WHEN WE WERE moving from Sydney to Brisbane this year, people suggested different things I'd need to get used to: hot, sticky summers; the absence of city beaches; and the city's baseline fauna, which apparently ran to mighty flying cockroaches and massive spiders.
Driving north, I traced the line of the Pacific Highway in our map book, registering the dot points of towns as they passed. The red callistemon in my beachside street gave way to the rough-barked apple, Angophora floribunda, of Les Murray's country above Buladelah, which gave way to luminous spots of delicate purple-blue lotus in creeks and ponds further north again. And I watched the colours and shapes of the landscape, close up and far off, morph and change as we drove through a thousand kilometres of Australia's complex mosaic of space.
When we crossed the border at Coolangatta, a huge electronic billboard obligingly increased Queensland's population to 4,253,274 people as if to officially acknowledge us while we sat at a red light, watching and waiting.
In the morning, in our new place, I tried to get my bearings. East seemed to be in the wrong direction, and while I could glimpse the Story Bridge's steel peaks as I looked north (apparently) from our street corner – and my map told me I was only five kilometres from the city's centre, closer than we'd lived to the heart of Sydney – the air was thick with layers of birdsong, the garden was busy with butterflies, geckoes and tiny skinks, and the view directly west revealed the kind of untrammelled mountains and forests that cities tend to push away.
And on the doorstep, shimmering in the sun, lay the most extraordinary bug I'd ever seen. It looked like something out of a cartoon; its red shell was marked with a series of irregular blue spots like a slightly surreal ladybird, and these contrasting colours glistened with metallic highlights – orange, green, purple and an inky, shiny black. It was gorgeous. ‘Oh, that's just a harlequin bug,' said the first entomologist I could ask about it. ‘They suck sap from hibiscus. They're pretty common.'
At dusk, grey-headed flying foxes coasted in the dim light – ‘there's a huge rookery near here; didn't you know?' asked my husband – and troupes of acrobatic possums practised high-wire road-crossings on the electrical cables. Owls mopoked in the darkness; choirs of kookaburras woke with dawn; and lorikeets trailed their brilliance across the sky, hanging like baubles in blossoming trees. A rafter of brush-turkeys was living between us and our local shops in a bit of kerbside bushiness and, closer to the river, sharing space with the white-faced heron we knew from home, a new kind of bird appeared, elegantly dressed as if in full dinner suit.
About the only wildlife I didn't see were the crawly things I'd been promised; sure, we had some spiders' webs, but not a single cockroach, flying or otherwise.
There's a profusion of stories through which you might intersect with a topic as broad as conservation and Queensland's biodiversity, from each sighting of something rare up to policy and legislation. Conservation, at its most basic, dictionary level, seeks the ‘preservation, protection or restoration' of natural environments: it's one person's quest to rid their land of lantana; a biodiversity action plan for Cape York; federal listing of the remaining tenth of Australia's brigalow, just 800,000 hectares. But what picture did the different pieces of conservation make here? What choices faced the people on its various frontlines? And how did those choices sit in a place so trumpetingly proud of its growth, its development?
Feeling a little like a neophyte field biologist setting out with notebook, net and pith helmet, I launched into the unfamiliar ecosystem that was this state, its environment and the people who intersected with both. I was looking for markers and metaphors, the way a biologist might look for a food source, or a habitat.
AUSTRALIA IS ONE of the world's few mega-diverse countries, which span only a tenth of the earth's available land but host nearly three-quarters of its biodiversity. Home to somewhere in the order of seven hundred thousand species, our continent has a high rate of endemism: species found here and nowhere else. The Australian Academy of Science notes that one ‘small, wooded hill in Canberra' hosts more ant species than ‘exist in the whole of Great Britain'. The Queensland Museum claims ‘the average suburban backyard or school ground in South East Queensland is home to more different kinds of animals than some whole countries'.
In this mega-diverse country, Queensland's northern wet tropics and the Great Barrier Reef stand out. Even the crowded south-east corner, home to most of the state's new immigrants, comprises extraordinary botanical richness. The Einasleigh and Desert Uplands, the Brigalow and the Border Ranges were declared national biodiversity hotspots by the federal government's Threatened Species and Biological Diversity committees in 2003 – making Australia the first country in the world to identify ‘hotspot' locations where biological diversity and endemism collided with levels of threat.
The bugs, the birds, the butterflies in my garden were just the tip of the iceberg.
The reason so much wildlife has gathered in the Brisbane area is the same reason so many people are arriving, according to Darryl Jones, director of the Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies at Griffith University: the pleasant climate and the proximity of such large areas of bush. ‘Mt Coot-tha is only five kilometres or so from the CBD,' says Jones. ‘This is a place where it's still possible to have quolls wandering through suburban backyards.'
Platypuses have been spotted within ten kilometres of the city's centre; echidnas in similarly urban settings, while the vast Brisbane City Council hosts threatened or endangered gliders and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, among others. And the Koala Coast, epicentre of Australia's northern populations of these much-loved marsupials, covers this entire metropolitan space, stretching on north to Gladstone, south into New South Wales.
