Climate Change : Australia and the Great Barrier Reef
Same old, Same old
Along with Canada and the United States, Australia is among the world's top polluters on a per-capita basis. Behind only the tiny country of Luxembourg, Australia is per-capita the biggest contributor to
greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Despite the fact that they boast the most spectacular underwater reef in the world, Australia's official statement continues to be against the Kyoto Protocol and instead following a plan developed with President Bush that will reduce emissions
"consistent with economic growth, poverty alleviation, and improvements in living standards."
"Australia, along with the US, refused to sign Kyoto because of the fact that newly industrialized nations with growing emissions (specifically India and China) had yet to sign the protocol."
Below: Bleached Coral Reef - Five percent of
the Great Barrier Reef has already been lost permanently
due to bleaching.
Yet this new plan, with its open-wording and safe rhetoric, calls for the use of nuclear energy as an alternative to conventional fuels, and makes no mention of regulating industry emission standards or changing environmental protection laws. Australian Prime Minister John Howard put forward this proposal at the latest
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this past summer, likely with the intention of garnering support from concerned citizens. Howard's conservative government's approval rating dropped significantly in the months before the summit, while support for his opposition party rose. The conservatives have been in power for eleven years in Australia, and a recent severe drought there has had many more people taking notice of Australia's ongoing
lacklustre environmental stance. According to USA Today's recent article on the subject, a poll conducted by the Lowy Institute for International Policy (a think tank in Sydney) found that Australians think global climate change is the
primary external threat to their nation.
The Threat to the Great Barrier Reef
This concern is also likely rising because of the obvious effect of global warming on the
Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's most wondrous attractions. It may not be so for too much longer, however. A visual survey of the reef in 2005 revealed that anywhere between 40 and 75 percent of coral reefs at low depths were either entirely or partially bleached.
This is partially because of extremely low tides, coinciding with higher levels of solar radiation hitting the reef during these low tides. According to an April 2006 article in Geographical Magazine,
"Bleaching occurs when the zooxanthellae microscopic plants which live in coral tissue and provide it with colour and food stop working due to stress, often as a result of rising temperatures." The worst case on record for bleaching was as recent as 2001-2002, when 60 percent of the reef was affected by
bleaching, whether full or partial.
Coral can recover from bleaching within about a year, sometimes two, if weather and tidal conditions return to their previous state. However, there is the worry in the scientific community that increased incidents in temperature swings will permanently damage coral reefs worldwide. Newsweek Magazine reported recently that after the warming in 2002 five percent of the Great Barrier Reef was
permanently destroyed, and studies have shown that even a one degree Celsius rise in temperature will throw off the balance of most reefs world wide.
"It's because of these temperature fluctuations in the past few decades that since 1980,
that it's estimated that twenty percent of the globe's coral reefs are now gone forever."
The Great Barrier Reef is home to millions of marine animals and plants that depend on its rich biodiversity for life. Many of the species have actually evolved with the reef over geological time. If the reef dies, as at least five percent of it already has, these species will also be in serious danger of
extinction. It's not only to save our own necks that we should combat global climate change, but also to preserve the pre-existing biodiversity that flourished before the existence of humans, and can hopefully continue until you and I are just sand below the reefs.
Source(s): Wiseman, Paul. "Australia pushes new climate Plan", USA Today, 09/06/2007, pg. 10A.
"Coral Bleaching Threat", Geographical; April 2006, Vol. 78 Issue 4, p. 9.
Philips, Matthew. "The Fading Forests of the Sea." Newsweek. New York: July 2nd, 2007. Volume 150. Issue ?. pg. 50.