Spending time in nature has always been important, but now it’s an essential part of coping with the pandemic



Shutterstock/Sunny studio, CC BY-SA

Catherine Knight, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

A living wall filled with plants
Time spent in green spaces has been shown to mental and physical well-being.
Shutterstock/vsop, CC BY-SA

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of green spaces and urban parks, especially during periods of lockdown.

Even a short walk, an ocean view or a picnic by a river can leave us feeling invigorated and restored. There is now a growing body of evidence establishing the link between such nature encounters and our mental and physical well-being.

In my new book, I explore these nature benefits and put out a challenge to urban planners and decision makers to include more green spaces in our towns and cities.

Nature’s fix

One of the earliest studies to draw a conclusive link between time spent in nature and well-being was published in 1991. It found a 40-minute walk in nature, compared with walking in an urban space or reading a magazine, led to significant improvements in mood, reduced anger and aggression, and better recovery from mental fatigue.

In more recent studies, exposure to nature or urban green space has been associated with lower levels of stress, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved cognition in children with attention deficits and individuals with depression.

Research also suggests the benefits of growing up with access to lots of green space has a lasting effect into adulthood. A Danish study in 2019 found children who grow up surrounded by green spaces are less likely to develop mental disorders as adults.




Read more:
‘I need nature, I need space’: high-rise families rely on child-friendly neighbourhoods


Nature exposure has also been shown to boost immunity. Studies found that forest excursions boost the activity of natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in the body’s defence system, attacking infections and tumours) and elevate hormones that may be protective against heart disease, obesity and diabetes, at least over the short term.

No exercise required

Researchers have been careful to factor out the beneficial effects of energetic physical activity when designing their studies of nature exposure. They asked participants to sit quietly or take a gentle walk.

This is good news for those of us who prefer a stroll to strenuous exercise. What’s more, researchers have found that just 20-30 minutes in nature delivers optimal benefits. After that, they continue to accrue, but at a slower rate.

Tree overhanging an urban stream
Even a gentle stroll delivers health benefits.
Shutterstock/Ian Woolcock, CC BY-SA

There’s even better news. To provide these benefits, nature does not need to be remote or pristine. A leafy park, a stream-side walkway, or even a quiet, tree-lined avenue can provide this nature fix.

New Zealand’s lockdowns have made more people appreciate the importance of green spaces for walking, cycling or just getting some fresh, tree-filtered air. During the strictest lockdown in April 2020, citizen science apps such as iNaturalist reported an upsurge in usage, indicating people were getting out into nature in their neighbourhoods.

The nature destruction paradox

Our appreciation of nature at this time of crisis is not without irony, given the destruction of pristine forests, rapid urbanisation and population growth are all at the root of the pandemic, bringing wildlife and people into close contact and making animal-to-human transmission of new diseases increasingly likely.




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UN report says up to 850,000 animal viruses could be caught by humans, unless we protect nature


A recent World Wildlife Fund report describes COVID-19 as a clear warning signal of an environment out of balance.

The report presents strong evidence of the link between humanity’s impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity and the spread of certain diseases:

Along with maintaining our natural systems, action is needed to restore those that have been destroyed or degraded, in a way that benefits people and restores the fundamental functions that biomes such as forests provide.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we think of ourselves as a country rich in nature, but here too we have managed to destroy large swathes of indigenous forests and ecosystems since the first Polynesian navigators and then European settlers arrived.

Road running through green spaces.
Most people live in cities, which often lack green spaces.
Shutterstock/krug, CC BY-SA

Most of our surviving forests and pristine waterways are concentrated in our mountains and hill country, preserved not as a result of careful stewardship, but rather an accident of history: it was too hard to develop and economically exploit these rugged, inaccessible places. Our lowland landscapes are largely bereft of any forests, wetlands or any nature in its original form.




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3 ways nature in the city can do you good, even in self-isolation


Yet, 86% of us live in cities and towns, which are in coastal and lowland areas. So if we are going to ensure that everyone is able to benefit from spending time in nature, we need more nature spaces in our cities.

This does not necessarily mean more parks. With the right care and investment, neglected stream corridors, weed-infested gullies, flood-prone areas unfit for development and even road verges can provide valuable green spaces for people. As an added benefit, they create a network of habitat for insects, birds and reptiles that keep our natural ecosystems functioning.

In my book, I put out a challenge to all New Zealanders, especially urban planners and our decision makers, to strive for a more nature-rich future – an Aotearoa where every New Zealander can benefit from being in nature, every day of their life.The Conversation

Catherine Knight, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

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

Taking care of business: the private sector is waking up to nature’s value



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Megan C Evans, UNSW

For many businesses, climate change is an existential threat. Extreme weather can disrupt operations and supply chains, spelling disaster for both small vendors and global corporations. It also leaves investment firms dangerously exposed.

Businesses increasingly recognise climate change as a significant financial risk. Awareness of nature-related financial risks, such as biodiversity loss, is still emerging.

My work examines the growth of private sector investment in biodiversity and natural capital. I believe now is a good time to consider questions such as: what are businesses doing, and not doing, about climate change and environmental destruction? And what role should government play?

Research clearly shows humanity is severely damaging Earth’s ability to support life. But there is hope, including a change in government in the United States, which has brought new momentum to tackling the world’s environmental problems.

