Red herring environmentalism

In a world with huge environmental problems such as greenhouse and loss of species, environmentalism for show is sometimes practiced by governments, political parties, and businesses. The worst of these organisations want to look like they are committed to the environment without real commitment; it's all only on the surface, skin deep.

There are also environmentalists who, though well meaning, waste their time on, and divert public concern to, trivial 'problems'. They could be more productive by looking elsewhere.

You might think that any environmentalism has to be a good thing, but the problem is that money spent on the environment must be spent wisely, not frivolously. Tax payer's money wasted on poorly conceived 'environmental' projects will, in the end, be detrimental to the whole environmental movement.

I suspect that there is a feeling among environmentalists that we should not criticise anything environmental because it is better to present a united front. I would hold, however, that we should criticize false, hypocritical, 'red herring' environmentalists, and that we have a responsibility to make sure that time, effort and money dedicated to the environment is wisely and carefully used.

This site was created with South Australian questions in mind.
Created 2004/02/27, last edited 2021/03/08
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Protecting the whales:
an easy environmental image for Australia?

Japan is pressing for sustainable whaling while the Rudd Australian government has been vocal in its criticism. Both countries are pressuring small states, such as the Solomon Islands, to vote on their side on the whaling issue.

Any whale species that is endangered should be protected after the excessive hunting of the last few centuries. But the minkie whale was not much hunted until recently, and several other species have greatly recovered in numbers. It is true that the Japanese whalers' method of killing whales inflicts great pain and is not quick; many people might object to whaling on this ground. I have little doubt that there are worse examples of animal cruelty that our government could be targeting if they were inclined, the Chinese practice of farming sun bears for their bile is one example. And is killing a whale for food any more unethical than killing a pig for food?

I wonder what the Australian Government's motive is in taking up the fight to protect the whale? As one of, if not the, worst greenhouse polluter on the planet, and one of the greatest destroyers of native vegetation and old-growth forests, what environmental credentials does Australia have? The Australian government's fight to protect the whales costs very little compared to cleaning up our carbon dioxide emissions. There are no Australian jobs to loose as there would be if we were to stop destroying old-growth forests. Is this a cheap way of getting some environmental capital as far as the Howard Government is concerned?

In the resumption of whaling as the Japanese would have it, there is at worst an arguable question about which species are threatened, the degree of that threat, and the animal cruelty point. In greenhouse the extinction of thousands of species and deaths of billions of people is threatened.

How serious is the Rudd Government about whaling?

Around late 2009 the Japanese have admitted that they are whaling for food, and not, as they have previously insisted, for scientific purposes. This is effectively admitting that they are breaking the international whaling laws that they had agreed to.

In early January 2010 a Japanese whaling ship collided with, and sank, a two-million dollar boat belonging to the Sea Shepherd organisation. At the time the Japanese ship was illegally whaling in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia. The Australian government is apparently intending to do nothing.


Biodiesel and fuel alcohol have been touted as alternatives to petroleum for running vehicles.

So long as both use material that would otherwise be wasted, they are probably 'a good thing', however, if and when it comes to dedicating crop land to bio-fuel crops there is a big problem. That land that is brought into production for fuel is land that no longer produces food crops. The question arises, should land be used to run cars or to feed hungry people?

George Monbiot has an excellent article on this subject

This section added about 2010

Low-medium level nuclear waste dump


Olympic dam tailings dam

Far more radioactive material is being dumped in the tailings dams of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium/gold mine than will ever be placed in the proposed waste dump. The Olympic Dam mine is in the same region of South Australia as the proposed dump.

The Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage (link no longer available) stated that 85% of the radioactivity of the material taken from the mine is in the tailings that go into the dam. In financial year 2003-04 3993 tonnes of uranium oxide were mined from the Olympic dam mine.

Uranium 235 decays in ten or so steps, each one producing a radioactive isotope. Uranium 238 decays in 15 or so steps, each one producing a radioactive isotope. These isotopes occur in the uranium ore; they are not wanted by the mine operators so they are pumped out onto the tailings dump.

