Fishing’ for solutions to the environmental conundrum

Whether you agree with the science or not, climate change and the environment were prominent issues in the recent federal election campaign. Despite the strong result in the Morrison Government’s favour, they figured consistently among voters in polling across five weeks.

In the last 10 days of the campaign, the United Nations released a global biodiversity and ecosystems assessment report. It warned that up to a million species are endangered and three-quarters of land globally has been significantly altered. The study by more than 450 scientists and diplomats also asserted that humans, by reducing the fertility of land, are making themselves vulnerable to disease, drought and other climatic conditions.

While quarrying was not specifically mentioned by name in the report, “unsustainable practices” in mining, forestry and agriculture were attributed to the decline of the world’s ecosystems. Governments were encouraged to address this through reviewing and renewing agreed environment-related and evidence-based international goals and “mainstreaming biodiversity and sustainability across all extractive and productive sectors, including mining, fisheries, forestry and agriculture”.

{{quote-A:R-W:215-Q:"It’s the age-old dilemma: how do we satisfy the hunger for resources against impacting nature?"}}If you have any doubts that nature and society are interdependent, I refer you to two stories in this issue. Bill Langer discusses the contribution of the parrotfish to natural sand that is an important building block. However, an extractive operation can also have a positive impact on the natural environment – a crushing contractor is using a mobile scalper to provide spawning stones in freshwater courses for an endangered trout. The stories are examples of nature aiding and abetting quarrying – and vice versa!

It could also be reasonably argued the quarrying industry contributes to replenishing the diminishing environment. As much as the industry complains of “red” and “green” tape, environmental approvals across Australia’s jurisdictions are among the most rigorous, evidence-based in the world, and quarries today undertake to protect neighbouring natural habitats for flora and fauna, including many native species.

Quarries must also gradually repurpose land for the benefit of future generations. In Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, Adelaide Brighton is involved in transforming a century-old quarry into a freshwater lake that will become a significant link to three other waterways.

By the time the lake is complete it will be a popular spot for human and animal activity, in much the same way that other quarries are being repurposed worldwide as wetlands and wildlife havens. Hanson in the UK is very active in this space, and its parent company HeidelbergCement awards annual grants (the Quarry Life Awards) for biodiversity projects in quarries globally.

Can we – as humanity in general and quarrying in particular – do better? Probably. It’s the age-old environmental conundrum, isn’t it? How do we satisfy the hunger for resources from burgeoning populations against limiting the impact on nature?

The escalation of Australia’s urban population has pushed the industry further into fertile regions for quarrying reserves. It’s all about how those reserves are extracted without irreparably destroying the local environment and unravelling the social fabric. That’s where a responsible approach to sustainability, in concert with regulators, and embracing of new technologies is vital. It strips away the industry’s many myths (as Clayton Hill related last month) and shows quarries are trustworthy corporate citizens.

The UN report indicates that a “business as usual” approach isn’t enough. By adopting a triple bottom line model, quarries can be role models in sustainability without impacting profitability.

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