Land clearing, rising temperatures, Adani, a lack of connection with nature, and greener transport were among the issues that surfaced when Wildlife Queensland opened the climate change can of worms at its Wildlife Matters symposium in New Farm recently.
Society President Peter Ogivlie opened the event on 9 September with a fully intended pun, dubbing the topic a “hot potato” (and by the time representatives of the two major political parties took to the podium and opened the floor for questioning, things had heated up quite a bit). But instead of passing on this hot potato, Wildlife Queensland pulled on its mitts, bringing together some of Queensland and Australia’s leading environmental researchers and activists to discuss just what the future holds for our native plants and animals.
The room of 80 people before him was a reflection of Ogilvie’s observation that climate change, like all grand concepts, has taken a while to filter down from the scientific community to the wider public. Wildlife Queensland would like to thank all attendees for standing with us in accepting the challenge of showing future generations that we are aware of the issues at hand and striving to do something about them. Before handing over the podium, Ogilvie summed up the Society’s main concern when it comes to climate change: that efforts against it will be directed towards humans, overshadowing the effects it is having on the plants and animals with which we share this planet, and this plight.
Having worked in the climate change and biodiversity research space for almost 25 years, keynote speaker Professor Lesley Hughes of the Climate Change Council came packing some very scary graphs. It was hard not to be unsettled by these graphic representations of scientific evidence of temperature change, highlighting that the earth is warming 170 times faster than in the 7000-year period prior to the 1970s, that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than ever before, that last year was the world’s hottest year (substantially beating the 2015 record), and how an apparently small (1.5 – 2 degree) temperature shift has an enormous impact on the effects that are felt by humans and wildlife alike.
This shift means the longer hotter droughts and bushfire seasons, more intense cyclones, rising sea levels, more acidic oceans, changing currents, warming oceans and bleached reefs, and changes in rainfall that we’re currently experiencing. But Professor Hughes’ scariest graph of all presented the future if we were to continue doing what we’re currently doing, revealing a staggering 7-degree temperature increase by the end of this century. If, as Hughes points out, a 4-degree increase would mean the extinction of 1 in 6 species, one shudders at the thought of almost doubling those effects.
In the face of this change that IS happening, Professor Hughes presented us all with this challenge: to manage the transformation of this change, minimise the loss of biodiversity, and maintain the functions that ecosystems provide.
In the presentation that followed, Dr Gordon Guymer of the Queensland Herbarium added land clearing and novel biota to the list of processes threatening our biodiversity along with climate change. Striking the ideal balance between formal and informal, scientific and layman, Dr Guymer echoed the fact that “humans are very good at having a negative impact on their environment – clearing land and wrecking regional ecosystems”.
The take-home from Dr Guymer’s presentation on the future state of Queensland’s terrestrial ecosystems: loss of habitat and climate change are going to have a major impact on all species, perhaps even more so than his environmentally aware audience understood, until now.
Longreach grazier and Farmer for Climate Action Angus Emmett gave this audience a well-earned break from bad tidings as his passionate love of the land and its wildlife won hearts from his first word. His respect for the flora and fauna of his region was both touching and contagious as Angus showed a series of his favourite wildlife and landscape photographs from back home.
While he certainly touched on the devastating impact the proposed Adani coalmine project would have on the Great Artesian Basin (“Adani is right on the main recharge beds”) and his well-supported petition to oppose it, he also brought balance to the program in the form of hope:
“There’s a huge landscape out there that’s still healthy and we’ve got to keep it good,” he said.
Dr Richard Fuller, researcher of the interactions between people and nature, continued along the lines of balance, pointing out that while we – people – are the problem, we are also the solution. Leading with the alarming fact that children are currently spending less time outdoors than high security prisoners, Dr Fuller went on to explore this disconnect and what it does for our wellbeing and concern for nature.
Citing research conducted in Brisbane by himself and his students at UQ, Dr Fuller revealed that time spent in nature has real and measurable positive impacts on humans – probably a given for many audience members before him – but also that people who spend more time in nature are no more likely to care about it.
Dr Fuller presented his audience with many questions, such as where does nature concern come from, and how can we change people’s behaviour to be more open to the benefits of nature experience? In return, he was presented with more questions from the audience than he had time to answer.
And the questions kept coming as Dr Christian Rowan MP and Di Farmer MP took to the podium to put forward their parties’ environmental policies before opening to the floor. Both speakers stuck to their respective party’s attitudes with regards to the topics delivered and their bipartisan support for Queensland’s container deposit scheme and ban on single-use plastic bags established a harmonious atmosphere that flowed throughout the presentations. As party policies were strictly adhered to, those present hoping for some dramatic commitment for the coming election were left disappointed.
The anticipated question about land clearing surfaced from the audience with predictable responses; Labor supporting a strengthening of existing legislation and the LNP indicating their opposition to any changes to such. A question seeking the banning of the mass release of helium filled balloons and the introduction of a waste levy was rebutted by both parties with some indication that there was little evidence of broad community support for such initiatives, unlike with the ban on single-use bags. An interesting question as to why certain community based organisations received government funding and Wildlife Queensland did not was briefly discussed, but not answered. However, there were outcomes that pleased many of those present. Both parties acknowledged that climate change was real and action was required and there was a willingness to at least discuss issues with Wildlife Queensland.
As the event drew to a close participants enjoyed a pleasant meal as they listened to a stimulating presentation by guest speaker, Jon Dee, on the rapid development in electric cars and their role in enhancing transport with the environment the big winner. Jon Dee highlighted that some of the major car manufacturing companies will soon stop producing conventional vehicles, with China now having joined France and Britain in announcing plans to end sales of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040. There is no doubt guests left that evening appreciating that the electrification of private and public transport is happening much faster than we all realised, and perhaps wondering whether Australia is keeping up or lagging behind.
Wildlife Queensland wishes to thank the event’s very capable and entertaining MC, Tim Moore, and all the speakers who dedicated their time and expertise for the cause. Special thanks go to Professor Lesley Hughes and Jon Dee for traveling interstate for the occasion. And finally, our sincere thanks again to all attendees of Wildlife Matters: In a Climate of Change for their enthusiastic participation and support. We look forward to seeing you all at Wildlife Queensland’s next event!