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In ecology, the understorey grows where light shines through the forest canopy.
Our award-winning Understorey journalists highlight local and globally-connected environmental issues that the other media commonly pass over.
RTRFM’s long-running dedicated environment program makers Adrian Glamorgan and Elizabeth PO’ bring together stories from near and sometimes afar, whether it be conservationists rehabilitating habitat, citizen scientists gathering data, campaigners at the frontline, or decision-makers at their desks, seeking solutions together to the challenges affecting our shared air, water, land and life processes.
Wednesday 8th July 2020
While the federal government ringbarks its own environment department with budget cuts (see last week's Understorey), the government is spending up big on military - $279 billion over the next ten years to support Australia's alliance with the United States. It's not good economics: research shows that many more jobs are created in sectors like health and education, rather than in military hardware. It's not good environment work: the environment could do with action on the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, renewable energy, or infrastructure. But it is good for corporate interests, particularly those American majority owned companies like BHP, Rio Tinto, and Woodside: in fact, the majority of Australia's twenty biggest companies. In this first episode, Professor Clinton Fernandes from the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra sets out how US military power and its commercial interests in Australia are two sides of the same coin, promoting US interests in our region while consigning Australia as a sub-imperial power skilful at providing basic raw resources, like any third world economy. The former Army intelligence officer takes us through Australia's adherence to obscure patent laws and trade treaties which are not only subverting our sovereignty, but also making Australian social policy and innovation so much more difficult. They cost us innovation in renewable energy, water technologies, and health. The Morrison government's commitment to an extra $279 billion on missiles and extras may cost us a whole lot more.
(Photo: Robin Peak, US Navy; Clinton Fernandes, supplied)
Wednesday 1st July 2020
Last week's independent Australian National Audit Office report on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act found that the government's regulatory approach is insufficient to deal with the environmental risks involved, and that the department is not being effective, efficient or in some cases compliant. Understorey discovers why these flaws in nationally significant project proposals approval processes matter, from Yeerlirrie uranium mine to the Western Ground Parrot, to chronic offsetting, with the help of Nicole Sommer, lawyer with the Environmental Defenders Office.
(Images: WA habitats - EDO; Google Maps)
Wednesday 17th June 2020
First it was Rio Tinto, and the destruction of rock shelters of Indigenous and global significance. Then, Fortescue Metals Group, happy with the $280 billion it will make over 40 years, but planning to destroy three more rock shelters, including one stretching back 60,000 years ago. Next: BHP, with the legal right to demolish 40 more Aboriginal heritage sites, temporarily paused. Three mining giants: Rio Tinto, FMG, and BHP, all lined up in the Pilbara with their Ministerial consent orders, not needing to consult any further, with Western Australians asking questions about how this legislation came about. Companies can appeal Ministerial decisions, and yet the same "Aboriginal Heritage Act" denies appeals to Aboriginal people themselves. A Minister: unable to rescind his own decision. Significant sites: back in Premier Barnett's days, redefined out of existence. Companies may operate within the law, says Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, but she says the mining companies have no social licence to destroy culture, deny Aboriginal people appeal rights, gag them with agreements, or ignore public opinion. While Aboriginal Heritage law needs changing in Western Australia, similar underwhelming legislation also exists at the federal level, the senator says. According to Siewert, it's time for mining companies to hand back their approvals, offer their support for better heritage legislation (including strengthening whistleblowers inside companies), and create agreements with local Aboriginal groups which don't gag them. Until then, Senator Rachel Siewert says, the mining companies operate without a 21st century social licence.
(Image: Pilbara: Google Maps, Black Lives matter, Rachel Siewert: Facebook)
Wednesday 10th June 2020
Last week it was Rio Tinto in the news, for its wanton destruction of two ancient Aboriginal heritage caves, 46,000 years old, despite efforts by traditional owners to stop the loss to their community and save the sites for all who share the global commons. Come Monday, another media revelation: Fortescue Metals Group has plans to mine an area in the Pilbara with more than 70 heritage sites, including a 60,000 year old rock shelter in the miner’s path. The Aboriginal Heritage Act turns out to give a good deal of scope for mining companies to meet their profit targets, but may be less active in actually promoting Aboriginal heritage. State Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Key Wyatt, has now called for a three part public consultative review before legislating a new Act. But will it be more of the same-same environmental and heritage law, easily cast aside if the project is big enough? Or can we move to new ecological legislation, which orients our community to the Rights of Nature and culture? The state government already has Western Australian Rights of Nature and Future Generations Bill before it, presented last year in the Western Australian Parliament by Greens MLC Diane Evers. Michelle Maloney reflects on opportunties for a new Earth Law framework, as she works through various creative and inclusive vehicles such as Australian Earth Laws Alliance (ALEA), the New Economy Network Australia (NENA), and GreenPrints, to support earth-entered systems. Understorey's second part of our interview with Michelle about these timely and, indeed, urgent new ways.
