Politicians are still blind to critical environment issues

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Terri Butler MP has been appointed Shadow Minister for the Environment despite lacking the credentials (Screenshot via YouTube)

Politicians on all sides aren't prioritising environmental issues, while the media is failing in its role in bringing the world together, writes Sue Arnold.

THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS our politicians can learn from the current global climate emergency:

  1. Without a healthy environment, economic and ecological collapse are inevitable.   
  2. Limit growth. Agree to be briefed on the carrying capacity of Australia’s environment. Failing comprehension, set up a Ministry for Political Psychiatric Disorders.
  3. Climate change is real. Australia is under the gun in terms of impacts. Acknowledge, then act.
  4. Put an economic value on forests, ecosystems, healthy rivers, soil and wildlife so the costs of development, mining, deforestation and urbanisation are balanced against environmental losses.
  5. Trees bring rain. Trees are essential for shelter, stabilising the Earth, keeping rivers healthy, providing habitats for countless species of insects, fauna and birds. Conserve forests and fund major revegetation projects to ensure that natural and human life support systems are sustainable. 
  6. Recognise that drought is the legacy of vegetation loss and deforestation.  
  7. Building and enlarging current dams and recycling waste water for human consumption are not solutions. Where are the water sources to provide for massive urbanisation projects? How will Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push to send immigrants to regional areas work if there’s no water?
  8. Do a balance sheet. If increasing the population to 35.9 million by 2050 as projected, how much water would be needed to service this growth? Where would it come from and how would it be maintained at sufficient levels?
  9. Plan for extreme events and focus heavily on renewables. Read up on why fossil fuels must be phased out. Find a guide to symptoms of the Dark Age syndrome.
  10. Understand the public aren’t zombies. Answer correspondence, emails, scientific sign-on letters. Make appointments with and listen to scientists, NGOs and community organisations. Remember, you’re supposed to represent the people, not corporations.

The current epidemic of political blindness over the environment is at a critical level, no matter which party.

Labor Party heavies continue to wrestle with the reasons for a seriously unexpected loss at the last Federal Election, failing to recognise that refusing to take a stand on the big environmental battles including Adani's Carmichael coal mine and climate impacts to the Great Barrier Reef cost the party dearly.

On the plus side, Tony Burke produced some excellent environmental policies which would have reversed a significant number of the Coalition Government’s efforts which weakened Federal environmental legislation.

But the big issues remain in the Labor Party’s “too hard” basket, particularly climate change.

In spite of massive climate demonstrations and major scientific evidence of Australia’s catastrophic loss of species exacerbated by climate change impacts, controversy reigns in the ALP. Solutions are not a high priority.

Joel Fitzgibbon, ALP MP for Hunter, made tidal waves last week in supporting a winding back of carbon emissions to the same level as the Coalition.    

However, this is not the first backward environmental step under the leadership of Anthony Albanese. In appointing Terri Butler MP as the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Albanese effectively ensured that the environment would be very low on the political totem pole. Tony Burke, an outspoken voice for the environment (although some would disagree) was moved to Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations. His removal from the environment portfolio is a major loss.

Instead, we have Ms Butler, a former industrial lawyer for the firm Maurice Blackburn. Checking through Ms Butler’s website links to speeches and media releases demonstrates a politician who may have been a crash-hot compensation lawyer but with zero environmental credentials and a complete lack of focus on the substantive conservation issues.

Given that her electorate is right in the middle of southeast Queensland where koalas are being exterminated by developers and supported by the Palaszczuk Government, an optimist might expect a few words of concern.

On the contrary, Save our Stones Corner Post Office has more leverage. There’s not one single word about koalas or the civil rights of climate activists.

No doubt the Queensland Premier’s transformation as a Joh Bjelke-Petersen clone has influenced Ms Butler. Otherwise, one would expect a strong protest over the Premier’s latest undemocratic efforts — sending Extinction Rebellion protestors straight to gaol.

In spite of several attempts to make contact with Ms Butler’s staff to inquire about her proposed efforts to bring Australia’s catastrophic biodiversity loss to front and centre, IA was told:

“Contact Sussan Ley, she’s the Minister for the Environment.”

Annastacia Palaszczuk is one of the most inaccessible politicians in Australia, along with her NSW Liberal Party fellow Premier Gladys Berejiklian. That is, if you happen to have any environmental concerns, in which case, there’s an invisible ban on meetings, communication and any response.

A sign-on letter sent to Palaczszuk by Australian and internationally recognised scientific experts expressing deep concern over the loss of coastal forest ecosystems – koala habitat – was ignored.

Dr Richard Kingsford, an expert on the Murray Darling, organised a scientific sign-on letter to the NSW Premier in relation to water issues, with no response.

There’s little doubt that water is going to be the most critical issue facing the current population and the projected population increases. In NSW, the National Party has a death grip on water and forest issues, with the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Water Minister Melinda Pavey announcing funding for more dams and extensions to existing dams as a solution to the growing water crises.

As Richard Kingsford writes:  

‘Building dams doesn't get you more water in the same way that opening a bank account doesn't get you more money.’

With the environment no longer a major policy issue under Albanese’s leadership, who speaks for the environmental crises which are unfolding at an exponential rate?

Many Australians look to The Greens for strong environmental leadership. At a time when the environment, globally and nationally, must be the number one priority, The Greens’ leadership is absent. 

Then there’s the mainstream media.

A quote from the MAHB Stanford blog by Geoffrey Holland, entitled ‘Humanity’s dysfunctional nervous system’, is worth reading:

The media we have is hopelessly out of step with what we desperately need… a mass media purged of empty calories, that delivers the same unvarnished truth to all the world’s people…. a media that helps all in the human family to understand that we are in big trouble on a civilization scale…. a media that inspires with programming that encourages two fundamental ideas – dignity for all and shared responsibility for planetary stewardship.


Pushing back the tide of global scale challenges requires all the world’s people pulling together in the same life-affirming, sustainable direction.  


The ability for mass media to so effectively link the world’s billions of people has a critical role to play in promoting planetary citizenship. Unfortunately, ‘dysfunctional’ truly is the correct word to describe the current state of the media.


It seems certain that if we don’t learn to live within the planet’s ability to provide, the collapse of civilization as we know it is inevitable. Avoiding such an ignominious outcome begins with a recognition that the media we have is wholly inadequate to need.


“Imagine what it would be like if TV actually were good. It would be the end of everything we know.” ~ Marvin Minsky, American Scientist

No wonder Morrison is getting away with murder.

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

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