Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bob Such Memorial Lecture, 2016: Forests, nature and the interacting global crises

Keynote talk, Adelaide, September 1, 2016 Treenet


The world faces multiple crisis. High income nations feel besieged by refugees and asylum seekers. A large number of low income nations are wracked by insurgency, division, and in some cases open war. The two spheres interact, generating xenophobia, fences, walls and detention camps at the barriers. At the same time, the climate is inexorably warming and wilding, as humanity treats the atmosphere as a sewer, oblivious to the harm we are doing it as our predecessors were to the filth they poured in the river Thames. These two issues are related; we are a species of primate, descended from trees, but so entranced with our technological progress that too many of us think we no longer need Nature.

On the whole, in the last ten thousand years (the Holocene) Nature has been benign, forgiving and abundant. Humanity has flourished. However, unless we quickly alter our path, on a scale that today seems almost unimaginable, we well leave this sweet spot behind. Future Nature will not be so benign. We risk a new Dark Age.

In this context, it is imperative that we value and protect Nature that remains, including our forests. Australians have, in recent decades, almost led the world as carbon criminals. Our record on biodiversity is also poor. This behaviour has to change, from the bottom up and the middle out. Politicians like Bob Such are unfortunately rare, but even the lawyers and unionists who dominate our parliaments, and who largely appear indifferent to Nature, will listen to people if we show we care enough. As the multiple global crises deepen, this is the only chance we have.

Professor Colin Butler

Colin is Professor of Public Health at the University of Canberra and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. He qualified in medicine from the University of Newcastle, NSW, in 1986. His academic work has, for many years, principally involved interactions between society, health and the environment. In 2009 Colin was named as one of a hundred doctors for the planet. Colin has published about 130 articles and book chapters and given over 70 invited talks internationally. He is sole editor of “Climate Change and Global Health” and senior editor of “Health of People, Places and Planet”.

Colin has twice been arrested defending the environment, first at the campaign to protect the Franklin river in Tasmania from flooding in 1983, and again in 2014, near the Maules Creek coal mine in NSW, to protest the lack of high level Australian leadership over climate change. In doing so, Colin became the first Australian contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be arrested for climate disobedience, and one of very few, globally.

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