The price of extinction

In Tasmania, you only need $7.4 million to wipe out a species

It’s not the first time that money has been the measure of a Tasmanian government’s facility to destroy nature. In 1888 the island state’s parliament enacted a law for a one pound (two dollars) bounty on the head of every thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), with a view to extirpating the creature. It succeeded. More than 2000 bounties were paid out to shooters and the last of the species died in 1936.

In January this year, Tasmania’s Civil and Administration Tribunal gave the go-ahead for a wind farm with skyscraper-height ailerons on Tasmania’s northwest Robbins Island on condition that a “financial contribution” of $100,000 be paid by the developers for each Orange-bellied Parrot those spinning blades kill. The wind farm will sit astride the bird’s narrow annual migratory path between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

There are 74 Orange-bellied Parrots left in the wild, so the price of wiping out the species is $7.4 million. That’s not saying the wind farm will kill all the Orange-bellied Parrots but it does put a dollar tag on the cost to the developer, ACEN, if it did.

To extrapolate a little, one estimate is that there are 1.2 million listed species on Earth with 30,000 of these being animals, birds or reptiles. Roughly speaking, that means the whole animal kingdom, in Tasmanian tribunal values, is worth 30,000 times $7.4 million. That equals $222 billion or a tad less than the cost of Australia’s future nuclear submarine fleet. Of course, you would have to wait for each species to get down to 74 before payments applied.

The $7.4 million extinction fee for the Orange-bellied Parrot should not be much of a bother for the Philippines’ Ayala family corporation which owns ACEN, as Forbes lists the family’s worth at $2.8 billion. So the parrot’s continued existence on the planet is worth about three-tenths of 1 per cent of the Ayala’s fortune.

The Tribunal panel, Messrs Grueber, Loveday and Kitchell, also priced the death of each Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle killed by the wind farm at $100,000. The giant eagles’ road to extinction is being shortened by the logging of their native forest habitat for export woodchips, as authorised and subsidised by the national Labor government in Canberra as well as the state Liberal government in Hobart.

The tribunal’s finding, number 218, reads “We also consider that an additional offset should be included as a contribution that mirrors the proposed condition for eagles, which is a $100,000.00 financial contribution for each detected eagle mortality. Orange-bellied Parrot mortalities are at least as significant as eagle mortalities and a similar condition should be provided for them.”

This fits neatly with the plan by the Australian Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, to have Australia become the ‘Green Wall Street’ of the world. Her government is working on legislation to monetise the environment. The pricing of nature is predicated by the notion that every living thing can be monetised and made trade-able. It is a materialist breakthrough in quantifying humanity’s relationship with our natural planet.

Besides rare eagles and parrots fetching $100,000 “contributions”, the Green Wall Street will flourish on such arguments as keeping Newcastle as the world’s largest coal export port. For the time being, the Albanese government justifies the coal port as bringing in $40 billion a year while discounting to zero its role in the future damage to the planet of a 3°C temperature rise, the melting of icecaps and two or three metres sea level rise this century. This also discounts the right of our children to a secure natural world, while putting the incalculable resultant monetary and psychological burdens onto them.

Naturally, the hundreds of people who have been arrested for peacefully blockading the port have come under sustained fire by the nation’s political and business leaders. They are a cost to business as are the thousands of Australians getting arrested for opposing native forest logging, including those trying to stop the extinction of Koalas, Greater Gliders, Black Cockatoos and Gouldian Finches.

The Tasmanian tribunal’s decision received a ringing endorsement from both the Liberal and Labor parties. It is a pacemaker in the history of the marketing of Earth’s complex biosphere on the simple altar of capitalism. Vale’ the parrots and eagles who fly into the Ayala family’s wind turbines. And, yes, that $100,000 “contribution” for each rare bird’s death will be tax deductible.

Bob Brown is a former leader of the Australian Greens and the founder of the Bob Brown Foundation.

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