In this episode of Developing Carbon Stories, we are speaking with Paul Dettmann, CEO, and co-founder of Cassinia—a land management company specializing in wilderness protection, ecological restoration, regenerative agriculture, and social investment.
More about Paul.
More about Cassinia.
David Reside: Hi there, my name is David Reside and this is Developing Carbon Stories, a podcast about the project developers creating the most innovative and impactful carbon projects in the world.
Developing Carbon Stories is a project by Abatable, a carbon intelligence and procurement platform that helps companies purchase high quality carbon offsets. Each episode I speak with an entrepreneur from a different part of the carbon ecosystem and talk about their journey so far, and how they are acting on climate change.
Thanks for joining me today, Paul. It's great to have you on.
Paul Dettmann: Great to be with you Dave. This is exciting. My first podcast.
DR: Yeah, joining us from Australia, we've managed to make the time difference work out for this one.
I normally start off with this question just to kind of give a bit of context for listeners, but you're the founder and CEO of Cassina environmental Landscape restoration company based in Victoria, Australia. How did you get into the climate change landscape restoration space?
PD: : Oh, that journey, well that journey is sort of woven throughout my whole career, probably, and I don't know if I've ever shared this directly with you. I did a Bachelor of Agriculture, a Bachelor of Applied Science and Agriculture, and followed it up with a master’s looking at how farmers value nature basically.
I finished that in 98 and at the end of that I'd sort of decided I was really frustrated by the way government funding for nature seemed so inconsistent and so episodic and driven by election cycles and unpredictable and it's like, there's gotta be a better way. There's gotta be a market-based way, and I remember driving, I remember exactly where I was where I heard this ABC radio story about carbon and I'm like, this is it. This is the ticket that can be the way that landscape managers get to really invest heavily in nature.
DR: And what year was that in?
PD: This is like 2000 or 1999. It might have even been 98, but I'd say it was late 99 or 2000. And I got together with a friend of mine who was a designer and I was like this is, you know, and I was working in that space. I might have even been working as a lane care facilitator at the time, and said, “this is it.”
So, we realised that trees store carbon really slowly, so we came up with a concept of like 10 years of carbon that you could buy up front from an effectively 10-year-old tree. And we started to kick around this idea of T10, which was the tonne of carbon sequestered over 10 years. Anyway, that was the early start. The company then was called Greenhouse Balanced. And that was in 2000, and it took, to be honest, it took four years for me to be able to open a bank account. It took four years before anything happened.
It was pretty slow. It was early days and certainly nature based solutions were the least attractive form of the carbon market back then. And yeah, everyone was quite sceptical that if they let trees into the carbon market, the market would be flooded and there'd be no room for renewables.
DR: That's so interesting given the situation now where there's such a supply shortage and people are screaming out for nature-based solutions.
PD: I know it. I know it's so different, it's so amazing. But permanence, you know, was an issue back then that people couldn't get their heads around with trees.
DR: I mean still is an issue that people decide nature based…
PD: Yeah, yeah, that's right, but nowhere near as much as back then. And one of the ways around permanence was this sort of temporary crediting period that the CDM came up with and that was sort of innovative ways of addressing some of the nature based solutions, problems that, to be honest, probably you know, probably made it the work around so fixes were so clunky that they sort of locked nature based solutions out for probably 10 years or maybe 15 years. So that's how I got into it.
DR: Yeah right, that was the beginnings. And so that was, I mean, that was greenhouse balance and that sort of did that. I mean, did that morph into what is now Cassinia Environmental? Yeah, OK, and so I guess it went from something that was quite heavily focused on carbon and then moved into more biodiversity offsets for a while, moved in and into more general landscape restoration.
PD: Well, that's right, yeah, but it was always. Yeah, that's right, but we always called carbon the Co benefit. The real game for us was always like biodiversity and connection landscape connectivity. Because we were thinking about you know how can this facilitate sort of reconnection of landscapes. How can the carbon markets work for that story? So, I remember saying 20 years ago, you know carbons about 4th on our list, but it's the only one we get paid for, so you know, it's about species, species protection. It's about salinity was a big issue back then in Victoria particularly. It was about sort of land protection, land systems protection, thinking about erosion and salinity, and then it was about connectivity.
So, biodiversity in the macro. So, species preservation in the sort of micro and connectivity in the macro and then land systems protection and then carbon, and that was a great Trojan horse to make these nature-based solutions really work.