Koala lies dead after a bushfire tears through forest
Now’s a good time to talk about how humans are wrecking the planet.
Daniel Mariuz/AAP

Poisoning the well

An expert report released last week warned Australia must cut emissions by 50% or more in the next decade if it’s to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Meeting this challenge will require everyone to do their bit.

Climate change is a major threat to Australia’s financial security, and businesses must be among those leading on emissions reduction. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.

The finance sector, for example, contributes substantially to climate change and biodiversity loss. It does this by providing loans, insurance or investment for business activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions or otherwise harm nature.

In fact, a report last year found Australia’s big four banks loaned A$7 billion to 33 fossil fuel projects in the three years to 2019.

Protest banner on coal pile at terminal
Australia’s big banks have been criticised for investing in fossil fuels.
Dean Sewell/Greenpeace

A pushback for nature

Promisingly, there’s a growing push from some businesses, including in the finance sector, to protect the climate and nature.

Late last year, Australian banks and insurers published the nation’s first comprehensive climate change reporting framework. And the recently launched Climate League 2030 initiative, representing 17 of Australia’s institutional investors with A$890 billion in combined assets, aims to act on deeper emissions reductions.




Read more:
Worried about Earth’s future? Well, the outlook is worse than even scientists can grasp


Some companies are starting to put serious money on the table.
In August last year, global financial services giant HSBC and climate change advisory firm Pollination announced a joint asset management venture focused on “natural capital”. The venture aims to raise up to A$1 billion for its first fund.

Globally too, investors are starting to wake up to the cost of nature loss. Last month, investors representing US$2.4 trillion (A$3.14 trillion) in assets asked HSBC to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement. And in September last year, investor groups worth over $US103 trillion (A$135 trillion) issued a global call for companies to accurately disclose climate risks in financial reporting.

HSBC sign lit at night
HSBC’s investors are pushing for stronger climate action.
Shutterstock

Climate change is not the only threat to global financial security. Nature loss – the destruction of plants, animals and ecosystems – poses another existential threat. Last year, the World Economic Forum reported more than half of the global economy relies on goods and services nature provides such as pollination, water and disease control.

Efforts by the finance sector to address the risks associated with biodiversity loss are in their infancy, but will benefit from work already done on understanding climate risk

Of course, acknowledging and disclosing climate- and nature-related financial risks is just one step. Substantial action is also needed.

Businesses can merely “greenwash” their image – presenting to the public as environmentally responsible while acting otherwise. For example, a report showed in 2019, many major global banks that pledged action on climate change and biodiversity loss were also investing in activities harmful to biodiversity.

Logs felled in timber operation
The global economy depends on the goods and services nature provides.
Shutterstock

Getting it right

In the financial sector and beyond, there are risks to consider as the private sector takes a larger role in environmental action.

Investors will increasingly seek to direct capital to projects that help to reduce their exposure to climate- and nature-related risks, such ecosystem restoration and sustainable agriculture.

Many of these projects can help to restore biodiversity, sequester carbon and deliver benefits for local communities. But it’s crucial to remember that private sector investment is motivated, at least in part, by the expectation of a positive financial return.

Projects that are highly risky or slow to mature, such as restoring highly threatened species or ecosystems, might struggle to attract finance. For example, the federal government’s Threatened Species prospectus reportedly attracted little private sector interest.

That means governments and philanthropic donors still have a crucial role in the funding of research and pilot projects.




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Governments must also better align policies to improve business and investor confidence. It is nonsensical that various Australian governments send competing signals about whether, say, forests should be cleared or restored. And at the federal level, biodiversity loss and climate change come under separate portfolios, despite the issues being inextricably linked.

Private-sector investment could deliver huge benefits for the environment, but these outcomes must be real and clearly demonstrated. Investors want the benefits measured and reported, but good data is often lacking.

Too-simple metrics, such as the area of land protected, don’t tell the whole story. They may not reflect harm to local and Indigenous communities, or whether the land is well managed.

Finally, as the private sector becomes more aware of nature and climate-related risks, a range of approaches to addressing this will proliferate. But efforts must be harmonised to minimise confusion and complexity in the marketplace. Governments must provide leadership to make this a smooth process.

Swift parrot flies through treetops
Threatened species habitat restoration may struggle to attract private sector funding.
Eric Woehler

The power to change

Last week, a major report was released highlighting grave failures in Australia’s environmental laws. The government’s response suggested it is not taking the threat seriously.

Businesses and governments hold disproportionate power that can be used to either delay or accelerate transformative change.

And although many businesses wield undue influence on government decisions, it doesn’t have to be this way.

By working together and seizing the many opportunities that present, business and government can help arrest climate change and nature loss, and contribute to a safer, more liveable planet for all.




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The Conversation


Megan C Evans, Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow, UNSW

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

How Bob Brown taught Australians to talk about, and care for, the ‘wilderness’



AAP/supplied

Libby Lester, University of Tasmania

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key figures in Australian political history, looking at the way they changed the nature of debate, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. You can also read the rest of our pieces here.


To understand Bob Brown’s impact on Australian political debate, watch Tasmanian commercial television and stay on the couch during the ad breaks.

Here’s an advertisement for “wilderness tours”, another for small businesses on the “Tarkine coast”. Few of the audience, let alone the businesses paying for the ads, would know these terms came into common use because of the way Bob Brown does politics.

