Lessons in resilience
I’m not scared of telling you I was scared. Even before the bushfires I had visited my unhappy place thinking about climate change and mass extinctions and what all this might mean for humanity and more specifically the two young ladies I have brought into the world.
Once the bush fires hit in December 2019 I admit to spiralling. Despite living in an area that was unaffected except for smoke, where my rain tanks stayed full all summer and my tomato plants groaned with fruit, I was trying to imagine what 15 million ha of burnt areas meant for our future and how it might affect the politics of the climate change debate in Australia.
It was in this context, when we thought the bushfires would frame our thinking for 2020, that I was invited by a local community leader (who happens to be a Bush Heritage supporter) to join a group of locals to think through issues of resilience.
With the famous words most recently spoken by Greta Thunberg – “hope is useless, do something!” written on my new coffee cup, I decided to join, educate myself and work out what more I can do to mitigate, adapt and help others to adjust too. We came together virtually, just as lockdown commenced, to work through the Think Resilience online course (made free during the pandemic).
We learnt about humanity’s converging crises and how they have arisen. Importantly we learnt about systems thinking and how everything is interrelated, from our infrastructure to our values systems, to culture and neuroscience. We learnt about resilience and sustainability and their relationship to each other and how local communities are the logical leverage point from which real change can and must develop. I found it daunting, surprising and elucidating. At least it stopped me fearing and started me thinking…
Throughout this time I continued to work for Bush Heritage (as Business Development and Strategic Projects Manager) for which I am triply grateful to
- have work,
- be able to work from home and
- be working on so many initiatives that are exactly what resilience thinking calls for.
Bush Heritage exists because for 29 years a ‘community of philanthropists’ have put their hand in their pockets to support our work. Added to this, every Monday Bush Heritage staff receive an email reminding us of the incredible army of volunteers, young and old and from all walks of life that give their time and energy to assist our staff in all the variety of tasks we have to do to achieve our conservation outcomes.
As a result, we have 36 nature reserves plus 25 partnerships with Aboriginal people all located in communities where we're undertaking sustainable and resilience forming initiatives. This is the Bush Heritage community that's making a difference and that will assist in combating the four major crises that are beginning to impact us (Ecological, Economic, Equity and Energy).
Unsurprisingly the key mission of Bush Heritage’s reserves and partnerships is to bring the bush back to good health and protect species and their habitats. We're also actively engaging in the application of the science that will help to ensure their survival as the climate changes. Our sites are refuges within broader landscapes where we're supporting resilience and sustainable land management outcomes through our broader partnerships and relationships.
Employing Bush Heritage staff in remote areas ensures that remote communities continue participating in the economy and community. We buy local and most of our staff are involved in local communities through voluntary emergency services, school communities, local businesses, etc.
All our neighbours are farmers. Agriculture uses over half of the earth’s land resources; it emits a substantial portion of carbon emissions and will be asked to produce more as the population continues to grow. It's also the fabric between our protected areas so our initiatives incentivising farm practices that increase carbon sequestration, retain and enhance native vegetation and value nature will have real impacts for long-term resilience and food security.
I’m directly involved in at least three projects with Bush Heritage partners around Australia developing ways to demonstrate the benefits that ecological assets can provide to farm businesses. Natural Capital Accounting is one such concept that can put nature on the books and incentivise farmers, supply chains, financiers and consumers to value nature as the basis for all farm profitability, food sustainability and resilience to changing climates.
Without equity, social unrest can undo all the good done elsewhere. In 2020 more than ever I am constantly learning new things about my own and society’s unconscious bias and ‘boomer’ privilege. It’s an honour to be able to learn more about these issues while working for an organisation doing its best to authentically empower Indigenous Australians through working with them on reserves and where we have been invited to partner with Indigenous owners.
Bush Heritage is working on ways to increase Indigenous employment internally and indirectly through partner ranger programs but already has indigenous representation at all levels of the organisation including senior leadership and the Board. In my own role, I’m fortunate to be working alongside Indigenous team members on a significant carbon project that will share the benefits with the Traditional Owners.
In terms of gender equity, already Bush Heritage is punching above its weight with a majority of females in field positions, in board and senior leadership. I’m convinced this gives Bush Heritage a more balanced approach to our work and possibly a longer-term view about our purpose and how we fulfil it.
Bush Heritage’s reserves are a major carbon store with approximately 45.4 million tonnes stored. We continue to look for opportunities to increase carbon on our properties and to learn from this so we can expand our network of nature reserves and our conservation impact.
And while energy itself is not our core area, I’m proud that our properties are becoming energy self-sufficient as we transition to Remote Area Power Systems using solar and batteries storage.
So even before my local community group comes together to devise local interventions and despite the confounding crises we're beginning to experience, I find myself more grounded and empowered, less frightened and more enthused about the future possibilities, because I see the motivated individuals that daily commit themselves to a better future through the initiatives of Bush Heritage.
I can’t finish this blog without a heartfelt thank you to all our supporters who realised well before I did, the resilience benefits that Bush Heritage can and is delivering well before I recognised it.