Thursday, February 01, 2007

Coral reef may benefit from global warming

Jennifer Marohasy expands on the few points I made yesterday:

On Friday in Paris the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will launch a new report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, with an up-to-date assessment of likely temperature rises because of global warming. Three related reports will be released later in the year, including a report on the likely effects of the rise in temperature. The report on impacts is likely to include a chapter on Australia and a warning that corals on the Great Barrier Reef could die as a consequence of global warming.

The idea that the Great Barrier Reef may be destroyed by global warming is not new, but it is a myth. The expected rise in sea level associated with global warming may benefit coral reefs and the Great Barrier Reef is likely to extend its range further south. Global threats to the coral reefs of the world include damaging fish practices and pollution, and the UN should work harder to address these issues.

Most of the world's great reefs are tropical because corals like warm water. Many of the species found on the Great Barrier Reef can also be found in regions with much warmer water, for example around Papua New Guinea. Corals predate dinosaurs and over the past couple of hundred million years have shown themselves to be remarkably resistant to climate change, surviving both hotter and colder periods.

Interestingly, scientific studies show that over the past 100 years, a period of modest global warming, there has been a statistically significant increase in growth rates of coral species on the Great Barrier Reef. There have also been periods of coral bleaching, but no conclusive evidence to suggest that either the frequency or severity has increased.

Coral bleaching is a breakdown in the symbiotic relationship between corals and the algae that provide them with food. When coral becomes stressed from extreme heat or cold, the algae are expelled. Some corals are more susceptible to bleaching than others. Most corals can adapt to higher water temperatures.

There was damaging coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and then again in 2002, but at different hot spots. The Great Barrier Reef comprises more than 3000 individual reefs extending for 2700km. The bleaching was associated with extended periods of calm weather and less wave action, with the hot spots rising in temperature by as much as 2C. Extended periods of calm weather are not predicted with global warming; when Cyclone Larry hit Innisfail last year, some claim it reduced the threat of bleaching at that time.

About 17 per cent of the world's reefs can be found around Australia and PNG. According to the last global assessment of the coral reefs of the world, Australian reefs are among the best protected in the world. And as a consequence of environmental campaigning there has been a significant commitment from the Queensland and commonwealth governments to further reduce fishing and the potential for pollution from land-based activities, including farming.

In other parts of the world many reefs are under increasing pressure from blast fishing, illegal capture of live fish for the restaurant trade in places such as Hong Kong, coral mining, industrial pollution, mine waste and land reclamation. In PNG, high sediment loads from uncontrolled forestry, with some of this wood probably ending up as furniture bought by Australians, has also affected coral reefs. There clearly are global threats to coral reefs, but reef ecosystems have historically been resilient to climate change, and global warming may bring more opportunities than threats.

Corals grow upwards. Interestingly, north of Cairns there are large areas of reef with dead coral because of localised falls in sea level. A significant rise in sea level as a consequence of global warming could make these reef flats come alive again. It will be the next ice age that will leave many of the world's coral reefs high and dry.

Global warming may be the big environmental issue of our times and the UN may feel compelled to include the world's main environmental symbols in its climate models and assessments. But there are higher priorities for the world's coral reefs.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef may actually benefit from some global warming. But other coral reefs are unlikely to benefit enough to survive the real and immediate threat from destructive and often illegal fishing practices and pollution.


Wait grows for elective surgery as Australian public hospitals struggle

Patients are waiting longer for elective surgery, despite a significant increase in government spending on public hospitals. A federal Government report found 4.8 per cent of patients waited more than a year for elective surgery in 2004-05, up from 3.9 per cent in 2003-04. Ninety per cent of patients were treated within 217 days, up from 193 days in 2003-04.

Australian Healthcare Association executive director Prue Power said hospitals were struggling to find qualified staff. "Demand is increasing due to the ageing population and technological advances. New medical technologies and new drugs allow us to keep people alive much longer," Ms Power said. "What we need to do to keep up with the demand is actually keep people out of hospitals by concentrating on health promotion and prevention of disease."

According to the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services 2007, released today, the number of public hospital beds across the nation increased from 53,300 to 55,100. Total spending on public hospitals rose by 4.9per cent to $21.8billion. "The problem we've always had, with the federal and state governments both running the system, remains," Ms Power said. "There are still people waiting in public hospitals longer than necessary to be discharged to aged-care facilities, and we still have a shortage of staff."

The report shows the number of nurses has remained steady at about 4.6per 1000 people. However, a report released by the Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery found a shortage of 3200 nurses nationally. The council estimates that increased demand on the health system will lead to critical shortages in some states by 2010. It predicts a shortage of almost 1500 nurses in Queensland, and about 900 in Victoria. Council chairman John Daly said most states would need more nurses in the next three years. College of Nursing executive director Judy Lumby said more nurses were in the workforce, but many were part-time. Attempts to increase the workforce were hampered by state and federal governments operating at cross-purposes, she said. "Thousands of nurses have left the public hospital system to work as practice nurses with GPs," she said. "The project to promote practice nurses came from the federal Government, which is responsible for helping GPs. However, those nurses left the public hospital system, which is run by the state governments."