Anywhere known as “wilderness” was best avoided before the late 1970s when Brown, then leader of the campaign to save Tasmania’s Franklin River from damming, started deliberately including the term in almost every public statement he made about the threatened area. He understood the symbolic power of the term.

His political and media opponents quickly learned also. The Hobart Mercury – a strong supporter of the Hydro Electric Commission and its political masters – rarely let the word onto its pages. This was different from, for example, the Melbourne Age, which opposed the damming.

NO DAM headline on The Launceston Examiner in 1983.
The High Court decision to block the Franklin River dam was very significant and divisive.
Tasmanian Electoral Commission

The Tasmanian media’s approach changed shortly after the High Court decision to block the damming in July 1983, when the commercial potential of “wilderness” began to emerge. Even the Mercury was promoting a calendar of “wilderness” images by the end of 1983.

Beginning in the 1990s, Brown applied the same patient strategy to the campaign to protect the area between the Arthur and Pieman rivers in north-west Tasmania. The Tarkine, with its forest and mineral resources, might still not be fully protected – earlier this year there were more arrests of members of the Bob Brown Foundation. But it is probably a lot closer than it would be if Brown had stuck to calling it the Arthur-Pieman.

Originally from regional New South Wales, Brown moved to Tasmania during the ultimately failed Lake Pedder campaign of the early 1970s. On the advice of Richard Jones, president of what is now recognised as the world’s first Green party, the United Tasmania Group, the openly gay young GP in ill-fitting suits started standing for Tasmanian parliament in 1972. After a decade of trying, he won the lower house seat of Denison (now renamed Clark; Brown might have come up with something less predictable) in 1983.

The shift from protest camps to the formal political arena proved challenging to Brown’s way of doing politics. As a young journalist covering Tasmanian parliament in the mid-1980s, I watched as the ever-polite-if-firm Brown inadvertently almost outlawed lesbianism as he tried to make Tasmania’s appalling anti-homosexuality laws symbolically nonsensical.

Ironically, the notoriously conservative members of the Legislative Council rejected his amendment, saving Tasmania’s lesbians from becoming criminals. While the mistake was memorable, more so was Brown’s willingness to acknowledge what he still describes as the worst moment of his political career.

However, some members of the Australian Greens, the party Brown was instrumental in forming in 1992, might suggest his worst political moment was publicly supporting the partial sale of Telstra in return for environmental gains before the party had debated the move internally.

Brown’s occasional failure to respect his party’s way of coming to decisions is forgivable. After all, consensus politics only really works when a strong leader guides the way, and Brown – as is increasingly obvious for the Greens – was exactly that.

Brown was elected to the Senate in 1996, after ten years in the lower house of Tasmania’s state parliament. He was re-elected to the Senate twice, in 2001 and again in 2007 when he won the highest personal vote of any Tasmanian senator.

The 2010 election resulted in nine Greens in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Negotiations with Brown and the Greens led to Julia Gillard and the ALP forming government in return for an ever-elusive carbon plan.

As a senator, Brown continued his play with the symbolic that he had learned so well as a protester. He made international headlines in 2003, not only for interjecting during US President George W. Bush’s speech to the Australian parliament, but for shaking the president’s hand afterwards. Bush responded to the heckling by saying: “I love free speech.”

Woodchip giant Gunns expressed exactly the opposite sentiment the following year when it launched a A$6.3 million law suit against Brown and 19 other activists just before Christmas to silence them over its pulp mill plans. Gunns should have known Brown was always going to out-survive it. The company collapsed in 2012, taking with it one of the worst reputations in Australian corporate history.

Brown stepped down as leader of the Australian Greens and retired from the Senate in 2012. After forming the Bob Brown Foundation, he has sparked more recent debate over whether the Adani convoy in 2019 was in fact his worst political moment, turning Queensland voters and thus the most recent federal election to the LNP.

For some critics, the convoy led by Brown was a misguided attempt to redeploy old tactics and relive past glories. Given the protest involved a convoy of fossil-fuelled vehicles travelling to oppose fossil fuel extraction, it does seem on the surface, at least, that Brown’s ability to harness the symbolic deserted him in this case.

However, a deeper play with the symbolic was under way, one I suspect Brown knows will be recognised with time, if it hasn’t been already. Brown is not afraid of being seen as an outsider – perhaps he has had no choice in a country where blokiness is a common character trait of political insiders. Nor has he ever pandered to the small-town politics that puts local rights over what he considers the greater good.

The Adani convoy was meant to be seen exactly as it was – an invasion by outsiders. If it contributed to the election loss for the ALP, so be it. Brown is playing a long game.

Brown may have affected the way politics is debated in Australia, but he has not yet changed that politics.

As Brown’s career has highlighted, ours is a politics where economic growth and environmental protection are still largely in conflict: jobs versus conservation, social needs versus ecological futures, left versus right. These tensions remain as evident in the political party Brown formed as in the responses of his political opponents, in media commentary and in voter choices.

