Sunday, November 27, 2022

A picture of a tree in regional South Australia has sparked a wild climate change debate

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As floodwaters from the River Murray crept up the Loxton’s Tree of Knowledge, one local thought it was a good time to take a picture to put things into perspective.

The photo posted on social media shows the tree littered with markings from recent floods.

Well above the current flood level is a marking from 1956.

For some, it was a smoking gun that climate change isn’t real.

“And the climate change back in 1956 was caused by what?” one person joked. “I wonder if they were talking climate change in 73, 74 and 75,” another added.

Others pointed out an obvious issue. “How tall was that tree in 1956?” one person questioned.

“Trees grow upward from the top, not from the bottom. Their trunks spread outward, not upward,” one person correctly stated.

Others said the one tree was just a bad data set.

“Using one tree as evidence to suit your agenda shows what level of intelligence we are dealing with,” one said.

“There are many factors why areas have worse flooding. There is no denying though, with mass land clearing as one factor, flooding will only get worse under extreme climate events such as La Nina,” he continued.

Hundreds have flocked to the seemingly innocuous post to duke it out in a debate about climate. In fact, 1956 was the worst flood on record for the area, with the ‘Great Flood’ described as “the greatest catastrophe in the state’s history”.

According to the Adelaide Advertiser, the flood was a culmination of two years of a La Nina, which had brought three months of heavy rain to Queensland, Victoria and NSW.


Climate and human rights kill Clive Palmer’s coalmine

Clive Palmer should be blocked from building a massive Galilee Basin mine because the burning of its coal overseas would worsen global climate change and limit the human rights of Indigenous people and Queensland children, a landmark court judgment has declared.

The Land Court ruling is the first time a Queensland judge has recommended rejecting a mine based on the climate impacts of coal burnt overseas, a precedent conservationists say will make it “almost impossible” for any new thermal coalmines to be built in the state.

It is also the first time Queensland’s Human Rights Act has been used to object to a mining project on climate change and Indigenous cultural rights grounds.

Land Court president Fleur Kingham on Friday recommended the Queensland government deny Mr Palmer’s Waratah Coal’s applications for a mining lease and environmental authority for an open-cut and underground thermal coalmine near Alpha, in central Queensland.

“This case is about Queensland coal, mined in Queensland, and exported from Queensland to be burned in power stations to generate electricity,” Judge Kingham said.

“Wherever that coal is burnt, the emissions will contribute to environmental harm, including in Queensland.”

She added: “The climate scenario consistent with a viable mine risks unacceptable climate change impacts to Queensland people and property, even taking into account the economic and social benefits of the project.”

The Weekend Australian understands Waratah Coal will ­appeal the ruling.

The proposed mine site is on cattle-grazing land and a major nature refuge, Bimblebox, and would export coal to South-East Asia to burn for electricity.

Waratah Coal’s lawyers had argued Judge Kingham had no legal right to consider the emissions from burning coal overseas, because the Queensland mining applications did not cover the coal’s combustion.

She also ruled Queensland’s Human Rights Act – introduced three years ago – needed to be considered because the mine’s climate-change impacts would harm the property rights of the Bimblebox owners, the cultural rights of First Nations people, and the rights of children.

“I have decided the importance of preserving the right … weighs more heavily in the balance than the economic benefits of the mine and the benefit of contributing to energy security,” Judge Kingham said.

She also found that if the mine was approved, it would make it more difficult to meet the Paris climate change goals because burning its coal would emit an estimated 1.58 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide between 2029 and 2051.

Judgments of the Land Court are not binding on the state government, but ministers traditionally abide by court decisions once appeals have been exhausted.

A group called Youth Verdict, representing Queensland young people, and the Bimblebox Alliance brought the court action, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.

EDO senior solicitor Alison Rose said it was not the first time that a court had considered the impact on the Queensland environment of burning its coal overseas, but it was the first time the Land Court had made a decision to refuse a mine on that basis.

“The key difference is that, in previous cases, the coalmining companies were quite successful at arguing that if this coalmine didn’t go ahead, then another coalmine would just go ahead – the market substitution argument,” she said. “However, the science of ­climate change is really rapidly advanced and we also used a coal market analyst, and they were able to demonstrate that based on Waratah Coal’s own modelling … that essentially, we can have a safe climate without the coalmine but we can’t have one with it.”

Where other judgments have focused on direct impacts on Queenslanders from projects based on considerations such groundwater and wildlife, the Waratah case expanded to consider the human rights of Queenslanders who would be ­affected by climate change.

