The sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenge

Tasmanian Country - - OPINION - Dr Peat Leith

SCI­ENCE plays an im­por­tant role in help­ing to in­form the sus­tain­able growth and de­vel­op­ment of Tas­ma­nia’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor. For this to be suc­cess­ful, pol­icy mak­ers, farm­ers, grow­ers and re­searchers need to have an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween sus­tain­abil­ity, pol­icy and prac­tice.

Along with col­leagues from the Uni­ver­sity of Tas­ma­nia, Deakin Uni­ver­sity and RMIT, I re­cently launched a book called En­hanc­ing Sci­ence Im­pact: Bridg­ing Re­search, Pol­icy and Prac­tice for Sus­tain­abil­ity. This new book ex­plores roles and op­tions for set­ting up ‘sci­ence for sus­tain­abil­ity’ and sug­gests ways to de­velop re­search projects and pro­grams that are fit-for-pur­pose. The book draws from re­search on the prac­tices of suc­cess­ful sci­en­tists and schol­ar­ship from Tas­ma­nia and around the world.

A les­son from this book is that to ef­fec­tively ad­dress Tas­ma­nia’s com­plex sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenges, re­searchers and re­search fun­ders need to de­sign projects and pro­grams to fit with dif­fer­ent types of chal­lenges and the ways they in­form govern­ment and in­dus­try de­ci­sions.

Sus­tain­abil­ity out­comes range widely, from healthy wa­ter­ways and clean drink­ing wa­ter, to re­duc­ing loss of bio­di­ver­sity, to en­sur­ing agri­cul­ture TOOLS: Dr Peat Leith out­lines ways to em­bed sci­ence in de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses. and fish­eries are well man­aged. Tas­ma­nia’s farm­ers and grow­ers are key play­ers in the sus­tain­able man­age­ment of our lo­cal nat­u­ral re­sources.

These dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges are gov­erned — and in­flu­ence pol­icy — very dif­fer­ently. Some sus­tain­abil­ity top­ics are reg­u­lated in hotly con­tested set­tings while oth­ers are more col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts of dif­fer­ent scales of govern­ment, cit­i­zens and the pri­vate sec­tor. These dif­fer­ent forms sug­gest very dif­fer­ent roles for sci­en­tists and re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions if they wish to con­trib­ute ef­fec­tively.

In the book is an ac­ces­si­ble set of ap­proaches and tools to help em­bed sci­ence in de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses for ad­dress­ing sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenges.

One case de­scribed in the book is an es­tu­ary man­age­ment pro­gram for the River Der­went in Ho­bart. For over 50 years the lo­cal zinc smelter dis­charged heavy metal waste into the river and in 1975, Uni­ver­sity of Tas­ma­nia chem­istry pro­fes­sor, Harry Bloom, an­nounced his se­ri­ous con­cerns. Pro­fes­sor Bloom’s cred­i­bil­ity could not be ig­nored by our gov­ern­ments nor by the pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries.

A few years later, poorly treated sewage and storm wa­ter run-off raised fur­ther con­cerns about wa­ter qual­ity in the Der­went Es­tu­ary.

New re­search con­firmed dan­ger­ously in­creas­ing nu­tri­ent lev­els and a co-or­di­nated ap­proach to man­ag­ing wa­ter qual­ity in the es­tu­ary was in­sti­gated. The State of the Der­went Re­port pro­vided sci­en­tific ev­i­dence framed within an inte- grated ap­proach that helped bring di­verse stake­hold­ers to­gether. The newly es­tab­lished Der­went Es­tu­ary Pro­gram co­or­di­nated the af­fected in­dus­try and com­mu­nity groups, along with lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments.

In this lo­cal case, sci­ence helped to un­pick con­tro­versy and pro­vided a crit­i­cal re­source for pol­icy mak­ers, in­dus­try and re­searchers to con­sider and ap­ply to a col­lec­tively in­formed out­come.

En­hanc­ing Sci­ence Im­pact: Bridg­ing Re­search, Pol­icy and Prac­tice for Sus­tain­abil­ity is pub­lished by CSIRO Pub­lish­ing and is avail­able on­line at pub­lish.csiro.au/book/7519/.

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