Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exploring issues to make geography dynamic

Image above: Heading for the pro/con article on the issue in the Adelaide Advertiser on 31 July 2014. It's always good when the newspapers provides some great resources to support the teaching in the classroom.

The study of geography should be contentious and dynamic in the classroom. In fact geography is not value free and we should provide opportunities for students to research, deconstruct and develop points of view on a wide range of geographical issues. As  Robert Butler said in the The Economist in 2010:
“It is getting harder and harder in conversation to raise one or other of the most basic subjects
in geography—agriculture, rivers and population—without a flicker of panic crossing the other 
person’s face. You are no longer talking about a neutral subject."

As geography teachers we should be on the look out for contentious issues, especially some local ones for the students to research and relate to.

 Here are just a few local issues:

Some hot local geography topics to explore

  • Desalination plant in Adelaide
  • Giving the go-ahead for the Hillside mine on Yorke Peninsula
  • Mining in the Flinders Ranges
  • Wind Farm expansion
  • Changing our time zone
  • Attracting a major event to SA, such as the Commonwealth Games
  • Strategies to make it harder for people to take their car into the CBD of Adelaide and encourage the use of other forms of transport (bikes, public transport)
  • Increasing the cost of water and electricity to discourage use
  • Expanding the Roxby Downs Mine
  • Changing inner-city zoning regulations to allow more high density housing (reduced block size and high rise).
  • Others?

Two examples of contestability in geography.

1. A South Australian issue

Contestation between a mining or farming future for a place in South Australia

Geography is not just a 'telling' subject about learning 'stuff' but is and should be taught in a dynamic and contestable way. This week in Adelaide a fascinating contestable issue has hit the headlines (even though research will show that it has been going on as an issue on Yorke Peninsula since at least 2011). The issue is a great example of a topic with a multitude of geographical views and values involved.  The following posting provides the classroom materials for a Stage 2 Geography class studying resource use and sustainability.  I hope you find it useful as an example of geographical contestability. Ironically the week I was teaching this issue I was caught in a protest from angry Yorke Peninsula farmers outside Parliament House in Adelaide protesting at the go-ahead for the mine - it's always great when classroom activities meets reality! 

A contestable resource issue has hit the headlines on the Yorke Peninsula which provides an excellent opportunity for an issue analysis. The nub of the issue is that the State Government has giving permission for Rex Minerals to mine on Yorke Peninsula on agricultural land. The community is divided about whether the State Government has made the correct decision on this matter dealing with the resources of our state. 

Initially students are to do some 'harvesting' on the issue (read all they can from the sources below) and then complete the Deconstructing an issue’ template.

We will be interested what conclusion and recommendations the students come up with on this very current hot issue in South Australia. 
Background resources on the issue:

* Article from the Advertiser on Wednesday 30 July 2014.

* Editorial from the Advertiser on Wednesday 31 July 2014.

* Issue analysis article from the Advertiser on Wednesday 31 July 2014.

Internet reporting on the Yorke Peninsula mine issue

Audio from ABC on the mine

Audio from 5AA in the mine

Speech from Mark Parnell: Green MP


2. A Queensland issue to explore

Image above: The resource issue of dredging to develop a coal port at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Background on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

ABC 4 Corners program on the issue

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is responsible for ensuring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – one of the world's greatest natural treasures - is protected for the future.

An ecosystem based approach is used, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is widely recognised as one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world.
The Marine Park is a multiple-use area that supports a range of communities and industries that depend on the Reef for recreation or their livelihoods. Tourism, fishing, boating and shipping are all legitimate uses of the Marine Park.
The entire Marine Park is covered by a Zoning Plan that identifies where particular activities are permitted and where some are not permitted.
The Zoning Plan separates conflicting uses, with 33 per cent of the Marine Park afforded marine national park status where fishing and collecting is not permitted.
In high use areas near Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands, special Plans of Management are in place in addition to the underlying Zoning Plan,
In addition, other Special Management Areas have been to created for particular types of protection, such as the Dugong Protection Areas.

The GBRMPA coordinates a range of activities to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef. They are focused on 12 broad management topics:

This all sounds great as a way to ensure the Great Barrier Reef is sustained as a valuable environmental and heritage resources for all Australians, and as a World Heritage listed area, for the world. However as is often the case, the Great Barrier Reef is also an area with competing and  conflicting demands in the areas of transport, mining and tourism, to name just a few. Over recent years there has been a decline in the health of the Great Barrier Reef and serious threats now face the ecology of the reef into the futureABC Four Corners on 18 August 2014 highlighted the latest controversy created by the plan to dredge a coal port at Abbot Point. 

Background on the dredging and dumping for a Coalport in Great Barrier Reef area

The nub of this issue is that in December 2013, Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, approved a plan for dredging to create three shipping terminals as part of the construction of a coal port at Abbot Point. According to corresponding approval documents, the process will create around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed that will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area. On 31 January 2014, the GBRMPA issued a dumping permit that will allow three million cubic metres of sea bed from Abbot Point, north of Bowen, to be transported and unloaded in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. 

Potential significant harms have been identified in relation to dredge spoil and the process of churning up the sea floor in the area and exposing it to air. New research shows the finer particles of dredge spoil can cloud the water and block sunlight, thereby starving sea grass and coral up to distances of 80 km away from the point of origin due to the actions of wind and currents. Furthermore, dredge spoil can literally smother reef or sea grass to death, while storms can repeatedly re-suspend these particles so that the harm caused is ongoing.  It is also proposed that a disturbed sea floor can release toxic substances into the surrounding environment.

Commentators say that the decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has shocked and angered the scientific community. There seems to be deep divisions between the scientists and bureaucrats behind the decision. It seems that the dumping was approved despite previous recommendations from senior scientists that it be rejected.

"That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard." - Dr Charlie Veron, marine scientist 

The Chairman of the Marine Park Authority denies the decision was political and the Federal Environment Minister insists it will take place under the strictest environmental conditions.

As you will see in the video, this certainly is an interesting and confusing debate re: the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the development of infrastructure for resource development. The issue deconstruction template attached may be useful for students to clarify their thinking on the issue.

What will students think should happen?

Here are some great resources on the issue:

* ABC online  
* ABC News, June 2014 on Abbot Point
* ABC News, July 2014
* Mining Australia website 
* Sydney Morning Herald, March 2014
* Sydney Morning Herald, May 2014
* The conversation  
* Australian Marine Conservation Society
* Canberra times, August 2014
* The Australian, December 2013


... and many more


  1. This is a big issue that has to be raised. Recently Richard Branson posted an article that raises attention towards Great Barrier Reef, saying that it is in danger and showing to the world how many people care about it. There should be more articles like this on the internet. I read a great essay from writers per hour about the ecosystem and how reefs are a great part of it, some people just don't understand why it's important to preserve them. Sad, but true.

  2. We have every reason to believe that you are right. Thanks for this post. This service I used