India's growing environmental crisis

A longstanding ALERT fan, Dr Shaju Thomas from the Tropical Institute of Ecological Sciences in India, weighs in here with worries about the future of India's environment:

Indian environments in peril  (photo by William Laurance)

Indian environments in peril (photo by William Laurance)

Environmental governance in India has evolved over the last 60 years, via a bevy of Acts, Rules, Bills, Ordinances, and other such legal measures.  Despite growing pressures from various vested interests, these legal acts have clearly helped to save India's environment from even worse deterioration than it has so far suffered.

But the opening up of India to global market forces in the 1990s, and the policies that accompanied it, have created severe challenges for the environment.

A striking example is the appointment of a High Level Committee (HLC) in 2014 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change.  The HLC was charged with reviewing major environmental laws in the country, including:

- The Environment Protection Act, 1986

- The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

- The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

- The Indian Forests Act, 1927

The HLC submitted its report in November 2014 -- without giving enough time for public discourse. 

The biggest problem with the report that it oversteps its mandate.  The HLC wants to get rid of time-consuming procedures for approval of development projects.  It wants to introduce "speed" in project approvals, which it says are the "engines of the nation's growth". 

Further, the HLC is proposing an "Environment Law (Management) Act", as well as more centralized federal and state environmental authorities, which can be more easily controlled.  And the HLC's report has no provision at all to deal with climate change and related issues.

These are all dangerous developments.  The HLC report is a deliberate attempt to derail the legal and policy framework that has evolved over time to protect India's environment. 

Indians need to stand up and be heard.  If its recommendations are adopted, the HLC report will pose great perils for India's environmental future.

Religious leaders: Environmental destruction "is a sin"

Destroying Earth's environments is a sin -- plain and simple. 

Time for another big flood?

Time for another big flood?

While many hold something akin to this view, it's remarkable to hear it said so forcefully by Pope Francis I, the leader of the world's Roman Catholic faithful.

Pope Francis made the off-the-cuff remark recently in southern Italy, when speaking to a local farmer.

"I fully agree with what has been said about 'safeguarding' the Earth, to bear fruit without 'exploitation'.  This is one of the greatest challenges of our time," said the Pontiff.

"In my [South American] homeland, I see many forests, which have been stripped ... that becomes land that cannot be cultivated, that cannot give life."

In May, Pope Francis also underscored the responsibility of humankind to act as "Custodians of creation".

The Pope's remarks follow not long after a 'Fatwa' was declared by Indonesia's Muslim leaders, making it a religious offense to participate in illegal wildlife trafficking.  

And in 2010, global religious leaders called on the world's political leaders at the G20 Summit in Canada to make environmental protection a top priority, along with alleviating poverty.

While a few religious pacesetters have long emphasized sustainability, could this be a fundamental new development?   Are mainstream religious leaders beginning to elevate environmental protection to something approaching sacrosanct behavior?

With Earth's environmental challenges growing daily, let's pray that they do.

 

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.


Australia called 'most hostile' to the environment

The New Zealand Herald and The Independent have just posed a provocative question: Is Australia now the world's most environmentally hostile country? 

Wake me when it's over...

Wake me when it's over...

One could certainly list other nations with dubious environmental records, but Australia's place in the sun has fallen in the eyes of many, given a growing list of questionable policies from the conservative Tony Abbott government.  A partial list includes:

- The government's request to remove World Heritage protection for a large expanse of Tasmanian eucalyptus forest, which harbors some of the world's tallest trees

 -The decision to dump millions of tonnes of dredging spoil on the Great Barrier Reef (the UN has already threatened to list the Reef as "in danger" when its World Heritage monitoring committee meets in June)

- A well-documented resistance to meaningful action to combat climate change

- Allowing Western Australia to proceed with a large-scale cull of great white, tiger and bull sharks, in the face of strong opposition from many marine scientists

- A variety of alarming measures that are degrading the status and safeguards for Australian protected areas

- Efforts to seriously weaken Australia's recently passed anti-illegal logging bill (see our ALERT blog on this issue)

The leader of the Australian Green Party, Senator Christine Milne, has said such changes could make Australia a "global laughing-stock".  Let's hope the Abbott government sees the light in time.