State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
Pollution is an ongoing pressure on biodiversity, but there is potential for new pollutants, such as micropollutants (see Section 3.5), to emerge that increase the pressure manyfold. Known pollutants that threaten to become major problems include a range of byproducts of industry and pharmaceutical consumption that are accumulating in waterways and animal tissues, and that disrupt hormonal function in a range of species—even at the low concentrations currently detected.92-93,210,215
Large-scale functional shifts appear to be occurring in soils worldwide, including increased respiration rates and elevated emissions of carbon.210 It is not yet clear what the significance is of this trend, or the extent to which it might be a problem for Australian soil processes and the plants and animals that depend on those processes.
The past few years have seen increasing suggestions for large-scale engineering of natural systems as ways to combat climate change and other environmental problems. Such approaches include the release of particles (e.g. sulfate aerosols) into the stratosphere to scatter sunlight back into space, deployment of large sunshades in space and seeding of the oceans with iron or fertilisers to increase carbon uptake by marine organisms.94,216 Serious concern has been expressed about the possibility of such approaches having unintended and disastrous effects.217
Some of the less likely risks, but ones that have potentially major impacts, include the:94
- increased availability of genetic engineering technologies used to modify species that can then interact with wild species
- wholesale failure of protected areas, due to climate change and associated effects (which would undermine the foundations of Australia’s conservation strategies)
- widespread denial of biodiversity loss, due to the combination of natural human tendencies to deny major problems and effective anti-information campaigns.
Finally, there is a high likelihood of surprises in the future. Some of these will be in the form of new understanding of Australia’s social–ecological systems, just as ecology has produced a number of surprises over the past century that are now regarded as common knowledge.218 Some will be unwelcome shocks,219 but their impact can be lessened by good processes of scanning for emerging change and building and maintaining resilience.
Several recent examples have shown the potential value of formal approaches to horizon scanning and strategic foresight for anticipating and preparing for future environmental challenges, including those to biodiversity.7,94,209-210,218 Such processes may help us anticipate and mitigate the impacts of future challenges to Australia’s biodiversity.
|Almost certain||Not considered|
|Rare||Not considered||Not considered||Not considered||Not considered||Not considered|
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