As young people we have experienced unprecedented loss. We have lost the innocence of youth – forced to advocate for our lives, lest they be traded to the fossil fuel industry for a quick buck. We have lost trust in our decision makers – faithless after being constantly overlooked. Hardest of all, we have lost the freedom to daydream because it is impossible to picture your future on a dead planet.
With every passing year, we have watched the natural world around us collapse, remembering the flocks of bright golden beetles that used to arrive in clouds every Christmas and are now only memories. So in desperation we have joined the choir of conservationists calling for action against the nature emergency we are facing. After years of singing into the void – it felt like our experience was finally being acknowledged when the newly elected Federal Government announced its intention to reform our nature laws.
This week, on the backdrop of scientists’ timely declaration that the fate of the entire living world, including us, hangs in the balance of biodiversity conservation – we held our breath. Waiting, wishing, hoping that when the Minister of the Environment announced her “Nature positive plan” for law reform, we could finally have a world to look forward to, where we can imagine the future.
The news that we had hoped for never arrived. Instead of taking a stand for Australia’s nature, and protecting our nation’s future, the Minister presented a disappointing plan that is entirely ill-equipped to tackle the nature emergency.
One need not look any further than the Minister’s speech to get to the core of this policy’s failure: the word business was mentioned over 20 times. It is not the job of our environmental protection legislation to support business. It is not the job of our Environment Minister to design policy that props up an unsustainable economy that is based on overconsumption. Indeed, doing so is actually counterproductive as our current business model is built upon the destruction and exploitation of the natural world. The same natural world that sustains us, inspires us, and is essential to our very existence on this planet.
The sting of this failure will be felt widely across the country, not least of all, in our backyard. The Canberra region supports some of the last remaining critically endangered Natural Temperate Grasslands. Many of these remnants are on National land and thus are at the behest of Federal environment approvals. Lawson Grasslands in Belconnen is a key example of how the federal environment laws are failing to protect our threatened nature. Despite being home to many unique and significant animals, including, the Gang-gang Cockatoo, Golden Sun Moth, and Striped Legless Lizard, Lawson Grasslands is fighting for its future as Defence Housing Australia pursues a proposal to build over huge swathes of the habitat. The proposal was not considered unacceptable under the federal environment laws, despite destroying over 15ha of critically endangered habitat. That is equivalent to over 6 and a half Manuka Ovals.
Whilst it is not clear how the Federal Government’s “Nature positive plan” will help to save Lawson Grasslands, it is clear that the Plan lacks the urgency and the gravity that the poor state of our environment demands. Australia is currently leading the world on the extinction of mammals while right here in the ACT our animal emblem the Gang-gang cockatoo was officially listed as a threatened species earlier this year. Across our border in NSW large polluting projects on threatened forests, wetlands, and habitat continue to be approved under the current federal environment laws. This is simply not good enough.
What does this mean for Lawson Grasslands? The state of our environment leaves us with little trust in the current environmental laws to do what they were designed for – environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. To enable this the newly announced Environmental Protection Agency must be well resourced, have strong governance arrangements that guarantee its independence, and there is provision for merits reviews to maximise accountability.
Young people, like us, will continue to hold decision makers to account and see through the big polluters destroying nature for a quick buck. We are not being silenced in the fight for a healthy environment.
A ‘nature positive plan’ needs to put nature first. Zero extinctions needs to mean zero extinctions. Step one is not approving environmentally damaging projects on critically endangered ecosystems and habitats for our precious wildlife – like the Golden Sun Moth. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
Both aged under 30, Peta Bulling is the Biodiversity Campaigner and Elle Lawless is the Executive Director at the Conservation Council ACT Region.