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A Glass-half-full of Green Army

The Green Army could play a vital role re-engaging the Australian community in their landscape…

When the billion dollar biodiversity fund was announced earlier this decade it was, in parts, derided as another “missed opportunity”. Within a few short years about half of that billion dollars evaporated.

With the clarity of hindsight we now recognise the real missed opportunity – not the targeting of those investments per se – but rather failing to secure half a billion dollars for biodiversity management. When programs are not welcomed by key constituents, and then don’t have a particularly high public profile, it is much easier to make a decision to terminate a program.

Environmental programs come in different shapes and sizes, with different priorities. No single program will fix all of our environmental challenges in Australia. So what good could come of a modern-day Green Army?

The Green Army will connect a generation of young Australians with their natural environment.

This in-and-of-itself is an outcome that should not be underestimated. There is a trend for people to be less-concerned about the environment: for example, in NSW “in 2012, a large majority (71%) of people in NSW say they are concerned about environmental problems, though this is down from 78% in 2009 and even more so from 87% in 2006”. This trend could be because we enjoy a healthy environment, we don’t understand the condition of our environment, we have other priorities, or we are tired of negativity surrounding environmental issues (and likely a combination of these).

Fundamental to re-building a respect and concern for our environment is re-connecting and engaging people in their landscapes, in positive and meaningful ways.

The Green Army provides an opportunity for a generation of young people, no less than 15,000 each year, to be better-connected with their environment and community. They will likely share their wildlife encounters on facebook and twitter, and possibly develop an esprit de corp around landscape management.

Volunteer groups could be revitalised, should this cohort be keen to continue their engagement through their lives, once bitten by the bug of making a difference. If they do not have time to volunteer through their early-career stage of life, they might even choose to donate money, instead of time, to their favourite local environment cause. These individuals will be voting in State and Federal elections for decades to come, they might consider environmental policies and programs more wholesomely through their lives when making those decisions.

There will also be ‘on-ground outcomes’ with youthful vigour making headway into the plethora of implementation plans, from catchments to creeks, threatened species to weeds.

Yes, of course, our elected officials will be having their photos taken with young people working to enhance their environment. These photos and stories will, from time-to-time, make the front pages of newspapers and be the subject of radio reports around the country. As a result, positive environmentalism is brought to the fore-front of public attention – projects will be heard about, the public will know “something is happening”.

When we engage a new cohort in helping to fix our old problems, one possibility is that someone might have an innovative idea. All these young people with creative minds, for the first time getting off the internet and into the real world, might have solutions to some of our intractable problems. They might come up with ideas for better communicating environmental challenges and outcomes, they might come up with new ways to make enduring volunteer efforts, or build their own citizen science community – what with their smart-phones and fancy apps.

In these times of ‘budget crises’ let’s look at the glass-half-full on the Green Army, and focus on what it has the potential to achieve.

The Green Army could play a vital role re-engaging the Australian community in their landscape – and giving a shot in the arm to the environmental conscience of the nation.

JC

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