Just yesterday we were telling you how threatened the Great Barrier Reef is, but Australian officials seem to be opting for the head in the sand tactic. Not only are they ignoring the problem, but they’re forcing others to ignore it as well.
Censorship and ignorance
“Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance,” author Laurie Halse Anderson once said, and this seems to be the case for the Australian government. In January, they received a report called “Destinations at Risk: World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate,” outlining how many world heritage sites are threatened by climate change. Of course, towards the top of the list, you could see the Great Reef, and for good reason – the reef is undergoing the worst case of bleaching in recorded history and its future still remains uncertain. The Australian government didn’t really like that, so they made sure the report gets censored, and all mentions of the Great Reef were removed, as were any mentions of Australia, the Northern Territory’s glorious Kakadu national park and Tasmania’s forests.
In a statement to Guardian Australia, the Department of the Environment made two arguments to justify the request for censorship, but they just don’t make any sense. The first argument is that the report “had the potential to cause considerable confusion”. The “confusion” would come from the fact that the UN just agreed not to place the reef on its list of sites “in danger”, and this report would place the reef on its “at risk” list. In reality, the reef is both “at risk” and “in danger”, as countless scientists have already warned Australia. Now, real confusion is caused because one of the world’s most iconic and threatened natural parks is missing from a list where it should be the poster child.
The second reason is even more laughable. Australia claimed that the Unesco report was further “negative commentary” that “impacted on tourism”. First of all, when was the last time you checked an UNESCO report before going on vacation? I’d guess that’s pretty much never. Furthermore, tourism isn’t helping the area. Sure, tourism is always an economic driver, but too much tourism can indeed hurt local ecosystems. Either way, that’s the simple reality – the reef is being threatened – whether they like to admit it or not.
Heads in the sand
Up to this point, the situation is just absurd, and UNESCO should also receive criticism. A country decided to remove all mentions of itself and UNESCO simply complied. A spokesperson for the organization declared:
You’ve got to hope this is an isolated event and not something that happens regularly, because otherwise all countries could remove all mentions of themselves and there’d be no more reports, right? We can all just play pretend that global warming isn’t happening and maintain appearances. But it gets even more surreal. Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt went on Twitter to brag and imply that he and his political buddies somehow fixed the problem:
Under Labor, the Great Barrier Reef was on-track to be listed as ‘in danger’. It came off the ‘watch list’ under us. pic.twitter.com/p814Jti6fS
Yeah, it’s gone off the list, because you guys censored it! By this logic, the way to solve a problem is to simply remove it from a piece of paper, and it’s gone. This highlights a longer stance of Australia’s leadership on climate change: ignore it. The Australian government has repeatedly declined to contribute to any climate funds, stating that it already pays for climate adaptation via its foreign aid budget. Under the guidance of former prime-minister, Tony Abbott, Australia has gone on a seemingly climate change denial path. In July 2014, the country scrapped its carbon tax, and its emissions rose after a promising six-year trend of decline. They recently approved works for the construction of the world’s largest coal mine, and the list could go on for much longer
The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger. It needs action, and it needs it fast. It’s high time the Australian government takes serious measures to protect its greatest national treasure. For starters, this could mean reconsidering the approval of massive new coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin or implementing stricter conditions for farming which spews large amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and waste ran into rivers and streams and then into the ocean. But for all this to happen, we need to accept there’s a problem in the first place.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.