Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Why Australia is becoming more of a sunburnt country

Less than 50 percent of Australia’s original wilderness still exists, thanks to the colonialist view that development of land means eliminating native vegetation

By Michael Slezak  /  The Guardian

Compared with many parts of Europe where forests and other native vegetation were almost wiped out, some say Australia has a lot left to lose.

As a European, Kate feels strongly about the land she looks after.

“[In Europe] we don’t have anything left and so we have to protect what’s there,” Kate said. “Maybe we do have more appreciation of the wildlife of Australia than other Australians — if you’re born here, you get used to it, but for us, it’s so amazing.”

However, WWF Australia protected areas and conservation science manager Martin Taylor said that the idea that there is plenty left in Australia is misleading.

“The situation is worse than anyone appreciates,” Taylor said. “We don’t have much left. All the richer habitats have been largely converted.”

“What you see remaining on the maps are often national parks, which tend to be on rocky habitats that industry didn’t want. If you look at any river system — with the richest alluvial soil — they’ve all been cleared long ago,” he said. “The disgrace now is that the clearing is encroaching into relatively marginal land.”

Seabrook said a “perfect storm” of technological, economic and social factors allowed clearing to pick up pace in the middle of the 20th century. Prices for produce were high, mechanized clearing was perfected and government incentives were designed to drive clearing into regions that were previously less economical to develop.

As prices and technology improved further, it became possible to clear worse land, while still turning a profit.

The only thing that halted Australia’s intense clearing spree in the 1990s was the country’s attempt to lower greenhouse gas emissions to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets.

Clearing was reigned in, mostly as a result of law changes in Queensland, and Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped, but then everything changed.

A broken election promise and a change of law in Queensland by Liberal Party Premier Campbell Newman unleashed the bulldozers and delivered today’s land clearing crisis, the impacts of which are combining with an unprecedented number of threats from climate change, pollution and invasive species.

As the land clearing crisis in Queensland looks set to spread south to New South Wales and across the north to the Northern Territory and Western Australia, conservationists face an uphill battle challenging the deep-seated notion that Australian native vegetation is there to be cleared.

According to Taylor, that attitude might only end up shifting when it is forced to by market forces.

Like the tuna fishing industry was revolutionized by “dolphin safe” and other accreditations, he said “deforestation-free beef” is gaining traction and could mean those that dot change their ways are left without a market.

“The attitude is that you can’t be a serious grazier if you’re not clearing, but the markets are changing to the point that they will be the people who will be able to sell their products into the deforestation-free supply chains that big retailers are asking for now,” he said.

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