Friday, February 7, 2014

Abbot Point is not just a place.

Re-posting this after last night's 4 Corners. The coal to be exported through Abbott Point will kill the entire reef and many innocent people. There are bigger issues than the dredge spoil.

Every generation has its defining moment. A marker in time of social change. Americans probably think immediately of Woodstock. For Australians of my generation, I think Franklin Dam. Not just a protest, but the birth of a movement.

I started University in 1983, the year after the protests. "Missed it by that much", as Maxwell Smart would say.

I met this amazing group of people who had just returned, not only energized by the success of the campaign, but empowered by the experience and expressing this new found confidence in themselves in all aspects of life.

I envied their self confidence, I wanted some of it. I hung around with this crowd. I drank with them. I debated politics with them. I learned from them and I gained a bit of courage. I stood for Student Union President and won.

I became a rent-a-crowd member for a while, lending my voice to various causes. But to be honest, my heart was never in it. I'd prefer to spend my time bashing my head against the wall in Committee meetings, where there was at least a chance of a rational debate and outcome.

I've since spent my working life doing just that, for a variety of causes. Most recently being elected a local Councillor for Ballina Shire in NSW. I have a comfortable life. I help run a well-respected marine wildlife rescue organisation, my dream boat project is near completion, and my gorgeous family are for the most part healthy and happy.

So why am I suddenly so angry? Why have I said more swear words on twitter in the past week than the entire previous year?

It's not like I've been short of things to be angry about. Even when I just limit it to the environment (I know there's so much more), there's a fair list of truly disturbing trends.

Much of my work for the past five years has been about plastic marine debris, afflicting at least 1/3 of the birds and sea turtles we treat at Australian Seabird Rescue. The problem continues to worsen, the large corporate interests continue to oppose action and we may reach the point in the next generation where we are unable to eat wild caught seafood due to high levels of toxic contaminates. But that's not it.

Allowing fishing in NSW Marine Parks, the culling of sharks in WA, both stupid, but they're not it either.

Much of the Northern Rivers region of NSW, including my own Shire, is under threat from industrial scale Coal Seam Gas mining, potentially thousands of wells. Following the latest round of State Government appeasements/ regulations, very little of our Shire, excluding the urban settlements, is protected. I have watched the well site protests to the north and south of me. It's getting closer.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the overwhelming majority of my community do not want the CSG industry here. I have stated publicly that I will do all in my power to oppose CSG. I'm now at the pointy end. Does "all in my power" include getting chained to a fence or bulldozer. Will I stand at the Shire border in my white robes and declare in my best Gandalf voice, "none shall pass". I think so. It scares the living daylights out of me, but I'm psyching myself. But even that's not what has got me so angry.

It's Abbot Point.

And the stupid decision that this site in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef should be the preferred location for what will become the world's largest coal terminal.

To make matters worse, the Authority that's supposed to protect this '1 of the 7 natural wonders of the world' reef, will allow 3 million cubic metres of dredging spoil to be dumped within the bondaries of the marine park.

This is not just some whinge of the greeny lefty fringe, that this is even being considered has the rest of the world wondering what's going on in Australia.

But Abbot Point is not just about the Reef. This is much more important.

This coal terminal is being built to ship the vast coal deposits of the Galilee Basin. In full production this project, if compared to the output of entire countries, will become the 7th largest emitter of CO2 in the world. It will dwarf Australia's entire emissions from other sources.

I have long advocated putting a price on carbon pollution. Even back in the mid-eighties, I debated the merits of various forms of carbon abatement as part of my studies in natural resource economics at University.

Putting a price on pollution works. The dreaded Carbon Tax is working. A $7.6% fall in carbon dioxide pollution in its first year, a barely perceptible blip in inflation and strong economic growth. But it's doomed. No amount of sensible debate will save it now.

At an International level the picture is clear. We are now as certain that humans are causing climate change as we are that cigarettes cause cancer. The fossil fuel merchants are today's tobacco companies. Peddling a product which we know will kill millions of people.

We are not just on trend for the dangerous, but adaptable, 2c warming our governments deem is acceptable. If we do not begin to drastically reduce emissions within a decade or so we are consigning our children and grand children to live in a world of catastrophe.

The disaster of four degrees of warming by the end of the cenutry is barely believable, more akin to the post-apocolyptic vision of science-fiction writers I consumed as an adolescent, but it is the path we are on.

The full exploitation of the Galilee Coal basin could well be the difference between 2c or a 4c or higher increase in global temperatures. It doesn't matter where in the world it is burnt.

I am amazed to find after a lifetime of believing that economics is the solution to climate change, that I am wrong.

If I want to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the sea grass beds, the coral reefs and the incredible wildlife from the effects of smothering by silt, bleaching due to rising sea temperatures and destruction at the hands of increasingly intense cyclones, I must oppose Abbot Point.

If I want to protect my community, built on the flood plain at the mouth of a mighty river, from the ravages of sea level rise, the storm surge, the intense cyclonic storms periodically breaking the crippling droughts, I must oppose Abbot Point.

If I want to look my four year old son in the eye, when he's a man, when he understands the choice we have been confronted with, I must oppose Abbott Point with every fibre of my being.

In 2014, in the rich, developed country of Australia, we face a stark choice. This is our defining moment.

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