DR: Yeah, that's interesting. I mean I like; I always am interested by this question of whether you know the carbon market is a solution in of itself that developers should be helping deliver, or whether it's more of a finance tool to help you do to help developers do really what they really want to do, the localised work. Yeah, do you think it can be both? I mean it feels like for you, it's a bit more…
PD: I think gotta be both, yeah. Yeah, I think it's gotta be both cause I think and I remember you know, my head's in the 20 year ago. Space I remember saying 20 years ago. If it's just about carbon, then nature-based solutions are not the place to put your money. But if it's about you know, saving the world, and the whole big picture, then they’re by far the best bet.
Because we get so much when we invest in nature-based solutions where, whereas you know some of the other sort of Carbon only solutions are very much siloed and sure they'll deliver that bit deliver that one benefit, but they'll miss out on the potential for all the others and the world's very focused on carbon, as it should be, but it also should be focused on a bunch of other things as well.
And there's a bunch of you know biodiversity, particularly from my perspective, has been one that we've got a convention on a UN Convention, but nobody is really finding the mechanisms by which we can realise the goals of that Convention, and there, in my opinion, every bit as important as the as the climate change as the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
DR: Hmm, and so you think the balance that we've got is a little bit off. It's a little bit too skewed towards carbon. This carbon central paradigm that we're.
PD: Yeah, well, it certainly was ten years ago. I think. I think it's moving; you know the focus on nature-based solutions now means that I think it's moving closer to where it should be and I hate to sound like an optimist, but I feel like the momentums with us on the carbon on the climate change thing.
There's so much human capacity interested in this, and you know, we still haven't we haven't you know, we haven't made it yet, but we've got so much human intellect and human energy and human capacity focused on that, that problem that I think we'll actually get there and but I'm not sure with a lot of the others you know and biodiversity is the one that I think is the one that we also need to put a fair bit of human energy and capacity and capital into. But they can come together.
DR: Well, it's interesting.
PD: You know, it's interesting. We're talking about nature-based solutions for carbon, and you know there's so much of synergy between what we need to deliver with biodiversity, and with carbon, and it's great to see that there's capital flowing into that.
DR: Now it's interesting that you bring that up, so I actually wanted to touch on the Eco Australia product which you were, which you helped design or co-design or led the design. How many years ago was that?
PD: Oh, I'd be five years ago, four or five years ago, yeah.
DR: Yeah, and for the I mean for the people listening who aren't aware of Eco Australia. Actually, perhaps you'd be better to explain it, but if you want to give the spiel.
PD: So, I've been working in the compliance biodiversity offset space. So, although we don't have a really sort of functional, focused international market on biodiversity in Australia, several of the states have had a fairly rigid approach to any sort of impacts on biodiversity being needing to be offset, so there's been a market spring up for compliance. Biodiversity offsets in Victoria and a bunch of other states in Australia.
And we've sort of felt that it's a bit. It's a bit wrong that the only way to protect biodiversity in a from a from a state you know sanctioned a state accredited perspective is by actually doing land clearing. That's silly, so why don't we take this state-based approach and convert those units to the voluntary market and let you know and let voluntary buyers protect biodiversity in a way that's accredited by the state accredited by the government but delivers, you know, biodiversity gain without any loss.
That was the concept so we worked sort of through a model that could really represent that well and had a third-party registry. Basically, managing the voluntary side of it. The state was obviously doing all the accreditation and issuing the credits, but then we converted those over to voluntary and let people be able to buy them. And then we approached South Pole and said what would it look like to bundle these with carbon?
So, we brought to them the concept I suppose, and the accreditation and the name of an Australian biodiversity unit. And then they bundled those up with carbon and created this Eco Australia product, which has a carbon component to it but also a biodiversity component.
And you know, we were providing that biodiversity component here in Australia, so yeah, it got some really good traction.
DR: Yeah, I mean so you essentially took the biodiversity compliance market and then made your own voluntary market. So that you had these biodiversity offsets stapled into a carbon credit, and then you had this new unique project which brought together the carbon benefit and the Australian impact because yeah, like you said in finding at the time, particularly like a carbon credit in Australia was particularly most expensive.