Australia’s inability to act on carbon emissions exemplifies both the enduring nature of this politics and how long a game Brown has always been willing to play. In Brown’s maiden speech in the Senate in 1996, he said:

One has only to look again at the reality that if we do not rein in the greenhouse gas phenomenon one billion people on this planet will be displaced if the oceans rise by a metre at the end of the next century. This for a planet on which the wealthy ones who fly between here and London put, on average per passenger, five tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Thirteen years later, when the Greens led by Brown voted against Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – and hence still carry the blame for Kevin Rudd’s failure to respond to “the greatest moral challenge of our time” – Brown’s argument for his party’s opposition to the scheme was “that it locked in failure” by “providing polluters billions of dollars and setting targets way too low”.

Like Gunns, the major parties can’t say they weren’t warned. Another thing Brown had said in his first speech in the Senate, quoting British environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, was: “the future will either be green or not at all”.

Brown is indeed playing a long game, and we can only guess what name he will give politics if he wins.The Conversation

Libby Lester, Director, Institute for Social Change, University of Tasmania

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

What ‘Walden’ can tell us about social distancing and focusing on life’s essentials



Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.
ptwo/Wikipedia, CC BY

Robert M. Thorson, University of Connecticut

Seeking to bend the coronavirus curve, governors and mayors have told millions of Americans to stay home. If you’re pondering what to read, it’s easy to find lists featuring books about disease outbreaks, solitude and living a simpler life. But it’s much harder to find a book that combines these themes.

As the author of three books about essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend “Walden,” Thoreau’s 1854 account of his time living “alone” in the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts. I qualify “alone” because Thoreau had more company at Walden than in town, and hoed a bean field daily as social theater in full view of passersby on the road.

Published in over 1,000 editions and translated into scores of languages, “Walden” is the scriptural fountainhead of the modern environmental movement, a philosophical treatise on self-reliance and a salient volume of the American literary canon. In his introduction to the Princeton edition, John Updike claims that Thoreau’s masterpiece “contributed most to America’s present sense of itself” during the cultural renaissance of the mid-19th century, yet “risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”

Another reason to read or reread “Walden” during trying times is that it gushes with sorely needed optimism and is laced with wit. And Thoreau befriends you by writing in the first person.

Reality lies within us

Henry David Thoreau, 1856.
National Portrait Gallery/Wikipedia

As governments mandate social distancing to protect public health, many readers may be coming to grips with solitude. Thoreau devotes a chapter to it, extolling the virtue of getting to know yourself really well.

“Why should I feel lonely?” he asks, “is not our planet in the Milky Way?” Elsewhere he clarifies the difference between what we need and what we think we need, writing, “My greatest skill has been to want but little.”

“Walden” doesn’t have to be read straight through like a novel. For readers who have previously given up on it, I suggest rebooting in the middle with “The Ponds,” which opens thus: “Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and worn out all my village friends, I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell…” Thoreau then retreats away from the mindless distractions of community life toward an immersion into Nature, with water at its spiritual center.

Next, flip back to the earlier chapter “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” Here Thoreau invites readers on a downward journey, from the fleeting shallows of their social lives to the solid depths of their individual lives:

“Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality…”

Our brains build that reality – yours, mine, everyone’s – by integrating external sensory signals with internal memories. Thoreau’s point – which is supported by 21st-century cognitive and neuroscience research – is that the real you precedes the social you. Your world is built from the inside of your skull outward, not vice versa.

‘Walden’ is a book about breaking away and focusing on the essential facts of life.

The elusive simple life

Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond is often mistaken for a hermit’s flight deep into the woods. Actually, Thoreau put some distance between himself and his home and village so that he could understand himself and society better. When not in town, he swapped human companionship for the “beneficent society” of Nature for long enough to make “the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant.”

Today mandatory social distancing is wrecking the global economy, based on traditional metrics like gross domestic product and stock prices. Viewed through “Walden,” this wreckage may look like a long-overdue correction for an unsustainable system.

Thoreau feared that the economy he saw was headed in the wrong direction. His opening chapter, “Economy,” is an extended rant against what he viewed as a capitalistic, urbanizing, consumption-driven, fashion-conscious 19th-century New England.

Of his neighbors, Thoreau wrote, “By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book” – meaning the Christian Bible – “laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”

In contrast, his recipe for a good economy is one of “Walden”‘s most famous quotes: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”

Thoreau’s family operated a flourishing pencil manufacturing business in the 1840s.
University of Florida, CC BY

That was easier said than done, even for Thoreau. When he conceived “Walden,” he was an unemployed, landless idealist. By the time it was published, he lived in a big house that was heated with Appalachian coal, earning income by manufacturing pulverized graphite and surveying for land developers.

Since then, the world’s population has more than quintupled and developed nations have built a global economy approaching US$100 trillion per year. Human impacts on the planet have become so powerful that scientists have coined the term Anthropocene to describe our current epoch.

Finding perspective in solitude

Some Americans have tried at least halfheartedly to follow “Walden”’s idealistic advice by living deliberately, being more self-reliant and shrinking their planetary footprints. Personally, although I’ve downsized my house, walk to work, fly only for funerals and cook virtually every meal from scratch, in my heart I know I’ve also contributed to the world’s swelling population, burn fracked natural gas and am hopelessly embedded in a consumer economy.

Nevertheless, after several weeks of social distancing, I’m rediscovering the value of two of Thoreau’s key points: Solitude is helping me recalibrate what matters most, and the current economic slowdown offers short-term gains and a long-term message for the planet.

