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Green Debate « Previous | |Next »
July 7, 2003

You rarely see a debate about the causes of unsustainability in the mass media in Australia. What you do see is neo-liberals repeating their lines of the Washington consensus that sustainability can be achieved through a competitive and efficient market shifting water usage from low value to high value irrigators. Or you hear neo-liberals denying the need of environmental flows for the River Murray.

So this article in The Australian by William Lines comes out of the blue. It is an extract from People and Place (no link to full article). Lines' case his simple. The Australian Greens have sold out their greennness. They are more red than green.

"The Australian Greens no longer speak for conservation in Australia. Why? Because of their increasingly left-wing pose and their rejection of population growth as a cause of environmental decline. In 1995, the party called for stabilising Australia's population and reducing immigration. By 2002, the Greens had not only abandoned this guiding principle but had reversed it. Today, they openly encourage immigration."

According to Lines, the Greens have embraced a Left agenda, as they have replaced their traditional concerns with population and environmental degradation with a social justice platform. They have done so to increase their electoral vote to win more seats. This means that instead of being "neither Left nor Right but in Front", the Greens are now solidly aligned on the Left.

'Replaced' is too strong. Supplemented their environmental concerns would be more accurate, since Bob Brown continues to talk about stopping landclearing in Queensland and protecting old growth native forests in Tasmania. But it is accurate account of the transformation of the Australian Greens.

Lines' chief concern is with population numbers because he sees this as the chief cause of environmental degradation. He accurately describes this degradation:

"In recent years, a succession of government and non-government reports has highlighted the growing human impact on nature in Australia. We now know more than ever about the deteriorating conditions across the continent such as declining biodiversity, fading vegetation cover, failing rivers, advancing salinity, collapsing marine ecosystems, and the subversive spread of exotic species."

True. But it is not obvious that has been caused by population growth--too many people on the land. The carrying capacity of the land has been exceeded in the Murray-Darling Basin. However, this has been caused by developmentalism in the form of irrigated agriculture. That mode of agricultural production is not only unsustainable in terms of current water use & landclearing; it is also the way agricultural producion system uses water. That use is unsustainable because its leakiness (ie., water flowing down to the water table) causes the saline groundwater to rise. So we have salinised grapes. That is not good news for the Australian wine industry.

What we have is dryland salinity and a wine industry that is unsustainable with its current practices of going for volume and exports through irrigation. Eventually the grapes become too salty for high quality wine. As the wine tasters taste the salt in the wine so Australian wines will start being rejected by upmarket overseas distributors.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:47 AM | | Comments (4)


The problem as i see it with the account made by Lines and other 'deep' ecologists, is that their framework over simplifies a complex matter.

Their account of the situation reads as being oblivious to the political and social influences that will determine whether Australian ecosystems are placed under threat of destruction.

Which group is Lines looking to solve the problem as he sees it?

Perhaps, dj, he's simply expressing a forlorn hope? Our ecological problems don't have implementable, politically acceptable, solutions. The even moderately perceptive 'greens', of all hues, know that if they want to manintain their political 'limelighting' poses, the last thing they can do is tell the public the hard facts of life.

There are some hard facts to face to be sure, but i'm not sure that presenting the options as 'deep ecology or bust' is going to solve the problem either. I'm not a Greens supporter or member, but i think Lines misrepresents some of their policies, he almost implies that their attitude is on a par with the BCA or the IPA regarding immigration.

Population control is not necessarily the best or most direct way to mitigate Australia's environmental problems. As another member of the Greens wrote in response to this article, "The most worrying aspect of Lines' suggestion is that the task
of saving non-human nature is so imperative as to warrant marginalising
human concerns of social justice, human rights and compassion, rather than
finding the best way to combine the ecological imperative with an ethic of
political responsibility, democratic civility and constitutional democratic
norms." Lines seems to want the Greens to be an eco-fascist party. We will continue to ignore such advice, thanks all the same.