Environment: Labor safeguards our fossil fuel climate wreckersMar 12, 2023
Australia’s Safeguard Mechanism gets a government greenwash while international efforts to control Scope 3 emissions increase. Pygmy chameleons and eagle-owls are fighting for survival in different ways. Please stop eating shark and Tassie farmed salmon.
If you were completely confused or disappointed (or most likely both) by the previous government’s Safeguard Mechanism and not too sure how Albo’s revamp is going to improve things, Juice Media has produced another of their always helpful short explanatory videos. Strongly recommended but, as ever, it comes with a PG rating.
For a much longer and more serious coverage of the Government’s proposed changes to the Safeguard Mechanism, carbon offsets and carbon credits, but which comes to identical, if less humorously expressed, conclusions, try the essay by Nick Feik.
The perfect may well be the enemy of the good, as apologists like to say to justify half-hearted measures, but tokenistic greenwashing policies that kowtow to big polluters are a far bigger enemy of getting on top of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Safeguard Mechanism started life as a crock of proverbial and it’s still a crock of proverbial. No amount of political spin and blaming the Greens for naïve, ideological intransigence is going to change that.
Getting to grips with Scope 3 emissions
The greenhouse gas emissions of individual companies are subdivided into three types:
- Scope 1 constitutes emissions produced by the company itself during the whole range of its operations;
- Scope 2 represents emissions generated by the production of energy, such as electricity or heat, purchased and used by the company to power its operations;
- Scope 3 represents all other emissions in the company’s value chains, including those generated upstream (by the production of inputs: equipment, raw materials, etc.) and downstream (when the company’s products are used by others: e.g. when fossil fuels are burnt).
Many companies now report (how accurately is another matter) their scope 1 and 2 emissions but very conveniently ignore their MUCH larger scope 3 emissions (‘not our responsibility how customers use our products’). And many also purchase dodgy carbon offsets to balance their scope 1 and 2 emissions so that they can claim that they are ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net zero’ or ‘green’ or whatever – all common examples of greenwashing. Thank goodness this doesn’t happen in Australia.
There’s a chance that the days of companies, industries and countries fooling the public with these prestidigitations may be drawing to a close with the imminent release by the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation of a set of global sustainability and climate reporting standards that include scope 3 emissions. The standards have been developed with strong support from investors and are designed to include the investments of financial institutions, not only the companies that actually produce, process, distribute and sometimes re-process things and services that we buy and use.
The figure below displays the relative sizes of the scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in various industries. Only in the cement, steel and transport industries are the scope 3 emissions a relatively small part of the industry’s total.
Nord Stream’s methane leak
Without getting into ‘Whodunnit?’– although when you consider who has the capability to do it, whose interests might be served by doing it, who has boasted that they would do it, and who would be ruthless enough to bully one or more Baltic Sea countries to at least turn a blind eye, there aren’t many contenders left – it’s interesting to see the scale of the methane leak from the sabotaged Nord Stream gas pipeline.
The top graphic clearly displays the enormous size of Nord Stream’s leak compared with other recent leaks. The lower graphic compares Nord Stream (the red dot at the bottom) with the methane emissions of selected methane-emitting countries last year. At first glance, Nord Stream looks relatively small but its leak was equivalent to the amount released every day by all global fossil fuel operations – so not that inconsequential.
Give Flake a Break
Sharks and rays are vital apex predators that keep their ecosystems in balance. The loss of an apex predator, for instance through overfishing, has serious consequences for its ecosystem, leading it to become unstable; sometimes changing its whole nature, sometimes leading to its collapse.
Australian waters are home to a quarter of the world’s species of sharks and rays. Half of our over 300 species are found only here and many of them are critically endangered. And yet we are indiscriminately eating them, often in ignorance.
Any and all shark meat is commonly sold as ‘flake’ in Australia, although technically ‘flake’ should refer only to Gummy Shark and Reef Shark. Surveys of what is being sold, raw and cooked, as ‘flake’ demonstrate that the label is being used for any shark meat, including critically endangered species. In fact, a third of customers don’t even know that ‘flake’ is shark.
