Remote Indigenous Australia’s ecological economies give us something to build on


Jon Altman, Australian National University

Land titling in Australia has undergone a revolutionary shift over the past four decades. The return of diverse forms of title to Indigenous Australians has produced some semblance of land justice. About half the continent is now held under some form of Indigenous title.

Forms of title range from inalienable freehold title to non-exclusive (or shared) native title. Much of this estate is in northern Australia, as this recent map shows.

Status of Indigenous title across Australia.
K. Jordon, F. Markham and J. Altman, Linking Indigenous communities with regional development: Australia Overview, report to OECD (2019), Author provided

Another map from 2014 shows over 1,000 discrete Indigenous communities and the division between north and south.

What’s different about these lands?

These lands and their populations have some unusual features.

First, the lands are extremely remote and relatively undeveloped in a capitalist “extractive” sense. These are the largest relatively intact savannah landscapes in Australia — and possibly the world.

Much of this estate is included in the National Reserve System as Indigenous Protected Areas because of its high environmental and cultural values, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria.

These areas still face threats from invasive animal and plant species, bushfires and increasingly extreme heat. These threats will lead to further species extinctions.

Indigenous Protected Area management plans address these threats to ensure biodiversity and cultural values are at best restored or maintained, at worst not eroded.




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Second, parts of these lands in the wet-dry tropics are valuable as sources of emissions avoidance and carbon storage.

Many groups are paid through offset markets and voluntary agreements to reduce overall emissions. There are emerging options for payment for long-term carbon storage – between 25 and 100 years.

These lands have some of the world’s highest solar irradiance. Multi-billion-dollar solar and wind/solar/green hydrogen facilities are being developed.

Third, the Indigenous owners and majority inhabitants are among the poorest Australians. Only 35% of Aboriginal adults in very remote Australia are formally employed. Over 50% of Indigenous people in these areas live below the poverty line.

Such poverty is explained partly by past colonisation and associated social exclusion and neglect, geographic isolation from market capitalism and labour markets, and different priorities.

Having legally proven continuity of customs, traditions and connection to reclaimed ancestral lands, landowners generally look to care for their country. They use its natural resources for domestic non-commercial purposes as allowed by law.

But Indigenous people continually struggle to inhabit these lands. Their dispersed small settlements range from townships to homelands. Government support is minimal and policy intentionally discouraging.




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Building in ways that meet the needs of Australia’s remote regions


The problem with official development models

Since federation, many government policy proposals to “develop the north” have sought to replicate the economic growth trajectory of the temperate south. Such plans are based on state-sanctioned, often environmentally damaging, market capitalism.

The latest version is the 2015 Our North, Our Future white paper, released after a parliamentary inquiry. In submission 136, Francis Markham and I asked, “developing whose north for whom and in what way?” We pointed out 48% of the north’s 3 million square kilometres was under Indigenous title at that time, and Indigenous ideas about the land are often very different from those of the government and corporate, mainly extractive, interests.




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Four years on, a Senate select inquiry is examining how the Our North, Our Future agenda is progressing. A specific reference to First Nations people has been added. In submission 13, we highlighted four fundamental changes over the past five years.

  1. the Indigenous land share of northern Australia has grown to 60%

  2. Indigenous people are living in deeper poverty partly due to punitive changes to income-support arrangements

  3. growing scientific consensus that global warming will have escalating negative impacts on northern Australia

  4. slowing population growth suggests the white paper’s goal of a population of 4–5 million by 2060 (from just over 1 million now) lacks realism.




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We are at a critical crossroads in policy thinking about northern Australia.

The dominant approach sees it as ripe for capitalist development, extraction and associated economic growth, irrespective of environmental consequences. Corporate pressure to undertake risky fracking for oil and gas and to develop industrial-scale agriculture and aquaculture projects epitomises such thinking.

The zero-emissions alternative

The holistic focus of ecological economics informs an alternative approach. It’s based on the tenet that everything connects to everything else: the economy is embedded in society and society is embedded in the environment, the natural order.

This line of reasoning resonates with the focus of many Indigenous landowners on the need to nurture kin, ancestral country and living, natural resources.

Ecological economics distinguishes between economic growth that depletes non-renewable resources irrespective of environmental harm, and forms of development that focus on human well-being, cultural and environmental values.




Read more:
What is ‘ecological economics’ and why do we need to talk about it?


Development in the north might take many transformational forms as we strive for a zero-emissions economy.

Economist Ross Garnaut discusses the potential of a zero-emissions economy in Australia.

Indigenous-titled and peopled lands are well positioned to drive this in three proven ways:

  1. by intensifying projects that reduce emissions and sequester carbon
  2. by increasing efforts to conserve biodiversity by managing and potentially reversing impacts of invasive species
  3. by becoming key players in the renewables sector through massive projects for domestic energy use and export.

The same landscapes can be used for sustainable wildlife harvesting for food and diverse forms of cultural production for income. These uses accord with Indigenous tradition and leave minimal environmental footprints.

Policy and practice must be informed by the environmental perspectives of Indigenous landowners, which are highly compatible with the core concepts of ecological economics.

In these ways, the North could emerge as a powerhouse region beyond current imaginaries. The climate crisis makes this transformation essential.

As ecological economies, remote Indigenous lands could deliver sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous people and contribute significantly to a zero-emissions economy of critical benefit to national and global communities.The Conversation

Jon Altman, Emeritus professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From drone swarms to tree batteries, new tech is revolutionising ecology and conservation



File 20180508 34006 eyxvq5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Eyes in the sky: drone footage is becoming a vital tool for monitoring ecosystems.
Deakin Marine Mapping Group

Euan Ritchie, Deakin University and Blake Allan, Deakin University

Understanding Earth’s species and ecosystems is a monumentally challenging scientific pursuit. But with the planet in the grip of its sixth mass extinction event, it has never been a more pressing priority.

