A photo of coral from an offshore reef at Murray Bay, Bowen, taken by local marine photographer Barbara Kwaak
A photo of coral from an offshore reef at Murray Bay, Bowen, taken by local marine photographer Barbara Kwaak

Pandemic’s impact on oil a glimmer of good news

IF THERE is such a thing as good news out of the coronavirus epidemic, it’s this: global oil demand is expected to decline because of the constricted travel and changed economic activity.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the leading commentator on energy production around the world, demand for oil this year has dropped for the first time since 2009 because of the deep contraction in oil consumption in China (the world’s largest carbon emitter), and major disruptions to global travel and trade.

Already in February, global air traffic decreased by 4.3 per cent.

Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions.

Tens of thousands of flights have been cancelled so there will be an even greater decrease this month.

Cruise ships have ground to a standstill as ports close to potential visitors.

Schools have been closed, major events cancelled worldwide and there is less traffic on the roads.

Of course, this will all have a major commercial impact on our local tourism industry and our town.

The crisis has affected coal, gas (and unfortunately renewables) especially in China, the largest energy consumer in the world, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of global oil demand growth last year.

According to The New York Times, it still remains hard to predict the effect of the outbreak, but unstable oil prices may also encourage companies to invest in renewable energy like wind or solar.

The article goes on to state that governments could seize this moment to enact new climate policies – ‘Low oil prices are often a good opportunity to remove subsidies for fossil fuels … or raise taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, since consumers are less likely to feel the impact.’

US author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, cited in The Guardian, writes that while no one should welcome a crisis, admitting it does disrupt innovation even in the renewable sector, it is changing our patterns of behaviour.

“The idea that we need to travel each day to a central location to do our work may often be the result of inertia, more than anything else,” he wrote.

“Faced with a real need to commute by mouse, instead of by car, perhaps we’ll see that the benefits of workplace flexibility extend to everything from gasoline consumption to the need for sprawling office parks.”

Either way, there seems to be consensus that what will happen during and post the coronavirus outbreak, relies upon our governments.

That extends, of course, to our local government candidates aspiring to make decisions for us in the Whitsundays.

Now, more than ever, we need to be looking at what these candidates will do to protect our pristine environment.

We are a region that relies almost entirely on tourism especially in Airlie Beach.

This week, the Bureau of Meteorology revealed that sea surface temperatures in the marine park in February were hotter than in any month since 1900 — hotter even than during the record bleaching events of 2016 and 2017.

Magnetic Island is already bleaching in Geoffrey Bay in recent weeks, the site of a snorkel trail that our small grassroots Magnetic Island tourism group erected 10 years ago.

The water temperature in late February was 32 degrees.

We won’t know how bad the bleaching is until the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies begins its aerial surveys next week, but it is thought that the southern part of the reef will not have fared well.

What are we doing as custodians of the Great Barrier Reef to make sure all decisions made, even at local government level, protect our wetlands, our rivers and our reef?

We need to make our votes count and to make our politicians accountable.

And we need to make sure they take responsibility to look after our own backyard.

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