ONE of WA's leading environmentalists has called for major improvements to the quality of public debate over environmental issues, warning a culture of adversarial views is stifling much needed action to protect the State’s ecosystems.
In a public lecture at the UWA recently, 2011 WA Scientist of the Year Richard Hobbs discussed his experiences researching the state’s incredible biodiversity and the often polarised debates over its protection.
Prof Hobbs says the pattern of “claim-counter claim” in environmental discussions needs to evolve to a more productive way of solving complex issues.
“One of the major concerns from an environmental perspective in WA is that regardless of the issue, we generally see a division into two opposing sides. Both sides think their argument is correct, sometimes based on good evidence and sometimes not,” he says.
“We have seen this recently in the fire management debate, debates over how to manage black cockatoos, urban development and others.
“Often what we end up with is different opinions being aired with little result, when we should be trying to find a middle ground and get on with identifying solutions.”
Prof Hobbs says the relationship between human activity since European settlement and WA’s ecosystems has lead to a serious impact on the state’s unique biodiversity, with the greatest impact coming in the last 50 years.
“Agricultural clearing, urban and mining development—all these things are having a major impact on our environment systems. Add to that the recently perceived threat of climate change, and there are some serious concerns about how to manage the ecosystem,” he says.
Prof Hobbs’ current research focuses on setting and achieving realistic restoration goals in a rapidly changing world, and includes vegetation dynamics and management, fragmentation, invasive species, ecosystem restoration, conservation biology and landscape ecology.
“We have various projects working on either the big picture policy stuff down to more specific research in areas such as soil or mine restoration.”
“In some cases, making progress is simply a question of getting the parties together and having a discussion, but in other issues we have tried that for decades without any gains.”
“In some cases it may be a generational thing, where the current protagonists move on and fresh perspectives come in, or sometimes it takes somebody from the outside to come in and provide a fresh perspective.”