PETER SAINSBURY. Sunday environmental round up, 9 June 2019

The fossil fuel industries don’t survive by chance or benign government neglect. Two recent reports expose the massive subsidies the industries receive from governments globally, including in Australia, and the multiple very close and enduring links between high-ranking personnel in Australia’s coal industry and the Coalition government. Many of us enjoy spending time in parks and they make a valuable contribution to reducing climate change and air pollution but they need to be carefully looked after to be welcoming and safe. Insects are disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate with potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity. Finally, a quiz about an interesting-looking critter.

Fossils fuel industries may be in terminal decline but many governments continue to provide life support with bucketloads of money. A recent analysis by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that in 2015 fossil fuel subsidies (which include the failure to cost externalities arising from the production and burning of fossil fuels) amounted to US$4.7 trillion (6.3% of global GDP), and still rising. The largest beneficiaries were the coal (44%) and petroleum (41%) industries, with natural gas (10%) a distant third. The largest component of the subsidies was the failure to account for damages caused by air pollution (48%) and climate change (24%). The study found that setting fuel prices at realistic levels would have immense benefits: CO2 emissions down 28%, air pollution deaths down 46%, and tax revenues up by 3.8% of global GDP. Globally, subsidies to renewable energy in 2015 were about one-thirtieth of those to fossil fuels.

The IMF reports that Australian fossil fuel subsidies in 2015 amounted to approximately Aus$39 billion (2.3% of GDP), or approximately Aus$1,600 per head. If you’d like to understand how the fossil fuel industry manages to perpetuate such government largesse, have a look at ’Dirty Power: Big coal’s network of influence over the Coalition government’. This report from Greenpeace exposes the intimate personal and professional links between on the one hand coal companies and their industry organisations, lobby groups and media mouthpieces and on the other Morrison, Frydenberg, Taylor, Price, Canavan, Joyce and co and their office staff. Needless to say, Murdoch’s News Corporation is deeply embedded in coal’s network of influence. The multitude of links between the industry and the current government is staggering. ‘COALition’ used to be just a catchy pun but ‘Dirty Power’ makes it look like an accurate description of a long-standing conspiracy. It’s not difficult to understand the Australian government’s reluctance to take meaningful action on climate change when you read this report (or watch the accompanying 15 minute video).

Talking of Federal Resources Minister Canavan, the Guardian took him to task for wagging his finger at ‘loud’ Australians who are skewing the climate change debate and encouraging resource companies and banks to take action to tackle climate change. The Guardian wondered if Canavan has in mind the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank Guy Debelle, APRA board member Geoff Summerhays, and Fiona Wild, head of sustainability at BHP, who have all publicly recognised the need for action. All well-known militant green lefties intent on destroying the Australian economy, I’d say.

Parks in urban areas have many benefits. They are places of active and passive recreation, contemplation, socialisation, community building, education and even (loud-mouthed) demonstration. They provide contact with nature and places for nature to survive and be studied in the concrete jungle. The value of parks in combating air pollution, urban heat island effects and flooding is also being increasingly recognised, as is the need to link them into networks of green spaces that provide opportunities for humans and wildlife to move around urban spaces away from busy roads. The municipal neglect that led many parks to become unkept, uninteresting, unsafe places in the late 20th century is evidence that the benefits don’t happen naturally. Parks need to be well planned (with lots of community involvement), well resourced and well maintained if they are to be well used. In the USA the Trust for Public Land has created ParkScore to rate a city’s parks on the basis of size, investment, amenities and access. (If you are interested in the social history of parks I can recommend ‘A walk in the park’ by Travis Elborough.)

Parks … flowers … butterflies, bees. But maybe the insects won’t be so prevalent in our parks in the future. Evidence is emerging of the loss of up to 90% of insects worldwide and that many insect species may be close to extinction. Some naturalists believe that the massive growth of insecticide use on farmland since the 1950s is the principal cause (although our use of insecticides around the house and garden shouldn’t be forgotten). Fewer insects means problems for animals that eat them (birds, reptiles and amphibians), with expanding consequences through ecosystems and food chains. It also means less pollination of food crops and other plants and trees, and less turnover of nutrients and air in soil. Who would have thought that insectageddon might destroy humanity before global warming?

A quiz for a change this week.

  1. What sort of animal is this? For instance, is it a rat or a kangaroo or a bear? Hint: it isn’t any of these. (50 points for a correct answer.)
  2. If you know what sort of animal it is, do you also know what species it is? For instance, if it had been a bear, is it a brown bear or a black bear? (20 points)
  3. In which two places do these species live? (10 points for each location)
  4. How many species of this sort of animal live in Australia? (10 points if you are correct within 10 either way)

Links to the answers below the picture. Gold star if you get 50 or more points.

Answers to questions 1-3.

Answer to question 4.

See here for more information about one of its homes.

And before you make a Comment to tell me I’ve got it wrong, yes, I know about this.

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