The judge’s decision will set a precedent for future Land Court hearings but its application is still at the discretion of Resources Minister Scott Stewart and the Environment Department.

Ms Rose said it would be extraordinary for either the minister or the department not to follow the court’s recommend­ation. “Both those decision makers have always followed the recommendations of the Land Court in the past, so the chance they won’t is fairly low,” she said.

Asked if the decision would spell the end of new thermal coalmines being built in Queensland, Ms Rose said it would make coal companies think twice.

Youth Verdict First Nations co-director Murrawah Johnson said the court had heard evidence for the first time in the Torres Strait and Cairns about the loss of Indigenous culture due to sea-level rise and heatwaves.

“All environmental approvals or mining leases should have to consider their impact on First Nations’ cultural and human rights,” Ms Johnson said.


Victorian election: Daniel Andrews’ crusade against Christianity

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews runs the most dedicated and consistent anti-Christian government in Australian history. And Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, a profile in political cowardice, has given in on almost every case.

In legislation and abusive rhetoric, the Victorian government has acted to restrict Christians from teaching and living their beliefs.

It’s not quite a crime to be a traditional Christian in Victoria but it’s not quite legal in lots of contexts either.

The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exemptions) Bill makes it much harder for Christian schools to employ Christian teachers.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill makes it an offence not to affirm someone’s gay identity or desire to change their gender.

So a school that says to a kid: we’re here to help but maybe slow down on this decision and don’t do anything irreversible for a while, is liable for prosecution.

Similarly, a Christian minister who is asked by a parishioner to pray for or with him over sexual orientation is subject to prosecution. The law has reached the extraordinarily perverse situation in which it’s legal to change your gender but illegal to even think or talk of changing your sexual orientation.

No Christian that I know of anywhere defends former barbaric practices of gay conversion therapy, but in outlawing a practice no one undertakes, the law has intentionally overshot to make it almost illegal even to teach traditional Christian teaching.

In 2016, the Andrews government also made it compulsory for priests to break the seal of the confessional to reveal child abuse – yet lawyers are allowed to retain client confidentiality.

Confidentiality in confession has been Catholic doctrine for more than 1500 years and has strong scriptural basis. As recently as World War II, priests went to their death rather than reveal secrets of anti-Japanese guerillas in The Philippines. There’s no evidence that breaking this doctrine would help in the righteous fight against child abuse but Andrews was happy to make core Catholic practice illegal.

Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli was foully abused in the Victorian parliament for defending the confessional.

Andrews’ rhetoric is often inflammatory and foolish. He abused Tony Abbott for visiting Cardinal George Pell in jail but Abbott was right. The High Court unanimously found Pell innocent. Andrews refused to say he respected and accepted the verdict. Next day there was vandalism against Catholic churches in Melbourne.

When Andrew Thorburn was forced tor resign as Essendon chief executive because of decade-old sermons of a pastor in a church with which he is associated, which preached traditional Christian teaching on sex being moral only within marriage between a man and a woman, and against the practice of abortion, Andrews labelled these Christian beliefs as hatred, bigotry and intolerance.

Guy is almost as bad. He expelled MP Bernie Finn from the Liberal Party for being pro-life, then expelled candidate Renee Heath for the views of a church she is associated with, not for anything she said.

This is a dangerous turn for Australia. Andrews is leading a charge of intolerance and bigotry against Christianity, and Guy’s Liberals are too cowardly to offer an alternative.


There's an overdose crisis happening in Australia. Is drug decriminalisation the answer?

In October, the ACT announced that it had passed legislation decriminalising the possession of illicit drugs. It's the first jurisdiction in Australia to do so.

"The ACT has led the nation with a progressive approach to reducing the harm caused by illicit drugs with a focus on diversion, access to treatment and rehabilitation and reducing the stigma attached to drug use," state health minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

Under the changes, which come into effect in October 2023, the possession of "small amounts" of drugs like heroin, MDMA or cocaine in the ACT will be treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal matter, and will result in a caution, a fine or a health intervention.

"This sensible reform is based on the expert advice that a health-focused, harm reduction approach delivers the best outcome for people using drugs," Stephen-Smith said.

Drug-related arrests have soared in recent years. Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that there were a record 166,321 drug-related arrests nationally in 2019-2020. This represented an increase of 96 per cent in the last decade.

Yet at the same time, Australia has seen a significant increase in the number of fatal drug overdoses. Earlier this year, the not-for-profit drug and alcohol research centre, the Penington Institute, said that the number of deaths in 2020 could exceed 2,440 once all the data has been collected.

