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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12653


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (22:15): The unending catalogue of denials and distortions that the opposition uses in its foolish campaign against the government's clean energy policies shows that they are willing to go to any length to court the ignorant, the misinformed and the vested interests that fund the opposition. I draw the House's attention to increasingly disturbing reports which, more than ever, support the government's policies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels while the opposition claims that nothing needs to be done.

Following the publication in 1830 of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, palaeontologists have discovered that the history of life on this planet has been punctuated by a series of mass extinctions—most recently, in geological terms, the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which ended the Cretaceous period. A 180 kilometre wide crater in Mexico and deposits of soot and the element iridium, common in meteorites, at the well-defined boundary in the rocks between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods shows that the dinosaurs and other life forms were wiped out by the impact of an asteroid that exploded with the power of a million megatonnes of TNT. That mass extinction was preceded by four other major mass extinctions, most notably the one at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago, which killed over 95 per cent of all life forms on the planet and came the closest of the known mass extinctions to wiping out all advanced life forms.

This unparalleled mass extinction is relevant today because it was caused by a massive release of carbon dioxide from the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 500 million years in what is now Siberia. This started a runaway greenhouse effect that roasted the planet and poisoned the seas. The scientific evidence shows that the carbon dioxide emissions from the Siberian event were at rates less than presently produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, and raised average global temperatures by up to five degrees, an increase below that predicted for temperatures by the end of this century. Those increases of average global temperatures triggered a massive release of methane from seabed sediments that led to the largest mass extinction in the planet's history.

The conditions that characterised the Permian extinction are being duplicated as I speak. We are already seeing a rapid expansion of dead zones, areas so depleted in oxygen that sea life cannot exist. More than 400 ocean dead zones were reported by oceanographers around the world between 2000 and 2008, compared with 300 in the 1990s and 120 in the 1980s. University of Queensland Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says there is growing evidence that declining oxygen levels in the ocean have played a major role in at least four of the planet's five mass extinctions. While the dead zones exist only in pockets of ocean today, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg warns that a far greater area will be affected in the future unless steps are taken to reduce the impact of human activities on the world's oceans and their life forms.

Our government bases its policies on evidence, not on ignorance or prejudice or political opportunism, and is willing to act on what the evidence increasingly shows is no longer a moral threat but, rather, a mortal threat to the lives of every Australian, young and old. The evidence is there for all to see: carbon dioxide emissions are driving up global temperatures and the acidification of the oceans at a greater rate than that which occurred at the time of the Permian extinction. Unless emissions of carbon dioxide are quickly curtailed by very significant reductions in the consumption of coal, oil and natural gas, it seems that we will soon duplicate the conditions that led to the Permian extinction. Although this time the cause of the mass extinction event will be human greed and stupidity rather than uncontrollable natural forces.