Opinion Editorial: Bold Actions Needed – There’s no vaccine for climate change

By Landcare NSW CEO, Dr Adrian Zammit.

Every day we hear how COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Australia to put a lid on this pandemic and allow us all to resume our lives as they were before. Every day we also hear about excessive carbon emissions and the resulting climate change and how this will change our lives. Unfortunately, we do not have a vaccine for climate change. Instead, decarbonisation of our economy will require productive partnerships between governments, corporates and communities. I believe that Landcare is the partner of choice for government and corporates in our collective fight against climate change.

Landcare NSW and its member groups recognise the significant challenges of climate change and its impacts on farming systems, environmental conservation, and communities. Through peer-to-peer learning across fence lines, more formalised community workshops, and by implementing projects in urban, rural, and regional NSW, Landcare groups are pioneering ideas that drive practice change towards more sustainable farming and increased biodiversity protection.

At a state level, Landcare NSW is actively engaging with its partners in Government and the corporate sector to help facilitate the changes needed. By working with the members of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Landcare or through our formal partnership arrangements with Local Land Services, the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Saving our Species, corporates and other NGOs, Landcare NSW ensures that sustainable farming, conservation, and resilient communities are at the heart of government and corporate policies and projects. Only this week we celebrated the launch of the Federal Parliamentary Friends of Landcare in Canberra, a positive step forward as we position Landcare as a key stakeholder in our sustainable future. I believe that these mutually beneficial partnerships are fundamental to the future success of Landcare NSW and its member community as they highlight Landcare as the ideal delivery partner for regional, state and nation-wide projects, programs and other initiatives, for which success is underpinned by community engagement.

The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us that our well-being is dependent on the well-being of our planet. Time is running out. We must work together to take bold actions to protect, restore and sustainably manage our environment while safeguarding our economic well-being before it is too late. Landcare, working hand-in-hand with Government and corporates, is perfectly placed to play a significant role in sustainable farming, conservation and healthy communities.

A Landcare-led recovery is taking place across Australia

Opinion editorial courtesy of the National Landcare Network and NLN Chair Dr Patrick O’Connor

Landcare has a long history and has been an example to the world of the mobilisation of people to a sustainability ethic and the formation of an incredible number of groups focusing on local environments.

However, Landcare is commonly mistaken as only being an on-ground implementation program – engaging people in projects to plant trees, manage introduced species, protect endangered species, or otherwise halt environmental decline.

All these are actions that individuals and groups can undertake beneath a Landcare banner, but they are not what Landcare is really about.

Landcare is a social movement for managing change. The movement is 30 years old and arose because Australians naturally care about places we know; we want to connect to people we share ideas with and we feel part of the environmental awareness that has grown alongside agricultural change in post-war Australia.

Tens of thousands of Australians are attracted to Landcare, often as their first contribution to environmental action, because it gives them a chance to express their desire for sustainability and environmental protection through action.

Landcarers often find their voices by first using their hands.

Landcare in Australia is a collective movement and the National Landcare Network (NLN) is the representative voice of Landcarers at the National level.

The NLN and state are accountable to the collective of community Landcare networks and groups.

It is the chain of representation that connects community Landcare groups to the national conversation and ensures the Landcare movement fulfils its role as a movement of change management.

In order to be the best leader of change it is necessary to understand the movement and listen to representatives from all parts of the movement.

Without representative processes Landcare could become a project management business or another part of natural resource bureaucracy.

You are part of the Landcare movement if you have a say in project priorities, if you have a say in adapting actions to local conditions, have a say in bringing innovation to environmental stewardship, if you have a say in fair distribution of funding, and if you have a say in representative organisations from your group up to the NLN.

If you don’t have these things your project falls short of the Landcare ideal.

Why does all this matter? Because environmental variability throws real challenges at our communities, our management of land and water and our economy.

When environmental change is part of natural cycles we learn to live with and adapt to the change.

When the changes come at us from a drying climate or a bushfire, or left field from a virus, we mitigate what we can and we adapt as we must.

Landcare exists because tens of thousands of people recognise that we are more resilient together to tackle the challenges of local environmental degradation, natural disasters, climate change, and species extinction.