Adding to the problem is the way in which sharks are caught. Gillnets indiscriminately catch whatever is in the water. As well as picking up any sharks and other fish that happen to be in the area, gillnets also trap dolphins, dugongs, turtles and sea lions.
The ‘Give Flake a Break’ initiative aims to protect Australia’s sharks and rays by targeting the ways in which they are caught and marketed and by educating the public about ‘flake’ and encouraging them to be more discerning (and demanding) customers. The GoodFish guide is a particularly useful app. Please download it to your phone and use it to check on the sustainability of any raw or cooked seafood you are considering purchasing. Go one step further and encourage your friends and relatives to do the same. Also, let fish sellers and café and restaurant staff know that you care about what you are eating, where and how it was caught and how sustainable it is.
And while we’re talking about sustainable seafood, here are five reasons NOT to eat farmed Tasmanian salmon:
- The big fish farms continue to pollute the marine habitats with antibiotics
- Excess nutrients from the fish farms cause algal blooms downstream
- Overstocking of fish farms in Macquarie Harbour further threatens the endangered Maugean skate
- Some farms control local wildlife in ways that have lethal impacts on protected seals
- There are lots of sustainable alternatives such as farmed barramundi.
For these reasons, farmed Tassie salmon is on the GoodFish red list – i.e. to be completely avoided, just like shark.
Found today, lost tomorrow
Pygmy chameleons vary in size from about 3cm (your thumb nail) to 11cm (your little finger). Following the discovery of six new species in the mountain forests of Tanzania, there are now 26 recognised species in the region, mostly living in small, isolated mountain blocks. This geographic separation has facilitated species radiation similar to Darwin’s finches across the Galapagos Islands. And it’s not just chameleon species that are abundant, the forests are home to about 800 plants and 100 vertebrates that live nowhere else.
This should be a great story but the forests are being cleared by farmers and herders to grow crops and raise livestock to feed the rapidly growing population. Tanzania’s population almost doubled from 35 million in 2002 to 63 million in 2021. As a result, 27% of the forest was lost in just six years between 2011 and 2017. Many of the pygmy chameleons are already threatened with extinction, in fact some have already gone.
The Tanzanian government has been trying to slow the loss of biodiversity by upgrading the conservation status of the forest but there are insufficient resources to patrol the area and enforce the law, so clearing continues. It hasn’t been possible even to monitor the deforestation since 2017. To repeat a point I’ve made before when reporting forest clearing: I do not blame the local communities and individuals involved. They have to eat and make a living and if there are no alternatives it’s understandable that they’ll do whatever is necessary to survive.
Rhampholean sabini is one of the medium-sized pygmy chameleons at around 6cm long.
As if the situation couldn’t get any worse for our little friends, you’ll be delighted to know that pygmy chameleons are ‘adorable pet reptiles that are easy going, sweet and as cute as it gets’. Even better they are ‘rather low-maintenance’ and best suited to ‘intermediate reptile owners’. But do be careful: ‘Most pygmy chameleons are wild-caught, so be very careful before buying one. Make sure it looks healthy and well adjusted before bringing it home’. However, even with ‘great care and an optimal habitat’ (apparently a five gallon glass tank is perfect for those living alone – I’m talking about ‘Iris’, not you), you’ll be lucky if your colourful houseguest lives three years. That’s plenty of time, though, to ‘allow you to build a strong bond’ and find a reliable source of live crickets, fruit flies, house flies and baby silkworms. I could go on but I’m sure you’ve got the picture and there’s a limit to how much depressing news even I can dispense.
Call of the wild
Let’s finish with a much more life-affirming story – one worthy of Jack London.
Flaco, a beautiful Eurasian eagle-owl, was born in captivity about 13 years ago and has lived in a very small cage in New York’s Central Park Zoo since 2010. He has never flown any distance or hunted for food or had to protect himself from natural or urban hazards. Or rather he hadn’t until he escaped in early February. Since then he has been living wild in Central Park and after a shaky first few days has been doing very well for himself, thank you very much. Spread your wings, Flaco, we’re with you in spirit.