The Productivity Commission report reveals that efforts to introduce a national system for reporting medical errors in hospitals have stalled. NSW, Victoria and South Australia were the only states to provide figures on the number of "sentinel events" such as medication errors and procedures performed on the wrong patient or body part. In 2004-05, there were 97 sentinel events in those states.


More cash fails to budge school scores

A familiar phenomenon in America: Now in Australia too: More money leads to WORSE education

Literacy and numeracy levels have fallen in NSW public schools despite increased government funding per student. The proportion of year 3 students achieving national benchmarks dropped 0.8 of a percentage point for reading and 0.9 of a percentage point for numeracy between 2003 and 2004, the Productivity Commission's annual report says. In that period the Government increased its expenditure by $686 on each full-time primary student and about $500 on each secondary student.

The literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5 and 7 are measured against national benchmarks each year, but the results are not released until more than two years later. These most recent figures show there has been little change among NSW students, with variations of less than 1 percentage point in each of the categories, despite the increased spending. The performance of year 5 and 7 students was better, with slight improvements from the previous year in their numeracy skills, but fewer students in both groups met the reading benchmark than had done so the previous year. Just over 92 per cent of year 3 students in NSW achieved the reading benchmark, and nearly 96 per cent met the writing and numeracy benchmarks. By year 7, less than 80 per cent of students could meet the numeracy benchmark.

The NSW Government spent $9,546 on each primary student and $12,024 on each secondary student in 2004-05. The best performers in NSW were those who lived in metropolitan or provincial areas, girls and non-indigenous students. Indigenous students were closest to the state average in year 3, but dropped in each subsequent year and most dramatically in numeracy, where close to 90 per cent achieved the benchmark in year 3, but less than half by year 7. The commission's report shows the proportion of students achieving the writing benchmark rose in all groups.

The federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, called for a national curriculum last year to arrest what she said were falling literacy and numeracy standards in schools. But her department admitted it did not have figures on literacy and numeracy beyond 2004, and therefore lacked the proof that standards were falling. Last year's basic skills test saw primary school children's literacy scores slip by 0.1 of a percentage point since 2005, a tiny negative fluctuation after 10 years when scores had been mostly consistent.

The State Government said then that three out of five pupils who failed to reach minimum literacy standards in year 3 had raised their performance to acceptable levels by year 5, but gave no data to support the claim. The NSW Government commented in the commission's report that it planned to invest more than $616 million in literacy and numeracy programs.


A "Thank you for your kindness" to Australia -- from a charming black Muslim "refugee"

A Sudanese refugee who went on a sex crime spree soon after arriving in Melbourne in 2005 has been sentenced to 24 years' jail.

Hakeem Hakeem attacked three teenagers and an elderly woman a month after settling with his family in Dandenong. The 21-year-old raped one teenager in a Dandenong scout hall in March, 2005. The next day, he bashed and raped a 63-year-old woman in her home, and slashed her throat. On the third day, Hakeem forced a teenage girl and boy to have sex with each other and then he raped the girl, again in the Dandenong scout hall.

Hakeem's defence lawyer said he had been chroming, drinking and taking drugs before each attack. The judge at the Supreme Court said the indignities imposed on Hakeem's victims were grossly and utterly despicable. He sentenced him to 24 years jail with a non-parole period of 17 years.


HRC mulls legal action over Tamworth anti-refugee leaflets

Given the story above this one, not wanting more of the same is hardly unreasonable

The Human Rights Commission says a leaflet drop calling on the Tamworth community to resist the arrival of African refugees could be subject to legal action.

The Australia First Party has distributed thousands of the leaflets in Tamworth, in north-west New South Wales, alleging the council caved in to Commonwealth pressure by allowing Sudanese refugees to settle in the district. It says the new arrivals will bring violence, crime and disease to the community.

Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says people objecting to the leaflet could potentially take the matter to court. "If they felt that it was incitement to racial hatred, [they] could lodge a complaint under the Race Discrimination Act," he said. "Then the Commission would investigate that complaint and attempt to resolve it by conciliation and if it wasn't resolved then the complainants would have the opportunity to resolve it in the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court. "That's where the question of its lawfulness would be determined."

The Australia First Party says it would almost welcome being taken to court for distributing the pamphlets. The party's state president, Jim Saleam, says he believes in confronting the Commission at every opportunity. "This is Gestapo stuff, this is thought police stuff, in fact in some ways we would welcome if they did attempt to bring any member of the party up before these kangaroo courts," he said. "But naturally we are limited in what we can say publicly before the Gestapo brings the case."


Note that the Premier of NSW has confirmed in Parliament the health and crime problems with black African refugees. (See also the full Hansard transcript here). I say more about the policy issues of the matter here

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