PD: Yeah, hard and expensive and nature-based stuff was, like the actual market was sort of yet to flourish at that point, so it was a really nice way of seeing you know on ground real tangible stuff happening in Australia and great stories and good partnerships too. And partnering with indigenous communities on one of those projects, particularly Mount Sandy, which I think yeah, you saw, yeah. Yeah, had yeah had some great sort of social outcomes as well and continues to. I was actually just over there last weekend.
DR: Over in South Australia visiting?
PD: Yeah, visiting Mount Sandy and we did a heap of planting and met up with guys you know Wayne and Daryl and Clyde and it was a beautiful time. Actually, I don't know if we I know how these podcasts work in terms of referencing other stuff, but he's.
DR: We can reference. Let's reference away.
PD: We can reference you can cut it out if you need to, but. Prince Charles’ Sustainable Markets initiative. Did I tell you about that?
They've made a little minute doc on that story.
DR: A little doc on it, right?
PD: Yeah, a little 8-minute doc on that story.
Which doesn't reference Eco Australia or South Pole or specifically, it's more about the relationship that formed. But yeah, it's a great little sort of unpacking of a relationship and a partnership and a project that's flowing out of.
DR: Yeah, because this was a partnership between, so we had South Pole and Cassina. Obviously partnering with Eco Australia and delivering that with the community, the indigenous community in South Australia. And that was spearheaded by your relationship with Claude and Rose.
PD: Claude and Rose with me, Yep.
DR: Yeah, and so that's the partnership which was which was picked up by the by the doc, right?
PD: Yeah, that's it. Yeah, it's great and you know, yeah, it's really flourished and I think it's really interesting, like it's the carbon market sort of opening up a possibility of what does it look like for land managers to be delivering, I suppose you'd say ecosystem services. And being paid for that and sort of turning their attention and their energy to you know, really responsible good Land Management.
And when it's traditional owners that are doing that and we've got this social angle of you know traditional owners being able to get back onto their own country and work their own country and it's really interesting that Rose's grandma was like born under a tree not far from the project site like really, uh, this is like goosebumps, like actually, this project is enabling, you know you to work and manage and live on the country that your grandma was born on. Like literally born on that was her country. It's amazing.
DR: It is.
PD: Yeah, so it opens the door to thinking about OK, well how can we do more of this sort of stuff? Like how do we find opportunities for you know, for particularly traditional owners to derive an income by being custodians of, you know of nature, and protect biodiversity and restore, you know restore connectivity between existing remnant vegetation and get back to that 30% goal that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity aims for 30% of land managed for nature.
Yeah, it's a project that we sort of dreamt up in not in a not in a flippant way, but in in a in a dreaming sort of aspirational way and I think it really provides for us a really good sort of example of what can be done, and hopefully we can do more of that sort of stuff.
DR: Yeah, absolutely. It's I mean, I, I wonder whether you would be able to enable that sort of work without the carbon element. You know, probably more so now you could, but you know, five. Five years ago, six years ago it might have been a bit more difficult. But I mean now it's gotten to the point where this idea of biodiversity conservation and management can sort of go off on its own without the carbon component and.
PD: Without the carbon component.
DR: And that's actually led to the launch of Wilderlands, which was that last week you did the formal launch of Wilderlands.
PD: Well, we launched the idea of Wilderlands. We haven't actually used the platform yet so.
DR: OK, more of a conceptual sort of launch, yes?
PD: Yeah, it was like it was mostly to do with you know friends and partners saying here's an idea that that we've been thinking about and look going back to carbon like you mentioned, like this is all really enabled by the carbon market like 25 years ago, we wouldn't have even had the capacity to think about things like this cause you know the framework for hanging these thoughts on hadn't been developed and that was still developed through carbon.
So, we've got we've got that to be thankful for. You know, this is all an outcome of the fact that the carbon markets have developed the way we can think about things like nature-based solutions and biodiversity credits, and that sort of thing.
But yeah, last week we did this launch. Had about 80 people onto the launch and we shared the idea, and we launched the white paper which is the sort of conceptual framework for how we think about a biodiversity unit in an Australian context, yeah, what does that look like? Is this in?
DR: Do you want to give the little the, like the little background of what exactly it is, the Wilderlands product?
PR: Yeah, so yeah Wilderlands product, so going back to the Convention on Biological Diversity we recognised I guess that there's no framework for people to invest in the aspirations of the Convention on Biological Diversity outside of carbon. So, a carbon covers the maybe the reveg components of it, the components and maybe red where forests are under threat and we can protect that forest degradation, but if it's just forest degradation from a carbon perspective.
