Fighting to the last drop of water

Two articles in the newspaper this week roused me from my school holiday brain-droop into fighting mode.  Governments continue to promote and support an either/or (zero sum) approach to environmental conflict resolution – an approach which is just not appropriate for complex environmental disputes.

Article #1

[Simon Crean] said it was important the Murray-Darling Basin Authority consult with [local landcare] organisations to ensure the right balance on issues such as water buybacks versus new infrastructure and environmental flows and economic development in the final plan expected next year.

He said the local and regional groups had to be part of the process of finding solutions “because all of them are going to have to face up to these challenges” and had a wealth of local knowledge and experience. (SMH 11/10/10)

Yet again the Federal Government has prematurely sabotaged its plans to secure water for the environment and for human consumption by its ridiculous and old fashioned processes of consultation.

Instead of involving the parties in developing the solution – and I mean all the parties, including the people in the cities who depend on the water and the produce of the Murray-Darling Basin – the Government has undertaken a secretive process of developing “a guide to a draft of a plan” (could that get any more wishy washy), put it out there for people to take pot shots at, and will then complain that it’s too hard to get everyone to agree.

Of course people aren’t going to easily support proposals for radical changes to their livelihoods, particularly when they have had very little input into their development. Of course it’s going to become a political football. The government can now use the conflict that it has itself generated to excuse it from making any genuine and far reaching decisions about water reform.

We now know a lot about conflict resolution, the ways that communities and groups work, and how consensus decision making can be developed. Let’s leave adversarial politics for issues that aren’t as important as the future of water in Australia.

Article #2

When Labor and the Greens say the new climate committee will consider ”all options” they really mean all options except one. The one option off the table is an emissions trading scheme, at least one implemented straight away. The tacit understanding between Labor and the Greens is that they can’t agree on emission reduction targets – the Greens think Labor’s minimum target of 5 per cent by 2020 is negligently inadequate and Labor thinks the Greens’ proposed minimum target of 25 per cent would be political suicide. (SMH 8/10/10)

Again, if what this article says is true, why can’t Labor and the Greens work with conflict resolution experts to try to reach an agreement? Why do today’s political parties have to use yesterday’s adversarial methods in discussing tomorrow’s environmental crises?

There is an enormous literature now about how very difficult environmental problems can be managed by sophisticated conflict resolution strategies.

Maybe The Greens are advocating for doing politics differently. I know that their internal processes try to use consensus building where possible. I’d like to see The Greens publicly calling for a different way of doing politics about climate change – and the new climate committee seems a good place to start.

(A paper I wrote a couple of years ago on water policy “The big wet elephant in the room” is included as the next blog for those who might be interested).

This week’s action

Letter to the Editor – SMH – environmental issues and conflict resolution (published 12/10/10)

I’m reading

Brenda Walker Reading by moonlight. Penguin 2010 – a memoir about Brenda Walker’s journey through breast cancer and what she read to give her comfort.

One reviewer said that s/he wouldn’t have read the same books as Walker (Walker is mad about Poe and Solzhenitsyn for example) but that the book was a great insight into how reading can provide another world for those going through difficult times, and occasionally provide support and insights as well. I agree with both comments and confess that my choices for reading in times of crisis tend towards chick-lit and thrillers rather than the gothic and Russian novelists.

About Jane Elix

I don't have enough bandwidth to deal with this
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