Of the two kinds of people in the world, those who think the environment is an optional extra and they can take it or leave it, and those who know that the environment is just the world we live in that supplies all the essentials for life, and that as the environment goes, so go we, I am in the latter.
A few years ago the ABC radio program Late Night Live was recorded in Yass. I forget the topic now, but it was something environmental, probably forest related, and it was chaired by Phillip Adams and starred Wilson Tuckey. Mr Tuckey was, at the time, Minister for Forestry and Conservation. Now, as then, I find it impossible to write that sentence, as full of totally contradictory elements as it is, without trying to decide whether to laugh or cry.
Two memorable moments from Mr Tuckey came when he said there was no incompatibility between clearing the last few trees from the wheatbelt country of WA and conserving parrots because, if we really did want to conserve parrots, we could erect some steel poles in the barren landscape and stick nest boxes on them. No need for trees at all you see. The other memorable moment was when, in answer to a question about how you could reconcile land clearing with preserving elements of biodiversity such as butterflies he said that if you wanted to preserve butterflies, and the idea seemed to leave him bemused, well you could jolly well pay for it.
Now far be it for me to put words in Mr Tuckey's mouth, but I would make a wild guess that of those two kinds of people, he is in the former group. And so, as the recent leadership change showed, are most of his fellow Liberals and all of his fellow Nationals. Although, and I have got to say this is another of those kinds of sentences I never thought I would write ("I agree with John Howard" spurted, unbidden from my keyboard the other day, and I was horrified), I was not unimpressed with Ian MacFarlane, heading the absolutely thankless task of trying to conduct good faith negotiations on climate change while representing the Liberal-National coalition party room. Once a climate change skeptic he said, like so many of his fellow party members, he had now educated himself and understood both the science and the danger. A change of mind is the last thing you hear politicians admit to these days. About as likely as the captain of the Titanic changing mind and changing direction.
Enough about Mr Tuckey, I just used him as an example because of the birds and the butterflies which still stick in my mind all these years later. He certainly isn't Robinson Crusoe, in fact I would suggest that if you could find a single politician in the Liberal, National and Labor Parties who doesn't think the environment is an optional extra I think you would have found someone who had joined the wrong party by mistake. And, I suspect, for 99% of the public, "the environment" is something over there, out the back, down the road, and "saving the environment" is exactly like saving a heritage building, the central park in Yass, a vintage car, an art gallery. These are things you might, or might not, decide to do. Bit of a pity if the old car rusted away, the park has a high rise building built on it, but hey, gotta get on with real life, no good crying over spilt milk, history doesn't butter any parsnips. And, if we fail to save "the environment", oh well, never mind, bit of a hobby of those hippies, but maybe they will cut their hair and get real jobs now it's gone.
But in real life, away from shock jock land, the environment is everywhere, man. Much publicity last week about the Koala seemingly on the path to extinction. Much of the discussion centred on this being a bad thing for tourism, as indeed it would be. But while the "iconic" (as tv news insisted on calling it) species would be a disastrous loss, wiped out, in a few short years, with no more thought than tossing a used tissue in the bin, after taking more than 25 million years to evolve, it is what it symbolises that is even more important. It is going extinct because of loss of habitat, dogs, roads, and with it will go most of the other species that live in koala habitat. The birds, bees, butterflies, beetles (which I am inordinately fond of).
And so more ecology will begin to unravel, like another snagged stitch in my old jumper. Which eventually finished up unravellling all the way up the chest and both sleeves. And as the ecology of the planet unravels, so will the clean water, and fertile soils, and breathable air begin to change, and so will the pests and weeds and diseases and poisons begin to increase. America, as always, leads the way, a recent study, for example, showing that half of all the fish in American lakes are polluted with Mercury and other poisons. Half!
Peter Garrett, for once, made the right decision about Traveston Dam. He has saved a river, and in doing so saved the species that live in it, including one whose evolution is ten times older than the koala. And saved the trees and soil and grass that supported the farms of the Mary Valley.
Look after the butterflies I always say, and they will look after you. They'll even look after Mr Tuckey.
All David Horton's earlier writing is here.