It’s no secret that Australia has one of the worst wildlife conservation records in the world.
More than 100 plant and animal species have been driven to extinction since European invasion. Mammals in particular have suffered heavy losses – nearly 40 species. The situation is diabolical, a national shame.
First Nations peoples have actively shaped, managed and cared for Country (the environment) in Australia for 60,000-plus years. Then, in a space of approximately 230 years since European invasion, we’ve seen a devastating deterioration of wildlife and ecosystems and the environment in general.
What we and our unsustainable ways are inflicting on the environment now also poses the greatest threat to humanity as we know it. Custodianship involves trying to pass on something in at least the same but ideally better condition than it was found and received. Broadly speaking and as a whole, we’re currently failing miserably at this task in Australia.
Preserving wildlife and ecosystems is not just a feelgood exercise. We know that humans as a species are intricately embedded and connected within the environment. If ecosystems collapse, as is happening right now, it’s going to devastate us in a whole range of different ways. This idea that humans are somehow detached from nature, and can somehow continue taking from, manipulating and devastating nature, without consequence, is simply not supported by science.
We affect nature, nature affects us, because of the inextricable links.
So in one sense, there’s a selfish reason, if you like, that we need to save the environment and the species in it, because if they continue falling over due to our actions, there’s a very real risk that eventually we will too.
Many things must change to avert catastrophe. As individuals, we need to look at the choices that we make each day, because what we choose to eat, where and how we travel, what we wear, how often we buy clothing, who we vote for, all of these decisions, and others, impact the environment. If we think more carefully about our choices, and where able, think and act more sustainably and in line with what science suggests is better for the environment, and indeed us, there’s significant gains to be had.
But that doesn’t mean that governments get off the hook. As individuals, we can make those changes for the better, but if governments don’t support those changes with big picture policies, individual positive changes risk being swamped.
We need a green revolution. What that means is a major boost in investment to maintain and restore the environment, with the recognition that everything, including our economy, is utterly dependent upon a healthy environment. It’s a big mistake to separate the economy from the environment. If we invest in the environment, it will pay us back many times over not only in an economic sense, but also socially and culturally. We will be happier and healthier.
One of the things I really would like to see more is to be working more with nature. And that’s where I think things like rewilding come in.
Australia it seems is constantly fighting against nature. A good example of that would be dingoes and kangaroos. Kangaroos in many cases in parts of southeastern Australia are over abundant. And that’s partly because we’ve cleared the land, we put in water, we’ve killed most of the dingoes, if not all of them in certain areas, which were the main predator of kangaroos, (along with, of course, First Nations people who used to hunt them too.)
And the numbers have gone through the roof. At the same time we’re killing dingoes because livestock graziers in some areas don’t like them because they kill livestock.
With new pastoral technology we have opportunities to actually have dingoes back in the landscape, which could help control numbers of kangaroos, feral goats and to varying degree, feral cats and foxes.
So rather than have this sort of myopic single species approaches, which often don’t work very well, if we looked at the whole ecosystem, and understood that’s how all the various parts work together, and we work with nature, rather than against it, there are huge gains to be had.
And it actually does make economic sense. Whether it’s control of invasive species or rewilding programs, initiatives like these would generate wonderful and substantial employment opportunities, with obvious spin-off benefits in areas like tourism, for example. These are massive opportunities staring governments, industry and society in the face.
What we don’t have at the moment, unfortunately, is sufficient political will and courage – and the budgets that come with that.
As told to Graem Sims for Cosmos Weekly.