees. 

In effect, any significant criticism of the government on any type of social media--including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, forums, and Wikipedia--is banned forthwith.

Such rules apply even if the criticism is made anonymously.

Not only that, but employees are being told they must dob in their colleagues, if they should ever see any such criticisms.  Those who fail to abide could be sacked.

From an environmental perspective, these developments are alarming because the Abbott government is under fire for a growing battery of sins--the worst by any Australian government in memory, as summarized in this recent blog by ALERT member Corey Bradshaw.

Speak no evil....  George Orwell would be proud...