On Australia's major environmental crises

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Paul Ehrlich contemplates what Australia needs to do to keep its natural environment intact (screenshot via YouTube).

Paul and Anne Ehrlich discuss the environmental issues facing modern Australia. Another interview by IA with them can be read here.

AUSTRALIA IS FAMILIAR territory for Anne and Paul Ehrlich. Paul is an American biologist who has spent his life warning against overpopulation and the fight for resources that would ensue. He and Anne wrote The Population Bombwhich catapulted them towards fame in the late 1960s.

Paul is now Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. Many visits to Australia provided major research for an important book entitled, Killing Koalas and Poisoning the Prairies, co-authored with Professor Corey Bradshaw.  

Paul provides a damning overview of the damage to this country’s environment:

When we first went to Australia in 1965 our focus was from point of view of biologists. It was an incredibly beautiful place with lots of wonderful birds and places where you could watch tropical birds.


I can still remember seeing my first kangaroos in Kuringai Chase, seeing parrots everywhere and working with Australian butterflies.

Continuing, he says: 

We went to places like Gladstone to see a special Australian butterfly that had similar characteristics to ones that fly in our mountains in the U.S. Anne has dissected more Australian butterflies than anyone else in the history of the world.


When we first went to the Great Barrier Reef, it was a fantastic experience.

Ruminating on the Great Barrier Reef, Ehrlich said: 

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great wonders of the world’. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a huge source of resources particularly edible resources. At the very least the Reef is a barrier that protects much of Australia from effects of sea problems in general storms.

 I was told recently that underwater noise, created by ship transport moving resources out of Queensland, is destroying the reef. So those that like to scuba dive and see underwater scenery and so on obviously should move to the Philippines or someplace else where reefs may last a few months longer.

Anne Ehrlich is outspoken on the issue of climate change impacts to Australia.

“Australia has a problem with climate change. Look at the Murray Darling Basin. Why grow cotton, it’s not necessary and such a guzzler of water. You have bushfires, floods, rivers are sick. Those issues are the kinds of determinants of carrying capacity,” she told IA.

Paul Ehrlich makes the following observation in relation to the catastrophic species loss in Australia:  

 Australia is a record maker in extinctions at the species level. But the most critical thing is losing populations. For example, the koala.

You can ask: what does the koala do for me? They’re as cute as hell, children love them, they attract a huge number of tourists to Australia bringing great economic benefit. But it's all the other things they’re doing. By protecting the forest, their habitat, you’re making the air breathable, the water supply more dependable and clean. Trees bring rain.





Both Paul and Anne are experienced pilots.

They often use an analogy involving a plane, showing what happens when you take out a population:

Imagine you’re walking out on the tarmac to take an aircraft to fly you up to the Gold Coast from Sydney. You walk by the plane and you see a mechanic with a screwdriver, plying off the rivets out of the wing.


You ask: what are you doing?



He says, I'm getting rivets out of the wing so Australian airlines can sell them because they’re getting $5 a rivet and that really adds to the bottom line which is so important.



You reply, saying but you're obviously weakening the wing. What happens if you run into bad weather or storm that puts extra stress on the wing, it might fall off?



The mechanic responds: Oh we don’t worry about it. We know the wing might fall off.



You say this is exactly what the Australian Government is doing. 

The Government seems to think it doesn't make any difference if we cut down half of the forests in Queensland and kill off the koalas. The Government doesn't know what parts of that ecosystem are necessary. Losing these forests will result in climate change impacts which will make Queenslanders roast. People will be forced to move out of the State towards Victoria as Queensland becomes more uninhabitable because of climate change.

The loss of the entire ecosystem will have catastrophic consequences.

Further, Ehrlich says:

Comfortably ensconced in our lavish Australian homes near to every possible convenience, it is at times difficult to contemplate why biodiversity is so important to our well being. It is not an exaggeration to state that our lives depend absolutely on other species.

Ehrlich tells IA:

Australia exports each year the equivalent of a one-square-meter pile that would stretch 8.2 times around the Earth at the equator. This translates into about 836 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents released in one year: more than the entire annual production of greenhouse gas emissions from Germany.


Apart from the coal barons raking in the resulting profits, every Australian should be ashamed and disgusted with this wanton pollution.


Is the goal of Australia to destroy the world by exporting coal? Australia doing well with its goal of becoming a less well-developed country with the whole focus on exporting untreated natural resources as cheaply and as rapidly as possible until Australia can compete with Bangladesh or Libya.

Declaratively, he states:

Keep mining and burning fossil fuels if you want to destroy civilisation. 

Your standard of living is supported by over-exploitation of raw resources. That standard is going to drop rapidly.    

If governments are dedicated to building the big Australia with a population of 50-100 million people, in the time available before civilisation ends, you will have Sydney everywhere.

You certainly won’t have trouble finding neighbours. You’ll have trouble eating and breathing. If eating and breathing means that much, go to some country that’s not growing so fast.

Ehrlich has strong words to say about Queensland:

It isn’t just the Bjelke Petersen Government’s history but the incredibly greedy, moronic leadership that Queensland has specialised in. Even if a good government is elected, people are going to have to move because it’s going to be too hot to live there.

Sometimes, the Ehrlichs ponder whether civilisation is worth saving:

“I could mention four or five Australian politicians but Trump comes to mind as the centrepiece of having a really powerful mob of morons in charge."

Independent Australia asked Anne and Paul how they feel after all their years of research and experience witnessing global devastation to the environment.

Anne says: “I feel a lot of sadness and regret and wish we could have done more."

Paul believes there’s still hope.

“I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t hope, but if you asked me what I thought the odds were, I would say pretty low. I’m quite happy not to live long enough to see the answers."

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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