There is an ongoing ecological disaster being produced by human means in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef, that wonder of nature, is being destroyed bit by bit. However, there is now a new threat; actually a certainty of massive destruction. A new coal mine. On July 29 the last OK to this destruction was given by the Australian government. The Carmichel coal mine which will cover 200 sqkm and produce 60 tonnes of coal each year is a GO.
Unfortunately for the Great Barrier Reef, this is a No-Go. The coal is to be transported by a new rail line and loaded into ships on two ports adjacent to the reef. Both ports require dredging and also boats must then navigate safely through the maze that is the reef which is already severely damaged. Pesticides, sediment, predatory species, coral bleaching and many other threats have done its damage. This weakened reef will now be exposed to more sediment, raw coal (a toxic) and the real possibility of shipwrecks. But the problem does not end there. The coal is to be shipped to India where it will be burned to create electricity. The polluting gases from this process will create more atmospheric heat and acid which will further damage the reef. You can get the whole picture by reading the article "A sick Great Barrier Reef is about to catch a really bad coal" in the newspaper The Star from Malaysia.
Let's begin by stating unequivocally that ecology is important. No, we are not kidding and this is not our usual cynical sentence. Seriously, ecology is important. At its most basic the equation is simple; we are physical beings and as such we have physical needs. Without a proper ecology those needs cannot be fulfilled. Anything and everything from aesthetics through health to food depends on having a sound ecology. Again, this is not your standard corporate lip service. This is as real as it gets because your (and our) lives are at stake.
Let's now shift our attention to the reef. It is absolutely clear that the reef will suffer significant damage due to the mine. How bad will the damage be? Nobody knows. There are many issues that are known and many others that are unknown. Then, we have the ways of working of the operation itself. Will it be effective at protecting the ecological environment or will it not? We don't know and neither do the protesters or the government of Australia and this is the crux of the issue.
IT'S ALL FOR THE BETTER GOOD
Or at least this is what the Australian government (i.e. its political and bureaucratic apparatchiks) said. As such, they must "balance" the rights of private property owners against the right of the public to public property (i.e. ecology). Do you know how many new votes jobs will the mine ensure?
Let's understand this issue. Democracy's most basic flaw is the notion that it can, somehow, support two opposites point of view on the same issue and come up with a meaningful solution. Not a chance in hell.
As such and in this case what "democracy" is trying to achieve is to have the mine and conserve the reef, all the same time. In other words, have the cake and eat it too. Not a chance in hell. As this is physically impossible (and the politicians are well aware of it), they attempt to find some sort of middle ground which will allow commercial interests (i.e. their funding source) to get away with murder while at the same time maintain the appearance of ecologic stewardship. It is, of course, bull manure. Let's say it again: it is not physically possible.
Because this is not possible the perceived solution is to mask the inevitable ecologic damage under a ton of questionable data based on many questionable assumptions. The two operative words here being "perceived" and "questionable" as in "illusion" and "there are doubts". The goal of this process is to somehow quantify the un-quantifiable to be able to state that the damage will somehow be within the limits that the law allows or its politically correct equivalent "tolerable".
OUR NEEDS AND YOUR NEEDS
It is obvious that a few Australians care a great deal about the reef. It is also obvious that the owners of the coal deposits care a great deal about their profits and through them about the wellbeing of Indians who will benefit from the electricity so generated. Those goals they would both benefit people whose standards of living will increase if both goals are achieved. Yet, they seem irreconcilable. The problem is not that the goals oppose each other, the problem is that one goal is advocated by the owners of the property while the other by power-hungry stop-at-nothing-to-stay-in-power will-sell-my-mother-for-a-few-votes politicians. This isn't a bargain of equals. This is a massacre of corporate greed. It is ridiculous to believe that a government, any government can actually oppose massive budgets controlled by greed. This is yet another (relatively minor) democratic failure.
The solution to the problem is not to hope for an independent, honest, hard wording, incorruptible politician. Hope if you wish, but it is nothing more than wishful thinking. It is not going to happen. The solution is to balance the power in the negotiation table. And how do we do this? Simple. Confront property owners with property owners. If the reef would have actual owners (however many they may be) they would be quite less flexible with the demands of the mining company. They would demand tougher safeguards and more compensation in order to deal with inevitable problems. It would be up to real owners to negotiate directly and reach an agreement.
Rest assured, an agreement would be found. There is simply too much money at stake. Maybe the solution would not resemble the current one, but it would solve the problem.
Allow us to provide a few similes:
Case #1: Your municipality owns a public pool in a public park. The traffic authority needs a road through the park and as such they propose to build a bridge over the pool. Are you for or against the bridge? If you use the pool, you would probably be against. If you use the road, you will probably be in favor of the bridge. If you don’t use neither, you would not care. And who makes the decision? The municipality based on the equation that more people use the roads than the pool, therefore they would win more votes in the next election. Happy now?
Case #2: You own a pool in a land that you inherited. The traffic authority needs a road through the park and as such they propose to build a bridge over the pool. What do you base your decision on? Chances are that you will base your decision on financial considerations. Most people will first ask: how much do you offer? Your typical owner would not care about pool use, road use or votes. They will be interested the most in money, but, they will also be interested in keeping the property viable. What's the point of getting money if the property devaluates? You would win on one hand but lose on the other. Not worth the deal. And so you would also demand ecological measures (and probable aesthetic too) to protect your property's value.
This is not economic fiction but it is what happens in reality with farming and logging land. Owners take good care of it because it produces profits. Typically these owners don't mind extra revenues for minor inconveniences, but nothing that would affect the ongoing productivity of the land.
Of course, this is not always the outcome. Sometimes owners simply take the money and run. This can also happen. But then again if ecology is sooooo important, how come we don't see armies of people donating to ecologic funds to buy up such land to keep it pristine. The main reason for it is the government that has removed the "moral hazard" from the equation. Pollution is OK if the government says so.
Now consider this. What happens if the government disappears? Who is going to keep you safe? Nobody. You will have to do it by yourself. And what kind of steward of your own property do you think you will be? Probably a very good one. And what would such person do when confronted with corporations polluting nearby properties? Purchase the properties. Why? Because it is in your own best interest to join together with other people with similar self-interests.
Would this process work? Of course! Yet it would never be perfect. But at least it would provide a large amount of real solutions versus lip service and lies that politicians provide today.
The solution to the Great Barrier Reef problem is not tighter laws, more regulations or honest politicians, the solution is privatization. Give the ownership of the Great Barrier Reef to people directly. There is a gigantic difference between government property and your property. Particularly when it is really yours. For real. No catches. No limitations. No exceptions. Greed can only be opposed by greed. This is a natural law. Anything else is wishful thinking… or politician's thinking. We think. You may think otherwise.
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.