Dbytes #534 (27 July 2022)

Info, news & views for anyone interested in biodiversity conservation and good environmental decision making


“Science—that is to say, Euro-American science—has long been held as our model for rationality. Scientists frequently accuse those who reject their findings of being irrational. Yet depending on technologies that do not yet exist is irrational, a kind of magical thinking.”
Naomi Oreskes [see item 7]


In this issue of Dbytes

1. Should we include a climate-change trigger in national environmental law?
2. Credible biodiversity offsetting needs public national registers to confirm no net loss
3. Natural systems in Australia are unravelling. If they collapse, human society could too
4. An approach to defining and achieving restoration targets for a threatened plant community
5. A penguin farm in the Australian desert: a thought experiment that reveals the flaws our in environment laws
6. As the world burns
7. Carbon-Reduction Plans Rely on Tech That Doesn’t Exist

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1. Should we include a climate-change trigger in national environmental law?

A Climate Change Bill is about to be passed in Australia. It will enshrine the Government’s promised 43% carbon emissions reduction target. Many people are calling for the bill to include a ‘climate trigger’ for environmental approval of large projects such as mines and dams. This won’t happen with this bill. Climate triggers have been discussed by Government for over 20 years. So far the idea never gets beyond discussion. There are other ways of achieving the same outcome.

https://sustainabilitybites.home.blog/2022/07/26/should-we-include-a-climate-change-trigger-in-national-environmental-law/

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2. Credible biodiversity offsetting needs public national registers to confirm no net loss

In the face of the ongoing biodiversity crisis, questions are arising regarding the success, or lack thereof, of biodiversity offset schemes, where biodiversity losses from human development are compensated by producing equitable gains elsewhere. The overarching goal of offsetting is to deliver no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity. Assessing whether offsetting does indeed deliver NNL is, however, challenging because of a lack of clear and reliable information about offset schemes. Here we consider barriers in tracking NNL outcomes, outline criteria of public offset registers to enable accessible and credible reporting of NNL, and show how existing registers fail to satisfy those criteria. The lack of accessibility and transparency in existing registers represents a fundamental gap between NNL targets and a valid tracking system, which challenges the impetus to enact the transformative changes needed to reverse biodiversity decline.

https://www.cell.com/one-earth/fulltext/S2590-3322(22)00266-4?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2590332222002664%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

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3. Natural systems in Australia are unravelling. If they collapse, human society could too

In the long-delayed State of the Environment report released this week, there is one terrifying sentence: “Environmental degradation is now considered a threat to humanity, which could bring about societal collapses.” Hyperbole? Sadly not. Climate change has already warmed Australia 1.4℃ and changed rainfall in some regions. Natural ecosystems are already struggling from land clearing, intensive agriculture, soil degradation and poor water management. Climate changes and related sea level rise are making this worse. It’s a mistake to think this won’t affect us.

Natural systems in Australia are unravelling. If they collapse, human society could too (theconversation.com)

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4. An approach to defining and achieving restoration targets for a threatened plant community

Connecting scientific research and government policy is essential for achieving objectives in sustaining biodiversity in an economic context. Our approach to connecting theoretical ecology, applied ecology, and policy was devised using principles of restoration ecology and the requisite methodology to restore biodiverse ecosystems. Using a threatened ecological community (TEC) with >120 plant species, we posit our approach as a guide for interpreting and achieving regulatory compliance (i.e., government conditions) enacted to manage or offset environmental impacts of development. We inform the scientific approach necessary to delivering outcomes appropriate to policy intent and biodiverse restoration through theoretical and applied research into the ecological restoration of the highly endemic flora of banded ironstone formations of the Mid West of Western Australia. Our approach (1) defines scale-appropriate restoration targets that meet regulatory compliance (e.g., Government of Western Australia Ministerial Conditions); (2) determines the optimal method to return individual plant species to the restoration landscape; (3) develops a conceptual model for our system, based on existing restoration frameworks, to optimize and facilitate the pathway to the restoration of a vegetation community (e.g., TEC) using diverse research approaches; and (4) develops an assessment protocol to compare restoration achievements against the expected regulatory outcomes using our experimental restoration trials as a test example. Our approach systematically addressed the complex challenges in setting and achieving restoration targets for an entire vegetation community, a first for a semiarid environment. We interpret our approach as an industry application relevant to policy- or regulator-mediated mine restoration programs that seek to return biodiverse species assemblages at landscape scales.

An approach to defining and achieving restoration targets for a threatened plant community – Elliott – Ecological Applications – Wiley Online Library

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5. A penguin farm in the Australian desert: a thought experiment that reveals the flaws our in environment laws

Imagine this fictitious scenario. The federal environment minister announces government approval for a large-scale penguin farm near Alice Springs. It will produce 300,000 penguins each year for the high-end feather market in Europe. Penguin feathers are also, in this make-believe world, proven superconductors that could provide an alternative to lithium for renewable energy batteries. The $40 million farming project promises to create jobs and growth in regional Australia. To any informed reader, the idea of farming cold-ocean seabirds in the Australian desert is mind-numbingly silly. But this hypothetical idea helps us better understand how environmental governance in Australia has gone badly wrong.

A penguin farm in the Australian desert: a thought experiment that reveals the flaws our in environment laws (theconversation.com)

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6. As the world burns

even before Putin launched his war, the battle against climate change was being lost. It has been hard to generate any sense of urgency about a problem widely viewed as real (denial of climate science is fading) but seen mostly as something that can be dealt with in the future. Record-high temperatures in Europe and elsewhere, droughts, wildfires, more severe storms and increased migration may change this perception, but so far they haven’t. Moreover, any government acting alone will not solve the problem. There is thus a sense in many countries that doing the right thing won’t matter, because others will continue to do the wrong thing, and all will suffer.

As the world burns | The Strategist (aspistrategist.org.au)

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7. Carbon-Reduction Plans Rely on Tech That Doesn’t Exist

Instead of scaling up renewable energy, researchers promote unproved ideas

Stop and think about this for a moment. Science—that is to say, Euro-American science—has long been held as our model for rationality. Scientists frequently accuse those who reject their findings of being irrational. Yet depending on technologies that do not yet exist is irrational, a kind of magical thinking. That is a developmental stage kids are expected to outgrow. Imagine if I said I planned to build a home with materials that had not yet been invented or build a civilization on Mars without first figuring out how to get even one human being there. You’d likely consider me irrational, perhaps delusional. Yet this kind of thinking pervades plans for future decarbonization.

Carbon-Reduction Plans Rely on Tech That Doesn’t Exist – Scientific American

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About Dbytes

Dbytes is a weekly eNewsletter presenting news and views on biodiversity conservation and environmental decision science. ‘D’ stands for ‘Decision’ and refers to all the ingredients that go into good, fair and just decision-making in relation to the environment.

From 2007-2018 Dbytes was supported by a variety of research networks and primarily the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). From 2019 Dbytes is being produced by David Salt (Ywords). Dbytes is supported by the Global Water Forum.

If you have any contributions to Dbytes (ie, opportunities and resources that you think might think be of value to other Dbyte readers) please send them to David.Salt@anu.edu.au. Please keep them short and provide a link for more info.

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David Salt
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