In 2014, that figure was 2,043.

Data from the institute also showed that 2020 was the tenth year in a row where there were more than 2,000 fatal overdoses in Australia.

So while advocates say decriminalisation will reduce harm to drug users, can it help to reduce the number of fatal overdoses? And is decriminalisation indeed the best outcome for drug users?

How will decriminalisation help?

In August, Professor Mark Stoové from Victoria's Burnet Institute said that reforming drug laws, including decriminalisation, would help to reduce fatal overdoses.

Is decriminalising hard drugs the solution?

In a statement, he said: "The criminalisation of drug use generates and perpetuates the overdose crisis through stigma and fear. Evidence suggests that people who avoid a criminal record have improved social, educational and employment outcomes. People who fear arrest, incarceration, stigma and discrimination are also less likely to access health and harm reduction services."

Other advocates agree, saying decriminalisation will remove barriers for those who need help for drug-related health issues.

The Australians struggling to access drug treatment
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"The new laws will make a huge difference to people who use drugs in the ACT. It means that people who casually use drugs won't have criminal conviction as a possibility," Emma Maiden, the general manager of Advocacy and External Relations at Uniting, told ABC RN Breakfast.

"But hopefully what it will also mean is that people who use drugs and perhaps have more of a drug dependency issue, are more likely to be less isolated, have less stigma and are more likely to reach out for help and support."

The criminalisation of drug use, Maiden said, creates unintended harms for affected drug users, limiting their ability to maintain a normal life.

"It can impact on their ability to get employment to rent a property, and so it does have impacts on their life aspirations," she said.

She added that this impact is worse for those who are drug dependent.

"So for those people, the fact that it's criminal, it really isolates them. It means they don't have conversations with doctors, with their loved ones, with the people that are in their lives about their drug use."

This isolation could also be a factor in drug-related deaths. Research has suggested that the stigma related to drug use may increase overdose risk. A 2016 study found that one barrier to opioid overdose prevention programs was the stigma attached to drug use.

Maiden said that it took approximately "19 years" for someone who uses drugs to reach out for support.

"So what we see overseas and other jurisdictions is [when we] remove the criminal penalty, we create more connections and we make it more likely that people will reach out for help."

'No silver bullet'

However not everyone agrees that there is a link between decriminalisation and a reduction in fatal overdoses.

Dr John Ryan, the CEO of the Penington Institute is one of them. He said there's no single remedy.

"From the Penington Institute's perspective, there's no silver bullet solution to the overdose problem. That's why we want a national overdose prevention strategy … also known as bringing the various threads of activity that need to be taken [together]" he said.

"One of which is improving community understanding and education around overdose, the signs of overdose and how to respond in an emergency," he added.

He pointed to other measures such as greater access to naloxone, a medicine that reverses opioid overdoses, as well as the introduction of "safe supply", a harm reduction initiative that has developed momentum in places like Canada.

In recent years, academics have flagged that a safer supply of opioids could address the number of fatal overdoses in North America.

Dr Ryan put the rise of overdoses in Australia down to a lack of action in this area.

"I think the biggest factor is that we're not paying appropriate attention to it," he explained.

"In a nutshell, if you don't actually attend to the problem, it's only going to get worse. And I think what we're seeing is a failure to actually address the underlying issues in relation to overdose and therefore, the toll continues to rise."

Underlying causes

Other academics also doubt that decriminalisation would reduce fatal overdoses.

"I don't think we have enough evidence to comment on how good [decriminalisation] is, other than the big naturalistic studies that have happened in countries that have decriminalised [drugs] like Portugal," Dr Jonathan Brett, a specialist in clinical pharmacology, toxicology and addiction medicine at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, said.

Portugal introduced decriminalisation in 2001 and reportedly saw its fatal overdose rate drop from 369 in 1999 to 27 in 2016.

Like Dr Ryan, Dr Brett pointed to a more action-based approach as a means to reducing fatal overdoses, including a greater focus on naloxone availability and the consideration of poly-drug use or the use of more than one substance.

He added that the most effective measure to reduce overdoses would be to better understand the reasons why people are using drugs.

Research has pointed to a relationship between environment and drug use, as well as drug-related harms.

For example, University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan published a working paper in December 2020 that suggested the isolation of the pandemic may have led to a rise in fatal overdoses. This echoed a similar claim made by the US Centre for Disease Control that same month.




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