But it's just if it's just biodiversity and it's potentially either being lost, not without losing the carbon, or it's too small to develop a red project or whatever, we're still seeing a significant amount of loss every year of the integrity of the biodiversity of a of Australia's you know, natural areas. So how do we protect that?
How do we realise the 70, I think it's 77 million hectares of Australia that need to be protected in order for Australia to reach even the simplest version of its 30% target of 30% of land protective for nature? There's no mechanism at the moment by which you know anyone can do it other than go and buy a property and you know spend a lot of money and sort of do it yourself. So, Woodlands is a way of unitizing that gain right down to the square metre.
And what does it look like to protect, protect in perpetuity, manage for 20 years and invest in that biodiversity action around protection and management for biodiversity?
So, we're launching a new product called a Biological Diversity Unit that will just talk to biodiversity. There's no, I mean, there obviously is some carbon benefits to it, but we're not representing those. We're not calculating those. We're not getting that accredited, but getting a biodiversity credit accredited, have an independent register that's audited and how do we move and take that biodiversity goals and the biodiversity opportunities down the same path as carbon went, you know, 20 years ago and has been improving that that journey that carbon journey for the last 20 years. How do we sort of hitchhike on that road if you like and create a similar opportunity for biodiversity.
So, that's what Wilderlands is about. Wilderlands.earth if I can plug it as a thing and we'd love people to give their considered feedback. At the moment the platform itself won't be launched for a couple of months, but the white papers downloadable. And yeah, we're looking for constructive thinking around what that might look like.
DR: What was the website, for that, one more time?
PD: https://wilderlands.earth/. Yeah, that's right.
DR: So do you see the biodiversity market having the potential to go down the same trajectory as the carbon market.
PD: I really hope so.
DR: I mean, you know we probably wouldn't have seen where the carbon market is today. You know, I don't think anyone would have. I mean, maybe some people predicted it five years ago, but the immense growth in the last two years, it's just been mad.
PD: Yeah, I think, so I think it will follow a similar trajectory. I think people are going to wake up at some point and realise that this biodiversity crisis is as significant as the climate crisis. And we need to resource this in the same way that we have carbon and where we can get both at the same time, we need to focus on that. So, I think I think it will.
You know, Wilderlands won't be the final word in biodiversity response, but I think it's a good early step and yeah it sure needs it because I say that at least in theory, climate change is reversible, but biodiversity loss it's not even theoretically reversible. Once it's gone, it's gone, so we need to really, we need to get ahead around the fact that we're on a massive extinction event at the moment that we need to invest in, not, you know, not seeing that terrible future eventuate. Even if we did stop climate change in 100 years, what one of the main reasons we want to stop climate change is so we don't lose all these species.
And if in 100 years we realised, oh man, we did it. Oh, actually the species have all gone from other reasons.
DR: Lost all these species anyway, yes.
PD: Whoops, oh we should have thought of that.
DR: So, it reminds me of a metaphor like the shipwreck metaphor, which I've heard you use before.
PD: Yeah, yeah.
DR: Which I think is it's a good one actually.
PD: Yes, I think it's a good metaphor. Yeah, metaphors and analogies. I tend to get famous for them at team meetings, but I do like the shipwreck metaphor. We're at that point in history, now, where the shipwreck is happening and all the cargo of the ship is washing up on shore and the time now is to grab that cargo and bring it up onto above the waves, and but now's not the time to start drying it out or, you know, trying to, you know, get it perfectly right. The time now is just to capture as much of it as we can. So, in Australia, we've still got an immense amount of private land biodiversity left.
But it's being degraded significantly every year. So now I think our job as practitioners in this space. I think our main role you know at this point in history, probably for the next 10 or 20 years is just going to be to get as much of that protected permanently as we can.
Concurrent to try to reconnect it because the threats of isolation of these beautiful private patches of biodiversity left the threat of isolation is a real one. And so, species that are left sort of abandoned on the island will eventually either inbreed or get taken out by a catastrophic event like a Bush fire or a drought, and then they'll be lost. So, we've got these islands of biodiversity left. They need to be reconnected.
But they need to be protected first, so that's what we're on. And then, once we've got all the cargo, if you like off the beach, and then we, then we can.
