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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Changing worlds: the coming of envirogees

An exploration of some Australian and global issues associated with ecological and seismic disasters, and the links between the two aspects of a planet under pressure - and the implications for a world community 'on the move'.

The Tsunami slams into the Aceh coastlineThey will be on the move by the thousands and thousands. They will be coming in boats, in trucks, on trains - and in lorries, in aircraft wheel housing spaces, crouched on planks under trains, and in goods containers, if we don't assist them. As we saw in the last week of 2004, when undersea earthquakes followed by tsunamis seriously impacted on so many local communities, that events became a wake-up call for the entire world, we should also become alert to the possibility that another similar epic event could take place at any moment in the near future. Such dramatic events seriously erode the safety and viability of the home environment for many millions of people.

We had some precursors of the 2004 tsunamis: the last decade saw several serious imbalances of the earth's weather patterns. During the year 1998, when I kept an entirely personal and daily tally of all reported natural disasters and their impact on the world community in terms of lives lost, people displaced and injured - not including wars or internal conflict - I counted an estimated 2 247 000 fatalities, and around 151 million people injured and affected in several ways - from injuries to loss of house or habitat.

In Australia, we will need to start by building at least 1800 copies of the Baxter detention centre. No problem in many ways: they will all fit into the vastness of our Outback, far and far away from interference from the courts and from the bleeding hearts human rights lawyers.

Next, we will need to increase the National Budget at least ten-fold - and that's just a start - to swarm the Indian Ocean with vessels mandated by Operation Relex, John Howard's Deter and Deny Refugee Repellent Army, and we need to increase staffing of the Immigration Department by, let's say by 1200%, spend billions more on legislative extensions, establish a Migration-Only Court not open for review by other courts instituted in Australia, so processing does not drag on for more than just a few weeks.

Then, we will need to employ the strictest of guidelines, such as applying for asylum using English-only, and submitted on the right Form issued by the Department of Immigration, making claims void immediately if asylum seekers who make it through the Repellant Army's barrier talk about something else before they express that All-known Internationally Recognised Sentence: "I desire to seek asylum".

Or - we can do something different.

We could start by acknowledging that the First Law of Globalisation should remind us of that age-old dilemma of Cain and Abel. We are our brother's keeper with no holds barred, if the entire world is engulfed in a drama of epic proportions. And on a planet where border-exclusion has become irrelevant in many respects already - for the movement of goods and the movement of capital - we will have to move towards a softening of hardline exclusion and increase the strength and openness for a welcome to foreigners caught up in these dramas. The moves taken in the weeks following the devastating effects of the tsunami are heartening in many ways: the world community has rallied, financially and in-kind, to the aid of millions of victims who are affected by the disaster.

Of course, while George W Bush and John Howard have indicated rather grandiose moves to form an alliance with Australia, Japan and India to coordinate relief, the Bush Administration's financial and other aid remains an expression of the fact that the USA under Bush is more interested in spreading its hegemony than to play its role as an equal partner in this drama. But the world will learn this lesson fast, I expect. If Bush does not become more intelligent in his approach to many issues, it will eventually also include a full-scale rejection of Bush's role as a stupid and blind dictator only interested in American domination of the world stage.

While local, regional and State communities in Australia, as well as the churches and aid organisations have shone in their rushing to the aid of the ten stricken nations, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." And the New York Times, on Christmas Eve, writes:

"$35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for non-military foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent." [1]

Global warming and earthquakes

Scientific opinion is now well established as to the link between earthquakes and global warming and the ensuing pressure on the earth crust, whether it is our populated or remote landmass or the ocean floor. It is also becoming part of public insight, understanding and opinion.

Gordon Drennan from Burton SA in a letter to the Editor of The Age writes:

It is no coincidence that a Richter scale 8.1 earthquake near Macquarie Island between Tasmania and Antarctica was followed just days later by the catastrophic one in the Indian Ocean off the Aceh coast. Both are on the boundary of the India-Australia tectonic plate, and shocks and stresses from the first would have contributed to the one that followed. And a factor in the Macquarie Island earthquake would have been the redistribution of load on the planet's crust as Antarctic ice melts due to global warming. As the climate warms, and more Antarctic ice melts, the countries on the boundary of our plate - New Zealand, New Guinea, Indonesia and southern Asia - can expect more and bigger earthquakes. [2]

Or, elsewhere in a discussion of the relationship between glacier melt-down and earthquakes in the Alaska region:

"Alaska is seismically active because a North Pacific crustal plate is ramming into southern Alaska, creating pressures that must be relieved at some point. However, these pressures do push up high mountains where glaciers form - and the weight of the glaciers pushing down can stabilize the situation, if not eliminate the risk altogether. Remove that weight, and the likelihood of a quake goes up as the strain accumulates. [....] Photographs show how glaciers in the fault area had thinned substantially during the 80 years since the previous earthquake activity." [3]

In The New Statesman of May 2004, Mark Lynas mentions similar findings:

