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Strangler Figs and climate deniers

Escaping the rigours of a Melbourne winter Penny and I headed north to the Daintree, visiting the rainforests behind the Gold Coast on the way. It was an astounding experience and one just as enthralling as any trip to see the Sequoia forests in California or the man-made cathedrals of medieval Europe. Walking through the rainforests of the Lamington National park, we were in awe of the size and age of these majestic survivors of the Gondwana land break up.

40 metre high trees with gigantic, buttressed roots that you could walk amongst and not see the person you were talking to on the other side, all inhabiting the oldest rainforests on the planet. Amongst the typical rainforest giants were the Black Booyong and Red Cedars, which are favourites that we grow in our gardens. But we were totally unprepared to see the familiarly named, but totally unrecognisable, gigantic Lophostemon confertus or Queensland Box. At Heronswood the Box trees are a mere fraction of these giants, just 10 metres tall and without buttresses.

Further north up in the Daintree, we were reacquainted with the incredible Strangler Figs. If you are fascinated by carnivorous plants and how evolution creates amazingly interesting life forms, then Strangler Figs are all the more intriguing.

The top of the tropical rainforest is about 40-50 metres above the ground, some 12-16 storeys high. At this height the competition for light in the rainforest is so intense that the Strangler Figs start seed germination at the top level rather than at ground level like every other plant. Birds flying above the canopy drop sticky seeds into branch elbows and, after the seeds germinate, they begin feeding on decaying matter and the shoots sprout upwards to grab the light.

These seedlings have an unfair advantage over the host trees who, having reached that height over100 years, gain access to the sunlight first, before sending down cable-like roots that encircle the (unwilling) host and head downward, looking for the nutrients that the ground provides.

All trees as they grow upwards expand their girth and so begins the third attack on its competition – strangulation of the host, like a boa constrictor. The figs attack is three-fold – starting with stealing light at the top of the canopy, and then nutrients below, before finally finishing off its host through suffocation of its trunk.

Climate agreement

Strangler Fig

I would like to equate the predatory behaviour of plants, like the strangler fig, to the actions of Government when it comes to the environment. In Australia in 2015, we were approaching a pivotal worldwide climate agreement for the survival of our ecosystem and the Abbott government stalled, insisting that burning and digging coal for export is our future, because any renewal energy systems posed a threat to their Strangler Fig-like election donors.

Supporting the needs of the rich and powerful is the political policy focus that is strangling the life out of those who seek to solve our impending environmental catastrophe – scientists, environmentalists and those of us searching for sustainable, everlasting lifestyles.

The Liberal Party drops sticky, seed-like, budget incentives at the top of the human canopy where the richest and most powerful live; hardly ever at the bottom where everyone else jostles for light. To extend the analogy of the three-fold method of dominance of the Strangler Figs, the rich control the top of the canopy, trapping sunlight (i.e. their huge incomes). At the ground level they can minimise their need for nutrients (that those weaker scramble for) through accounting advice to avoid taxes, and continue their strangulation of the weak by manipulation of our legal system. The solutions for carbon reduction, like the carbon and mining taxes and the setting of the renewable energy target, were regarded as a threat to the top of the canopy, and so were abandoned.

I would recommend a visit to the rainforest for all our politicians, so that they can see and understand an ecosystem that has been self-sustaining for hundreds of millions of years. It provides pure clean water by recycling its existing humidity, as well as purifying the air and water by natural filtering systems.

Decaying leaves provide the nutrients so there is no need for artificial fertilisers or pesticides. Its only power is from the sun, our only source of energy, and the whole system is free and self regulating provided you have dynamic biological systems so the predators, like Strangler Figs, don’t dominate.

Subsidy to coal producers

It is estimated that the cost subsidy to Australia’s fossil fuel industry for our use of non-renewable energy from coal, gas and petroleum is $41 billion (IMF estimate.)

To put it simply, that’s the cost that these industries don’t pay, that is costing citizens through the impacts of rising temperatures on our health, our food supply, and additional energy needed to make our hotter summers bearable. Insurance premiums also rise to cover the rise in flood and bush fire occurrence.

All economists agree that if we tackle the issue earlier it will cost far less than to deny it and leave it to the next generation. The argument that renewable energy is too expensive falls away when you consider the whole community costs to mitigate climate change. The burning of fossil fuels costs the Australian economy $41 billion each and every year, whilst switching to renewables eliminates that ongoing cost forever.

So what is stopping the climate deniers from accepting reality?

“I am no scientist, but I do know how to assess a risk – and this one is clear. Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats.”

This quote was taken from a speech Rupert Murdoch gave to News Corporation staff in 2007 about his conversion to the climate change cause. He then reversed this stance by backing Abbott’s demonising of a carbon price in the interests of fossil fuel producers. Politicians need to link our ecology to our economy because there is no economy without it.

If we wish to survive this climate threat then we need go no further than understanding the interactions of biodiversity in our very own rainforests.

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