DR: And the metaphor continues.
PD: The metaphor continues, then we start you know, drying out the paper and making sure the books are. You know, you know, restored and, the detail of biodiversity restoration at the micro level. You know, that's when that happens.
DR: So, there's this underlying urgent urgency for, you know, better stewardship of the land and, I mean that sort of brings up another element to what Cassinia does. I mean, we spoke about the carbon side and the conservation side, but it's also about sustainable agriculture as well, because necessarily, you know to have a functioning society, we need enormous land resources put into agriculture at the same time we need to have practises that will make that sustainable and so yeah, could you talk a little bit about how Cassinia works to integrate sustainable agriculture into conservation and into climate change? And you know all these interesting ways.
PD: I'd start by saying I think farmers are probably some of the least recognised professionals in society cause what they do on their farms and what they create for the rest of everybody is amazing.
Like you know, we just take it for granted. We can walk into the supermarket and buy all this different food and you know, it's you know, relative to our incomes, it's not that expensive, and it sustains us and we drive around you know, rural areas and we just see paddocks and it's those individuals that are creating from those paddocks, the food we eat and and it's amazing this the current, you know, International Crisis might suddenly bring farmers into the spotlight if you like, like the nurses of the pandemic, you know. Suddenly we all respected and loved the health professionals and how amazing they are. We might end up doing that to farmers through this potential crisis we might be on the edge of. So, I'll say that because I really have a lot of respect for what farmers do, no matter which sort of farmers they are.
But when it comes to really embedding, you know the aspirations we have for managing nature and protecting nature. Well, I think we can do both. I think we can both be, you know able to feed the world and able to protect nature so, we've done a few projects now that sort of really embed that nature piece into agricultural landscapes and just broadly speaking, it's about 30% of landscapes going, going back to being managed for nature.
And then it's about managing the 70 or 65 or 70% that is managed for agriculture. Managing in a way that's very sympathetic to the 30% that's managed for nature. So, we're not using products, chemicals that are going to have a negative a significant negative impact on the areas they manage for nature.
And managing land systems according to their capability. So some obviously some land systems are much more resilient than others, and so being very careful about managing the agriculture according to the capacity of that of the system, so we've got one project in Victoria that you had a fair bit to do with when you were when you were over here at Rockwood, and I think the natural we're calling it natural agriculture as a model for that farm, so the natural agriculture model for that farm is that a third of it, in that case, a bit over a third goes back to nature, so we've planted about 200 hectares of that property.
Yeah, hopefully approximately 200,000 new trees will be coming up and protecting a big buffer around the waterways of that project and all the steep and most fragile areas will be replanted and protected, and then the remaining 7 or 800, in that case 7 or 800 acres or whatever that is 350 hectares, something like that, is managed for agriculture but only certain parts of that could be cropped cause the soils are resilient enough to be able to manage that.
Most of it will just be grazed and try to keep the grazing they're quite sympathetic to what other natural assets that we've got as well.
And I'll jump from that project to another one. We've got a bit further north, which has traditionally been always a grazing property and has never been cropped, and we've found a couple of critically endangered species on that property, so obviously they've been, you know they've been able to thrive, sympathetic to the grazing system. So, in that particular case, we're saying, well, how do we manage this agricultural system in order to protect those endangered species that we've got on this space so we can, in those cases, do both we do have to take a cut in production, at least in the short term in order to realise those biodiversity goals. Because we're not running the properties as hard as they could possibly run.
But it's really a happy medium, really, the right medium between what is sustainable both for agriculture and for those other species. For nature, that was a bit of a monologue. But yeah.
DR: It’s so interesting that you've already sort of developed this blueprint that seems to be working. You’ve had this approximately 30/70 split. But I mean, could you talk a bit more about this Rockwood project? It reminds me of this idea of a, you know, sustainable agriculture community. And you know, and the pace where you have, you know lots of people getting involved in this project, this community. Yeah, that's right, which is, I feel like it's so integral to an effective, you know landscape restoration project.
PD: Yeah, it is. I think it is too and it's interesting we did a presentation recently called the paradox of Land Management and the paradox is that agriculture… did I tell you about this already. Yeah, I think it's such a good title because it's a paradox that Agriculture like we've got bigger gear. We've got more efficient technology, we've got better chemicals, we've got so many drivers that mean you need less and less and less people in the landscape.
