18 August, 2021

Would You Kill This Bird?

How about the entire species?

Last year, multinational conglomerate Adani changed the name of its Australian mining operation to “Bravus”, which they believed was Latin for “brave”. Turns out the word actually means “crooked” or “mercenary”. Just saying.

Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Queensland is an appalling project for so many reasons. The railway line they are currently building to their port will open up the Galilee Basin for several other massive mines, at the precise moment the rest of the world is turning away from coal as an energy source (because burning fossil fuels will make Earth uninhabitable, but that’s another story.)

The mine will destroy precious Aboriginal heritage sites, endanger groundwater systems and increase shipping through the already-struggling Great Barrier Reef.

All these facts are heart-breaking, but the premeditated killing of an entire species is the one that sometimes keeps me awake at night.

If that’s not pure evil, I don’t know what is.

The photogenic southern black-throated finch is a fine poster child for the Stop Adani movement. It won Australian Bird of the Year in 2019, but that hasn’t stopped the mining company forging ahead with its plan to obliterate a vast area of its last remaining suitable habitat.

The finch has not been recorded in New South Wales since 1994 and was listed as endangered in Queensland last year. Over the past decade the observed population has declined by up to 59%. In 2019 it was estimated that about 800 individual birds survived in the wild.

Since 2002, volunteers and government employees in the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team (BTFRT) have been doing all they can to save the bird from extinction.

Viable numbers can be found in only two sites. Housing development is presently encroaching on one, on the coastal plain near Townsville, and the other is on the site of Adani’s Carmichael mine.

This latter holds the largest known population of the southern black-throated finch, with an uncommonly suitable habitat of woodlands, water and a high diversity of grass species, due to its “historically light livestock grazing”.

The government forced Adani to develop a management plan to deal with the endangered bird. For some reason (trying to appeal to voters’ desperation for non-existent jobs and ephemeral profits), they suddenly accepted this plan only a few weeks after initially rejecting it.

The company’s plan mainly consists of counting the birds and then moving them somewhere else.

As far as I can discover, they have counted them only once, in 2019, when they found 185, compared to the 1026 counted by others the previous year.

“Bravus” bravely insists that this is not shocking news, but a result of the surveys occurring at different times, in different places and conditions. If it isn’t shocking, it certainly isn’t helpful information that is being used to inform their decisions.

As for relocating these sedentary finches, the BTFRT says this is doomed to fail because of several factors.

If there is a nearby site not already populated by the finches, there is bound to be a good reason for this, they say. They doubt it would ever be possible to transform such a site into suitable habitat, and certainly not within a useful timeframe.

“Bravus” bravely plans to gradually clear the mine site, encouraging the birds to search for greener pastures, whilst also grazing livestock across the 33,000 hectare property. Apparently:

“Cattle grazing is an important part of our environmental management plans as it keeps our grass short, which reduces the chance of bushfire and also makes it easier for birds to forage.”

It seems strange then, that the BTFRT highlights “historically light livestock grazing” as a reason the finches prefer the Galilee Basin habitat.

The truth is that the number one reason the birds have vanished from most of their range- which used to extend from far north in the Atherton Tablelands all the way through to New South Wales- is cattle grazing.

And that’s not all. Once “Bravus” bravely opens up the Galilee Basin with their railway line, several other mining companies are queuing up to rip the ground apart in search for coal. There will simply not be enough land for the birds and the pits. Any wooded grasslands left are likely to permanently degraded from the drawdown of groundwater from the underground mining.

I don’t believe the finches need the help of cows to find their grass seeds. My feeling is that, given the choice, they would opt for no cattle, no enormous holes in the ground and, in the best case scenario, no dangerously heating climate.

Experts have explained all this to the mining company and to governments. They have explained the ecological importance of the finch, which eats and distributes the native seeds of grasses and other plants.

Nobody is listening.

The mine will almost certainly wipe out the largest remaining population of the southern black-throated finch, and seems highly likely to drive it to extinction. The Australian government is knowingly allowing this to happen.

Even if the project were expected to provide a significant amount of employment and income into the future (it isn’t), this would be neither an ethical nor a rational decision. Humans cannot exist without healthy environments and diverse ecosystems.

If we continue to annihilate other species at the present rate, there will be dire consequences for us as well as for our planet’s fellow inhabitants.

Most sane humans would not deliberately take the life of a single bird. It would be a criminal act. How can we allow a mining corporation to wipe out an entire species?

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