VEOLIA ENVIRONMENT WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2011: I love this annual exhibition of Wildlife photography which travels widely. It is now at the Australian Museum, Sydney until 18 March 2012.  We are reminded how beautiful nature is, but fragile, endangered and at risk, like these pelicans rescued from the oil spill in Louisiana.

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 Winner

THE WORLD:  What a difference a few weeks or even a day can make.  More people killed by their own governments in the Middle East,  the illegal invasion of Iraq over and US troops withdrawn, protests begun in Russia, and the unknown future of North Korea and the region with the death of Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. Those crocodile tears!  But the EU are still unable to solve their problems and ease global financial uncertainty.

DURBAN:  One hundred and ninety four countries including the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters DID sign up to a 2015/20 agreement of sorts in Durban at the United Nations Climate conference.  Emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production grew by 5.9% last year to a record high of more than 9 billion tonnes of carbon.  There are reasons for some optimism however – even if driven by factors such as unsafe urban air pollution levels.  China is positioned to benefit most in the renewable energy economies.  9.6% of Australian energy comes from renewables, but there are plans to export even more coal, enough to drive carbon emissions above world targets.

EU:  If it wasn’t so serious, it has been fascinating learning more about the EU – such as the dominance of Germany with France playing second fiddle.  How marginalised could the UK become and what are the implications?  Germany has obviously benefited most from the EU – it has been a good export market for them, and  if low on profitability, it has provided good employment as they recovered from their reunification.  The Germans don’t like the debt of their profligate neighbours and do not want to compensate them for their perceived laziness.  Other smaller EU countries have found it harder to benefit.  Suddenly there are echoes of their not so recent wars and histories, like the German fear of hyperinflation from the Weimar Republic days.

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

PUTIN:  Good to see that posturing Putin put on notice and an Arab Spring come to Russia although it is a potentially very dangerous confrontation – Putin is a very formidible opponent.

MIDDLE EAST:  My friend emails from Egypt, in one long sentence: “The Muslim Brotherhood will be good for the general population and give them again a sense of dignity after having none under Mubarak, they are really only interested in business and money so their religious fervour will be curbed by that, the army will not leave but act in the shadow to give an impression of a civilian state, it might be a slight improvement, but the liberals and artists and intellectuals, the ones who started the revolution will in fact gain nothing and might lose again.”  In recent days however, protesters, including women, are being beaten and shot at and killed by their government.

In Tunisia there has been a successful election and the Opposition installed, but unpopular leaders are hanging on in Bahrain and Yemen. In Syria Assad is living in a parallel universe accepting no responsibility for the killing of his citizens, and in his interview with Barbara Walters he said words to the effect “No ruler would shoot his own people”. It has become a family tradition.  I suppose the big news is the US troops leaving Iraq but one can only feel sad – hundreds of thousands of deaths, a trillion dollars, sectarian violence and an unstable future.  A warrant for the arrest of the Vice President was not a good start to “democratic” Iraq.  Like many others around the world I marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq, but it gives no satisfaction to still believe we were right!

I read in the SMH 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be relocated (again) close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem.  The report said this had been described as part of a strategic plan for a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and would make a contiguous Palestine state impossible.

I hope it is a reason for optimism that Hamas in their rapprochement with Fatah, while still not acknowledging the state of Israel, has said it is shifting it’s emphasis from”armed struggle to non-violent resistance”.  Hopefully this means no more rockets and mortars will be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.  550 more Palestinians have been released as promised from Israeli jails.

Iran is angry that the  Hamas leadership in exile are relocating from Syria, and have consequently cut their funding – an example of the many changing scenarios and allegiances in the Middle East.

Obama, Mr Cool, has seen his approval rating among US Jewish voters fall from 78% to 54%.  Luckily for him the Republican Presidential candidates to date have been a circus.

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

UK RIOTS:  It was interesting to read a report into the riots – the background was a pervasive sense of injustice, and for some this was economic, with a lack of money, jobs or opportunities, but also a significant factor behind the riots was a “widespread anger and frustration at the way police engage with the communities”.

AUSTRALIAN ISSUES:  The PM survived a tough year with a hung parliament (described by some as episodes of Survivor).  Just as abysmal polls rise slightly, the unhelpful distraction of Gillard/Rudd/Shorten? leadership tensions emerge.  The Government handled the GFC extremely well, in my opinion, but will be tested again.  Our current national shame is the months old stalemate between both parties over the processing of asylum seekers off-shore. Both agree with it, but not which countries to do it in. Meanwhile people are dying in their attempts to reach Australia – possibly 180 drowned last weekend which may finally force some action. The Indonesian Government has halved the number of Australian live cattle exports as pay back for the temporary ban after the footage of conditions in Indonesian abatoirs were shown on Australian television. There has not been an equivalent public outcry over the 180 asylum seekers who have just drowned.

Our conservation issues should be uranium mining and sales to India, and coal, with mega mines planned in the Galilee Basin in Queensland with 375 million tonnes of coal a year capacity which by 2035 would be eating up 4% of the world’s carbon budget and 9% of the emissions set aside for coal.

“If this goes ahead, it will destroy our chances of keeping global warming to 2 degrees.” John Hepburn from Greenpeace commented.

