Car wreck in Australian bush
Australia’s natural environment is being wrecked. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Battle lines drawn to save Australia’s environment

Australians should hang their heads in shame, and it’s got nothing to do with ball tampering.

The national scandal that has flown under the radar for too long is the increasingly rapid destruction of the country’s natural heritage – because Australia’s environmental laws have collapsed.

The situation is bad and leading scientists, environmental protection agencies and wildlife organisations around the country are backing a hard-hitting campaign for ‘a new generation’ of tougher environmental laws at the up-coming federal election.

Risk of extinction

John Woinarski, a professor of conservation biology, told Guardian Australia earlier this year that some 1,800 plant and animal species and ecological communities (e.g. woodlands, forests and wetlands) are at risk of extinction.

“As a society, we should be caring more for our nature, and we’re not. The legal protections we’ve got, and the funding mechanisms are simply insufficient, as is the extent to which we care.”

Guardian Australia interviewed scientists, researchers, conservationists and policy analysts. And they described the situation confronting Australia’s threatened plants and animals as a “national disgrace” and the systems that are supposed to protect them as “broken”.

Golden-shouldered parrot
Unchallenged land use changes spell doom for endangered birds like the golden-shouldered parrot. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Facilitating development

Among the chief concerns is the contention that the country’s environmental laws are more about facilitating development than protecting threatened species.

Samantha Hepburn, director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law at Deakin University, claims Australia is set to clear up to 3 million ha of native forest by 2030. She says the “staggering rates” of on-going land clearing and resulting extinctions and endangerment of plants and animals mean the environmental laws are clearly not working.

Birdlife Australia campaign manager Margaret Quixley told a meeting in Cairns in May that ‘more species are tracking towards extinction because our laws are failing us and our birds’.

Independent commission

Birdlife Australia’s pre-election shopping list includes establishment of an independent National Sustainability Commission and a National Environmental Protection Authority at arms-length from government.

‘Restoring the Balance’ is a blueprint document to fix Australia’s broken environmental laws and ensure their enforcement – produced by Birdlife in association with the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law and the Places You Love Alliance.

People climbing outback rock face
Loss of experience of the outdoors means fewer people ‘care’. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Lost experience

A major reason why Australia’s natural environment is being destroyed without so much as a whimper is because fewer people know or care than was previously the case.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog about ‘The Extinction of Experience’ – a global trend based on the notion that human experience of nature is being extinguished.

In researching the phenomenon, Queensland-based ecologists Danielle Shanahan and Richard Fuller came up with a startling conclusion: that the average Australian child spends less time being active outdoors than does a maximum security prisoner.

In southeast Queensland where Shanahan and Fuller’s Research Council-funded project was focused, understanding of nature was much higher in people over 45 than those under that age.

Diminished value

The study is part of an international research effort into a declining experience of nature, and what that means for people and conservation. The implication being that people who don’t experience nature for themselves are unlikely to value it.

When it comes to motivating conservation, Shanahan and Fuller say the importance of experiences with nature and the psychology behind it are not well understood.

“… but it makes intuitive sense. As Robert Pyle said back in 1978, what is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”

©Tony Neilson, Natural Images 2018

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©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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