Is Australia doing its part to help save the planet? Apparently not!

 

Living in Australia is great, we as nation are rich with commerce, culture, education and well ….rich with literal wealth. We also have some of the world’s most educated scientific minds in fields of ecology, biodiversity and genetics to name a few. As a consequence, Australia is generally considered one of the global leaders in conservation (Ritchie et al, 2013). So of course, we as a nation are aware of climate change and the damage of unsustainable resource use doing everything in our power to conserve our ecosystems and reduce biodiversity loss? Like me, I’m sure you thought the answer to this question was a resounding….YES.

However, in a recent seminar by Professor Corey Bradshaw from the university of Adelaide, I became aware of the truly upsetting reality…Australia is NOT that eco-friendly.

The sad fact is, Australia has a long history of large scale deforestation, water wastage and greenhouse gas emission (Bradshaw et al, 2013; Richie et al 2013).

In a 2010 study Bradshaw revealed that despite our countries relatively small population size and history of occupation, we have cleared nearly 40% of our forests (See figure 1). Now for a country covered by a majority (75%) of inhospitable desert, this amount of deforestation rivals the extreme destruction of the Amazon rainforest (Bradshaw, 2010).

Figure 1. Proportion change in major vegetation types in Australia from European colonization;200 years ago until 1995. From Bradshaw 2012.

Figure 1. Proportion change in major vegetation types in Australia from European colonization;200 years ago until 1995. From Bradshaw 2012.

As a result of this habitat removal and fragmentation, many of our endemic plants and animals have become extinct or are seriously threatened (Ritchie et al, 2013; Gibson et al, 2013). Bradshaw, during his seminar, particularly shocked me with the revelation that Australia actually holds the world’s highest mammal extinction rate. Over the past 2 centuries, a minimum of 27 mammals, 23 birds, 4 frogs and more than 60 species of plants have suffered extinction (Ritchie et al, 2013). Furthermore, over 1500 mammals, reptiles, birds and plants are in serious threat of extinction as well as 3000 categories of ecosystems (Ritchie et al 2013).

To put how bad Australia is in a global context, Bradshaw and colleagues in 2010, ranked Australia among 228 countries on their relative environmental impact. Australia came in 9th place for damage contribution to the environment, a truly horrible achievement (see figure 2). These rankings were based on factors such as total resource use, emissions, threatened species, forest loss and water pollution (Bradshaw et al, 2010). Interestingly, the element driving this ranking was wealth. Rich, first world countries are damaging and exploiting the environment far more than poor, less developed nations (Bradshaw et al, 2010).

Figure 2. Twenty worst-ranked countries by proportional composite environmental (pENV) rank (lower ranks=higher negative impact). From Bradshaw et al, 2010.

Figure 2. Twenty worst-ranked countries by proportional composite environmental (pENV) rank (lower ranks=higher negative impact). From Bradshaw et al, 2010.

What makes matters worse is the state of Australia’s current government. Since Abbott gained office, an alarming amount of anti-environmental policy moves have been proposed or put in place (Ritchie et al, 2013). Such actions flying in the face of nature conservation include exploitation of wildlife reserves by allowing industrial logging, mining, grazing by livestock, commercial development as well as hunting and fishing (Ritchie et al, 2013).

So how do we make a change towards a more ecologically sustainable future for Australia, and the world?

Arguably, one of the most important changes needs to focus on reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Crutzen (2002) reported fossil fuel burning and agriculture have increased carbon dioxide by 30% and methane by 100%, their highest levels in 400 millennia. The concentrations of greenhouse gases are still on the rise and a vast amount of research has demonstrated the negative effects of increased global temperatures on plants, animals and ecosystems (Bradshaw et al, 2010).

The ultimate significance of Professor Bradshaw’s seminar was to highlight that “out of the box” approaches need to be investigated to combat the devastating effects climate change will have on further environmental crisis and biodiversity loss (Crutzen, 2002).

For example, Professor Bradshaw along with many well informed scientists believe the answer to a lot of our problems may be ….nuclear energy.

Now I know you might be appalled by this statement and want to stop reading, but please resist the urge. I was resistant too, at first, before I heard some of the facts. While nuclear power plants have endured their share of disasters (Chernobyl and Fukushima) evidence indicates that this form of energy production is relatively safer for people and the environment compared to renewable and fossil fuel energy production (figure 3.) (Hong et al, 2013). In addition, Hong and colleagues (2013) discovered nuclear energy is ultimately an economically cheaper option that could greatly reduce future carbon emissions.

Figure 3.  A normalised result of negative economic, environmental and social impacts for future Japanese electricity scenarios, based on the sustainability criteria. From Hong et al, 2013.

Figure 3. A normalised result of negative economic, environmental and social impacts for future Japanese electricity scenarios, based on the sustainability criteria. From Hong et al, 2013.

To get all the facts about Australia’s options for nuclear energy please read Bradshaw research on the topic coming out in the near future, with an open mind.

Evidently, its clear Australia’s environmental track record has been less than desirable, but with people like Professor Bradshaw pushing us in the right direction, I believe there’s hope for us yet.

 

 

Top 5 links to Professor Corey Bradshaw’s blog: http://conservationbytes.com/

  1. Look at the whale (while we wipe out everything else)

http://conservationbytes.com/2014/04/24/look-at-the-whale-while-we-wipe-out-everything-else/

  1. The environmental Abbott-oir

http://conservationbytes.com/2014/04/09/the-environmental-abbott-oir/

  1. More species = more resilience

http://conservationbytes.com/2014/01/08/more-species-more-resilience/

  1. Brave new climate

http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1/

  1. Greenies can be pro-nuclear

http://conservationbytes.com/2013/10/07/greenies-can-be-pro-nuclear/

 

More links

Professor Corey Bradshaw, University of Adelaide

Website:http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/corey.bradshaw

 

Video links

Professor Corey Bradshaw discussing Australias environmental problems and directions for his resaerch.

Environment Institute: Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw (Co-Directors, Global Ecology Lab)

SA’s tattered environmental remains:

 

 

References

Bradshaw, C. 2014. Macquarie University Biological Department seminar series. 7th of May.

Bradshaw, C.J.A., 2012. Little left to lose: deforestation and forest degradation in Australia since European colonization. Journal of Plant Ecology 5, 109-120.

Bradshaw, C. J., Giam, X., & Sodhi, N. S. 2010. Evaluating the relative environmental impact of countries. PLoS One, 5(5), e10440.

Crutzen, P. J. 2002. Geology of mankind. Nature, 415(6867), 23-23.

Gibson, L., Lynam, A.J., Bradshaw, C.J., He, F., Bickford, D.P., Woodruff, D.S., Bumrungsri, S., Laurance, W.F., 2013. Near-complete extinction of native small mammal fauna 25 years after forest fragmentation. Science 341, 1508-1510.

Hong, S., Bradshaw, C.J.A., Brook, B.W., 2013. Evaluating options for the future energy mix of Japan after the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Energy Policy 56, 418-424.

Ritchie, E.G., Bradshaw, C.J., Dickman, C.R., Hobbs, R., Johnson, C.N., Johnston, E.L., Laurance, W.F., Lindenmayer, D., McCarthy, M.A., Nimmo, D.G., Possingham, H.H., Pressey, R.L., Watson, D.M., Woinarski, J., 2013. Continental-scale governance and the hastening of loss of Australia’s biodiversity. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology 27, 1133-1135.

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One thought on “Is Australia doing its part to help save the planet? Apparently not!

  1. Hello there! This article couldn’t be written much better!
    Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I will forward this article
    to him. Fairly certain he will have a very good read.

    Many thanks for sharing!

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