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
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.