These benefits don’t compensate for the incalculable personal losses and grief that COVID-19 is inflicting worldwide. But they are consolation prizes until things stabilize in the new normal. On my daily solitary walk in the woods, I am mindful of Thoreau’s words: “Next to us is not the workman whom we have hired, with whom we love so well to talk, but the workman whose work we are.”

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read our newsletter.]The Conversation

Robert M. Thorson, Professor of Geology, University of Connecticut

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

Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it


File 20181101 173911 3wtxox.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Brazil, home to the Amazon, is one of just five ‘mega-wilderness’ countries.
CIFOR, Author provided

James Allan, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland

Just 20 countries are home to 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding the high seas and Antarctica, according to our new global wilderness map, published today in Nature.

A century ago, wilderness extended over most of the planet. Today, only 23% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 13% of the ocean remains free from the harmful impacts of human activities.

More than 70% of remaining wilderness is in just five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska), and Brazil.

The last of the wild. Remaining marine wilderness is shown in blue; terrestrial wilderness in green.
Watson et al. 2018

We argue that wilderness can still be saved. But success will depend on the steps these “mega-wilderness nations” take, or fail to take, to secure the future of Earth’s last remaining wild places.

Mega-wilderness countries.
James Allan, Author provided

Wilderness areas are vast tracts of untamed and unmodified land and sea. Regardless of where they are – from the lowland rainforests of Papua New Guinea, to the high taiga forests of Russia’s Arctic, to the vast deserts of inland Australia, to the great mixing zones of the Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans – these areas are the last strongholds for endangered species, and perform vital functions such as storing carbon, and buffering us against the effects of climate change. In many wilderness areas, indigenous peoples, who are often the most politically and economically marginalised of all peoples, depend on them for their livelihoods and cultures.

Yet despite being important and highly threatened, wilderness areas and their values are completely overlooked in international environmental policy. In most countries, wilderness is not formally defined, mapped or protected. This means there is nothing to hold nations, industry, society and community to account for wilderness conservation.

Beyond boundaries

Almost two-thirds of marine wilderness is in the high seas, beyond nations’ immediate control. This effectively makes it a marine wild west, where fishing fleets have a free-for-all. There are some laws to manage high-seas fishing, but there is no legally binding agreement governing high-seas conservation, although the United Nations is currently negotiating such a treaty. Ensuring marine wilderness is off-limits to exploitation will be crucial.




Read more:
New map shows that only 13% of the oceans are still truly wild


And we cannot forget Antarctica, arguably Earth’s greatest remaining wilderness and one of the last places on the planet where vast regions have never experienced a human footfall.

Antarctica, the (almost) untouched continent.
Author provided

While Antarctica’s isolation and extreme climate have helped protect it from the degradation experienced elsewhere, climate change, human activity, pollution, and invasive species increasingly threaten the continent’s wildlife and wilderness.

Parties to the Antarctic Treaty must act on their commitments to help reduce human impacts, and we need to urgently curb global carbon emissions before it is too late to save Antarctica.




Read more:
Earth’s wildernesses are disappearing, and not enough of them are World Heritage-listed


Our maps show how little wilderness is left, and how much has been lost in the past few decades. It is hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009 a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness – an area larger than India – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are confined to the poles or remote Pacific island nations.

Saving wilderness

Almost every nation has signed international environmental agreements that aim to end the biodiversity crisis, halt dangerous climate change, and achieve global
sustainable development goals. We believe Earth’s remaining wilderness can only be
secured if its importance is immediately recognised within these agreements.

At a summit in Egypt later this month, the 196 signatory nations to the Convention on Biological Diversity will work alongside scientists on developing a strategic plan for conservation beyond 2020. This is a unique opportunity for all nations to recognise that Earth’s wilderness are dwindling, and to mandate a global target for wilderness conservation.

A global target of retaining 100% of all remaining wilderness is achievable, although it would require stopping industrial activities like mining, logging, and fishing from expanding to new places. But committing explicitly to such a target would make it easier for governments and non-governmental organisations to leverage funding and mobilise action on the ground in nations that are still developing economically.

Similarly, the role of wilderness in guarding against climate change – such as by storing huge amounts of carbon – could also be formally documented in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which holds its annual conference in Poland next month. This would incentivise nations to make wilderness protection central to their climate strategies.

Mechanisms such as REDD+, which allows developing nations to claim compensation for conserving tropical forests they had planned to clear, could be extended to other carbon-rich wilderness areas such as intact seagrasses, and even to wildernesses in rich countries that do not receive climate aid, such as the Canadian tundra.

The Boreal/Taiga Forest holds one third of the world’s terrestrial carbon.
Keith Williams, Author provided

Nations have ample opportunities, through legislation and rewarding good behaviour, to prevent road and shipping lane expansion, and enforcing limits on large-scale developments and industrial fishing in their wilderness areas. They can also establish protected areas to slow the spread of industrial activity into wilderness.




Read more:
The moral value of wilderness


A diverse set of approaches must be embraced, and the private sector must work with governments so that industry protects, rather than harms, wilderness areas. Key to this will be lenders’ investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.

Our planet faces not just a species extinction crisis, but also a wilderness extinction crisis. Once lost, our wild places are gone forever. This may be our last opportunity to save the last of the wild, we cannot afford to miss it.The Conversation

James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, PhD candidate, biodiversity conservation and climate change, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

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

Green light for Tasmanian wilderness tourism development defied expert advice



File 20181012 119126 dc88di.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
At least 30 tourism developments have been proposed for Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed wilderness.

