Environment and the economy – what are your choices?

21 Nov 11 09:00AM EST
Post by Brendan Mays
Great Barrier Reef

Our national economic backbone, mining, has found itself at odds with another area of financial importance – The Great Barrier Reef. Put aside your feelings on any environmental debate for the moment, because there is no denying that we are relying on the mining industry to carry our country’s bank account through the 21st century in a time that global financial instability has recently dominated. 

However, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is also an important economic earner. It contributes an estimated $5 billion plus revenue for the economy each year, and plays a further indirect role in industries like tourism and fishing due to the flow-on effect of the region. The World Heritage site is an important part of our national identity.

As ABC’s Four Corners reported, major dredging operations servicing the coal seam gas (CSG) industry are threatening the ongoing survival Great Barrier Reef. According to the government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), dredging causes “degradation of water quality, changes to hydrodynamics, smothering of benthic fauna and flora, damage to marine wildlife through the dredge mechanism, translocation of species and removal of habitat.”

Dredging projects are estimated to generate around $1 billion per annum, which includes creating 18,000 jobs. Currently there are many more developments in the works, despite the GBRMPA raising serious concerns about the impact to the marine environment as well as alternatives to better manage ports and dredging operations. The developments could even risk the reef’s World Heritage status.

We can’t ignore the environmental side of the debate for long, but from an economic standpoint alone, you don’t need to be a mathematician to question the sense of risking a long-term top-earning entity like the barrier reef with a lower-value dredging alternative with finite earning potential.

The carbon tax has dominated public debate over the past year because of the potential cost of carbon pricing. Perhaps it is time we also start looking at the overall cost of individual mining operations, especially when it involves our national icons.

Mining is the important to our economy, but so is the environment - especially regions like the Great Barrier Reef. Do you think we are risking too much with our current attitude to the environment?

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