The recognition that man’s thumb exerts a considerable weight on the current ecological scale is anathema to those who promote the myth of “wilderness”, that toxic manifestation of green romanticism. In the 1860s, remarkable Victorian bushman and naturalist Alfred Howitt knew better
There are ecological threats and, if you compile news bulletins for the ABC, there are threats of an entirely different variety. Take CO2, for example, which AM on Friday mentioned as placing red gums in dire peril, albeit at some undisclosed distance of years to come. Listen to the item here and learn how, were you to cultivate those trees in greenhouses gassed-up with 800ppm carbon dioxide — twice current atmospheric levels — they won’t do so well, being prey to leaf-eating bugs and hungry koalas. The item concluded, as you might expect, with the plea that much more research is needed. Keep those grants coming!
The curious thing about the ABC’s decision to showcase this particular prophecy of red gum doom is that a prime and undisputed cause of the trees’ woes has been known for quite some time. Alas, the cause and solution aren’t palatable to those who prefer to fret about a trace gas in unworldly concentration, rather than the real damage done by greenish policies that prevent prophylactic burning, thereby promoting both the worst kind of bushfires and insect populations that would otherwise have been suppressed by the drip torch and controlled flames.
More than that, the recognition that man’s thumb exerts a considerable weight on the current ecological scale is anathema to those who promote the myth of “wilderness”, that manifestation of green romanticism which insists large tracts of the bush remain as they were before humans set foot on the continent. Lock up the bush, the eco-zealots insist, and Nature will make everything pristine once more. Given at least 50,000 years of active Aboriginal stewardship and the subsequent impact of white settlement, radically altered land use and feral species, nothing could be further from the truth. The only beneficiaries of sealing national parks and state land are rabbits, foxes, cats, dogs, pigs, deer, horses, not to mention cape broom, chinese honeysuckle and a veritable United Nations of invasive weeds.
Bushman and naturalist Alfred Howitt, the man whose considerable achievements included retrieving the bodies of Burke and Wills, knew as much in the 1860s, when he began to suspect that the end of Aboriginal “fire-stick management” had led to plagues of caterpillars. Howitt wrote:
Howitt wrote those words in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Yet here we are, getting on for 140 years later, and an observant bushman’s analysis and warning remains largely unheeded. If only he had blamed global warming, his paper might today not be so nearly forgotten.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online.