Saturday, 29 November 2014

Australia’s debt for the pollution it exports

Today The Guardian has shown a list of wanted environmental fugitives, all connected either with rhinoceros poaching or illegal logging. Whilst the rhinoceros poaching epidemic which claims up to six percent of the global rhinoceros population each year is deplorable, and illegal logging of tropical forests can have major consequences in terms of erosion and loss of species, Interpol’s list cannot by any means be complete. Whilst killing of endangered species is a grave offence, the much more delicate, but potentially more destructive in the long-term, issue of the “export” of large quantities of pollution from Australia needs to be discussed as well.

Export of greenhouse pollution from Australia is a global concern, and there is no doubt that corporations who profit from unlimited greenhouse gas emissions have major direct and indirect influence on Australian politics. Being completely legal, these polluting corporations’ influence is likely larger than rhinoceros poaching and logging corporations of the humid tropics, but no doubt exists they should pay the global costs of the pollution they produce.

Australia’s politics – which the last few years plainly show as diverging rapidly from Europe, East Asia and the Americas especially regarding issues like greenhouse emissions and freeway building – is generally ignored by ecologists, even whilst admitting Australia possesses unique problems with  ancient soils, warm oligotrophic seas, low biological productivity and high rate of postindustrial species extinctions. The notion that Australia be naturally ultraconservative and community-oriented (contrasting with individual-oriented Eurasia and the Americas) precisely owing to the low and variable productivity of its ecosystems is seldom asked by ecologists but firmly supported by ecological anthropology. John Snarey’s ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study’ (from the June 1996 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion) shows a powerful relationship between scarcity of water and belief in the type of deity found in Abrahamic religions. Snarey’s model suggests in the long term that Australia, with even in humid regions half the ratio of runoff to precipitation and three to five times the variability in runoff of Europe, East Asia, the Americas and New Zealand, would maintain traditional Christianity whilst those nations become uniformly atheist.
Global distribution of coefficient of variation of annual runoff taken from ‘Global streamflows – Part 3: Country and climate zone characteristics’ in Journal of Hydrology (2007) 347, pages 272 to 291.
The failure of Australia to even equal reduction targets of incomparably smaller per-capita polluters, together with a change from lip service to outright opposition regarding emissions-cutting investments (public transit, renewable energy, abandonment of proposed roads) suggests Australian culture today is fundamentally different from other OECD nations and that these differences are rapidly intensifying.

If Australians be unwilling to accept the sacrifices (higher taxes, short-term loss of the freedom from cars, less personal space) needed to reverse transport and energy policies toward public transit, then international organisations possess no choice but to step in and state bluntly that Australia has a basic duty to pay for (present and future) disasters abroad that are substantially its making.

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