The Australian Federal Government has decided to construct a low-medium level nuclear waste dump in the northwest of South Australia. The NIMBY principle has come into play and the South Australian Government has taken the Federal Government to court to try to stop the dump being built.

The proposed dump site has been carefully chosen and once buried the waste will be unlikely to cause any significant radiation risk to anyone or anything. There is, of course, some slight risk of spillage when the waste is transported, but we should remember that much of the radioactive material is being transported around Australia before it becomes waste, and problems have been very few.

Any additional radiation that anyone receives due to this dump will be, I would think, less than that they would get from moving house to a place with an altitude a couple of hundred of metres higher, and that would apply only to those very few people who live close to the dump. (The cosmic ray component of natural background radiation increases with altitude.) Who worries about the greater level of radiation that they will receive if they move to a place with a slightly higher altitude? The same applies to granitic areas; who worries about radiation if they move to an area where there are granitic rocks?

Update 2019/11/17; I have written a page dedicated to this subject.

Culling Kangaroo Island koalas

Koalas are not native to Kangaroo Island (KI is about 30 x 100 km and lies about 10 km off the coast of South Australia), they were introduced. They have increased to pest proportion, they are destroying their habitat by eating-out and killing the trees they live in.

The two most recent South Australian Governments have refused to take the obvious action and cull the koalas; it's not politically desirable. A relatively large sum of money has been spent on capturing and sterilizing a number of the female koalas. Not surprisingly it has failed to decrease koala numbers on Kangaroo Island; money down the drain.

Sometimes it is necessary to take the hard, but right, decision.

Solar panels on Adelaide public buildings

The Rann Government of South Australia wants "South Australia to lead the nation in solar and wind power". I believe they have made solar water heaters mandatory on all new homes. This is mostly good, solar water heating in South Australia's warm, sunny climate makes economic and environmental sense, although anything that forces prices on new homes up by many hundreds of dollars when buyers are already very hard pressed is of concern.

The Government has placed solar panels on the state museum and art gallery, Parliament House in Adelaide and is well into a Solar Schools project in which schools get a photovoltaic system of 1 to 1.5 kW. (They have also given a million dollars of tax payers' money for solar panels on Adelaide Airport.)

Considering the very large capital cost of solar photovoltaic panels, and the fact that Adelaide has more cloud cover than most other parts of South Australia, can this really be justified? Couldn't the money be spent on the environment, but spent better?

Changing the laws to encourage the construction of wind farms or building much needed electricity transmission lines to areas with good wind resources could result in adding anything up to 2000MW to the sustainable electricity capacity of the state; this is thousands of times the amount of electricity that will be generated by Rann's photovoltaic panels on public buildings. I would think that increasing the grant for installation of solar water heaters would also be a more productive way of spending the same money. Solar water heaters are very cost-effective. Investment in a solar water heater in South Australia will certainly pay off in the long term, the economics of solar photovoltaic systems are much more questionable.

Peacock notes that capital costs per installed kilowatt of the Museum and Art Gallery 'power stations' was $10 000 compared to around $1500/kW for wind power. No doubt Premier Rann has publicity in mind, but is it justifiable publicity for sustainable power, or unjustifiable publicity for the Rann Government?

Premier Rann has also added mini wind turbines to public building to try and improve his government's greenhouse image at minimal cost. I have written about this at greater length in Failings of SA governments.

In-situ uranium mining

While I have worked in the hydrogeology field for thirty years, I am certainly not an expert on in-situ uranium mining. However, I find it hard to believe that the South Australian in-situ leaching uranium mines (Honeymoon and Beverley) can pose a significant risk to groundwater aquifers.

I suspect that uranium is an emotive issue at any time, and 'pumping acid into the ground', to a layman, seems risky. I have no doubt that environmentalists could use their time more productively elsewhere.

Setting up committees or commissioning studies rather than solving problems

The Murray River is a mess. High saline water tables are common. Century old or older redgum trees are dieing due to either lack of water or high salinity. Both State and Federal Governments seem much more willing to spend money on yet another study while the work of solving the problem, which is in many cases pretty obvious, goes undone.

This is one example of a worrying trend. It is cheaper to commission a study than to attack the problem.