GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
Grass roots member input to Broome PGA gathering April 2002
We Australians are confronted with a national dilemma in the shape of an energy crisis: As a Nation we annually expend more energy than we earn.
Biomass exhaustion into the atmosphere, the erosion of remaining biodiversity, nutrient exports and local consumption (probably in that order) account for an unsustainable situation that only effective land management could bring under control. (The Kimberley is no exception in this issue that goes beyond the commercial or financial viability of current pastoral enterprises.)
“Political Correctness” and a lack of environmental literacy at leadership levels currently prevent an accurate analysis. Primary producers, through no fault of their own, now find themselves faced with unprecedented challenges.
I feel it would help if we were to distinguish between “primary production” and “landscape management”. Only the latter could ensure effective increases in our annual capture and retention of solar energy at the rate required to sway the balance in the current equation.
Land managers should not find themselves placed in a predicament of escalating bureaucracy, legislative hurdles and fiscal constraint while attempting to address the issue of learning how to nurture our landscapes back to health and higher productivity.
I focus on the landscape level because, not only are healthy landscapes required to sustain industry and commerce; healthy landscapes also ensure fresh air, clean water, recreation, conservation and all the other values we may associate with "quality of life".
When looking at those responsible for the management of our Nation’s resources, I am hesitant to lay any blame at personal levels. We all feel trapped by a system that is programmed to polarise:
Members working in the public sector get penalised for “wrong decisions”
They do not get called to accountability for “lack of decisions”. They are encouraged to research details. However their rewards bear little relationship to the results they achieve.
- Members in the private sector very often find innovation too costly or emotionally draining. They get eliminated if they make “no decisions”, but they get financial reward for politically correct extraction.
It may help if we heed the wisdom of a quote by Allan Savory (author, wildlife scientist and international authority on eco-system function): “Poor land inevitably leads to poverty, social breakdown, rising flood, drought, invasion by noxious plants, mounting blaming, victimisation and eventually rising conflict, genocide and war till civilisations fall as history has repeatedly taught us.”
Given the success stories around Australia and other parts of the planet, land managers need real incentives to experiment, to further their learning, to become innovative and to compare notes with each other. They should not be expected to reinvent the wheel all on their own. Nor should they be expected to fund out of their own pocket such a service to the whole Nation. These costs include expenses in learning, training, travel and down-time for the attendance of meetings, conferences, seminars and field-days.
The value of practical knowledge and experience needs to be recognised as being equal to (or in some cases even higher than) unproven academic wisdom, and honoured accordingly. Scientists and departmental staff need to help evaluate existing desirable results. Lest we wish to repeat the history of past civilisations, knowledge gained from these results then needs to be implemented successfully at landscape levels.
The media has an increasingly vital and exciting role to play in the process of alerting the public and our leaders to the importance of environmental literacy.