Nature is changing so rapidly that many Aussies have forgotten how bountiful the wildlife was during their childhoods.
That’s the warning from the Climate Council’s Professor Tim Flannery who is calling for the nation’s threatened species protection laws to be urgently overhauled.
“If you go a bit wider, to the Australian Antarctic territories, we've just seen a massive die-off of Emperor penguins because of ice melting too soon.”
Professor Flannery notes clearing of habitat and feral animals are key extinction drivers in Australia, but he's particularly concerned the threat of climate change isn't being adequately addressed.
He says Australia has the sad distinction of being the first country to have a mammal officially driven to extinction from human-driven climate change — the Bramble Cay melomys.
Nature is changing very rapidly around us. We tend to forget what things were like when we were younger, so we don't see the losses quite as much as we possibly should.Professor Tim Flannery
How Australia can save its threatened species
Noting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was created by the Commonwealth government in the twentieth century, he argues it needs to be modernised so it includes stronger provisions to tackle the impact of the climate crisis on threatened species.
"We need changes to be vast. They’re not going to be easy," he said. "In an ideal circumstance, they’d be generational change but we don’t have that time. At the end of the day, we need tough laws that our politicians are willing to stand by and protect."
Put simply, Professor Flannery wants the EPBC Act changed so that all decisions about threatened species reflect the available science. "Climate scientists have been telling us for years that we cannot afford to open new coal fields... so to protect our biodiversity, the EPBC Act should really reflect that," he said.
How Australia's 'frontier' mentality is harming the environment
While Professor Flannery concedes many politicians will face pressure from lobbyists not to change laws to help protect the environment, he argues biodiversity must be protected for all Australians to enjoy, and the Commonwealth has the responsibility to advocate for them, not just the influential.
"At the heart of the problem really is that we still live in a society with a sort of frontier mentality where the resources are there to be exploited. The strongest and most rugged individual gains the wealth, and the rest of us just have to put up with the loss. And that's not a very good model for society, in my view,” he said.
If you’re interested in learning more from Professor Flannery about the climate crisis, his new documentary Climate Changers will be opening in cinemas this month. It asks the question, “What makes a good leader?” and includes a diverse group of interviewees including Pacific Islanders and former NSW environment minister Matt Kean.
You can read more of our interview about Australia’s biodiversity with Professor Tim Flannery by subscribing to the Yahoo environment newsletter What on Earth below.
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