Brendan Gogarty, University of Tasmania; Nick Fitzgerald, University of Tasmania, and Phillipa C. McCormack, University of Tasmania

The Commonwealth government’s decision to wave through a controversial tourism development in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was made in defiance of strident opposition from the expert statutory advisory body for the region’s management, it was revealed today.

In August, federal environment minister Melissa Price’s office decided the proposed luxury development on Halls Island did not need to be assessed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

But according to documents tabled in Tasmania’s parliament by the Greens this morning, the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council had advised the opposite, as well as recommending that the proposal should not be approved at all in its current form. The council also argued “contentious projects” like this one should not be considered for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area without “an agreed framework to guide assessment”.

This situation is not unique, and reveals a deeper problem with our national environmental laws. They may look strong on paper, but their strength can be eroded by bureaucratic discretion.

From conservation to commercialisation

Tasmania’s wilderness has long been ground zero for the struggle between conservation and commercialisation of our natural estate. In the 1980s, the Commonwealth government nominated the area for World Heritage listing to stop the state government building a hydroelectric dam on one of Australia’s last truly wild rivers.

The “locking up” of large parts of wilderness from industrial development has prompted deep social divisions. Nevertheless, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) has since become part of Tasmania’s cultural and natural fabric. Yet this wilderness is now under renewed threat, as commercial interests seek to capitalise on its tourism potential.




Read more:
Explainer: wilderness, and why it matters


World Heritage Areas must have an up-to-date management plan to ensure compliance with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention. In 2016 the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments revised the TWWHA management plan to reflect its “socio-economic” value, allowing a range of tourism uses that were banned under the previous 1999 plan.

The World Heritage Committee warned in 2015 that without “strict criteria for new tourism development”, there would be significant risks to the area’s “wilderness character and cultural attributes”. Australia accepted the recommendation but has still not meaningfully implemented strict criteria to assess and protect wilderness values, even as it accepts proposals for tourism developments.

Proposed commercial infrastructure projects involving built structures, transport, and modification of the natural environment in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which have received preliminary or final approvals at October 2018. 30 proposals have been made and additional projects are likely to be announced as the EOI process continues.
(c) Nick Fitzgerald 2018.

Since both levels of government agreed to open up the TWHHA, a range of commercial interests have proposed tourism developments there. Expressions of interest for commercial developments are done behind closed doors, but it is clear that at least 30 commercial development proposals have been made for sites in the TWWHA, including projects involving permanent huts, lodges and camps, and some that would necessitate helicopter access.

Halls Island

The first of these proposals to be released for public comment and assessed under the 2016 management plan is a plan to build a “luxury standing camp and guided ecotourism experience” at Halls Island in Walls of Jerusalem National Park – a remote highland region of the TWWHA.

The plan includes reclassifying the lake surrounding Halls Island from “wilderness” to “self-reliant recreation”. On March 22, 2018, the proponent (Wild Drake Pty Ltd) referred the proposal to the Commonwealth Environment Minister to determine whether it should be formally assessed under the EPBC Act.

Upon referral the proposal met with widespread opposition from scientists, conservation specialists, civil society, and recreational users of the park, especially the fishing community. What became clear today is that it was also strongly opposed by the expert advisory council for the TWWHA.

Expert advice

The National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council (NPWAC) is a statutory body of independent experts, with responsibility to advise on the management of the TWHHA in line with Australia’s national and international World Heritage commitments. The documents released today show that on July 13 2018, the NPWAC argued strongly against the proposal being allowed to proceed, stating that it “does not support this project progressing at this time”.

It cited a range of objections, including the fact that the development would effectively grant “exclusive private commercial use” of an area in the TWWHA, and that the opening up of airspace to helicopters would set an unwelcome precedent. It also described the development’s planned “standing camp” as a “pretence” because it would involve the construction of permanent buildings for year-round use. And it pointed to the proposal’s failure to address adequately the risk to threatened species and the fire-sensitive nature of the property.

Like the World Heritage Committee, NPWAC argued that the range of projects currently proposed for the TWWHA “should not be considered until there is an agreed framework to guide assessment”. Yet despite this, the minister’s delegate allowed the proposal to proceed without further assessment under the EPBC Act.

Commonwealth government’s decision

On August 31, 2018, the delegate of the minister decided that the referred action “is not a controlled action”, which means that it will not be subject to any further assessment, or even attention, by the Commonwealth government. No other reasons were given to reject the NPWAC’s recommendations, or the submissions from 78 individuals (including expert scientists) and 808 campaign submissions opposing the development.

Government ministers are not bound to act on expert advice. But they do have a duty to take it into account in a meaningful way. That is especially the case when expert advice is so clear, and supported by a range of relevant, independent and compelling public submissions from scientists and specialist groups.

According to the IUCN, world heritage wilderness area areas allow us to understand nature on its own terms and maintain those terms while allowing (and even encouraging) humans to experience wild nature.
(c) Brendan Gogarty

In the case of Halls Island, these factors should have tipped the balance towards undertaking a proper, legal assessment of the proposal and its likely impacts.

