Despite the magnitude of Australia’s environmental decline, we still have the opportunity and ability to turn things around
It’s 1996 and I’m in my last year of undergraduate studies at James Cook University, in Townsville. World coral expert Prof Terry Hughes cautions our class that on current trajectories, climate change and coral bleaching threaten destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. In another class, rainforest expert Prof Stephen Williams shares his concerns that increasing temperatures will force highly climate-sensitive animals – including the golden bowerbird and lemuroid ringtail possum – to move higher and higher up mountains in the ancient rainforests of the Wet Tropics, to cling to survival in cooler refuges. Of course, once trapped on a mountain top, there’s nowhere further for many wildlife species to retreat to.
As an optimistic 21-year-old, their warnings are unsettling, but I’m not panicked. I’m still hopeful science will help provide answers to the challenges at hand, and naively, I trust that our political leaders will act swiftly. In doing so we’ll avoid any genuinely dire outcomes for the wildlife and ecosystems so many Australians, and indeed people globally, hold so dear. After all, we are entwined with and completely dependent upon nature, so allowing its demise would be genuinely reckless, right?