In the pre-industrial era, levels of carbon dioxide per cubic metre of air stood at roughly 278 parts per million (ppm). Today, they have soared to 376ppm, the highest in at least 420,000 years, and probably much longer (....) if the current rate of carbon accumulation continues, the rise in temperature could be as much as 6 Celsius by the end of the century, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (....) according to a paper from the Benfield Hazard Research Centre (....) the impact of methane hydrate failure could be very dramatic indeed. If enough gas is released, entire continental slopes could collapse in enormous submarine landslides, triggering tsunami waves of up to 15 metres in height - enough to level entire coastal cities. Again, there is a precedent: just 7,000 years ago, an area of continental slope the size of Wales slid downhill between Norway and Iceland, triggering a tsunami that wiped out neolithic communities on the north-east coast of Scotland.
(....) A recent report for America's military top brass warned that mass refugee flows and competition for water and food could plunge the world into nuclear conflict. "Humans fight when they outstrip the carrying capacity of their natural environment," it warns. "The most combative societies are the ones that survive." The report charts some of the "potential military implications of climate change", including the collapse of the EU, civil war in China and the takeover of US borders by the army to prevent refugee incursions from the Caribbean and Mexico.

What we can conclude from this, seems to be that the world community, in addition to its already common rushing to the aid of those whose lives are compromised by such disasters, needs to also rush to pressure governments to immediately spend central government time and commitment to reduce its damaging footprint on the capacity of the planet to deal with what we do to it.

The push on governments to enact restrictive legislation, both on the corporate world but also on its allies in other countries, has an imperative connected to our own very survival in the world. People need to stand up who can mobilise local community groups, who in turn can mobilise members of local government, state government, and in Australia, the federal government. And if one thing can be learnt from the refugee movement since TAMPA, then it is that the push on Federal government is more likely to produce success if it happens via the backbenchers.

The relationship between last week's earthquake drama and the global warming phenomenon can be easily explained over a coffee. If that is so, we have a handle on how to mobilize the local community to not only collect goods and services, funds and donations to be sent to Aceh, Sri Lanka, to name a few countries that were affected, but also to make appointments with representatives in State and Federal government. The message could have many popular "wrappers" to wake up the community. One that comes to mind is "Stop the Envirogees: Sign Kyoto". In giving this example, I do not want to create the impression at all that I support a halt to refugee intake or similar sentiments, or that I think that signing the Kyoto agreement is a panacea for the debacle of the environmental danger we find ourselves in: I'm just trying to think out a start to dealing with the issue, and taking an approach that connects to the Aussie larrikin and the bumper stickers on the back of our cars may well work. We need all the cleverness we can muster; otherwise we'll be washed away.

31 December 2004
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom, Narrogin WA


New York Times Editorial: Are We Stingy? Yes. (Dec 30, 2004), found at

[2] The Age, 30 Dec 2004, letters, found at

[3] Global warming's surprising fallout, By Robert C. Cowen, Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2004 edition. Found at

[4] Global warming: is it already too late? - A New Statesman Essay by Mark Lynas, 17 May 2004, found at (Mark Lynas is the author of High Tide: news from a warming world, published by Flamingo.)

Melbournian Simon Willace writes on Melbourne Indymedia (edited extract and summary):

The tsunami was created by a seismic shift, powered by the constantly fluid and molten lava, the magma layer, beneath the earth's crust which is up to 50 miles thick. Beneath the sea the oceanic crust is in some places 10 miles thick but between the continental plates the oceanic crust reduces to depths of just five miles. Seawater keeps the magma from boiling over, working like a car radiator which keeps your engine cool.

Deep beneath the sea the oceanic crust is insulated and contained by the weight and cold temperature of the sea above. In these areas the sea duplicates the containment achieved by the land and does so as a liquid coolant, constantly distributing temperatures evenly within its mass, allowing cold water to transport the radiant heat from the magma, and maintaining physical containment beneath solid seabed.

Within the earth's crust are carbon deposits, oils coals and trace elements of fossilised sequestered remains, which give our volcanoes the carbon dioxide as they belch and explode on occasions. Nevertheless where no outlet is feasible, the gas of a thousand atom bombs builds up beneath the crust, transported into pockets of immense natural power.

Where natural faults occur, the seismic shifts are often reported and seem more frequent these days as they reoccur as earth quakes and tsunamis devastating parts of Japan, Iran, Indonesia, China and New Zealand: India, Thailand and Africa just in this past year.

Global warming increases the sea temperature and as a result its ability to maintain the oceanic crust insulation is becoming compromised.

Last week, the oceanic crust west of Indonesia finally split, but it did not happen within the Ring of Fire, where such seismic shifts occur frequently.

Our scientists have been pre-occupied over the years by atmospheric effects of Global Warming, the Gulf Stream has a measurable effect upon climate and we have become aware of the rising temperatures that affect our lives. For example, the Inuit are seeing grasshoppers for the first time; polar bears cannot migrate due to melting ice flows, and snow resorts are opening all year - promoting walking trails - while snow disappears, slowly even those who refuted the global warming theory are now 'warming' to the theory becoming a fact.