In a response to The Conversation, Price said her department had considered a range of advice and concluded that the proposed development is “not likely to have significant impacts on any nationally protected environmental matters, including the value of the World Heritage Area”.

Examined against the government’s increasingly cavalier attitude to our national estate, world heritage, and role in global environmental governance it is tempting to conclude that Tasmania’s wilderness has become yet another place where economic values trump conservation ones.

The Commonwealth is supposed to provide a check and balance on states’ self-interest in exploiting areas of outstanding universal value. But with another 29 development proposals on the list, our fear is that Tasmania’s World Heritage “wilderness” will become a lot less wild in the future.The Conversation

Brendan Gogarty, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania; Nick Fitzgerald, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania, and Phillipa C. McCormack, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania

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

New map shows that only 13% of the oceans are still truly wild


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Tuna are among the most vulnerable species to human pressures.
Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland; Alan Friedlander, University of Hawaii; Benjamin Halpern, University of California, Santa Barbara; Caitlin Kuempel, The University of Queensland; Carissa Klein, The University of Queensland; Hedley Grantham, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Nicole Shumway, and Oscar Venter, University of Northern British Columbia

Just 13% of the world’s oceans are now free from intense human activities such as fishing, according to a new map of ocean wilderness areas.

Our research, published in the journal Current Biology, shows that only 55 million square km of the global ocean can still be classified as “wilderness”, out of a total of 500 million square km.

There is almost no wilderness left in coastal seas, where human activities are most intense. Much of the remaining marine wilderness is clustered around the poles or near remote Pacific island nations with low populations.

Marine wilderness in exclusive economic zones (light blue), in areas outside national jurisdiction (dark blue), and marine protected areas (green).
Jones et al. Current Biology 2018

Humans rely on the ocean for food, livelihoods, and almost three-quarters of atmospheric oxygen. We use the ocean for the vast majority of global trade, and more than 2.8 billion people rely on seafood as an important protein source. It’s little wonder that more than eight in ten Australians live within 50km of the coast.

Earth’s ocean wilderness areas are home to unparalleled levels of marine life and are some of the only places where large predators are still found in historical numbers. Top predators such as sharks and tuna depend on these areas, as their slow reproduction rates make them particularly susceptible to decline even at mild levels of fishing.

Even the strictest, best-managed marine reserves cannot sustain the same levels of wildlife diversity as wilderness areas. This is either because reserves are too small, or because human activities in neighbouring areas impact wildlife as soon as they swim outside of reserve boundaries. According to our research, only 4.9% of marine wilderness is currently within marine protected areas.

There is evidence that wilderness areas are more resilient to rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching – stressors that cannot be halted without globally coordinated efforts to reduce emissions. These areas also give scientists a true baseline for system health, providing important information for restoring degraded marine ecosystems.

Threats to wilderness

Human impacts on marine ecosystems are becoming more intense and widespread
each year, threatening wilderness areas across the planet. Fishing is
now one of the most widespread activities by which humans harvest natural
resources. Industrial fishing covers 55% of the ocean, an area four times larger than is used for terrestrial agriculture. In many places, fishing has become so intense that large predators and charismatic species such as sea turtles have almost been wiped out.

Technological improvements have allowed humans to fish in the
farthest reaches of international waters. In the high Arctic, places that were once safe because of year-round ice cover are now open to fishing and shipping as warming seas melt the ice.

Even in nations with world-class fisheries management, such as Australia and the
United States, marine environments are being severely impacted by sediment and
nutrient runoff due to poor land management and deforestation. Sediment runoff onto the once pristine Great Barrier Reef is now five to ten times higher than historical levels, contributing to declining coral diversity and more frequent crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, and reducing the resilience of reefs against climate change.

Can we save the last of the wild?

Marine wilderness is overlooked in both global and national conservation strategies, as these areas are often assumed to be free from threatening processes and are therefore not a priority for conservation efforts. Our results show that this is a myth – wilderness areas in the ocean and on land are being rapidly lost, and protecting what remains is crucial. The Arctic, once thought of as untouched, is now likely to see new shipping channels, fisheries, and mining operations as sea ice disappears.

Protecting wilderness will require a combination of national and international efforts, but the fundamental goal must be to curb the impacts of current threats such as commercial fishing, shipping, resource extraction, and land-based runoff.

In nations like Australia and Canada, which still have substantial wilderness remaining within their national waters, using marine protected areas or fishery management regulations to protect wilderness will be crucial. Because even low levels of human activity can severely impact vulnerable species such as sharks and tuna, these areas should be strictly protected and cannot allow activities like commercial fishing.

However, current government plans to almost halve the area of strict protection in the Australian marine reserve system do not bode well for the future of wilderness protection.




Read more:
Australia’s new marine parks plan is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes


While protecting wilderness within national waters is legally straightforward,
preserving wilderness on the high seas will likely prove much more challenging, as no country has jurisdiction over these areas. One option may be to harness existing international and regional agreements, such as Regional Fisheries Management Organisations – international agencies formed by countries to manage shared fishing interests in a certain area. These organisations are already accustomed to set fishing limits, and have been used to close large areas of the high seas to damaging bottom-trawl fishing. An extension of their powers to create high seas conservation areas is certainly feasible, but this is likely to require substantial lobbying from member nations.




