Sustainability Bites

There is no such thing as a free lunch

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.

Environment Cabinet Papers 2003: An Emissions Trading Scheme was (almost) a lay-down misère

Environment Cabinet Papers 2003: An Emissions Trading Scheme was (almost) a lay-down misère

Back in 2003, PM John Howard’s colleagues were telling him that his entrenched views were standing in the way of sensible policy and that now was a good time to introduce an emissions trading scheme with minimal risk and minimum loss of face. In reply, Howard told his colleagues that his political instincts were right and that the most important players, key Liberal Party backers, agreed with him. The irony was that, while Prime Ministerial power might trump policy power, people power trumps the lot. Two elections later, in 2007, Howard was thrown out, partly because of their lack of action on climate change.

The real 5G coming to you! (The Great Acceleration, Great Extinction, Great Injustice, Great Dissatisfaction, & hopefully, the Great Transformation)

The real 5G coming to you! (The Great Acceleration, Great Extinction, Great Injustice, Great Dissatisfaction, & hopefully, the Great Transformation)

Despite the overwhelming benefits to humanity from the post war period of rapid economic growth (the Great Acceleration), there has also been a massive downside: ocean acidification, unsustainable water use, deforestation, degradation of wetlands, catastrophic declines in biodiversity, and global warming. Arising from this downside we’ve also experienced the Great Extinction, the Great Injustice and the Great Dissatisfaction. If humanity is to survive, now we need another ‘G’, the Great Transformation.

Trump and the crazy ants – focus on the system, not the symptom

Trump and the crazy ants – focus on the system, not the symptom

‘Trumpism’ is a bit like crazy ants? Both require certain system conditions for them to become super pests. Throwing Trump in jail won’t remove the threat. The conditions for Trump’s ascendency are still present and will enable the next ‘crazy man’ to do just as much damage. We need to remediate the craziness and address the gaps in society that let so many people believe the system isn’t working for them.

Turning points and tipping points – the road ahead and taking on BAU

Turning points and tipping points – the road ahead and taking on BAU

The road ahead is unclear and uncertain. ‘Business as usual’ has us thinking it will be much as it has been in the past but it’s likely humanity is approaching major tipping and turning points.
Turning points make sense of history and are like looking behind in the rearview mirror to better know where we have come from so that we can drive better. Tipping points are about carefully looking at the road in front of us to anticipate the risks ahead and to take appropriate action to avoid the hazards.

‘Nature Positive’ sausage anyone?

‘Nature Positive’ sausage anyone?

Next year, the Australian Parliament will consider one of the most significant environmental reforms in our history with the Government promising legislation to implement its Nature Positive Plan, replacing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The path to this point has been long and winding. First the National Party backflipped on its support for the bill, then the Greens did a backflip on their opposition to it, all in pursuit of politics over policy. Then we come to other cross-bench Senators, whose position is variable at best and unpredictable at worst. We need this to work.

The future present: BAU & Climate Change

The future present: BAU & Climate Change

What do we know, more or less, for sure about the future? First, the world is getting hotter at a faster rate. Second, maintaining or increasing greenhouse emissions will result in substantial temperature increases within coming decades that entails substantial costs and risks. Third, carbon sequestration, over the coming few decades will only make, at best, a very marginal contribution to lowering atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Fourth, despite the rhetoric, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise to at least 2030. These are our future certainties under business-as-usual. Much of the uncertainty about what the future holds is about what we choose to do about it.

Crushing the doughnut: A mud map on how we’re going on ‘sustainability’

Crushing the doughnut: A mud map on how we’re going on ‘sustainability’

The concept of doughnut economics incorporates both biophysical elements and social justice elements in one framing, something few other approaches to sustainability do in a comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, 2023 is revealing solid evidence that the doughnut of sustainability is being remorselessly crushed. We’re breaching our ecological ceiling at the same time we are failing on most of our internationally agreed minimum social standards. Humanity’s space for sustainability is shrinking before our eyes, right at the same time climate disruption is beginning to tear apart society’s foundations.

The Bite

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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.

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