Sustainability Bites

There is no such thing as a free lunch

The need for speed: can we buy faster environmental approvals to enable Australia to become a clean energy superpower?

The need for speed: can we buy faster environmental approvals to enable Australia to become a clean energy superpower?

Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment, without diluting environment has now become a national priority. What was once a problem of red tape and substandard practice, is now central to the clean energy revolution and vital to our collective future. Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. Even more data and regulatory guidance won’t solve it, though of course it will make inroads. Solving the problem completely, achieving complete regulatory efficiency and removing a major bottleneck to Australia’s transition to a carbon-neutral economy, will take something out of the box. Maybe we should look at how the courts now do case management.

BAU and the green button syndrome – it’s the end of the world as we know it, so push the button again

BAU and the green button syndrome – it’s the end of the world as we know it, so push the button again

To quote a much (over) used aphorism, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ It sums up our approach to sustainability. I call this the ‘green button syndrome’, and to appreciate it, think of the world as a photocopier. It’s also a good way of understanding our policy response to mass coral bleaching.

It’s time to strike an environmental grand bargain between businesses, governments and conservationists – and stop doing things the hard way

It’s time to strike an environmental grand bargain between businesses, governments and conservationists – and stop doing things the hard way

For policymakers, this suggests environmental laws should define minimum viability thresholds. Some thresholds would be absolute; others would be crossable in one location provided equivalent restoration was done in another. Environmental groups could take satisfaction that thresholds would be maintained in most cases. Ecosystems would function, rivers would flow. But governments would still override thresholds for important economic and social reasons, say to approve a critical minerals project. What’s in it for corporate Australia? Business would gain upfront certainty about what can be approved and quicker approvals for projects. Environmental litigation would fall. But development options would be narrowed and offsets would become more expensive. The government would achieve a key goal: major environmental reform. But it would have to say no more often, and be transparent about crossing environmental thresholds.

This is not ‘higher than average’, this is the new normal

This is not ‘higher than average’, this is the new normal

NOAA has declared a Global Mass Bleaching Event and Australia’s Prime Minister races to the Great Barrier Reef to make an announcement! At last, the world is responding to the existential threat of climate change. But wait, what’s this; the PM is actually in Gladstone (at the southern end of the GBR) to celebrate the shipping of fossil fuel to Asia! Is this some sick parody? No, it’s real life. Welcome to the new normal – just like the old normal but with none of the certainty we once all enjoyed.

The cognitive dissonance in dealing with mass coral bleaching

The cognitive dissonance in dealing with mass coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef is facing an existential threat of our own making. We know what the solution is but our current governance around the Reef is inadequate to meet the challenge.
We can’t speak truth to power; science does not guide our decision making; and we can’t acknowledge that current economic priorities (and vested interests) mean that “the best managed reef ecosystems in the world” is being hung out to bleach.

Transition versus transformation; change is needed but how fast?

Transition versus transformation; change is needed but how fast?

Given the risks of catastrophic climate change, a possible anthropogenic mass extinction event, and seriously bad and irreversible climate tipping points, a precautionary approach to managing the future must rapidly decouple, in absolute terms, economic growth from environmental impacts. This requires much more than ‘steady-as-she-goes’ transitions. Despite this, ‘transitionists’ hold the floor. Quentin Grafton discusses the folly of accepting the ‘transition’ line of reasoning.

Water under the bridge – what were they thinking? (Australia’s Environment Cabinet Papers 2003, Part 2)

Water under the bridge – what were they thinking? (Australia’s Environment Cabinet Papers 2003, Part 2)

Recently released Cabinet Papers throw valuable light on what the government was thinking back in 2003 when it was attempting to tackle the problem of inland water shortages and an ailing River Murray. The papers reveal that they were prepared to accept the scientific advice as long as it didn’t rock the boat and didn’t cost too much. Exercising ‘precaution’ they were not.

The Age of Irreversibility – not a time to be eating cake and asking for ‘seconds’

The Age of Irreversibility – not a time to be eating cake and asking for ‘seconds’

Political leaders tell us not to worry; today’s problems can always be fixed up tomorrow. We can have our cake and eat it. But what if our actions today produce irreversible changes in the way the Earth system behaves? Maybe ‘waiting for tomorrow’s solutions’ is not the rational thing to do. Quentin Grafton reflects on the consequences.

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