In purely professional terms, says Professor Hugh Possingham, director of the University of Queensland's Ecology Centre and former chair of the federal government's Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, all this keeps him in this part of the world. ‘Australia has more biodiversity per capita than pretty much anywhere else on the planet,' he says. ‘There's no doubt about it, if you're interested in biodiversity, there's no better country to be in – and no better state to be in. I can find more birds in the suburbs of Brisbane on a weekend morning than I'd see in Britain in half a year.' Brisbane offers him the best interaction between his work's intellectual world – which develops systematic conservation planning tools and contributes to debates about setting conservation's priorities – and its natural world: ‘It keeps me excited about the whole thing.'
It's also a place, as Jones says, that happens to have ‘woken up to find itself with the second fastest growth rate of anywhere in the world'; two thousand people are moving to Queensland each week. And this intersection of people and biota doesn't always elicit responses as positive as Possingham's. ‘People complain about the "invasion" of brush-turkeys here,' says Jones, ‘or they see the populations of animals that are managing to survive in the city – like possums, or flying foxes – as "pests". There's no sense that these things were here well and truly before the city was, that they belong here.' A yard full of lorikeets is remarkable to a visitor, says Deborah Turnbull, a wildlife carer. But for most residents, ‘put forty in a tree outside their bedroom window at five in the morning and all they do is complain'.
Engaging people is the challenge. For some, it happens via their own gardens, or bushwalking, or fishing; for others, it's organisations such as the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). And for others again, it's injured fauna. When Turnbull started to research the training and mentoring of wildlife carers for a PhD, there were around two hundred rescue groups operating around Queensland, and roughly two thousand carers. Most people, she says, want to take care of ‘the furries ... birds aren't as pretty as possums, and they don't cuddle back.'
There are always perennial favourites among species: when WPSQ runs programs that teach people how and where to spot platypus and echidnas, it takes inquiries from all over the state. But perennial favourites don't necessarily equate with conservation priorities. ‘The general public are probably aware of some of the iconic species that are threatened or endangered – and some species that they probably think are threatened aren't, like the platypus,' says Rebecca Richardson, Queensland's state co-ordinator for the World Wildlife Fund's Threatened Species Network (WWFTSN), which runs in partnership with the Australian government.
At the state's Environmental Protection Agency, Sara Williams, the manager of its Threatened Species Strategy and Policy Unit, is trying to revolutionise the way Queensland thinks about its flora and fauna, and about the pragmatism of working out what to save. ‘Yes, we're leading the world,' she laughs. ‘The traditional approach in conservation is to start at the top of a critically endangered list and work your way down – we weren't getting anywhere fast, and we kept focusing on the same few iconic species. I was asked to come up with a more strategic approach that looked at our resource allocation, our efficiencies – and I hate using this term, but where you can actually get the biggest bang for your buck.'
She pulls a thick spiral-bound file across the table, the final draft of the Cape York ‘Back on Track Biodiversity Action Plan', and one of fourteen her team will prepare to cover the state. ‘These things are written with a five-year timeframe,' she says, ‘so you have to say, over the next five years, what can we realistically achieve?' They worked first with scientists to identify species most at risk, then with various Natural Resource Management (NRM) boards to determine how each NRM region would weigh the criteria for assessment. ‘Having farmers, graziers, local government, big businessmen, and green people sitting in a room together,' says Williams, ‘and having them come up with an agreed weighting – we were thanked several times because these people hadn't realised they had so much in common, and that they did all want to look after things.'
For the Cape York plan, fifty-one species were identified as having critical or high priority, including the Apollo jewel butterfly, five turtles, nine birds, seven bats and the dwarf saw fish. The major threats to each have been identified – and correlations drawn between common threats faced by numerous species. Feral pigs are an enormous problem in Cape York, threatening nine different organisms. ‘Pigs are one of the few threats to both marine and terrestrial species,' says Williams, ‘and by using all the available records, we can plot the areas on the Cape where those threats are greatest. Then we can start to see some of the regions where it's important to focus our actions.'
Once you can do that you can start to prioritise allocation of funds. ‘You can say, "I have $100,000 available for the year; out of these actions, which will be the most effective – which am I going to choose?" That's where Hugh Possingham's work comes into play.'
‘It's basically saying money matters, when so much of conservation prioritisation has ignored that,' says Possingham, ‘and that's like doing your shopping with the price tags ripped off everything. Which no one does, unless they're filthy rich. Traditionally, we rank species in terms of threat of extinction, and then spend the money on the thing that's just about to go extinct. That may cost $100 million – but there may be fifty things we could save for half a million dollars each and secure them in perpetuity.'
‘Of course people do find this confronting,' says Professor Helene Marsh from James Cook University, from whose work the Back on Track framework is derived. ‘When we made our earliest presentations, there were a lot of people from conservation groups who didn't want to accept that we just can't save everything. But I did feel that while determining species' extinction risks was worthy work, the far more challenging concept was how do you spend your public money most effectively?'
