The Environment Protection Act of the State of Victoria appears to be working. It has very sharp teeth, so that offenders face imprisonment or heavy fines (or both) for breaches of its terms. Furthermore, industries face the alternative of either complying or closing down.
On the other hand, the rather extreme demands of those who would almost deny Man a role as part of Nature at all, nevertheless perform a very useful function in drawing attention to threats to the environment. Any inroads on present wilderness areas are rightly being publicized and debated, and should be firmly resisted in the interests of Man himself wherever in a practical sense this can be done. Vegetation is widely recognized as essential to keep the levels of harmful elements under control. Forested wilderness, as we know, removes from the atmosphere a great deal of carbon dioxide and, by the photosynthetic activity of the green leaves, turns it into carbohydrates and wood, thus sequestering it and giving out oxygen in exchange.
The oceans also absorb carbon dioxide and so retain carbon in their depths. However, the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the air leads to a gradual warming of the oceans, so that they can hold less. One of the major problems to be faced is that increasing industrial activity is discharging increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and impairing the capacity of the biosphere to redress the balance.
Victoria is a small State in a large world. It is attempting to tackle pollution within its borders by drawing upon the experience of others throughout the world who have faced the same difficulties in an aggravated form. However, it is felt by those working within the Act that it may represent an advance over most legislative systems of control. The politics of pollution involve compromises at most levels and also the setting of priorities within financial possibilities to effect controls. Whether the target date of 1980 or thereabouts in respect of control of river systems can be attained, like that of 1982 for cleaning up Port Phillip Bay to a desirable standard, remains to be seen. Such items depend on governmental funding as well as the acceptance, on the part of the community, of the necessity for the protection envisaged. Meanwhile it is gratifying to note that industry has responded in an admirable way and realistically recognizes that the very expensive changes to plant and factory which the licence scheme requires must be implemented in the public interest.
Those members of the community who have little or no financial stake in any enterprise that is affected by the activity complained of, regard the Act as a step in the right direction—providing, as it does, a public forum for them to air their views as of right. However, their complaint usually is that the Act does not go far enough, and they would restrict industrial development to the very minimum. They provide a necessary correction and balance against the more immoderate demands of those who believe in technological development—whether it involves the unrestricted use of supersonic transport aircraft, the mining of uranium, or the unlimited proliferation of factories discharging wastes into air and/or water.
Within the framework of the Act and the interplay of opposing points of view, the government of the day can only thereby become better informed and enabled to reach acceptable political decisions. The approach of establishing uses of the environment which are beneficial to humans should, in the long run, preserve for posterity all that is best in the environment having regard to its ability to absorb wastes without detriment to such beneficial uses. Finally, some instances of trade-union intervention are narrated as pertinent.