Just because the world seems to have come to a grinding halt doesn’t mean everything’s stopped.
While we’ve been distracted with a global pandemic, environmental issues have still been ongoing in the background.
For a few weeks in March and even into April, all anyone could see, hear or think about was COVID-19. And bloody fair enough! Our news feeds were bulging with restriction updates, speculation and the latest stats, leaving any news that wasn’t pandemic related, almost impossible to find.
But there were still plenty of other things going on. Some good, others dreadful.
It’s no coincidence that when a major crisis happens, a bunch of sketchy laws that would’ve otherwise faced fierce public opposition, are quietly rushed through parliament in the hope that no one notices. And when it’s illegal to gather and protest, the time for slipping unpopular laws through the pipeline is ripe. This phenomenon happened a few times since COVID-19 decided to flip our world upside down.
In case you missed it, here are a bunch of environmental issues that have sprung up since this pandemic began.
1. Proposed Logging in Victoria
At the end of March, the Victorian government released new plans for its five Regional Forestry Agreements (RFA) that designate legal logging areas in the state.
Despite last summer’s bushfire season burning through two thirds of protected forest in East Gippsland, the updated RFA for the region didn’t include additional unburnt forest into the zone protected from logging.
Conservation groups say these renewed management plans fail to protect the already distressed flora and fauna and that, according to Chris Schuringa, spokeswoman for Goongerah Environment Centre ‘every patch of forest that’s left in East Gippsland should be protected’.
By the end of April the Victorian Supreme Court had ordered a temporary halt to logging in 26 unburnt areas of Victoria’s native forests. We’ll count that as a temporary win.
2. Land Clearing on NSW South Coast
Similarly, on the NSW South Coast, the tiny hamlet of Manyana was ravaged by the Currowan bushfire in January, leaving just a small handful of bushland areas unaffected. This week Ozy Homes planned to begin clearing the remaining bushland for the construction of a 182 lot housing development.
The developments were supposed to begin a few weeks after the fire moved through the area, but were put on hold for three months to allow for environmental and social reprieve. When the developer announced they were going to start clearing, mid-pandemic, Manyana locals were outraged and began their own peaceful and socially-distanced protests.
Today it was announced that Ozy Homes has suspended work on the site for another two weeks. That’s another win for the little guys.
3. Approval of Mining Under Sydney’s Water Reservoir
At the end of March the NSW Government approved an extension to coal mining under one of Greater Sydney’s reservoirs. Like, under our drinking water. Hmmm.
The extension granted permission for coal mining company, Peabody Energy, to extract coal from three new longwalls, two of which reach under Woronora Reservoir. This is the first approval of mining underneath a water reservoir in Sydney for 20 years.
The announcement has caused massive concern for the quality and quantity of Sydney’s water supply.
A petition with over 10,000 signatures had been presented to the NSW parliament, however the decision was made before it could be debated as parliament was suspended due to COVID-19.
Since the approval was announced, the NSW government has accepted all 50 recommendations made by an independent expert panel, which assessed the impact this additional mining would have on Sydney’s water supplies.
4. Summer’s Bushfire Smoke Related Deaths Exposed
The deadly bushfire season Australia faced caused a lot more damage than we could see in graphic photos.
On March 23rd, a preliminary assessment published in the Medical Journal of Australia declared that the prolonged exposure to high levels of smoke experienced by around three quarters of the population, resulted in 417 excess deaths and over 1300 emergency hospital visits just for asthma. Woah.
One of the paper’s authors claims that the number of excess deaths is conservative, as only outcomes with strong evidence were counted. That’s some scary stuff.
5. Onshore Gas Drilling Resumed in Victoria
On March 17th, the decision to abandon a year-long moratorium on gas drilling was announced by the Victorian government, allowing conventional onshore gas exploration and development to begin from July 1st 2021. The decision was not required to be made for another three months, however the government announced the legislation early, much to the suspicion of the Victorian Greens.
‘It is truly appalling that the Victorian Labor Government is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by making this disastrous announcement in the middle of a pandemic,’ says Ellen Sandell, spokeswoman for the Victorian Greens
Farmers and environmentalists are concerned about the possible damage this will cause to the water table in agricultural areas.
However, the Vic government also promised to amend the state’s constitution and permanently ban fracking in Victoria. A small win and we’ll take it.
Feature photo by Jaqui Wakefield