[fyeg_gen-l] Conservation Efforts: Australian Greens *article for those interested*

Claudia Sadean sadean_cristi at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 9 23:36:17 CET 2004

Conservation EffortsThe Australian Greens
by Chris Prunty 
>From my comfortable vantage point – some 9,000 miles away from the action – environmental issues haven’t seemed to have played much of a role in the US presidential election. In the recent Australian federal election, however, the environment was a hot topic with the government and opposition going toe-to-toe over forest policy. Fearing a backlash from environmentally conscious voters, the governing Liberal/National coalition did their best to marginalize the minority Green Party. (Just to confuse things, liberal means conservative in Australia.) 
The coalition went on the attack for strictly political purposes, as they believed the Greens could shift the balance of power in the Senate. Coalition politicians warned the electorate of an “unholy alliance” between the Greens and the opposition progressive Labor Party. Prime Minister John Howard called Green policies “kooky” and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson described them as “watermelons” (green on the outside and red in the middle). 
But the fruit-related insults did not stop there. A week later, the Deputy PM went on to liken the Greens to an avocado explaining that the Party had a "hard green casing on the outside” and were “soft and mushy on the inside with a great big brown nut in the middle." This is an especially pithy insult given the leader of the Greens name is Bob Brown. (Incidentally, American’s may remember Brown as the boorish oaf who heckled President Bush during his speech to the Australian parliament in October last year.) 
The question then becomes, why is the government so concerned about such a minor party (they hold only 2 of 76 Senate seats)? The real issue is that Green support is growing. The Greens recently experienced a groundswell of support, increasing their primary vote by 40% (from an admittedly low base) and cementing their place as Australia’s largest minor party. 
Australian’s, it would appear, are increasingly concerned about the environment and some wish to voice this concern with a Green vote. This worries the conservatives and should worry environmentalists, too. 
Traditionally, Green Party policy busied itself with environmental issues such as preventing logging of old growth forests, protecting native animal habitats and trying to stop uranium mining. More recently, the Greens proposed a wider variety of policies such as canceling all third world debt, abolishing the free trade agreement with the US, instituting a shorter working week, free healthcare and higher education, reintroducing the inheritance tax, and mandating greater funding to state television. 
The Greens take the view, shared by many traditional environmentalists, that any change to the environment is bad and all conservation is good – regardless of the costs. For example, one Green policy objective states “farming must have no significant negative impacts on Australia’s soils, water quality and biodiversity.” Greens want to “halt land and water degradation and … restore environments degraded by inappropriate agricultural and industrial practices.” Such policies lack pragmatism. It is all very well taking the utopian vision of environmental purity and living in perfect harmony with nature, but most of us couldn’t live without the advancements of the development world, despite environmental costs. A more realistic goal, then, balances development and environmental consequences and does not harm our future welfare. (Read more about "Prioritizing Tragedies" on aBE.) 
Green policies present a regulatory nightmare – limiting all new research and development that could one day facilitate environmental conservation and human development. The Greens also want to ban all genetically modified organisms, prohibit all Australian livestock exports for consumption, end Australia’s association with all aspects of nuclear power, eliminate nuclear reactors across the world, prevent all new coal mines and ban shale mining. And if you read periodicals, use batteries or eat meat – watch out! The Greens want to restrict the distribution of free newspapers, tax the toxic and heavy metal content of batteries and encourage more vegetarianism. Banning, taxing and compulsion are the means by which the Greens wish to achieve their goals. 
Perhaps more dangerously, the Greens do not respect private property rights and wish to “work to buffer high conservation areas, and link and restore critical ecological fragments” which sounds all very touchy-feely until they add, “on public and private land.” Furthermore, the Greens have proposed something more sinister called a “conservation covenant” to be signed by land owners to “restore nature conservation values on their land.” The Greens have also said they want to ban logging – not only in public forests – on privately owned land as well. Their stance on intellectual property is similarly clear, “no one should commercially ‘own’ or be able to patent genetic material for agricultural purposes.” Private property is vital to conservation in that people take care of things they own and take very little care of things no one in particular owns. (Read more about the "Tragedy of the Commons" on aBE.)  
The Greens believe “oceans should be managed using the precautionary principle,” under which regulators need not show scientific evidence that a new practice is unsafe before banning it. Rather, all they need to do is show a science has not been definitively proven harmless. Logical difficulties arise in proving something is harmless because of the impossibility of covering every conceivable scenario. All great human endeavors involve some sort of risk, the key is to balance risk and potential benefits – something the Greens are unwilling to do. 
In case you hadn’t guessed it, to achieve these goals the Greens demand further regulation of industry, arguing that “strong regulation can assist business to become more competitive” and “governments should provide a clear national regulatory framework for environmental protection.” The Greens see a large role for government in mitigating the negative social and economic effects of production, favouring price setting on energy and water supplies and wanting more environmental auditing procedures for government and business. Greater government intervention on conservation issues does more to hurt the environment than help it. Governments, lacking necessary expertise, impose inappropriate one-size-fits-all regulations that inflict greater costs than necessary. With finite resources, wasteful spending limits other conservation efforts as well as human ingenuity to solve enviornmental concerns. 
The Greens’ environmental policies exemplify the traditional environmental movement; and if it weren’t for their foray into international relations and social policy (where their anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism appears virulent and endemic) it would be easy to praise at least their environmental commitment, albeit misdirected. However, their hostility towards liberty and unwillingness to assess alternative strategies based upon scientific evidence limits their agenda and appeal. Like the religious right, who they despise, the Greens are very much a party of faith. They believe profit corrupts and that production and conservation are mutually exclusive. This leads them to support further government intervention, greater regulation and the erosion of property rights – none of which help provide incentives to protect the environment in the long-term. Perhaps this is why Australia’s conservatives are so willing to liken them to an avocado – green on the outside, but nutty to

Chris Prunty is a freelance writer based in Australia. He won third place in the aBetterEarth essay contest this year.  Read his winning paper, "The Science and Politics of Feeding Nations,"  on aBE. 

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