Landcare participation is a way of building networks and skills for adapting and responding to changes expected and unexpected.

The key is to be a participant in action, in a learning and sharing environment, with others, and in Landcare organisations where each voice is valued.

It is not easy to see our way past the natural disasters that have hit Australia hard in the last few years, compounded by the massive disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What we do know is that human health, the environment, society and the economy are interwoven and positive actions on one can have benefits for the others.

When the economy starts to wake from the current hibernation it will need to stretch and yawn for a while before it is fully alert.

Stimulating community Landcare activities across Australia offers a huge opportunity to employ an underutilised workforce in improving the sustainability of our community and agricultural sector, and the environment on which it depends.

Landcare programs can be upscaled to get people working immediately and we should take the opportunity to employ Australians in helping to repair the natural infrastructure on which our healthy society depends.

Dr Patrick O’Connor is Chair of the National Landcare Network

Opinion Editorial: Landcare is central to natural disaster response, recovery and resilience building

While Australia grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic which poses an acute threat to our wellbeing and way of life, climate change and its many manifestations remains a serious and chronic threat to life as we know it.

Unpredictable and devastating shifts in our weather patterns are creating havoc in the bush, with devastating impacts such as prolonged and severe drought and widespread bushfires, like the unprecedented events we witnessed last summer.

The cost of these natural disasters to our communities, our economy and our environment is incalculable. Is this the new normal given that an ever-increasing human population may be pushing the limits of our planet’s natural systems? If so, how do we as a society best respond to these challenges to be prepared to respond, recover and build resilience to future natural disasters?

Government cannot solve such complex and large-scale natural calamities alone. As we are seeing with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it needs to partner and work together with communities to be able to prioritise, and get support for, on-ground action that delivers real outcomes.

This also applies to other common natural disasters in Australia, such as drought and bushfires. Indeed, the federal government’s National Strategy for Disaster Resilience- Community Engagement Framework (2013) recognises that emergency management is a shared responsibility for all of society.

By working directly with communities, governments can provide a sense of hope, build community resilience and increase preparedness for the next drought, bushfire or pandemic.

By working with and through community-led charity organisations, government can leverage its investment by tapping into an army of volunteers, as well as their social capital and the intimate knowledge and expertise of their local landscape for lasting and effective solutions.

Landcare, both at a state and federal level, can provide these benefits to government. Today, in NSW alone, there are tens of thousands of Landcarers aggregated in thousands of groups. Not only are they passionate and highly knowledgeable on matters pertaining to environmental protection and agricultural systems, they also deliver enormous value to NSW. A recent study indicated that Landcare in NSW delivers more than $500 million a year in value, a massive return on investment.
Landcare’s ability to punch way above its weight hinges on its massive network and social capital that connects people at the local, district, regional, state and national scale. This unique combination is one of Landcare’s secret sauces – the other is its people’s intimate knowledge of their local communities, farms and landscapes, essential ingredients to finding solutions tailored for local needs.

Landcarers live and work in local communities and are part of the social fabric: for example, they volunteer with the Rural Fire Service and other community organisations, many of whom are on the front line of natural disaster management.

They are farmers and landholders dealing with prolonged drought, business owners dealing with difficult economic conditions; above all they are local citizens committed to making a difference.
NSW Landcarers have been heavily involved in emergency responses, recovery and resilience-building work for many years and have delivered great value to their communities in this area.

Landcare’s activities are many and varied. For example, Landcare is a critical source and channel of communication to communities; Landcare supports farmers with government funded relief programs, raises awareness with their local communities of Rural Support Services Network, and organises social events, get-togethers and workshops to help communities cope with the stress.

Landcare organises educational programs and workshops to help raise awareness and best-practice in relation to natural disasters and building community resilience. Furthermore, Landcare undertakes on-ground projects related to natural disaster recovery and preparedness and leverages government funding to attract additional funding from corporates, philanthropy and local government for local projects.

Landcare wants to do more, much more, and it is ready.

Given what Landcare does, and considering the enormous benefits that Landcare has so consistently delivered these past 30 years, why would government not choose to partner with Landcare as a delivery vehicle for its natural disaster response, recovery and resilience-building programs?