There is finally a debate about the wholesale embracing of coal seam gas mining without any definitive environmental impact studies as yet. “Wind turbine” syndrome is being discussed – do wind farms actually affect health?  Perhaps if you live near by, but are not being paid well to host them!  Water management, particularly in the Murray –Darling River basin is being fiercely fought over with the impossible task of pleasing local communities, farmers and irrigators.  From an environmental point of view, 4,000 gigalitres (GL=a billion litres) of water needs to be returned to the river, and the current proposal is for 3573 gigalitres by 2019.

A court decision has for the time being blocked plans for a big $30 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Kimberley region. The clearing of the site may have been in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, and unresolved issues include sacred Aboriginal sites, a divided Aboriginal community, and environmental and heritage concerns.

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

WHALING: The Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet has set out with a target of 900 whales in 3 months for “scientific data”.  There are bound to be confrontations with the Sea Shepherd who last year kept their total number to 17% of their target.  The hunt has been described as an expression of national pride – or that the Japanese are sick of being lectured to.  It is now however as provocative as it is anachronistic.  To protect the expedition the Japanese Government have given the project $28 million from earthquake/tsunami relief money!

MISC STATS:  China has $US3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves; Chinese trade with Australia is worth $105 billion; 271 (US dollar) billionaires in China (this has doubled since 2010), 400 in America, 57 in India, 35 in Australia; 600 million mobile phone users in China, 500 million in India; 40,000 Irish nationals left Ireland in the 12 months to April 2011; 150,000 Russians left home as well.

PREDICTION:  Hong Kong to emerge as the world’s financial centre.

HIV:  34 million people live with HIV.  There are 2.7 million new infections each year.  Fortunately drugs are prolonging lives but of the $22 billion funding required now, only $16 billion is available.

BRADLEY MANNING & ASSANGE:  It is interesting watching the Bradley case unfold, with the portrait being painted of his unstable behaviour something his superiors should not just have ignored.  Some people think that the US Government would like him to plead guilty, get a reduced sentence and be used as a witness against Wikileaks and Assange.  Julian has won the right to appeal against his extradition to Sweden.  I hope the treaty between the UK and Sweden prevents him from being extradited to the US. In the absence of any support from the Australian Government, quite a few prominent Australians have written an open letter to Foreign Minister Rudd asking him to protect Julian Assange from rendition to the US.

CONGRATULATIONS:  “The Protester” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2011.

OCCUPY WALL STREET:  The small Sydney contingent are still camped in Martin Place.  There seems some sort of tacit arrangement with the police, but with on going harassment – like taking away some items of “public hazard”, and just recently, tents and sleeping bags.

JOHN DARLING:  John Darling, poet, artist and film maker was farewelled in a moving ceremony in Perth that brought together the cross cultural influences of Aboriginal, Christian and Balinese Hinduism customs and belief.  I spoke, and quoted an academic who said “John’s contribution to Australian understanding of Indonesia was unique” – although John had asked that he would prefer to have his “essence” discussed. He was indeed a beautiful person.  Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa oversaw the appropriate Balinese rituals with grace, and when he spoke, conveyed moving words from his father, the Prince of Ubud. There was a Memorial service in Melbourne, to be followed by a ceremony in Bali.

My thoughts are with those that have also lost family members or friends, and those living with illness.

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony. Photo by Made Wijaya

VALE:  Christopher Hitchens.  I am reading Arguably, a marvellous collection of Hitchen’s essays and articles. My friend Mandy said I should read his memoir Hitch-22 first.

VOICELESS WRITING PRIZE: To advance public understanding of the relationship between humans and animals – see www.voiceless.org.au.

MAIL:  Thanks for the emails, Christmas wishes, and sharing your stories on the blog and on the A Lion Called Christian website. Some people have had trouble leaving a “comment” on the blog – please email me directly if you are having trouble with this.  A Lion Called Christian showed again on Saturday night and I get such nice emails or messages each time.  This year Christian’s story has become better known in India and I’ve loved receiving emails and stories from there.  Thanks to Therasa, my sister Lindy, and Kylie for their help with the blog.

CHANEE: See Chanee’s latest video Sounding off about the forests about the deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. As I write this now, the tallest tree I can see from my windows, is being cut down. I wonder what the offence is – too old? Too high? Blocking someone’s view? I feel guilty that I never walked to the base of the tree and admired it up close and now it is gone.

CHRISTMAS GIFTS:  One can probably still buy online practical and useful Christmas presents from various Aid organisations.  From pigs, cows and goats to fruit trees, clean water and immunisation and educational needs.  I can’t really personally vouch for them but see CARE www.caregifts.org.au – gifts.  Also see www.worldvision.com.au/gifts and www.oxfamunwrapped.com.au. WSPA also have gift suggestions.  At this time many unsuitable pets are given as gifts and later discarded. This year it is “Red Dog” kelpie puppies (after the movie), but these dogs are sheep dogs and belong in the country.

SEASONS GREETINGS:  Merry Christmas if you celebrate it,  and hopefully some happy and relaxed time with family, friends and pets!  Happy New Year – some have predicted next year will be big, but the scientists have assured us it won’t be the end of the world! Good luck for the undoubted challenges and delights that lie ahead in 2012.