Suppose you are marooned on a desert island.
Luck would have it that, on the island, there is a stream with fresh water, a seemingly endless supply of fruits on the trees close to the beach and, bizarrely given you don’t smoke, you remembered to pack a cigarette lighter.
Other than the ability to make fire, you have very little else. Not even a sunhat.
Chances are you could survive for many days, weeks even. Malaria or other insect vectored lurgy notwithstanding, you could even survive to Crusoe-esque timeframes.
There will be any number of specific challenges to overcome beyond the boredom and the need to find food and water. Avoiding cuts and sprains, not getting bitten by a shark or a spider, avoiding any unknown foods and being sure to cook the shellfish as well as you can. Most of these are, to some degree, under your immediate control. They are avoidable through choice.
Your island is iconic.
A tiny, low lying place with no real high ground to speak of and as you explore you notice evidence of past storms. There are more fallen trees than seems plausible. The biggest trees aren’t really that tall. There is debris from the beach everywhere, even when you think you are as far away from it as you can be. The reality is clear. Come the next storm there might be very few places to hide. Should there be a hurricane, survival would be slim.
So whilst there is no immediate danger, you certainly are in a pickle.
Against all the odds the government hears of your predicament. Phew, rescue is on the way. Perhaps there might even be an airdrop of provisions and a temporary hurricane shelter before the relief vessel arrives.
Turns out that the government appraised the policy position on your predicament and rather than deal with your immediate challenges and imminent risk, they are sending you a lifetime supply of sunblock.
From a policy perspective this makes perfectly good sense. Todays danger is the taxpayers responsibility and if there is unavoidable danger then it is the fault of previous governments for failing to plan ahead.
Providing sunblock is exactly the kind of future thinking that is needed. It means that while you are out there so exposed on the island you are far less likely to develop a melanoma and will stay out of the healthcare system. Not to mention the benefits of government contracts to the local sunblock manufacturer and supplier.
The problem of increasingly more severe and frequent storms or, heaven forbid, a rise in sea level or hotter sea temperatures killing the coral that fringe your island with an underwater wall of protection from the ocean swell, or any other proximate causes of your likely demise, are not issues for the local jurisdiction. They are for everyone else to resolve.
The obvious issue to fix is skin care.
Early the next morning on the faint sound of an engine you jump up from under the simple palm frond tent you cobbled together and, gorilla like, replace every other night. Scanning the horizon the sun reflects off something into your eye.
It must be an aircraft.
It must be.
Sure enough, a few minutes later a transport plane flies directly over your tiny island disgorging a package that floats down gently on a bright yellow parachute to land in the sea, halfway between you and the coral reef.
Fortunately the package floats but it drifts away from the shore far further out that you have dared to go until now. Not expecting anything more than the obvious food and shelter provisions you decide to take the risk, wading and then swimming toward the welcome gift that fell from the sky.
It takes far longer than you would like but weary, you make it to the yellow package. On the side it says “Banana Boat” which strikes you as odd but it’s a float that stays on the surface even when you hang on so you really do not care. Kicking toward the shore is way to hard with the parachute still attached and precious energy reserves are used in trying to free the tangled ropes. Your mind registers that your arms and legs are aching.
All of a sudden you are in the most real and present danger you have been in since you arrived on the island.
Panic begins. It takes courage that you have never used before to stay calm enough to hang onto the banana boat and kick. You keep kicking, frantic at first and then more measured as the panic subsides a little once your brain registers the palm trees inching closer.
In the end your legs are moving on a reflex until one kick hits sand.
The scariest event of your entire life is over. You are belly first on the shore with the boat beside you.
A plastic catch flips easily at the end of your finger and the lid opens with a slight click. Inside there are several boxes with the same logo as the side of the boat. Inside the boxes are tubes of sunscreen. At least one hundred of them all up. And nothing else.
Bewildered but still comforted that an aircraft flew by knowing you were there, you return to the shade of the palm tree and your makeshift shelter. You wait more alert than before for at any moment real help will arrive.
A week later the storm you knew would come is there on the horizon. A wall of black in the middle of the day. Already the waves on the coral sand are rising higher up the beach. You retreat to the leeward of the biggest tree on the island and crouch down into its bowl and start to pray.
It is the only thing left to you.
The storm hits with such ferocity it uproots your shelter tree. You escape the falling fronts and other flailing debris but the waves are crashing over where you used to spend the night. The sea continues to rise on the storm surge and washes the banana boat out to sea. Despite any number of drenchings from what felt like walls of water you survive the tempest by clinging onto ancient coral that the water revealed under the sand.
The next day you limp around your island home. There are deep gashes in your hands and you have blurred vision out of your right eye. The spring is covered in sand and it takes an hour of digging to find it again. The water is salty.
In less than a week you die of dehydration. It was a painful, soulless end.
If you think this story is absurd, then of course you are right. It is ridiculous.
Only this announcement from the Australian government Minister for Environment on how to “save” the Great Barrier Reef is just as absurd.
The real problem is not about nutrient runoff or starfish, even though these are known risks, the problem is that the water is too warm, too often. And that cannot be easily fixed, if at all, without some serious forward thinking and a commitment to the reality of climate change.
On your island sunblock is not even useful, what you needed was a vessel to take you back to the real world.