Could Kuranda become a “Ciudad Dulce”?
A recently published report, “Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic”(1), prepared by thirty-eight scientists from Australian universities and agencies describes nineteen Australian ecosystems that are collapsing due to the prolonged and ongoing impacts of human activity.
Impacts such as rising temperatures through climate change, habitat destruction, intrusion of plastics and other pollutants and invasive species are taking their toll on these special places. Included in the report are details of the collapse of such iconic ecosystems as the Murray-Darling basin, mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the tropical savanna lands, the Gondwana-era conifer forests of Tasmania and unfortunately our very own wet-tropics rainforests.
More troubling the report finds a low likelihood of recovery in most instances and predicts that if there is no change to our management approach, permanent collapse is assured. How did we get to this point?
The idea that humans have absolute power over nature appears to have reached its zenith in our modern industrialized society. It is underpinned by the elements of control and separation. Humans automatically assume control, because we can. But for this idea to work we must separate or exclude ourselves from the object being controlled; nature.
This entitlement to control, prevalent within much of the worlds human population for the last 10,000 years has empowered us to use and abuse nature in any way we choose. Our systems of governance also reflect this principle leading to more widespread and ultimately global-scale nature destruction.
Here in Australia our government is moving to shred away the little environmental protection that does exist by watering down the EPBC legislation. Deregulation that will expose more nature to abuse.
Curiously this “power over” mindset goes deeper. Within modern society, authority and power tends to reside in the hands of a small, powerful patriarchal group. Lets call them the insiders. The rest of us outsiders populate a ladder of hierarchy dictated by our sex, skin colour, age, religion and economic wealth. The insiders must exert much energy and surveillance to ensure their dominion remains intact over the outsiders and nature.
Of course not all humans follow this model. Australians First Nations people actively demonstrate an earth-centred model of balanced , lore based governance. This system of autonomous regard, where humans are observed as “another species” within nature, creates a human scale society with an inherent responsibility to manage resources in the best way possible. There are no insiders or outsiders. Authority and power rests with people who have the capacity to apply knowledge and skills and to find the balance necessary to work with nature. The survival of the group and their country depends on it.
There are other examples of earth-centered governance emerging. Late last year the mayor and people of Curridabat, a suburb of San Jose the largest city of Costa Rica voted to extend full citizenship to every pollinator, tree and native plant within their jurisdiction. The residents of “Ciudad Dulce” or Sweet City as the suburb is now called, recognized that if their plan to revitalize every street as an ecological bio-corridor bursting with biodiversity was to succeed then it would be essential to develop a relationship with the plants, pollinators and other non-human species that would help achieve this goal. All species needed to be on the same footing. Thus the recognition of nature as equal.
The small, poor nations of South America; Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Costa Rica along with India and New Zealand are leading the way in developing laws that recognize the “Rights of Nature”. This process of enshrining these earth laws into their countries constitutions not only adds a layer of protection to nature but also confronts, challenges and changes those broken human narratives that do not serve our communities at all well.
I am sure that when asked, the humans of Kuranda and the broader Wet Tropics bioregion would overwhelmingly see ourselves as wanting to be dwellers within a Ciudad Dulce.
In the next article we will look at the work being done by groups like AELA (Australian Earth Laws Alliance) to promote the rights of nature. I will also have some information on an AELA Rights of Nature event to be held in Kuranda in September. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact me on 0409816456.
(1) Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antartic. Bergstrom DM, Wienecke BC, Hoff J, et al. Glob Change Biol. 2021;00:1-12
This article was first published in The Kuranda Paper April 2021 #330.