DR: No, the title is interesting.
PD: And you need in order to be viable, because you know with the exception of the last few years, commodity prices in real terms have been dropping and dropping and dropping for decades. So, in order for farmers to be viable, they need to get bigger in order to justify the size of their big gear, they need to get even bigger like the push is on for less and less people to be in the landscape to make productive land.
At the same time, we've got all these threats to nature, and you can't go over with the boom spray over a nature area and say we're just going to take out all the weeds because everything's integrated and so from a natural perspective, we need more people in the landscape. So, the paradox of Land Management is that agriculture is pushing for economies of scale and less people and nature restoration is pushing for more people who can take an interest and really make sure we get this right. So, we've got these two things pulling in different directions and the idea of natural agriculture communities is that they bridge that paradox by saying, well, let's bring more people into the landscape and let's create a community around an environmental project that people in this case, in the case of Rockwood people will commit to five hours a month of environmental work from their household.
DR: Just five hours a month, that's all.
PD: Five hours a month, yeah, so in that case we might have 10 or 15 potential families living on that project, so we might have 50 to 80 hours a month of environmental work happening. So this is restoration of the ecosystems along the waterways, control of the threats, both weeds and pests, and then restoration, maybe in future we'll do some reintroductions of species that have gone extinct in the region, and we need to have enough people in that landscape to be able to put in the energy to deliver those outcomes, but at the same time we need effectively, we only, it's only one farming unit, so everybody has the right to dwell in that landscape say on a hectare or something like that, but the majority of the land is run by 1 farmer as one agricultural enterprise and can realise that economy of scale, that is basically where agriculture is at now, is particularly in Australia.
That unless you're, you know, at a reasonable scale, it's just not viable. So yeah, that and then you got the third piece, really that sits there, there haven't you, you’ve got the agricultural piece. You've got the conservation piece, and then you've got the social piece and weaving all those together, I think is something that we're gonna be focused on, you know for the next period because yeah, I think it's healthy for people too to be to be living in in systems that are natural and agricultural.
I mean this is this is the nature that sustains us, and this is the food that sustains us. So, I think it's healthy all around to see that that revolution go back to more people living in and understanding and working with nature and agriculture.
DR: And it, I mean, I find it interesting, like this sustainable community. Who do you see as being like the target audience? The people that are coming into these communities, you know, is it like? Well like retired couples, you know moving out from the city? Or you're looking for the tree change? Or is it that younger people that are just looking to escape the city?
PD: Yeah, it's a good… I think it'll be a bit of everything.
DR: Basically, after the pandemic and everything getting out.
PD: We did one before like the first project of this type we did was like no agriculture. It was just nature and we're like who are we gonna get?
I thought it'll be a bunch of sort of hippies who just want to get back to nature and the first guy that bought a property in this first ever property we sold. They say you don't need to be a, they don't need to be a like a nuclear scientist to understand this stuff.
This guy was like the guy who was heading up the synchrotron in Melbourne like he was a PhD. Yeah, he was a PhD in atomic physics or whatever it is and it's like Oh well, you can be a, you know you can be a nuclear scientist.
DR: Oh, he was actually a nuclear scientist.
PD: So yeah, anyway, he was. He was off the charts that way, but then we, you know we had a really interesting diversity of engineers, and you know, professional people working in conservation and retired, and you know it's and it's created a community.
I think since the pandemic, I think the scope of people who are sort of resonating with this stuff has really increased because people have a real desire to reconnect with the natural world. I think maybe it's just Melbourne that went through the longest lockdown of any city in the world.
DR: Good chance. Yeah, fun. Couple of years there. Yeah.
PD: But I think it's now that we've all learned to do zoom and stuff. I think the potential for people to really reconnect with nature to be actually physically hands on, part of the solution, not just theoretically part of the solution while working, you know their real job. Potentially you know on zoom from home. I think it's a beautiful point in history.
So, I don't know exactly what the profile will be, but I think it'll be diverse. I think it'll be a bit of everything.
DR: Yeah, I mean I think this point of like buy in from the community, and what you mentioned about farmers really being almost the gatekeepers of this stewardship that we have of the environment.
And also, the fact that you studied this, you know 25, 30 years ago, whenever it was, have you seen like the, you know, the mindset of the culture around farmers and their relationship to climate change and the environment? Has that changed at all? Has there been any evolution of that over the years?
