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.