(Photo: FMG Solomon Hub, Google Maps)
Wednesday 3rd June 2020
One of the worst obliterations of an archaeological site anywhere in the world: that’s Rio Tinto blowing up two 46,000 year old Aboriginal cultural sites in the Pilbara. The mining company was within the law, unrestrained by state or federal intervention, and well motivated to maximise profit interests of its shareholders, including the 65% ownership held by American investors.
Michelle Maloney is working through various creative and inclusive vehicles such as Australian Earth Laws Alliance (ALEA), the New Economy Network Australia (NENA), and GreenPrints, to shift the defunct default goverance models to something more earth-centred, and more socially inclusive. If an intangible organisation known as a mining company has legal personality, to advance the interests of the profit-seekers, why can't places in the natural world also have legal personality, to take legal action to avoid harm? Could new ecological Earth Laws framework replace underperforming present-day environment and heritage laws ?
This follows Understorey's earlier episode on Western Australia's innovative Rights of Nature and Future Generations Bill, presented to the Upper House by Greens MLC Dianne Evers.
(Photo: Google Maps)
Wednesday 27th May 2020
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements began hearings on Monday. Understorey brings an edited interview tendered on the first day as evidence, given by Wiradjuri woman Professor Sue Townshend, from Charles Sturt University, whose home in Tumbarumba, New South Wales, burned down last summer. It's clear that for those exposed to last summer's bushfires, the event is still not over. There are many still homeless. There are many still traumatised by what they have seen. Many family and friends in mourning, not just for the 33 who died directly, but also for the estimated 445 people who died from the smoke alone. While we plan for economic recovery, we do so in the wake of the health costs for the 2019-2020 fire season of $2 billion, and the insurance claims nationally have been another $2.2b. So here we are, deep in a pandemic, yet still downwind from bushfires that destroyed 3000 homes, and more than 10 million hectares of bushland, leaving many questions smouldering in the burnt soil. And experts from the Bureau of Meteorology are telling the Royal Commission that we are not looking at a one-off event. Professor Sue Townshend is now convinced that capitalism doesn't have an answer for our relationship with the land, but the Wiradjuri way to "go gentle, go slow" offers a worthwhile way forward.
Photo: Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
Wednesday 20th May 2020
A bold proposal to protect the environment from corporate and government indifference is embodied in the private members' Bill before State Parliament: the Rights of Nature and Future Generations, introduced late last year by Diane Evers, Greens MLC for the South West.
This an opportunity for Western Australia's remarkable natural environment to be given legal standing while also acknowledging our indivisible connection with life around us. But already the South West Dalgarup Forest, west of Bridgetown, has been removed from the proposed Dalgarup National Park so that the area can be logged - just by redefining what makes a block "old growth." Within two weeks the western part of Dalgarup forest, destined for permanent protection in a proposed National Park, may be lost to the loggers. Another day in Western Australia, but what about future generations, and the rights of nature?
(Photo: Diane Evers, supplied; SW forests, A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 6th May 2020
Bidyadanga musician John Bennett sings of country - the Kimberley red dirt and blue sea, the wild places he grew up in and loves. When we think of the land as important, of our country, wherever we are, as pre-eminently precious, we are laying a kinder path for whoever comes after us, and that includes all creatures. When the current global pandemic eases, and with it our social distance, we might develop better habits with and draw closer to the planet, a renewed chance to listen deeply and respond differently. Understorey spoke to John Bennett at the National Folk Festival in 2018.
As a first in Australia, Western Australia’s parliament is considering a “Rights of Nature and Future Generations Bill”, moved by Diane Evers, MLC for the South West, a Bill that would secure the Rights of Nature to “exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve,” and have its own legal standing to defend and enforce these rights. The Bill also recognises the rights of First Nations Peoples to speak for and defend their ancestral lands. A Rights of Nature and Future Generations Act would also recognise the rights of present and future generations to a healthy environment, and establish the “precautionary principle” by stating that “lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for denying or postponing the implementation, defence, or enforcement” of these Rights of Nature.
(Photo: John Bennett, at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, April 2018, by A. Glamorgan)
Wednesday 29th April 2020
Novozybkov is an agricultural and light industrial city of about 50,000 people, just 160km east of Chernobyl. The Bryansk town remains the most contaminated town in the Russian Federation: the area proclaimed unsuitable for human habitation is marked 1km west of its city boundary. "Midnight in Chernobyl" author Adam Higginbotham speaks about how radioactivity spread across Europe, while former Nuclear Disarmament senator Jo Vallentine shares some stories of how people have been locally affected, and not least of all, how the globally performed Elm Dance (music by Ieva Akurātere) came into being as a Deep Ecology response to environmental grief, and an intention to heal.
(Photo: Novazybkkov, Archicon.rf Creative Commons 4; Map CIA 1996)
Wednesday 22nd April 2020
This Sunday is the 34th anniversary of the Chernobyl Level 7 nuclear disaster. On 26 April 1986 Nuclear Reactor No.4 exploded, blowing the 1000 tonne lid off the reactor, sending deadly radiation across Ukraine, Belarus and then Europe, creating an environmental nightmare and exposing the secrets and lies of the Soviet system. Adam Higginbotham's definitive booklength account "Midnight in Chernobyl: The untold story of the world's greatest nuclear disaster" is the product of personal interviews with many who were there, from the control room to the firefighters and policy makers and KGB, showing the humanity as well as the severity of the disaster; Higginbotham also dug into the the archives, thereby correcting early misconceptions reproduced in subsequent accounts. In this episode, Adam Higginbotham reflects on his genuine surprise that Pripyat, the "atomgrad" which housed workers at Chernobyl, delivered much that the Soviet system promised all. But within hours of the radiation catastrophe, Pripyat was uninhabitable.
Photo: Adam Higginbotham (Penguin), Pripyat (Creative Commons).
Wednesday 15th April 2020
Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse are Western Australian stars who spread the knowledge and understanding of Noongar language and culture far and wide, adapting the four principles shared by Gina Williams' Ballardong Elder, Uncle Tom Hayden, namely: Koort (heart), Moort (Family/community), Boodja (land) and Koorlangka (children/legacy). At the 2018 National Folk Festival the Understorey team spoke with Gina about her start and inspiration for singing and teaching Noongar songs. Gina invites everyone on Noongar Land to participate in the lasting, living language, of which very few people now hold full knowledge, but which may yet come to be valued as a way of connecting with the land. We also recall local author Thomas M Wilson's ancestor arriving by ship in 1830 and connecting with Noongar culture, including Noongar language. Now might be time for all of us to embrace the mother tongue of our local environment!
(Song excerpt: Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse "Nyittiny Boodja" from their album "Koorlangka" supplied by the National Folk Festival. Image: Gina Williams interviewed by E PO', by A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 8th April 2020
While covid-19 understandably dominates the headlines, important environmental news risks being marginalised. Take the annual Australia-wide State of Environment Report, declaring 2019 “probably the worst year in a century.” Conservationists warn governments are also weakening environmental protections, exactly at a time when the voters are too busy with a pandemic to notice. Understorey dips into a pre-covid example, examining emails and letters obtained through Freedom of Information about the Yeelirrie uranium mine approval. Hours before the 2019 election was called, from her Geraldton electoral office the Minister for the Environment signed off the necessary federal approvals for Cameco to mine uranium until 2043. Apart from casting aside scientific concern for threatened species protections, the Minister took into account the advice given by a Resources Minister. The government's current review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 could widen the democratic deficit. Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation hopes people will make submissions, now open until April 17th, to call for more EPBC independence.
(Photo: Dave Sweeney, Yeelirrie proposal; by A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 1st April 2020
Soon it's United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
The Australian Department of Defence has a webpage all about UXO - unexploded ordinance. But it’s about UXO in Australia. The page says nothing about lethal Australian unexploded ordnance left behind in other countries we've been at war with. Not Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq. All of these wars are closely linked to our engagement with ANZUS, but without any enduring sense of responsibility for the damage caused to civilians by our involvement.
The environmental and public health issue of UXO, just like Agent Orange, reminds us that wars can remain lethal for generations after the conflict has apparently concluded. In Vietnam UXO is still taking lives and limbs more than forty years later. In Laos, worst hit by the USA's illegal bombing war in the 1960s, there remains an ongoing need for de-mining. But the relatively small amount the USA has been offering may have just become a bargaining chip in the United States' and Australia's attempt to slow down the signing of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Understorey speaks to American Quaker Lady Borton and ICAN co-founder Tilman Ruff.
(Collage: Project Renew, Mai Lan, Gergyl [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Wednesday 25th March 2020
This year the United Nations is asking us to think about fresh water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. So how does this global call for action feature in our action on freshwater in Perth? Jason Pitman, from Perth Natural Resource Management (Perth NRM) briefs us about their work across landscape restoration and climate action in our water catchment. Alongside the science, do the stories of the river offer us favour that needs to be offered back?
(Photo: Friends of Bull Creek, supplied)
Wednesday 18th March 2020
Understorey offers a simple Covid-19 backgrounder, to answer some basic questions about the environmental beginnings of the coronavirus, remind ourselves of the symptoms of covid-19, recount that thing about washing hands, consider fear and choose facts, and hear from the World Health Organization about what to say to young people, and generally how to be less anxious about this new normal. We start with what a virus is, consider the Chinese wildlife trade and challenge a few myths, check in with the 45th President to hear why shutting down the White House global pandemic NSA committee wasn't his responsibility, and in the light of all this, with perhaps more to come, suggest the answer to all these questions is simple compassionate connection.
Wednesday 11th March 2020
What does it mean to belong to country? Understorey joins the opening of an art exhibition in Midland on International Women’s Day, 2020; and the theme, Palestinian Threads and Stitches: A Tapestry of Home and Diaspora, takes us further back, to 1948, to the Naqba, the Palestinian exodus. Seven hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, fled or were expelled from their homes, most never to return. And we can look further back, to 1829, the time of European invasion, which began the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, often ending a relationship with country that had gone back tens of thousands of years. Two groups, made stateless: diaspora Palestinians, and Aboriginal people, both grappling in different ways to find their identities, and making their own adjustments, to life as they had known it. Featuring Noongar Elder, Uncle Ben Taylor, Palestinian Association chair, Samya Jabbour, former MP Melissa Parke, who worked in Gaza with the United Nations (2002-2004), creative writing facilitator Samiha Olwan, and MC Hiba El-Farra. (At Midland Junction Arts Centre until 11 April).
(Photo: Samya Jabbour, Palestinian tatreez; by A. Glamorgan)
Wednesday 4th March 2020
What do healthy soils offer us? Inaugural Regenerative Agriculture conference in Perth brought together active farmers including author Charles Massy ("Call of the Reed Warbler - a New Agriculture, a New Earth") and Dianne Haggerty, as well as champions for the movement, such as Alannah MacTiernan MLC - all three here speaking from the podium about food security and practicalities. To view the complete presentations from the RegenWA conference, they are available on the Perth NRM YouTube page .
In Western Australia we have ancient fragile soil structures, and our agriculture since European settlement has caused extensive problems. Now the Regenerative Agriculture movement is looking to practise techniques which are far less dependent on chemical additives and more robustly reliant on other, perhaps gentler, ways of creating food and managing farms. In a world of rapidly changing climate and need for reliable quality food, regenerative agriculture could be an important step into our best future.
Regenerative Agriculture aims to conserve and restore topsoil, biodiversity, water, life processes and food production so that we can deal with habitat loss, climate emergency, and support the vitality of the food we eat.
Associated programs are from our interviews with Charles Massy at his farm on the Monaro Plain, east of Mount Kosciuszko at https://rtrfm.com.au/story/understorey-call-of-the-regenerative-farmer/ and https://rtrfm.com.au/story/understorey-journey-of-the-regenerative-farmer/
Wednesday 26th February 2020
This wasn’t just a matter of a few thousand people. Millions of Australians have been affected by this year’s summer fires. Moss Vale resident Amanda Morphett reflects on the eerie circumstances that touched many towns and villages up and down the coast and hinterland of New South Wales and Victoria. While last month residents in the Southern Highlands wondered whether to stay or go, this month's question for the country at large might be: Will the federal government act on the new normal, or will its promised carbon roadmap simply be a route for coal to continue?
(Image: Collection of rained-down burnt leaves, Moss Vale, Amanda Morphett, photo by A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 19th February 2020
An hotspot within an hotspot is a vulnerable place, so our South West is drying and heating, yet many people living there are working out how to improve the situation. One long-time champion of the steady positive processes being set in place is Basil Schur, from Denmark’s Green Skills, recipient of this year’s Landcare WA‘s ‘Individual Landcarer Award’ and a Denmark ‘Citizen of the Year’.
Wednesday 12th February 2020
More than half the world’s birds evolved in Australia, including its parrots, pigeons, and passerines (songbirds). They are essential to the pollination and distribution of plants here, and are often more intelligent, longer-lived as well as louder and more aggressive than birds from other continents.
Understorey travels with keen bird photographer Ken Glasson to one of his many favourite spots, at Woodman Point. When the news is disastrous and extinctions are mentioned as possibilities, that's when we get outdoors and find renewal in the diverse wonders of nature.
(Pic by A.Glamorgan & E.PO')
Thursday 6th February 2020
What's it like to be a volunteer firefighter in New South Wales? Understorey reporter Adrian Glamorgan speaks with Paul Cockram, volunteer firey with the Mongarlowe, NSW, Rural Firefighter Service (RFS), in an interview recorded 14 January. We hear a little of what it might be like to head off to a fire, smell the smoke, hear the eucalypts crashing down as flames engulfs one tree after another, and work as a small team to prepare the backburn ahead. Australia's worst summer season of fire has meant some volunteers have contributed 60 days at a stretch, which is why there's now a payment system for volunteers who've worked more than ten. Australia part-compensates the volunteers who go out on a call, knowing the wrong conditions could make it the worst day of the firefighter's life. But the federal government's policy throws up anomalies: it means the richly salaried will receive compensation of up to $300 a day, and the Newstart or pension recipient with nothing. Part 3 in an ongoing series, to resume in a few weeks. (Photos supplied by P.Cockram)
Wednesday 29th January 2020
Today, as a bushfire burns less than ten kilometres away from Canberra's southernmost suburbs, Understorey picks up more of the story from Alison Sexton-Green (further east towards the coast) who shares stories about the waiting and strain and permanently packed car that represent the daily experience of living in fire-threatened district. We learn about the state government's neglect of national parks, the Murdoch media's enthusiasm for coal at the very moment the bushfires gathered power, and what the community can do to help bushfire-affected areas. (Image: Alison Sexton-Green, 4 January, Monga looking to Deua)
Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Understorey returns for 2020, wondering what’s it like to face a bushfire coming towards your property? This week we bring part of a conversation with Alison Sexton-Green, on the road out of Braidwood, New South Wales, just before the majestic Clyde Mountain drop, the very place where the fires were heading towards Alison’s small and beautiful rural hideaway, just before Christmas…
(Photo: NASA, International Space Station view of the Australian bushfires, 4 January 2020)
Wednesday 11th December 2019
Premier Mark McGowan's enthusiasm for the fossil fuel industry, particularly LNG, puts its undermining effects on Australia's carbon emissions in the shadows. Further overlooked is the climate emergency's impact on the Premier's own Rockingham electorate. According to the government's own findings, within a handful of years it's likely we'll witness rising waters, more energetic tides and salt incursions bearing upon the seaside city. Paddy Cullen from Clean State Campaign is helping voters get this important message across to their own representative, the Premier. Meanwhile, in Madrid, young people at COP25 have been calling for meaningful action from all national governments. From the Marshall Islands to the Mississippi, from The Philippines to the burning farmlands of Australia, humanity's climate emergency has well and truly arrived. (Image: A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 4th December 2019
Tensions between usage rights and culture on the Fitzroy River are at another tipping point in the Kimberley, Western Australia’s remarkable wild north. Environs Kimberley Director, Martin Pritchard, speaks with Understorey about preventable devastation, as criitcally endangered species collapse. With a tiny electoral population they need our help adding voices to the push for better environmental policy to protect the precious ‘boom and bust’ Fitzroy River. More information at https://www.environskimberley.org.au/saving_the_fitzroy_river (Photo: A. Glamorgan)
Wednesday 27th November 2019
Terrestrial and marine ecologist Dr Nic Dunlop has just had his longstanding work with seabirds and climate, and wide support of environmental issues, recognised through the Conservation Council's prestigious Bessie Rischbieth Award. Dr Dunlop’s researches indicators of marine ecosystems and island, bat, climate change and landscape ecology. He has championed multi-decade projects protecting and tracking the population dynamics of fairy terns, identifying stable populations here in WA, but elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand finding it vulnerable and even critically endangered. Understorey interviewed Dr Dunlop on Saturday, just before Dr Carmen Lawrence announced the award, to learn more about the canny and beautiful traveller around our shores. (Photo: E PO')
Wednesday 20th November 2019
Many people around the world are concerned that time for action on climate and species extinction has almost run out. Following Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John's impassioned speech last week decrying the lack of attention being given by government and opposition alike, Understorey asks Extinction Rebellion’s Leila Folland about the concept of replacing our parliamentary system with a Citizen Assembly, at least for addressing difficult issues, so that in complex issues like climate, that the facts and issues can be considered without corporate influence tabloid alarm, or party politics, so that democratic actions can be better deliberated. (Image: Leila Folland, by A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 13th November 2019
We've had fires since time began, but never like this. All listeners will wish the people of New South Wales well, and especially the brave firefighters risking their lives to protect people and property. But with the fierce new conditions risking lives and property, it’s surely time to look again at Western Australia’s contribution to the climate calamity. This week the Conservation Council and its Clean State Initiative produced an important analysis on the contribution of WA’s Liquiefied Natural Gas (LNG) to global heating. According to the hard evidence, LNG makes a massive contribution to Australia's greenhouse gases, nullifying many other efforts within Australia to try to meet the Paris Agreement. LNG makes little contribution to state revenue, meaning we are missing out on further expenditure devoted to climate offsets. But what damage is being done to our political processes? Adrian Glamorgan is speaking to chief researcher Chantal Caruso.
Wednesday 6th November 2019
If art can help us understand ourselves, the parabolic sails and interior of the Sydney Opera House might tell us a little about how Australia finds and makes beauty. The place wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been championed and built by working people for working people, but in a power struggle under a different government, the professional man with vision, Jørn Utzon, was more or less told to go back home where he came from. Journalist Helen Pitt, winner of the 2018 Walkley Book prize for “The House,” recounts a few of the people behind the making, and near-unmaking, of one of the world's design icons of the twentieth century. (Images: Sydney Opera House profile; Studio Roosegaarde Waterlicht, Fremantle; Helen Pitt; by A. Glamorgan)
Wednesday 30th October 2019
Lynne Tinley and Angela Rossen, both local artists and much more, are well known for their artistic works, engaging with the art of living things, and with our world at this time of massive change.
Lynne Tinley’s artistic work spans more than 50 years of creating and teaching, inspiring and learning in some pretty remote and wild nature places, alongside her remarkable ecologist husband Ken Tinley. She has had a lifetime of observing, firstly in her native southern Africa, and her recent decades here in Australia. Lynne's love of the living world grows and expresses itself through her vivid art, and through a warning in her dreams, and continues in her hopes for reconciled relationships with the natural world.
Angela Rossen works from and with nature, her passion for the natural world spills into her artworks and consultative processes as a biodiversity educator. That work brings communities, some far-flung from the city environs, to lived understanding of whole systems ecology.
Globally there are more artists responding to the wonders of the environment, the disasters that face us, and the ecological approach that is essential for our survival. (Photo: E PO')
Wednesday 23rd October 2019
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans in 2015”. Then in March 2019 in the US a man claiming Roundup was involved in his cancer case was ultimately awarded $26 million, leading to Costco to stop stocking that product on their shelves. While the Judge in the appeal case said the evidence was equivocal, he found that it also “easily supported a conclusion that Monsanto was more considered with tamping down safety inquiries and manipulating public opinion than it was with ensuring its product is safe.” The judge also said that Monsanto showed “a lack of concern about the risk that its product might be carcinogenic.” Major issues have grown around pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Understorey reports on the food and pesticide industry and The Poison Papers: a vast online resource revealing a secret history of poor regulation, research misdirection, and toxic health and environmental effects. Adrian Glamorgan speaks to Dr Jonathan Latham, Director of the Poison Papers, about what this database of once-buried documents means for citizens, the scientific community, regulators and the environment. (Photo A.Glamorgan)
Wednesday 16th October 2019
Another nuclear energy inquiry, this time held by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy: for many environmental campaigners, it’s back to basics. revisiting much of the same territory involved in responding to the 2016 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. That earlier report attempted to argue that nuclear power plant disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were something Australia could positively learn from; and that governments could take these design and technical lessons into future nuclear energy policy. However, public health professor, Tilman Ruff AM, believes the design, technical, and governance failures of Fukushim persist to this day. Moreover, these policy failures have significantly damaging and negligent public health impacts. The Japanese Govenment continues to conceal the scale of the health risk, and predictable harsh consequences. Even if nothing has been learned from this, Western Australia may still not ever get nuclear power here: Shadow Minister for the Environment, Steve Thomas MLC says that our South West electricity grid simply isn't big enough to warrant a nuclear power plant. (Image: US/Japan Survey Data; Professor Tilman Ruff, by E PO', IAEA CC2)
Wednesday 9th October 2019
Inhabiting the Perth Region are around 80 species of native bees, highly dependent on native flora. Still more bee species are being identified by science and catalogued, with some fascinating bee behaviours being described. However, rapid destruction of local bushlands means that some species are becoming scarce, and without adequate conservation of the diverse vegetation systems of the region, are at real risk of extinction.
Dr Terry Houston is the author of last year’s publication, A Guide to Native Bees of Australia for CSIRO, a beautiful coverage of the estimated 2000 species of Australian bees. He has studied Australian native bees for more than 50 years, both in the field and in state museum collections. He served as Curator of Insects at the Western Australian Museum in Perth for 34 years and, although now retired, Dr Houston continues his research in an honorary capacity there.
Wednesday 2nd October 2019
Inaction on Climate Change spurred 10,000 peaceful protestors to converge on Perth CBD, where they strode and sat together on the streets of Perth, with chants and signs and music, and briefly in silence, all protesting the lack of responsible climate emergency responses from our political and corporate leaders. Understorey met many of them. The call was clear and kind and creative - all ways of insisting our future be considered as a result of our current actions in ways that don't beggar our next generations. Photo by Angela Rossen.
Wednesday 25th September 2019
On Friday 10,000 people marched through the streets of Perth’s CBD, calling for genuine action on climate by both state and federal governments. The striking school students are the local chapter of a global movement of young people unimpressed by decades of indecision and business-as-usual planning, that pays lip service to rising temperatures, vague emission targets, and corporate influence over democratic processes. The Understorey team joined the march to hear from the young students themselves, and those who supported them, on this historic day of action, their words joining others and echoing around the world. (Photo A. Glamorgan)
Wednesday 18th September 2019
Western Australia’s Shadow Minister for Environment Dr Steve Thomas MLC is an advocate for action on climate change, in the community and within his own Liberal Party. The upper house MP does not condemn young people going on strike on Friday - as long as they are not catastrophising the future of our planet; he says he hopes they will act respectfully, follow the science, and find a lot of reasons to be hopeful. Steve Thomas is enthusiastic about individual and corporate action, like BHP aiming to go carbon neutral, but he is not as enthusiastic about the McGowan Government's new "issues paper" on climate change, which he regards as "inconsequential," and he finds the Premier's treatment of the Environmental Protection Authority wanting. Australian politics hasn't managed climate change well, Steve Thomas acknowledges: the democratic deficit is a problem still unsolved. (Photo - A Glamorgan; inset - Parliament of WA)
Wednesday 11th September 2019
Where better to deploy 30,000 military personnel, storming beaches along 1500 kilometres of eastern Australian coastline, but in or near World Heritage Areas, national parks, and other environmental wonders? Through their biennial exercises, US and Australian forces grow more "interoperable", deployable and combat ready. Can their environmental awareness in and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park make the world's greatest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States' military, more sustainable, or Talisman Sabre's ultimate objective more convincing? Peace activist Jo Vallentine and Friends of the Earth Robin Taubenfeld question the rationale of the ANZUS alliance and the biennial Exercise, highlighting the risks to environmental values, and challenging Australian troops practicing the defence of their country through rehearsing amphibious invasions. (Photo: Public Domain/Australian Army, 2019. Use of image as well as audio from the US or Australian Department of Defence, and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, naturally does not imply or constitute their endorsement).
Wednesday 4th September 2019
Australia berates Iran and North Korea for ignoring multilateral treaties that guard against nuclear proliferation. Yet Australia makes a special exception for its ANZUS ally. The United States' has been modernising its huge nuclear arsenal, and President Trump has repudiated the INF and Iran nuclear deals. The requirement in Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (to negotiate towards complete and general disarmament) has been glossed over by both Australia and the United States, with the two ANZUS allies talking down the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would implement such a framework. Australia says our security lies instead under a "nuclear umbrella" provided by the US, but our neglect of a general international rule of law could prove tragic. Professor Tilman Ruff from ICAN shares why even a "limited" nuclear war in South Asia, distant from superpower tensions, could lead to a global nuclear winter, render the ANZUS treaty irrelevant, and prove a catastrophe for us all. (Image: Postcard Great White Fleet 1908, with US nuclear missile, Trident sub, inset)
Wednesday 28th August 2019
The Australian Department of Defence has a webpage all about UXO - unexploded ordinance. But it’s about UXO in Australia. The page says nothing about lethal Australian unexploded ordnance left behind in other countries we've been at war with. Not Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq. All of these wars are closely linked to our engagement with ANZUS, but without any enduring sense of responsibility for the damage caused to civilians by our involvement. The environmental and public health issue of UXO, just like Agent Orange, reminds us that wars can remain lethal for generations after the conflict has apparently concluded. In Vietnam UXO is still taking lives and limbs more than forty years later. In Laos, worst hit by the USA's illegal bombing war in the 1960s, there remains an ongoing need for de-mining. But the relatively small amount the USA has been offering may have just become a bargaining chip in the United States' and Australia's attempt to slow down the signing of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Understorey speaks to American Quaker Lady Borton and ICAN board member Tilman Ruff.
(Collage: Project Renew, Mai Lan, Gergyl [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Wednesday 14th August 2019
Understorey's new series "UnSustainable ANZUS?" looks at the ecological dimension of the Australia, New Zealand, United States security treaty signed in 1951, starting with the Vietnam experience. Operation Ranch Hand lasted a decade until 1971, spraying Agent Orange across vast areas of the country. The aim of this herbicidal warfare was to defoliate jungle, removing protective cover from communist insurgents, and also to lay waste to agricultural crops that may have been supporting the Viet Cong in the South. Around 31,000 square kilometres of jungle forests were defoliated, stripping bare the land, leading to massive erosion, and laying waste animal species. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that a million people are disabled or have health problems as a result of Agent Orange, although the United States does not accept these figures. But the problem also impacts American veterans, with documented cases of leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers affecting the lungs, larynx or prostate of veterans. Understorey speaks to Australian remediation specialist Dr Kate Hughes, and Lady Borton, an American Quaker who has lived in Vietnam for fifty years.
(Image: Emilio Labrador 2009, Creative Commons 2.0; public domain)
Wednesday 7th August 2019
Clearing of native vegetation threatens many species and communities of flora around Perth and across Western Australia. Despite protection being legislated, many people seem unaware of legal restrictions on vegetation clearance, city planners have brushed aside earlier rulings and allowed sites to be cleared, and under-resourced regulators have overlooked certain offenders. Thus clearing of native plants is still excessive, and some shires are left with very little native vegetation.
Eddy Wajon has answers. He engages directly with frontline conservation and its policy implications, including in his roles as Chair of the Wildflower Society of Western Australia’s Roadside Vegetation Sub-committee, and as representative with the national Australian Native Plant Society. He champions the notions that if we protect native ecosystems along our state's roads, rather than allow flora and fungi destruction , then road safety, tourism and our soils will all benefit.
Wednesday 31st July 2019
Environmentalists risk losing their most important link with the public, as governments attempt to criminalise investigative media reporting they say threatens security but may be more intended to shut down the right to know. French journalists at the Adani blockade were astonished to be stopped from filming, detained for seven hours, finally charged with trespass, and then forbidden by bail conditions from coming within 20 km of Adani’s Carmichael mine site - all for reporting on one of the world's most contentious coal projects. Recent AFP raids on the ABC and a News Corp journalist’s home also have a chilling effect on journalists and whistleblowers, knowing news rooms now can be forced to divulge sources. Backdoor passwords, limited FOI, commercial-in-confidence, there's a whole grabbag of government tricks: Understorey went along to the MEAA rally on Sunday to learn more about the link between environmental campaigning, our democracy, and #journalismisNOTacrime.
(Images: Simon Stevens-photography, MEAA, Takver CC BY-SA 2.0)
Wednesday 24th July 2019
Dr Marina Lewis is a social ecologist researching the best ways to transition from the climate emergency (and our numerous other environmental crises) to a healthier way of being. Building on the WHO's Ottawa Charter, a public health approach worthy of every environmental campaigner's list, Dr Lewis spoke to eighteen prominent social and environmental leaders in Australia engaged in this transition to find out ways to bring greater consciousness of our human-ecological inextricability. This time Understorey hears how children need more time in nature, and how a sensitivity to the ubiquitous sentience of life may be an important quality for each and all of us to develop, if we are to face the environmental challenges squarely. (Photo: A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 17th July 2019
Ecological artist Lloyd Godman is an "extreme gardener" who relishes living plants finding a home in urban infrastructure. But it's not about vertical gardens: Lloyd seeks out plants so lightweight that they can be suspended into the space between buildings, and make animated sculptures to fascinate. (Photo: supplied)
Wednesday 10th July 2019
In the absence of any statewide climate emergency strategy, Mayor of Fremantle Dr Brad Pettitt considers the next steps for our suburbs to survive the impacts of global heating, and the role for councils in leading us to more liveable cities. (Photo: A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 3rd July 2019
Plastic Free July began in 2011 with Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and a small team in local government in Western Australia. Understorey covered the campaign back in 2013, and our month of interviews are still streamable from the RTRFM website. Now in 2019 millions of people across the globe take part, with many committing to play an individual role in reducing plastic pollution far beyond the month of July. State Minister for the Environment Stephen Dawson launched Plastic Free July in Kings Park, announcing that a climate change consultation is commencing this month and finishes in December! Piers Verstegen, Director of the Conservation Council, hopes that the state will take up active responsibilities given the federal government is likely to meet Paris Agreement standards. (Photo: Stephen Dawson, founder of plastic free July, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, image A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 26th June 2019
Fremantle, Sydney and Newcastle have declared a climate emergency, but our state and federal governments remain silent, with no coordinated plan of action. On Saturday young and old turned up in Perth's CBD for Western Australia's first Extinction Rebellion ‘die-in and dance party’ . Hundreds lent their support to a first public reading of their Climate Emergency declaration, joining an emerging global protest movement that requires far more of government and industry than their business-as-usual reassurances. Understorey joined those in the rain, well-briefed in advance by Ewan Buckley, who shares his journey to Extinction Rebellion, and what lies beyond. (Image:Facebook)
Wednesday 19th June 2019
State Labor has had eight years in opposition, and now more than two years in office - and still no clear, integrated, or determined plan to act on climate change. Western Australia has the second highest per capita greenhouse emissions across the Commonwealth. The Environment Protection Authority attempted to act in March 2019 by moving to control emissions from our biggest polluting projects, but was attacked by industry and cautioned by Premier Mark McGowan. Now the EPA has invited comment - and you can make a submission. Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen gives Understorey background to WA Labor's inertia on climate action, gives credit where it is due, and points to where firm progress must be made. (Image: A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 17th April 2019
With the federal election only four weeks away, many environment groups are seeking to put ecological, heritage and climate change issues centre-stage. They want legal policy instruments, like a federal environmental protection authority, and real resources to do the job. On Monday, the national campaigns director of the Wilderness Society wrote to politicians, calling for solemn commitments for better wildlife and habitat protection. The Wilderness Society wants to know whether Labor and Liberal are willing to create an environment policy framework that will turn around Australia’s environment crisis. Understorey met with Western Australian Wilderness Society director Kit Sainsbury and Clare McKinnon to find out more. (Photo: A Glamorgan)
Wednesday 10th April 2019
In 2016-17, former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill discovered how many marshalled forces from the fossil fuel lobby on one hand, and partisan politics on the other, would surely rise against anyone who championed renewable energy. Weatherill felt the renunciation of a prime minister, the lack of assistance or understanding from the national energy market, and the sinister forces of social media in play, so he took South Australia into its own quite separate energy plan. This week Understorey finds out what happened next. Within a short time the technical inefficiencies of coal fire power plants, compared to the microsecond adeptness of large scale storage batteries, laid bare the myths of the industry, and pointed the rest of the country to the urgency and practicality of action on climate change. (Photo: A Glamorgan)
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