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CHANGE IS THE STORY OF PLANET EARTH

 

In a recent TV segment about alpine animals on Burke’s Backyard, Don Burke and biologist Glen Sanechi agreed that the greatest hindrance to conservation are conservationists who try to prevent change.

 

Change is the story of this universe. Astronomers tell us it is still expanding with exploding supernovas and emerging new galaxies.

 

Change is the story of planet earth. It has been impacted by meteor strikes, volcanos, shifting continents, ice ages and sea levels rising or falling 100 metres. We only have to imagine what effect the Mount Warning shield volcano had on radically changing the face of the Tweed region. I found a petrified forest buried under 7 metres of clay on my own property. Crocodiles once swam in the Thames and mammoths once ate lush vegetation in the Artic Circle.

 

In his book, A Moment on the Earth, Greg Easterbrook puts the human impact on the earth in perspective when he suggests that these have been mere pin pricks compared  to these vast natural impacts. A fragile earth?  Nonsense, he says, it is a robust earth that has endured enormous natural changes.

 

 99% of all extinctions occurred before humans walked the earth. Species  such as the dinosaurs that could not adapt to change became extinct, only to be replaced by others that could. (Human “dinosaurs” who cannot or will not adapt to change take note!) These changes, whether gradual or cataclysmic, were beneficial. Change has been the vehicle of progress, the instrument used in the evolutionary process to form new and superior life forms until at last conscious intelligence emerged.

 

The Australian vegetative landscape was shaped by fire during 40,000 years of Aboriginal culture. More recently, it has been irrevocably changed by 200 years of European settlement. There is no going back because the past cannot be re-created. The Pyramids, the Coliseum and the British Empire remind us that nothing is forever. The only thing we can do is to try to manage change wisely, but change is as certain as death and taxes.

 

The Tweed is changing from an agricultural economy to a service economy. After the last World War, there were a thousand little daily farms up every valley and creek of the Tweed. Not any more. Murwillumbah was then the banana capital of Australia. Not any more. Cudgen/Duranbah used to the thriving centre of the Tweed’s small-crop industry. Not any more.  For Tweed agriculture has become a victim to the success of the Green Revolution in high-yield agriculture. Commodity agriculture has moved to high tech, broad acre operations where single farms produce more fruit or vegetables than all the farms in the Tweed put together. Eighty percent of dairy farms in Australia have been wiped out since deregulation, yet milk production has doubled. Big unit agribusiness is replacing the family farm as surely as supermarkets have replaced the family grocer or oil companies have replaced the family service station.

 

 Agriculture is projected to contribute a mere 2 ˝ % to the Tweed economy by the end of this decade. It is no longer a significant food producing area. Growing food on the little Tweed hillsides has been reduced to something only a little better than subsidence farming in a Third World country. The planning moguls, like King Canute, can say and do what they like, but they will not hold back the tide of change. For sentimental and romantic reasons we may lament the phasing out of the family farm. The kids won’t take on the back-breaking work for so little reward. Nor should they. The old dinosaurs among us who cannot adapt to change insist on saving the little Tweed farms at any cost. The cost is maintaining a sub-class of rural poor who will eventually shame our society into accepting change. Mercifully, the dinosaurs can’t win, for change is inevitable. It is also beneficial because change is the instrument of human progress just as it has always been the instrument of evolutionary progress.