Fallacy of zero-extinction targets

20 05 2022

Nearly a decade ago (my how time flies*), I wrote a post about the guaranteed failure of government policies purporting no-extinction targets within their environmental plans. I was referring to the State of South Australia’s (then) official policy of no future extinctions.

In summary, zero- (or no-) extinction targets at best demonstrate a deep naïvety of how ecology works, and at worst, waste a lot of resources on interventions doomed to fail.

1. Extinctions happen all the time, irrespective of human activity;

2. Through past environmental degradation, we are guaranteed to see future extinctions because of extinction lags;

3. Few, if any, of the indicators of biodiversity change show improvement.

4. Climate change will also guarantee additional (perhaps even most) future extinctions irrespective of Australian policies.

I argued that no-extinction policies are therefore disingenuous to the public in the extreme because they sets false expectations, engender disillusionment after inevitable failure, and ignores the concept of triage — putting our environment-restoration resources toward the species/systems with the best chance of surviving (uniqueness notwithstanding).

So, when I saw The Greens latest ‘zero-extinction’ promise (by 2030, no less — 7.5 years from now) ahead of tomorrow’s federal election, I again shook my head in disappointment. While I firmly intend to preference The Greens ahead of pretty much all other parties tomorrow when I vote because their policies mostly align with my priorities, I truly hope that they might reconsider this particular policy.

In fact, Labor‘s ‘independent environmental protection agency‘ announcement is probably at least the skeleton of something more realistic and achievable, even if I question both their definition of ‘independent’, as well as how they will manage to override State jurisdictions in terms of enforcement.

Suffice it to say that the status quo of environmental policies in this country is woeful. Change is absolutely required, but let’s be smart about how we achieve that change.

CJA Bradshaw

*Mathematically speaking, time does in fact speed up as you age. This is because as you age, each elapsed unit of time becomes a smaller proportion of your total time alive. A year to a fifteen-year old represents 1/15th (6.7%) of her life to date, whereas for me, a year is a mere 1/52nd (1.9%) of my life to date.



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