Sustainability Bites

There is no such thing as a free lunch

How to beat ‘rollout rage’: the environment-versus-climate battle dividing regional Australia

How to beat ‘rollout rage’: the environment-versus-climate battle dividing regional Australia

Clean energy developers are caught in a perfect storm, at loggerheads with environmentalists and landholders alike over environmental conditions, proper consultation and compensation, while grappling with long regulatory delays and supply chain blockages for their materials. They see a system that provides environmental approval on paper but seemingly unworkable conditions and intolerable delays in practice. Does the bureaucracy’s left hand, they wonder, know what its right hand is doing? Net zero, nature protection and “rollout rage” feel like a toxic mix. Yet we have to find a quick way to deliver the clean energy projects we urgently need. As tough as this problem appears, elements of a potential solution, at least in outline, are on the table. These elements are: good environmental information, regional environmental planning and meaningful public participation. The government’s Nature Positive Plan for stronger environmental laws promises all three.

The sceptical economist

The sceptical economist

“What we are hearing and reading and seeing is a continuation of the grand rhetoric from the Rio Earth Summit over thirty years ago in which ‘Business-As- with modifications’ will give us richer tomorrows with no sacrifices today. It’s based on the fantasy that carbon offsets and credits, the planting of one trillion or more trees, and advanced machines can suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to set the world right.This is a sort of a Business-As-Usual with ‘market and technology extras’ that will allow us, with a few tweaks, such as driving an electric vehicle (EV), to carry on as we have always done. If only this were true. Business-As-Usual, even with all the brightest bells and squeakiest whistles, will continue our trajectory towards catastrophic consequences.”
Quentin Grafton

Nature Positive: Real change or a just another form of box ticking?

Nature Positive: Real change or a just another form of box ticking?

Will ‘Nature Positive’ deliver real change or just a new opportunity for box ticking and political window dressing? As a concept, Nature Positive has plenty of potential for good biodiversity outcomes and its endorsement in the Henry Review is a good thing for biodiversity nationally. However, like ESD before it, Nature Positive can be hollowed out or reduced to a slogan if that is where the politics takes it.

Joining the dots (Part II) – insurance, the law, and the cost of living as the climate boils

Joining the dots (Part II) – insurance, the law, and the cost of living as the climate boils

While it is apparent that society can turn a blind eye to bleaching coral reefs, burning forest biomes and flooding cities, it seems everyone is angry about the rising cost of living and unaffordable insurance. And when voters get really angry, politicians start actually doing something. When it comes to climate disruption, that includes taking climate criminals (ie, the fossil fuel sector) to court. Could it be we are beginning to join the dots on climate boiling?

Joining the dots (part I): The garden shed as metaphor

Joining the dots (part I): The garden shed as metaphor

Unfortunately, as the last two years are demonstrating (AND SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN PREDICTING FOR THE LAST HALF CENTURY!), climate change means the past is no longer a guide to the future. All other things are no longer equal because human modification of the Earth system means it is behaving with no historical analogues. And the disruption is set to accelerate. Sometimes, to join the dots, you have stop looking at the big picture and focus on smaller things – like the leaky garden shed in my backyard.

Biodiversity’s ‘Big Switch’: Ken Henry’s review of the NSW Biodiversity Act

Biodiversity’s ‘Big Switch’: Ken Henry’s review of the NSW Biodiversity Act

The Henry Review found, essentially, that the NSW Biodiversity Act is not working and that biodiversity continues to decline in the state of New South Wales. Although the law is complex, the policy bottom line is simple: biodiversity is protected to a degree, but this will never stand in the way of development prioritised by government. The review proposes to switch off the discretionary ‘balancing’ that occurs under the auspices of the Ecologically Sustainable Development principles (under which the ‘balance’ almost always favours development). And to switch on a ‘nature positive’ framework.

Fiddling while Rome burns – Delay follows denial, let me count the ways

Fiddling while Rome burns – Delay follows denial, let me count the ways

There’s probably not a government on this planet that isn’t telling its people they acknowledge climate change and are making ‘serious’ efforts to combat it. However, in the parentheses at the end of every proclamation is the implicit (sometime explicit) caveat that new policies won’t change the status quo, won’t slow down economic growth, won’t bite the hand of key stakeholders (read fossil fuel sector), won’t cost the voter anything additional and likely won’t even be implemented in the current electoral cycle. Climate delay may sound different to climate denial but it amounts to the same thing.

Postcards from hell – cognitive dissonance in the face of a disastrous holiday

Postcards from hell – cognitive dissonance in the face of a disastrous holiday

Frequently, it seems, the greatest exposure to climate disruption we witness in mainstream media is where it interrupts our holidays. To help us avoid the inconvenient truth of existential collapse, we distract ourselves with the trivial and the inconsequential, or give up and join in the orgy of misinformation and conspiracy thinking. You can run (deny and/or delay or maybe retreat to your favourite holiday idyll) but you can’t hide.

“Measuring What Matters”: With the first results in, what next?

“Measuring What Matters”: With the first results in, what next?

The first version of Australia’s national wellbeing framework “Measuring What Matters” has been released. The basic idea of the report is to shift from our narrow focus on key economic indicators, such as GDP and inflation, to embrace a wider suite of indicators that measure our overall quality of life. In the environment theme, six areas are covered: (urban) air quality; biodiversity; climate resilience; emissions reduction; protected areas; and resource use and waste generation. The headline result has to be that the threatened species index, which tracks the abundance of a selection of threatened species, shows a decline of 55% from a 1985 baseline to 2019, a period of just 34 years. This is a shocking number.

Revelations 2 and 3 – justice and truth (Now all we need is the slogan)

Revelations 2 and 3 – justice and truth (Now all we need is the slogan)

If you accept that humans are not in control, that you can’t hold nature in some mythical ‘optimal state’, that good resilience thinking is all about understanding the variability of the natural systems around us and living within those constraints – if you do all these things then you are acknowledging complexity and demonstrating ‘humility’. So, do you want to save the world? Justice, truth and humility is the path you need to tread.

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