PD: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I did my first, I did my first degree and my second degree really, they were both research. I finished off my bachelor’s degree with a degree research project and my master’s was mainly research.
Looking at how farmers value nature and there was a real, I think there was a real sort of split between– and it’d be interesting to do a study on this– but a split between people who had been paid incentivized by the government to clear land and people who hadn't.
So even in the 70s, the government was paying people in Victoria to knock down trees and turn biodiversity into agriculture and the farmers who'd gone through that phase and been part of and put their you know their back into it and worked hard and carved out a, you know, a farm out of the wilderness and you know they're their identity and the sweat of their brow was in that I felt like there was a definite shift between people who'd been through that and people who had come after that. And those people now who'd been through that are pretty much you know, retired now, and I'd say that the overwhelming majority of landholders came after that now. So I think there has been a shift and, I'd probably put it down to the you know and it's probably happened in the late 70s where we started to shift from thinking of shift from thinking of nature as purely utilitarian to nature having intrinsic value of its own and moving from and exploitative, perhaps, and that might be too harsh, but, uh, a transactive way of thinking about land to a more of a stewardship way of caring for country and caring for land.
And that you know it started in the early 80s. I would say I mean it. In some ways it had been around for a long time, but I feel like the current evolution of it started in the 80s and then in Australia land care, the land care movement, which in at its peak encompassed sort of a third, or maybe even up to 40% of all landholders were involved in this thing called land care and it's a huge shift in thinking. Yeah, isn't it? Amazing of the way we think about land? So, I it's shifted and I think it's shifting.
Yet at the same time, I'd say I think farmers have always been always had a special relationship with land and we think of indigenous people and the way they think about, you know them belonging to country rather than country belonging to them. I think for a lot of farmers the relationship they end up having with their with their land is similar to the way indigenous people have a relationship with land. Different, but similar too, because it becomes, it becomes a relationship, it’s not just a transaction for a lot of farmers.
Yeah, some you know, and the rise of corporate farming and you know sort of fly and fly out farming is changing that. But I think for a lot of farmers it's very relational.
DR: Well, it's interesting that you bring up this like this new relationship with, you know with the environment, particularly from landholders. Do you think that you know the carbon market is essentially valuing nature and creating that transaction relationship. Maybe is it bringing us backwards, are we developing the wrong relationship with nature? I mean obviously this comes back to the shipwreck. We're just doing everything urgently. We're just doing what we can. But like in the long term, maybe we need to be thinking a bit differently about how we're valuing nature. How do you say that?
PD: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think. I mean I, you know I was on a Zoom call the other day with a somebody and they said other things that should just not be valued. Like if I have to pay you to be married to you. Is that does that describe a marriage, you know, if you have to pay someone to stay married to you. Does that describe what marriage is or is that? Or Is that a relationship that's beyond money?
And if I if I put a value on nature, is that an abuse of that relationship? And I thought about that, and I thought I agree with him on the marriage thing. I don't think that would constitute a marriage, but I think about I think we actually do put a value on nature at the moment and that value is zero.
DR: That's nice.
PD: It's worth nothing, so like the you know, in the farmer in the landholder who's trying to manage nature and the way society looks at them and what they're doing, they bailed at zero because they don't get paid to do it. And traditionally it's been not only an economic 0, but it's been a sort of a social zero as well.
Now I think there's a social value that's significant, but there's not an economic value, but I think what we're trying to do, you know and why nature-based solutions, you know, and why the carbon market around nature-based approaches to carbon markets are so important is it begins to value even more than put a value. But it begins to value the contribution that land managers deliver when they're looking. You know, looking after the natural world properly.
And I think that's why it's so exciting with the, you know the Mount Sandy example we talked about before and traditional owners getting back onto country, and it's really valuing its putting value on the relationship that they have as being good custodians of country and up until this point, you know that was valued at 0, so you know. Sure, you could do it, but you also had to have a real job to, you know, pay for food and pay the mortgage.
So, I think it's amazing. I think it's really, a really significant shift that we're finding ways to value these ecosystem services that provide so much economic value to us. But before now, we've just valued them at 0.
DR: So, it's a step in the right direction. You know it might not be the perfect end game of how we do it, but it's we're heading in the right direction.
