Friday, November 30, 2007

Sink or Swim

In the last couple of months globally, report after report has been published heralding severe ecological devastation, rapid extinction of plants and animal species and the irreversible effects of global warming.

Yet another report was released this week. The Human Development Report of the UN Development program points the finger at wealthy countries and climate change with this supremely urgent statement: 'Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole, but it is the poor … who face the immediate and most severe human costs,' (CBC News, 2007).

These costs include increasing incidences of drought, agricultural depletion, habitat destruction, water scarcity and rises in debilitating diseases like malaria. As well, scientists predict more severe storms, terrible floods and rising sea levels which will adversely affect the world's poorer nations especially those living in coastal regions.

The UN report subtitled 'Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World' predicts that global inequalities between rich and poorer nations will be exacerbated by climate change. It highlights the need to see ecological problems not in isolation but directly related to social justice programs directed at alleviating poverty and malnutrition. For this UN program, social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand.

The report concludes with the observation that 'the historically carbon intensive growth, and the profligate consumption in rich nations that has accompanied it, is ecologically unsustainable.' And it ends with the optimistic plea that with appropriate mitigation measures and 'the right reforms, it is not too late to cut greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels without sacrificing economic growth: rising prosperity and climate security are not conflicting objectives.'

As I walk the river trail I am reminded daily of the potential for urgent action. With active volunteer groups cleaning and monitoring rivers, pulling noxious weeds from waterways, restoring wetlands, replanting bushland vegetation, and taking to heart the need to repair local ecologies and sacred places, it is possible to create sustainable communities.

The City of Brisbane sustainable targets are set at 2026. The report on Brisbane as a Clean Green City says that currently, 30 percent of the city's urbanscape is 'natural habitat and about 84% of our residential tree cover is on private property. Patchworked together, backyards, parklands and bushlands create wildlife corridors of great environmental value'.

But then the report declares that to retain biodiversity and environmental balance, 'we must restore 40% of our city area to natural habitat'. 40 percent.

What I see each day happening along the river valley is the converse of that dream. Daily, large trees are being axed with seemingly no attempt to restore habitat and biodiversity. It is heartening to have such a forward-thinking policy agenda but terribly disheartening that there appears to be a lack of action towards implementation.

2026 is a long way off but we have to start now to achieve the report's recommendation that by 2026, 'Brisbane residents and visitors will value the contribution of the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay to our quality of life. The Brisbane River, Moreton Bay and water catchment areas will be clean, healthy eco-systems, free of pollutants and teeming with life.'

Let's hope that with the change of government federally and dedicated action locally that such policies will be backed with support to allow these action-oriented dreams and recommendations to flourish and swim buoyantly, and not sink and drown in the mire of rapid development and unsustainable construction. This is vital for Brisbane - and for rich and poor nations alike as the Human Development report outlines.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shadowy Creatures

The river valley is awash with myriad greens - bright greens, gloomy greens, shiney leafed greens, olivey blue greens. The tumbling rain these past few days has led to the flourishing of new growth and all along the river bank the plants are glowing. This once lush verduous valley is fast being de-greened to make way for new housing.

Right opposit the river yet another house and several tall eucalypts have beed razed.

What was a bushy block of wondrous trees lies in a tangled heap; trees hacked and discarded; nests abandoned on the ground. A few of the tree stumps are still standing - a memorial to the beauty that once dwelled in this place. Who are these shadowy creatures that can't bear living with trees?

Fewer trees and less nesting sites not only mean less shade but also an increasing number of birds, bats, possums and other creatures are looking for new homes. Sadly the research on what happens to small mammals and birds who lose habitat is devastating. With increasing urbanisation and habitat destruction, these creatures have no where else to go and either try to adapt to smaller and smaller spaces, or disappear altogether.

One result of the habitat loss has been the numbers of native birds and animals now being seen as pests. Possums, Flying Foxes and White Ibis have been targeted.

Ibis are often relegated to patrolling city parks and outdoor cafe areas in search of a snack and have become very naughty. We were quietly eating our lunch one day this week when an Ibis flew up onto the neighbouring table and from there launched itself right into our delicious-looking sandwich, knocking the food, crockery and cuttlery onto the ground with a huge crash, then flying off with its prized delicacy.

According to the Brisbane City Council's Sustainable Future website: 'The Australian ibis plays an important role in natural pest management for it preys on small insects and grubs. While increasing population must be managed, their long-term conservation is necessary for maintaining biodiversity.'

But there are calls for culling these delightful birds and that is the solution in Sydney where, according to a Sydney Morning Herald article by the Wollemi Pine discoverer James Woodford (2003):

'Marksmen have also been shooting sacred ibis - about 60 adults have been put down. Around 100 nests have been dismantled and their eggs discarded. The birds have become a public nuisance across Sydney and pose health risks because they carry salmonella. At the [Royal Botanical] gardens, ibis damage the palm collection by nesting in fronds.'

There needs to be a more compassionate understanding and action plan to replant the urban environment with native species-friendly trees and shrubs to provide habitat for these homeless creatures.

Perhaps there is simply a lack of awareness of the desperate need for greening city environments for both humans and animals. But something else seems to be at stake and is used in arguments about native habitat protection in suburban areas, that is the so-called right of residents to do what they like with their block, their neighbourhood, their community. But whose rights are paramount? Do Possums, Ibis or Bats have any legal standing when so-called human rights are deemed supreme?

James Woodford says 'possum magic has become possum tragic', as numbers of Sydney's Brushtails are 'given lethal injections', while animal behaviourist, Ursula Munro from University of Technology Sydney, warns that Ibis across Australia are in trouble.

Munro points out that the colonies of city Ibis might be the last viable remnant of these graceful birds. The birds' traditional home is the Murray Darling basin and surrounding wetland habitats but the severe drought among these once abundant ecosystems have forced the Ibis to seek new homesites - and like many humans, what Ibis also desire is a nesting site with a view of water.

The Ibis, Brushtail Possums and Flying Foxes need nesting sites, foraging trees and blossoms to munch on. Native trees are not only useful for species other than human, they are an essential element in our lives - but sometimes it seems that (human) city dwellers have forgotten the very vital interconnection between oxygen and carbon dioxide, human and tree.