I’ve been a bit reluctant to write about the upcoming election in this blog; after all the point of this blog has never been about anything political! However, for better or worse the state of our environment (including our oceans) are inextricably linked to politics, so here goes…
So Saturday was federal Election Day here in Australia, ending a long campaign where both parties tried to out-negative each other! But how much focus (or lack thereof) did the ocean, science and the environment receive in the build up to the election?
On the whole, issues related to marine science and conservation have received very little attention in the build up to the election. The most notable announcement was probably the Coalition’s plan to suspend and review the recently implemented network of marine parks. There main argument for this appears to be that there is a lack of scientific consensus on the issue, and that the parks unfair penalise recreational fishers. I strongly disagree with this view. I’m not a fisheries scientist, and don’t claim to be an expert in the subject, but from all accounts marine reserves seem to widely accepted as being beneficial for marine biodiversity, and can even help fish stocks in adjacent areas through the spillover effect.
This is not to say that there are not remaining questions about the new marine parks, but on the whole the policy should be seen in a positive light, given the pressures our marine ecosystems (and therefore fisheries) will face in the future. The announcement to suspend the implementation of the new marine parks is therefore deeply worrying, and not warranted.
The discussion of climate change has also been relatively limited in the election build-up, especially in comparison to the 2007 and 2010 elections. This is in spite of an increase in both the evidence for and effects of climate change around the world. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the Earth is warming, and it is almost certainly as a result of anthropogenically-released carbon dioxide (and greenhouse gases). This warming is directly responsible for significant changes in our environment (both in land and in the ocean), and is already causing detrimental social and economic consequences. Given that these negative environmental, social, and economic consequences are more than likely going to increase in the next few decades, we should be trying to limit greenhouse gas emissions – the cost of inaction looks far too high for me!
Despite the challenges that climate change is posing, the major political parties are proposing policies that do not go far enough! Labor are aiming to reduce emissions by 5% of 1990 levels, while the Coalition will reduce emissions by as much as their Direct Action plan will allow (predicted to be much lower than 5%). For serious change to occur, we must reduce emissions by far more than this 5% target and Australia, as a wealthy nation, should be setting a global example by being at the forefront of lowering emissions. Climate change has received far less attention than it deserves during this election campaign, as it is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. I worry that we (and future generations) will look back at this election and note that progression towards dealing with climate change moved backwards in 2013.
This post wasn’t meant as a comprehensive review, so I’m not going to go on too much longer. However, there have also been worrying announcements regarding changes to the Australian Research Council funding process (the Coalition plan to limit “waste” by preventing funding to projects that – in their opinion – do not meet their priorities), and removing protection status from 170000 hectares of the World Heritage Listed central highlands area in Tasmania.
Now that the election is over, let’s just hope that the environment will be given enough attention over the next 3 years, though I’m not too optimistic based on what the election coverage has been like.