The Great Barrier Reef – that beautiful, wonder-of-the-world, makes-you-want-to-quit-your-job-and-travel-to-see-it reef off the coast of Australia – is dying.
At this point, saving it will cost cost billions of dollars; but letting it die will cost billions more.
A year ago, a professor called Terry Hughes, who studies coral reefs for a living, tweeted that he’d shown the results of his aerial surveys on reef bleaching to his students and then wept. “Climate change is not a future threat,” he told the media. “On the Great Barrier Reef, it’s been happening for 18 years.”
Local tourist companies are coming up with some seriously desperate measures like pumping the reefs with huge water pumps to cool the water down and save the coral. But the government seems to be focusing its energy elsewhere: on building the country’s largest ever coal mine, right next to the reef.
Why is the reef dying?
Here’s what’s going on: when the water around them gets too warm, distressed coral kicks out the algae living in its tissue which makes them go a white, bleached color. If water temperatures don’t return to normal within six to eight weeks after the bleaching, the coral dies.
But instead of putting the funds in to save the reef, state and federal governments in Australia are now expressing strong support for a new plan: creating a massive new coal mine in the Galilee Basin, in the same area – exactly the kind of thing that caused the increase in temperatures and bleaching in the first place.
“We can turn this into a cash cow for Australia,” Joyce said. He’s even talked about using a billion dollars of taxpayer’s money to build a rail line to a nearby coal port for the mine – so they’re clearly not shedding too many tears for the lost reef.
Greenpeace campaigner Sebastian Blavier has spoken out against the plans. “When we talk about bleaching we are talking about climate change, fueled by mining and burning fossil fuels like coal,” Blavier said. “Instead of supporting the dying coal industry our leaders must commit to keep taxpayers’ money out of coal mines.”
Short-term vs long-term: the economics of it all
At the end of the day this is a question of what kind of economics Australia wants to adopt. Our leaders are slow to take action on climate change, instead focusing on an industry that will provide them with quick short-term gains, but serious long-term losses.
We’ve moved beyond a world where your country was all that matters. Our economies have become bigger than we realise. Things we use are less and less likely to come from our own country and more likely to have been imported from a country across the globe – this has become so normal that we’ve forgotten what a huge implication this has for how our economies work…