Key environmental issues that need addressing this election

Key environmental issues that need addressing this election

In the upcoming federal election I want to see political parties address our nation’s reliance on coal and oil for economic growth at the expense of our environment within their policies. For me and many in my social communities, this is the primary environmental issue being faced in Australia at the moment.

As I write, massive industrial mining projects are being approved, such as the Adani Carmichael mine and drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. The Adani issue has quickly become one of the key points of tension this election.

Students across Australia took part in school strikes to demand greater action on climate change. Photo: Genevieve French

On one side, the argument for Adani is about creating jobs in an area in Queensland where unemployment is rife. This call is supported by the belief that coal is a necessity for Australia’s future economic growth. On the other side are environmentalists who fear the destructive affect such a mine would have on Australia’s water supply, wildlife and ecosystems and whom believe jobs could be created in renewable or more sustainable energy industries.

Meanwhile in South Australia the deep sea oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight, proposed by Norwegian oil giant Equinor – who currently hold exploration permits to test the Commonwealth waters as a suitable ground for oil drilling – has recently been approved by the Australian petroleum regulator to begin seismic testing later this year. Seismic testing is often the first step for oil companies learn more about the geography of oil resources that lay beneath the ocean floor before they begin drilling.

Fishing industries and environmental bodies such as The Wilderness Society have expressed their anger at this approval, fearful of the detrimental effect repeated explosions of noise under water may have on marine animals, potentially deafening whales and other animals that rely on sonar for navigation. The construction of such an oil rig also has the potential to cause an oil spill from Perth to Sydney. Such an oil spill would threaten the thousands of native animals simultaneously threatening thousands of jobs in fishery and tourism across the state.

On the flip side these industrial projects promise to create thousands of jobs in the mining. But are there other ways to achieve job security that aren’t reliant on Adani? The original 10,000 jobs promised have already been significantly descaled to just a few thousand as plans for the mine have changed and scepticism grows of just accurate Adani’s claims are. Employment in coal mining is a small fraction of the Australian workforce at 0.5% and coal miners make up just 1.1% of Queensland’s workforce.  

Further to this the costs of climate change more broadly – from the impact of extreme events on agriculture and food production already occurring to the  $571 billion it will cost our property market – are significant. I have seen this impact especially in the North England area of NSW where my family runs a large cattle, sheep and wheat station. The current drought is so severe they are spending $20,000 for a truck of hay to come from Victoria to provide feed for 200 sheep and cows for just a few weeks and no few crops have been planted this season. Farmers are looking to politicians to help provide strategies and a plan to deal with our changing climate.

Whitsundays – South Molle Island Resort devastated after a cyclone in 2017. Photo: Genevieve French

Other countries are already cottoning onto this. Recently the UK became the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency. Politicians in Norway, the home of Equinor, have just withdrawn their support for oil exploration in the Lofoten archipelago in Norway and have begun to divest from companies that explore for gas and oil in favor of supporting renewables. Neighboring New Zealand has banned such projects off its coastline and I believe Australia should follow suit, saying a firm “no” to selling off our natural resources to the highest bidder. Instead, I’d like to see the government commit to more investment in new renewable energy projects and research. The sector is growing with a 28% increase of full time employment in renewable projects from 2016/7 to 2017/8 across Australia.

This election, I’m looking for parties to pledge a higher renewable energy target, ban deep sea drilling and tighten regulation of the forestry industry that has made Australia the fifth largest tree-clearing nation in the world. This has had devastating impacts for agriculturalists and community members who rely on these water sources.

Ancient forest devastated by deforestation in East Gippsland, Victoria. Photo: Genevieve French

Economic growth does not need to be at the expense of our environment. This election, I want to see a government willing to think a little outside the box and invest in new solutions and research that can support a more sustainable future for Australia.

Genevieve is a freelance photographer and videographer with a focus on environmental conservation.  

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