With so many challenges in Australia, what is working?

Australia has so much to offer:  Aboriginal Cultural Legacies, Marine Life, Tropical Rainforests, unique species, and so much more.  It seems that a lot of it is under threat.  Threat from big things like climate change, greed and the capitalist machine, and crowding.  But it is also under the threat from the collective actions of many local citizens.  What are some notable successes that Australia is having.


At the CAFNEC Kate and Dennis helped us understand some of the challenges that Australia faces:

  • Climate Change affects the Great Barrier Reef, but it also affects many other species like the spectacled flying fox (with a recent heat wave killing 23,000 of them in just a few days).  The increases in weather fluctuation and severity also bring in bigger storms that destroy habitat for critical species like the cassowary.
  • Plastics are more prevalent.
  • Disillusionment with the government’s ability to do anything about the problem prevents people from using the government to enact needed changes or sustain needed regulation.  For example in their recent May election environmentalists were dealt a series of setbacks, which reinforced a lot of young people’s attitudes about using the political process for change.  For example, relaxing the laws around deforestation, has resulted in huge swaths of land being cleared (roughly 5000 squre km per year).
  • Related, is the Australia’s population growth 1.6% per year demand more food and economic growth.  The livestock industry is trying to answer this call with more forest clear cutting for larger ranches.  That manifests as habitat loss.
  • Kate brought up the psychology of climate change quite a bit and added that many people when faced with threats to their existence hunker down and deny the threat.
  • Ignorance.  There are too many people who are unreasonable about how they think about the data.  Rather than looking at all the data, they will cling to just a data point or two that buttresses their own ideology and stick to it.  Moreover there are too many people who lack a common vocabulary about climate change or environmental issues.

Despite this magnitude and the gravity of these challenges, they are chin-up and face-it-head-on type of people.  The publish regular periodicals and shine a light a wide variety of issues to help educate, celebrate successes, and shine lights on ongoing travesties.  When asked about some of their success and what is winning the hearts any minds, they said the result has to be community based.  “People have to hear stories and make their own connections.”  They are seeing movement on single use plastics and straws.  People are using their own bags more and it is rare to even see a plastic straw.  Moreover, they feel they are having some success with linking people’s awareness of what goes down the drain and what ends up in the ocean.  They sponsored a recent campaign stenciling drains.  Dennis, the President is still laser focused on the political process.  “We just need to change the 5% in the middle.”  That is enough to change the trajectory of a divided nation.

In our whole time in Australia, we were never offered straws with beverages.  Every store either charged extra for  a re usable plastic bag or insisted people use their own bags.  I was told there was no official policy, but the major stores were taking their own initiatives.

Great Barrier Reef Legacy

We also had the privilege of meeting with Sven Hagen.  An environmental economist by training, he has found himself on the front line of making positive impacts on behalf of the the Great Barrier Reef.  He started by asking us if we thought the reef was dying.  “It is not dying.  This is a popular misconception.   If it is healthy, it can withstand the crown of thorns outbreaks.  It can withstand occasional bleaching.  It can also withstand and regrow after cyclones.  It can’t withstand all three at once.”

Sven works with Great Barrier Reef Legacy which is based on the ingenious idea of partnering research scientists with tourism.  The tourism funds the research that the scientists need to perform.  In effect, the both tourists and scientists go out on the boat together and dive.  Tourists learn while scientists conduct their research.

Another aspect of Sven’s work is equipping divers with 360 degree cameras in order to bring reef experiences to those who cannot make it out to the reef.  He does several in classroom activities as well has on land showings to help educate people about the reef.  The thought is, the more people see and understand, the more they will want to save and preserve the Great Barrier Reef.

When asked about what is working in preserving the Great Barrier Reef. Sven quickly cited two actions.  (While quickly acknowledging that it is the cumulative actions of MANY groups who are working to preserve that wonderful resource).

First, education.  He stated bringing reef virtual reality experiences into the classroom and to people who can’t get there is enormously helpful for getting people to experience, understand, and wanting to preserve the reef for later generations.

Second, coral gardening.  It is an experimental practice and very new, but breaking and replanting the corral is working well so far.  There are some criticisms about genetic diversity, but it is helping the rate of growth in some areas.

Sven was personable and charismatic.  He was on his way to a TEDx pitch event, and we were extremely lucky he took time out of his day to meet with us.  Knowing good people like Sven are out there trying to preserve one of our planet’s greatest resources inspires us to do what we can!  Thank you Sven.

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