Top environment stories of 2011

As chosen by Sara Phillips, ABC environment journalist and editor

1) Fukushima

First there was an earthquake, then there was a tsunami. Then the nuclear power plant at Fukushima melted down after it was swamped by the sea. Thousands of people died in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but the focus remained for months on the power plant: watching, waiting, wondering whether more radiation, more silent cancer would be released, of whether it would be wrestled under control.

It was only last week that the Japanese government announced they had achieved “cold shutdown” of the plant, ushering in a new period of rehabilitation for the area.

2) A price on carbon

Australians started the year with a new Climate Commission to tell us that climate change was indeed ¬¬- still, in fact – happening and a Multiparty Climate Change Committee to come up with a policy solution. By mid-year the government announced we would have a tax on the big emitters of carbon, morphing into an emissions trading scheme after three or so years. By the year’s end, both houses of parliament passed the relevant legislation meaning after more than a decade of debate and discussion, the government finally put a cost and therefore a disincentive on releasing carbon dioxide.

3) Durban

Also on the climate change front, the 17th meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17 of the UNFCCC) surprised everyone when they agreed to agree. After years of fraught negotiations and hopes dashed, 194 countries agreed to sign up to an agreement that would be drawn up four years hence. The result was simultaneously lauded and lamented by environmentalists who couldn’t seem to work out whether it was a good thing that agreement had been achieved, or a bad thing that it was all so vague and far-off.

4) Water, water everywhere

Australia spent a lot of the year mopping up. Queensland copped it bad when immediately after massive, dramatic floods swallowed its most populous areas, it was knocked again by Cyclone Yasi, one of the biggest cyclones the nation has ever seen. And while attention tended to focus on Queensland, down in Victoria and Tasmania they got out the gumboots and the kayaks and cleaned up their own widespread, slow-moving floods.

5) Coal seam gas

Farmers this year discovered they only own the top couple of metres of their land when gas companies exercised their right to dig around under the surface looking for resources. Encouraged by a similar backlash in the USA, farmers “locked the gate” against the miners. The resource in question is gas, created by seams of coal running underground. Proponents of the exploration say gas burns cleaner than coal and therefore exploiting the riches is a climate friendlier way of creating wealth and jobs than simply mining the coal. Opponents say it poisons and depletes the underground water that nurtures a lucrative agricultural industry. One thing is for sure, this argument has a long way yet to run.

Another story that will beef up in 2012 is the Murray-Darling Basin. With the proposed Basin Plan released only recently for comments, next year is sure to see a lot more debate over this peculiarly Australian issue.

My favourites from ABC Environment

We’ve published hundreds of stories on ABC Environment this year. We’ve had some of the world’s best writers on environment, such as Gro Harlem Brundtland, Yvo de Boer, Peter Singer, Achim Steiner, John Cook, Paul Gilding and even Malcolm Fraser. Here’s my favourites of the many, many great ones.

It’s not just about bike lanes
by Jan Garrard

Flying foxes may not be endangered
by Eugenia Lee

What if trees could sue?
by Peter Burdon

A carbon tax is not the solution
by Bjorn Lomborg

Wired to share
by Sue White


About jboydedu

The Australian Centre for Sustainability Literacy is a division of Julie Boyd and Associates, who have been working for three decades to educate students in becoming positively contributing world citizens. We use a careful integration of solid research and evidence from a broad range of fields across education, community, business and leadership to support the 7th Generation concept which says that all decisions need to be made for the benefit of 7 generations forward.
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