And environmental issues...

On most of the other pages on this site I’ve tried to skirt around environmental issues since I’ve been trying to concentrate on other areas.

That’s not to say that I’m unconcerned about the environment. Far from it. But, on the other hand if we’re busily preoccupied with ecological issues some of those other issues might sneak past without our noticing.

While we’re busily debating the Chalco refinery we might wake up one morning to find that there are some very ugly developments on the commercial front around town.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, if Chalco isn’t going to go ahead that’ll happen because of public concern over environmental issues. If it’s going to be defeated on those grounds the anti-Chalco side of the debate need to be presenting enough hard evidence against the proposal to convince everyone but Chalco’s most ardent supporters that it’s a bad idea.

That evidence needs to be presented citing “chapter and verse” sources, and any contradictory claims dismissed (again citing authoritative studies) if there’s going to be a serious groundswell of negative sentiment.

It’s not enough to suggest that, as I heard someone suggest on ABC local radio a while back, an apparent difference in the diversity of bird life around Bowen and Gladstone is directly related to the presence or absence of alumina processing facilities. That may be true, but there are a number of explanations, including the possibility that the person’s Bowen residence was located next door to a bird-friendly yard whereas the Gladstone address wasn’t.

But even if there is a surge in public opinion, it mightn’t be enough to produce an unfavourable verdict when it’s time for the Environmental Impact Study.

As suggested elsewhere, the pulp mill in northern Tasmania managed to obtain ticks in most of the relevant boxes in the face of considerable public opposition and only looks like falling over because of the difficulty Gunns are having finding the capital to proceed.

A cynic could suggest that the pulp mill proposal made it through the EIS procedure because there was an electoral advantage involved and people at the top of the Howard government may have known that the project could be scuttled on financial grounds after the 2007 Federal election had delivered a couple of seats in northern Tasmania to the Coalition.

You can bet your bottom dollar that if Chalco gets past the EIS they’ll have plenty of money available to put it in place.

And if Chalco doesn’t go ahead, there will be other industrial development in the area that will.

So, what about the Reef?

I have a nasty suspicion that, if the Great Barrier Reef isn’t already effectively buried and dead, it’s been placed in the coffin and most of the nails that are going to secure the lid are already in place.

It’ll be a while before we can be sure about that, and while we’re waiting to see how things turn out it won’t do any harm to think about a couple of issues that mightn’t affect the global picture but could well be important at a local level.

Much of the damage to the Reef comes from nutrients that originate in farm land and ends up in floodwaters during the wet season. There’s plenty of silt in there as well.

If we’re going to have significant growth in the horticultural sector once the Water For Bowen project kicks in, what can be done to minimise the quantity of topsoil and fertiliser that ends up being deposited on the Reef?

What can be done to ensure that aquaculture doesn’t add to the problem?

And, while we’re on environmental issues, if the construction of whatever projects end up going forward at Abbot Point is going to generate a couple of thousand jobs twenty-five kilometres out of town do we want a couple of thousand cars heading onto the main coastal highway a couple of times a day?

Bearing in mind that we’re probably looking at a workforce starting early in the morning, working a twelve-hour day and heading home around dusk that could mean a couple of thousand cars hitting the road at the same time.

Are there other ways of moving the work force backwards and forwards between home and work?

Would it be possible to move the workers by rail?

Could some sort of integrated rail/bus system mean that they didn’t need to drive at all?

When new high density residential developments are being constructed, could they be located in locations that would encourage the people who live there to use public transport?

When the projects that end up going into the Abbot Point area are completed would it be possible to arrange to stagger the starting time of shifts at the various sites so that there’s a steady flow of workers into the public transport system rather than one almighty rush hour twice a day?

Would it be possible to have public transport fares to and from the area paid by the employer so that workers could have the choice between a free commute on public transport and paying two dollars a litre for fuel while they’re driving a couple of hundred kilometres a week?

There are plenty of other little questions like those that could be asked, but will they be asked in time to have the answers included when the plans for future development are being drawn up?