Read more:
New laws for the high seas: four key issues the UN talks need to tackle


The need for improved high-seas management is also now being recognised by the international community, with the UN currently negotiating a “Paris Agreement for the Ocean” – a legally binding high-seas conservation treaty to be established under the existing Law of the Sea Convention. Australia, as a wealthy nation and a signatory to fishing agreements in the Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans, has the potential to be a world leader in marine wilderness conservation if it so chooses.

The ConversationJust like wilderness on land, pristine oceans are difficult to restore once lost. Our research should be a clarion call for immediate action to protect the world’s remaining wild oceans so that future generations can see the sea as it once was.

Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Alan Friedlander, Researcher, University of Hawaii; Benjamin Halpern, Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara; Caitlin Kuempel, PhD Candidate in Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Carissa Klein, Postdoctoral research fellow in conservation biology, The University of Queensland; Hedley Grantham, Research Associate, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, Professor, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Nicole Shumway, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland, and Oscar Venter, Associate Professor and FRBC/West Fraser research chair, Ecosystem Science and Management Progam, University of Northern British Columbia

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

The moral value of wilderness



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Pause and reflect on what really makes wilderness valuable.
John O’Neill/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Janna Thompson, La Trobe University

Let us imagine that humanity has almost died out and only a few people remain. Out of resentment or despair, the survivors cater to their destructive urges by destroying as much of the natural world as they can. They poison rivers and lakes, drop napalm on forests, set off a few nuclear warheads. They are at ease with their conscience because no one will ever be in the position to use or appreciate the nature they are destroying.

They are harming no one. But surely what they are doing is wrong.




Read more:
Explainer: wilderness, and why it matters


The Australian environmental philosopher Richard Sylvan used this story to try to persuade us that nature has a value that is independent of our needs and desires, even our existence.

The predicament he imagines is a fiction. But the ethical problem is very real. Experts tell us that human activity is causing the world’s wilderness areas to disappear at an alarming rate. In 100 years there may be no wilderness left.

Those who deplore this development usually focus on the negative implications for human well-being: increasing environmental dysfunction, loss of species diversity and of the unknown benefits that wilderness areas might contain.

But Sylvan’s thought experiment – involving the last people alive, and therefore removing the consideration of humans’ future well-being – shows us that much more is at stake. It is morally wrong to destroy ecosystems because they have value in their own right.

Questions of value

Some philosophers deny that something can have value if no one is around to value it. They think that ethical values exist only in our minds. Like most philosophical propositions, this position is debatable. Sylvan and many others believe that value is as much a part of the world as matter and energy.

But let us assume that those who deny the independent existence of values are right. How then can we condemn the destructive activities of the last people or deplore the loss of wilderness and species for any other reason than loss of something useful to humans?

The kind of experiences that something provides can be a reason for regarding it as valuable for what it is, and not merely for its utility. Those who appreciate wilderness areas are inclined to believe that they have this kind of value. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: “We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life posturing freely where we never wander.”

The Great Barrier Reef “is the closest most people will come to Eden”, said the poet Judith Wright, who helped to lead a protest movement in the 1960s and 1970s against the plans of the Bjelke-Petersen Queensland government to drill for oil on the reef.

Thoreau and Wright value wilderness not merely because it the source of enjoyment and recreational pleasure, but also because it can teach us something profound – either through its astonishing beauty or by putting our own human lives in perspective. In this way, wild nature is valuable for much the same reasons that many people value great works of art.

If the last people had set about destroying all the artworks in all the great museums of the world, we would call them vandals. Objects of great spiritual or aesthetic value deserve respect and should be treated accordingly. To destroy them is wrong, regardless of whether anyone will be here to appreciate them in the future.

Like nowhere else on Earth

Wright and her fellow protesters aimed to make Australians realise that they possessed something remarkable that existed nowhere else on the face of the planet. They wanted Australians to recognise the Great Barrier Reef as a national treasure. They were successful. It was given World Heritage status in 1981 and was listed as national heritage in 2007.

The Great Barrier Reef is also recognised as the heritage of more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. Much of what Westerners think of as wilderness is in fact the ancestral territory of indigenous people – the land that they have cared for and treasured for many generations.

Recognising a wilderness area as heritage gives us another reason for thinking that its value transcends utility.

Heritage consists of objects, practices and sites that connect people with a past that is significant to them because of what their predecessors did, suffered or valued. Our heritage helps to define us as a community. To identify something as heritage is to accept a responsibility to protect it and to pass it on to further generations.




Read more:
Earth’s wildernesses are disappearing, and not enough of them are World Heritage-listed


We have many reasons to recognise wilderness areas like the Great Barrier Reef as heritage. They are special and unique. They play a role in a history of how people learned to understand and appreciate their land. They provide a link between the culture of Aboriginal people – their attachment to their land – and the increasing willingness of non-Aboriginal Australians to value their beauty and irreplaceability.

The last people cannot pass on their heritage to future generations. But valuing something as heritage makes it an object of concern and respect. If people cherish and feel connected to wild environments and the creatures that live in them, they should want them to thrive long after we are gone.

The ConversationWe, who do not share the predicament of the last people, have a duty to pass on our heritage to future generations. This gives us an even stronger moral reason to ensure the survival of our remaining wilderness areas.

Janna Thompson, Professor of Philosophy, La Trobe University

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