July 10, 2003

river keepers challenge growth fetish

This looks to be a good book. River keepers are what we need in Australia today, especially for the Murray-Darling river system.

We do have the stirrings of a citizen perseverance to transform the Murray-Darling River catchments into a "critical legal battleground of the environmental movement". But we have yet to see litigations to force state governments, Adelaide city and other communities on the river, several commonwealth agencies, and various corporations to clean up their acts and comply with environmental law.

It is the white death of salt and the lack of environmental flows not PCB's that is the big concern in the Murray-Darling Basin; the dryland salinity threatens farmland and drinking water, whilst the lack of environmental flows caused by the overallocation of water threatens the life of the Murray-Darling river.

And we do have a third story that is playing itself out; namely the story of repeated neo-liberal political assaults against environmental regulations and their enforcement by water authorities/utilities to protect the irrigators. The battering ram is property rights. The aim of the assault is less to paralyze, and more to get around, the federal government's environmental policies in the Basin--eg., the cap on water diverted from Murray-Darling River----and their enforcement. The driving force behind the assualt is the twin assumption that the economic growth is the central aim of public policy and that markets must prevail.

For many politicians the answer to every problem is more economic growth, even though economic growth in the Murray-Darling Basin has degraded the basin's ecologyto the point where it now needs substantive repair.

No worries say the neo-liberal economists. More economic growth will provide the wealth that will enable us to address the environmental problems. What is important is to find the right techniques and instruments to manage the economy to ensure sustainable economic growth. Moreover technology will save the day---stop environmental decline and ease the increasing pressure on resource consumption and extraction by irrigators.

The economists are uncritical advocates of, and apologists for, economic growth and assume as self-evident that increased economic growth equals increased wellbeing. It is self-evident that increases in the GDP and more money in the pocket leaves people and the environment better off.

That neo-liberal assault wave on environmental protection of our rivers appears to have given rise to the beginnings of a counter-wave of aroused public opinion to save the river. The counter-wave challenges the neo-liberal transfer of political authority from the state to the deregulated market, where the interests of big corporations are hegemonic. Rarely does the state step in to block development.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at July 10, 2003 01:31 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment