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Jared Diamond's gated community of the mind

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Friday, 4 November 2005


In reality salt levels in the Murray have halved - that’s right halved - since 1982 due in part to the construction of salt interception schemes as well as improved land management practices.

Australia’s farmers and foresters are under intense pressure from environmental activists who run campaigns targeting the emotions of our elite, with the aim of closing down industries in rural and regional Australia. I use the term “elite” in the broadest sense to refer to tertiary educated Australians, who tend to live in the leafy suburbs of metropolitan Australia, and who form the professional and public service cohort who make, influence or implement most of the significant policy decisions in Australia. In repeating the misinformation Diamond nurtures a growing divide between this group and farmers, fishers and timber workers who live and work in distant rural and regional Australia.

I’m a member of that elite and I live in the leafy Brisbane electorate of Indooroopilly. The junk mail from the Wilderness Society on the issue of tree clearing in the lead up to the last state election was relentless. A clear impression was given that the last bit of scrub (expressed in football fields) was about to be bulldozed in western Queensland. Yet the hard data indicates that even during the height of clearing, during the 1990s, there was a net increase in forest cover of 5 million hectares in western Queensland. In fact, there is more tree cover in Queensland today than when Europeans arrived 200 years ago.

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In short, Australia’s elite are repeatedly being fed “cods-wallop” and academics like Jared Diamond who are paid to determine the truth, keep repeating the propaganda. As a result decisions are made which are not in the interests of the environment or Australia as whole and huge amounts of taxpayer’s money is wasted.

At the Brisbane lecture, Diamond said that in writing Collapse he began to realise the extent to which the elite can often insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions and how this can lead to the collapse of complex societies. Australia's elite tend to be well insulated from the consequences of the environmental campaigns they generally support.

Over the past few years The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has successfully orchestrated a campaign to close down the line fishery of the Great Barrier Reef where the yield is arguably well below sustainable levels at 17 kg/km². At other Pacific reefs the annual harvest averages about 7,700 kg/km². 

As a consequence of the campaigning, the Queensland Government now has a structural adjustment bill likely to exceed $300 million to pay damages to fishermen who can no longer fish.

Our elite aren’t, however, going to stop eating coral trout. They will just buy fish sourced from overseas. In Australia, fishermen are only permitted to use hook and line techniques to catch coral trout, in contrast to our north where many fishermen still use cyanide, dynamite and gill nets. So we have found a new exportable product - environmental degradation. We unnecessarily restrict fishing activities on the basis of manufactured environmental need and then buy the same products from overseas interests who are in fact vandalising their environment.

Australia’s elite really have forgotten where their milk, bread and trout come from, and they have no idea that their own fishers, foresters and farmers are among the most efficient and environmentally-friendly in the world. Sure there are remaining problems including overgrazing in our rangelands, but these issues are best approached with our minds open to the evidence and all the options.

Jared Diamond says it is an issue that our elite are locking themselves away in gated communities: that the wealthy and powerful are increasingly physically separated from the rest of society. He’s right, it is a problem because isolated and insulated our elite too easily fall victim to fads. Diamond helps construct and reinforce a divide which is not just physical, but mental.

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In repeating misinformation about the state of the environment in rural and regional Australia, Diamond helps build a ghetto in the mind. As a consequence Australians are diverted from finding real solutions to those environmental problems that remain.

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Jennifer Marohasy reviews in more detail Jared Diamond's chapter on Australia in Australia's Environment Undergoing Renewal, Not Collapse here.



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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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