To unlock nature’s secrets, ecologists turn to a variety of scientific instruments and tools. Sometimes we even repurpose household items, with eyebrow-raising results – whether it’s using a tea strainer to house ants, or tackling botfly larvae with a well-aimed dab of nail polish.

But there are many more high-tech options becoming available for studying the natural world. In fact, ecology is on the cusp of a revolution, with new and emerging technologies opening up new possibilities for insights into nature and applications for conserving biodiversity.

Our study, published in the journal Ecosphere, tracks the progress of this technological development. Here we highlight a few examples of these exciting advances.

Tiny tracking sensors

Electronically recording the movement of animals was first made possible by VHF radio telemetry in the 1960s. Since then even more species, especially long-distance migratory animals such as caribou, shearwaters and sea turtles, have been tracked with the help of GPS and other satellite data.

But our understanding of what affects animals’ movement and other behaviours, such as hunting, is being advanced further still by the use of “bio-logging” – equipping the animals themselves with miniature sensors.

Bio-logging is giving us new insight into the lives of animals such as mountain lions.

Many types of miniature sensors have now been developed, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, micro cameras, and barometers. Together, these devices make it possible to track animals’ movements with unprecedented precision. We can also now measure the “physiological cost” of behaviours – that is, whether an animal is working particularly hard to reach a destination, or within a particular location, to capture and consume its prey.

Taken further, placing animal movement paths within spatially accurate 3D-rendered (computer-generated) environments will allow ecologists to examine how individuals respond to each other and their surroundings.

These devices could also help us determine whether animals are changing their behaviour in response to threats such as invasive species or habitat modification. In turn, this could tell us what conservation measures might work best.

Autonomous vehicles

Remotely piloted vehicles, including drones, are now a common feature of our skies, land, and water. Beyond their more typical recreational uses, ecologists are deploying autonomous vehicles to measure environments, observe species, and assess changes through time, all with a degree of detail that was never previously possible.

There are many exciting applications of drones in conservation, including surveying cryptic and difficult to reach wildlife such as orangutans

Coupling autonomous vehicles with sensors (such as thermal imaging) now makes it easier to observe rare, hidden or nocturnal species. It also potentially allows us to catch poachers red-handed, which could help to protect animals like rhinoceros, elephants and pangolins.

3D printing

Despite 3D printing having been pioneered in the 1980s, we are only now beginning to realise the potential uses for ecological research. For instance, it can be used to make cheap, lightweight tracking devices that can be fitted onto animals. Or it can be used to create complex and accurate models of plants, animals or other organisms, for use in behavioural studies.

3D printing is shedding new light on animal behaviour, including mate choice.

Bio-batteries

Keeping electronic equipment running in the field can be a challenge. Conventional batteries have limited life spans, and can contain toxic chemicals. Solar power can help with some of these problems, but not in dimly lit areas, such as deep in the heart of rainforests.

“Bio-batteries” may help to overcome this challenge. They convert naturally occurring sources of chemical energy, such as starch, into electricity using enzymes. “Plugging-in” to trees may allow sensors and other field equipment to be powered cheaply for a long time in places without sun or access to mains electricity.

Combining technologies

All of the technologies described above sit on a continuum from previous (now largely mainstream) technological solutions, to new and innovative ones now being trialled.

Illustrative timeline of new technologies in ecology and environmental science. Source and further details at DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2163.
Euan Ritchie

Emerging technologies are exciting by themselves, but when combined with one another they can revolutionise ecological research. Here is a modified exerpt from our paper:

Imagine research stations fitted with remote cameras and acoustic recorders equipped with low-power computers for image and animal call recognition, powered by trees via bio-batteries. These devices could use low-power, long-range telemetry both to communicate with each other in a network, potentially tracking animal movement from one location to the next, and to transmit information to a central location. Swarms of drones working together could then be deployed to map the landscape and collect data from a central location wirelessly, without landing. The drones could then land in a location with an internet connection and transfer data into cloud-based storage, accessible from anywhere in the world.

Visualisation of a future smart research environment, integrating multiple ecological technologies. The red lines indicate data transfer via the Internet of things (IoT), in which multiple technologies are communicating with one another. The gray lines indicate more traditional data transfer. Broken lines indicate data transferred over long distances. (1) Bio-batteries; (2) The Internet of things (IoT); (3) Swarm theory; (4) Long-range low-power telemetry; (5) Solar power; (6) Low-power computer; (7) Data transfer via satellite; and (8) Bioinformatics. Source and further details at DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2163.
Euan Ritchie

These advancements will not only generate more accurate research data, but should also minimise the disturbance to species and ecosystems in the process.

Not only will this minimise the stress to animals and the inadvertent spread of diseases, but it should also provide a more “natural” picture of how plants, animals and other organisms interact.




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Realising the techno-ecological revolution will require better collaboration across disciplines and industries. Ecologists should ideally also be exposed to relevant technology-based training (such as engineering or IT) and industry placements early in their careers.

The ConversationSeveral initiatives, such as Wildlabs, the Conservation Technology Working Group and TechnEcology, are already addressing these needs. But we are only just at the start of what’s ultimately possible.

Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University and Blake Allan, , Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Western Australia – Ocean Heatwave Changed Environment


The link below is to an interesting article concerning an ocean heatwave off the Western Australian coast. It changed the ecology of the area dramatically.

For more visit:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22090-heatwave-transformed-australian-marine-life.html