Nevertheless, only the above-sea aspect of this natural threat has so far been studied; no one has researched its effects upon insulating the earth's crust.

This is an edited extract and summary of what at some places is a longwinded 'rant': Science, tsunami and other Global Warming Threats, by Simon Willace (Melbourne Indymedia, 30 Dec 2004):

Migration and the Environment

by Cam Walker
Friends of the Earth
Published at Greenpepper Magazine

If you want to highlight political differences within the 'green' movement, using 'environment' and 'population' in the same sentence is a good way to do it. In the Australian case, there are two relatively small groupings on either end of the spectrum: those who advocate for reduced population (and therefore reduced migrant intakes) and those, such as Friends of the Earth (FoE), who argue that unless population is seen in the context of consumption, internationalism and human rights, the wrong conclusions will be reached. In between, many, if not most groups simply do not address the topic. Everyone senses that this is an emotional, difficult and often divisive issue; those advocating reduced migrant intakes go to great lengths to explain that they are not racist, and there was even an attempt to develop environment 'policies' by the Pauline Hanson's new-right One Nation party. Beyond this, we have been lucky so far in that there has been no serious attempts by new-right groups to adopt environmental arguments in opposing immigration, as has happened in various European countries.

But the fact remains that the environment movement in Australia and elsewhere in the North has not yet approached the tangled issues of consumption, population, trade, and broader matters of history, politics and economics that have lead to the current debate around refugees and the movement of people across international borders. While some groups oppose free trade and the unhindered movement of capital, we have not yet tackled the corresponding criminalisation of the free movement of people. By placing concern for biodiversity above a commitment to social justice and an understanding of why people flee their homelands, environmentalists also fail to fully understand the global nature of the key environmental issues of our era, especially climate change. The North over consumes resources, thereby leading to carbon (and other ecological) debts to the rest of the world. This over consumption is the main cause of global warming which, evidence suggests, is now manifesting as modified weather patterns around the world; floods, droughts, cyclones and so on, with corresponding impacts on human communities. So, taking a supportive approach to asylum seekers is not merely an act of basic solidarity, it is based on the understanding of the environmental dimensions of the refugee issue.

Despite the rapidly growing number of people who are fleeing their homelands (either to other parts of their country as internally displaced people, or externally as refugees) because of environmental deterioration, the UN refuses to recognise environmental refugees as a distinct category of people. The largest sub group of this 'category' are the climate refugees, those fleeing the impacts of human induced climate change.

According to sources such as the International Red Cross, there are currently 25 million people who could be classified as being environmental refugees - 58% of the world's total refugee population. Norman Myers of Oxford University estimates that climate change will increase the number of environmental refugees six-fold over the next 50 years to 150 million. Already we have witnessed the agreement which will see the entire Pacific nation of Tuvalu move to New Zealand/Aotearoa as environmental refugees, and heard statements by the Bangladeshi Environment Minister, Mrs Sajeeda Choudhury, that if climate change causes sea levels to rise in line with scientific predictions, her country will have millions of homeless people within the next few decades. While scientific opinion now agrees that climate change is real, there is not yet widespread acknowledgement that this will lead to a huge number of refugees.

FoE Australia argues that the environment movement in Northern countries needs to be leading the campaign for recognition of environmental refugees. Countries owing a significant carbon debt to the global commons (such as Australia) will also need to accept environmental refugees in addition to existing intakes of those fleeing poverty and political persecution. Northern nations will need to significantly increase foreign aid, and carry out a fundamental re-assessment of how this aid is allocated, especially in those regions which are likely to be most affected by climate change.

There are some greens who argue that it is environmental madness to support increased immigration. However, given that the North has, and continues to, benefit from the same economic and political structures that often force people to flee their homes, and is largely responsible for climate change, there is a responsibility on all Northern nations to accept more refugees. There is a need for progressive environmentalists to actively oppose the use of environmental arguments by racist and nationalist organisations in opposing immigration. The issues of per capita and national consumption that are at least equally important as 'population' as a consideration in addressing environmental impact. Finally, in the North, environmental activists should continue to build links with the movements acting in support of refugees and asylum seekers, and adding an environmental perspective to concerns about human rights.

Friends of the Earth Australia has an environment and population project. Details can be found at:

Cam Walker is a national liaison officer with FoE Australia.

From The greenpepper Magazine


  • At Saturday, January 01, 2005 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Dave Riley said…

    The Tsunami Tragedy Blog which is being put together by members of the Australian Socialist Alliance & supporters of Green Left Weekly is located at:

    This site is being added to several times each day as new reports, information and relevant commentary comes to hand.

    If you have any snippets that may be relevant to its approach to the tragedy please send this information to

    We are especially looking for information on soldarity initiatives and the response among left, labour and progressive organisations. We are passing on some information about the activities in Aceh but are seeking more reports relevant to southern India and
    Sri Lanka.

    If you can, please link to this site.

    Dabe Riley


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