PD: I think it's incredible. That's right, we maybe we're way over time, but my son sent me a little podcast saying are carbon offsets a scam and sort of highlighted some of the challenges that different, different carbon approaches to sequestering or mitigating carbon emissions have had and I just feel like that's so missing the point that we're actually iterating towards, you know the right solution and the fact that sometimes on those iterations, things aren't as easy and as straightforward as we thought they might be, and sometimes we hit some roadblocks that we didn't expect to hit that by no means takes away from the fact that this is an absolutely valuable journey to be on, a necessary journey, and we're not gonna land on the perfect solution on the first try, and we're getting better every year. We're getting better in every iteration and yeah, so absolutely.
DR: Yeah, I love how much of an optimist you are, it's anytime I'm feeling down about the climate crisis or the state of the world. I can talk to you, and it brings me back up to where I need to be.
PD: Well, maybe yeah, yeah, maybe yeah. Well, I think it's healthier to have hope than I have no hope, but I think there's so much to be hopeful for, there's so much that is not yet lost, so it's so important that we that we work hard to, you know, protect and to restore this, this this beautiful, beautiful planet that we get to call home. Yeah, it's amazing.
DR: Yeah, I normally like to finish on a sort of like the you know. What are the biggest obstacles that you see, and you know and one of the biggest opportunities. But I know that with you, you know obstacles almost are opportunities that almost the same thing that comes back to your optimism.
You know, so I'll put that to you in Australia, you know, in the carbon space climate change, space ecosystem restoration, like what are the biggest obstacles that developers like you are facing at the moment?
PD: Well, I guess the biggest obstacle has been for, you know, putting on my hat, integrating carbon and biodiversity. The biggest obstacle has been you know, the legitimacy of nature. This is over the last 20 years, legitimacy of nature-based solutions is a really appropriate way of mitigating climate change, but I think we've turned a corner there. I think now the biggest obstacle we're going to face.
PD: Well, one of the biggest obstacles is, you know, is the fact that land prices have increased so much and it's still very difficult to make these projects stack up financially at scale. So, I think we need to keep thinking around that.
That's why I'm really excited about the opportunity to value other ecosystem services, not just carbon and. And how do we see more of the nature problem, or the nature challenge be able to be invested in, you know, by companies or governments or individuals. So, I'm optimistic about that, but I think that's still a big challenge and we're still a long way away from, you know, we're still a long way away from you know, hitting equilibrium, we're still going downhill in terms of nature loss in Australia, so.
But I think you know we've got sentiment on our side. We've got human energy and human intelligence working on this, so I am optimistic that we'll be able to turn this around, and I think you know by 2030,I mean this is being realistic, I'd hope by 2030 we've passed the point of nature loss and we're starting to move into nature, gain territory and there'll be other technologies that help us along the way. With agriculture too, that will see agriculture become more efficient and less reliant on the scale that perhaps it is now and we'll be able to see some of those efficiencies lead to more land become available for nature and really start to restore those linkages in the landscape and there's also huge opportunities, I think with technology to be able to help control some of the challenges that we have to biodiversity.
You know, my optimism is built in a in a in a construct of, you know, we're still going down we're still going downhill at the moment, we're still losing more than we're gaining but I think the tide is with us and by I'd say realistically, if that continues on this trajectory by 2030, we'll turn the corner.
This is on the biodiversity corner, and maybe you know, maybe the maybe the emissions and the renewables and that that shift from you know more carbon going into the atmosphere to less going into the atmosphere in the absence of a pandemic might have shifted by then too, so.
DR: So, in summary it, there's plenty of obstacles, but it's going in the right direction. The is with us. Maybe that's the summary of this episode. I love that the tie is, that's what we'll title this episode maybe.
PD: Yeah, OK. The tide is with us. The tide is with us, but yeah, you still need to maintain a fair bit of, you know, sort of grit your teeth and smile optimism, because it's not always obvious.
But it's great to be able to share that perspective and thanks for giving me all the time in the world to explain my analogies and always good to speak with you.
DR: No, I could listen to it all day. I love the optimism and I hope anyone who listens to this can really draw some energy from it because I know, yeah, I always do and let us always remember that the tide is with us and we just need to get on the surfboard or some other Australian analogy.
Well, thanks so much for joining Paul and hopefully we'll get you on again.
PD: No worries at all, yeah, I'd love to yeah, cheers.
DR: Alright, perfect see Paul.