‘We also wanted to assess species on an equal basis,' says Williams, ‘so that some of these other species that aren't as sexy – like the insects – do get a guernsey. If everybody's focused on iconic species, we lose focus on other things, and just saying that an iconic species can be a surrogate for the other things you know you need to focus on – well, in my experience that doesn't always work.'
‘Working out what the problem is and getting your approach right is the key,' says Bob Beeton, chair of the federal government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee and an associate professor at the University of Queensland's School of Natural and Rural Management Systems. He's interested in what he calls Queensland's ‘pioneering course', but then, at the federal level, he's always advocated a landscape-based approach, rather than a focus on single species, which he sees as leaving one ‘a bit like a cat that sits on a porch with its mouth open, hoping for a bird to fly in ...'
EVEN THE WAYS in which the land can be ‘preserved, protected, or restored' are manifold. WPSQ has its own scheme – the Wildlife Land Fund, established in 2001 – that uses bequests to purchase tracts of land that are held in trust by the Society in the interests of biodiversity and conservation.
Smaller again are the parcels of land registered with Land for Wildlife, a voluntary nature conservation program that operates at a single-block level and attracts people like Alison Salisbury and her husband. ‘We'd owned the land twenty years or so, and hadn't done more to it than we had to,' she says, ‘other than clear the lantana.' Now she's moving casuarinas on the property so they grow in better areas: for one thing, it was recently found that endangered glossy-black cockatoos eat casuarina nuts grown in particular soil. But while the Salisburys could opt out of their agreement should they choose to sell their land, or radically alter or develop it, people who engage at the next level – through nature refuge covenants or voluntary conservation agreements – have no such escape clause. Signing one of these contracts, as Marta Hardeman, the president of the Nature Refuge Landholders' Association (NaRLA) puts it, ‘encumbers your title in perpetuity. You can sell it, but whoever buys it buys the commitment as well.' The covenant is a legally binding contract between the landholder and the Queensland government to take care of the land. But like many things, says Hardeman, it's ‘a good policy idea, with little attention paid to delivery mechanisms. The EPA is working to include as much private land under formal conservation agreements as possible – and responses from landholders indicate an unexpectedly large number are keen on having effective nature conservation on their land in conjunction with other uses. Yet the EPA doesn't consider it necessary for landholders to have property-specific conservation management plans, and obviously, without those plans, it's impossible for landholders – who often have no technical knowledge in this area – to conduct effective long-term management.'
More than half a million hectares are covered by nature refuge contracts, and Hardeman estimates the association represents about a third of those who've signed, ‘and we're such a disparate group, from conservative graziers and pastoralists who just want a portion of their land protected, through to active environmentalists who've bought land for millions of dollars but just want it conserved for the future.'
It's a membership that's broad both philosophically and geographically, and one of NaRLA's key aims is to provide education and resources for its members: ‘We'd like to offer them funding to help maintain their refuges, and options for how to make a living off the land while still maintaining its conservation values.' The question is where best to deliver those services. In her office near the Brisbane River, Hardeman shakes her head: ‘We're scattered over most of the state,' she says.
Across the river, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office, sits a plaster relief map of Australia. Queensland always looks unexpectedly big, reaching about 10 degrees further west than New South Wales, and encompassing more than half of Australia's east coast. Spreading wide and flat and open in the imagination, the land actually peaks and crests in webs of ranges, which partly explains its biodiversity. It is a stretch to visualise the long treks of the first Europeans who sought to make their own maps of its vastness, walking on and on, etching fragile, almost invisible routes. Cunningham and Leichhardt and Mitchell and Burke and Wills, tacking names to this river, that mountain; picking up plants and rocks and soil unlike any they'd seen before; shooting birds and animals and pinning insects, similarly exotic. Carting it all back to be looked at, worried over, named – if they made it home.
Through all these conversations about conservation – with entomologists who found themselves retired among like-minded biologists and thinking about butterflies, with land-holders struggling with lantana and wondering why it's still in nurseries, with public servants or NGO workers concerned with this species, that place, another approach or policy altogether – it felt like a series of co-ordinates and connections were emerging. This Land for Wildlife participant was also that tree-kangaroo carer. This community funding scheme was partly underwritten by that government department. Money for revegetation at this Brisbane school came from one natural resource management region; money for revegetation up in the Daintree came from WWFTSN. There were interstices, coalescences everywhere.
It was Hardeman who gave me the image to thread these thoughts together, talking about the three key issues she sees at play in trying to understand the true state of this state's land. There's that gap between policy and implementation, no common standard of scientifically-based assessment (‘we don't yet have a grading protocol for the "environmental health" of conserved land, which makes it impossible to assess how much of Queensland's natural environment is protected effectively, and how much of that protected land needs improvement'), and a lack of communication between the decision-makers involved.
‘The state of organisation,' she says, ‘is such that there is no single, readily available, statewide, overlaid map that anybody shares with anybody else of where the protected areas are. So state departments planning infrastructure cannot easily see where sensitive or conserved areas are, nor can they readily see where taxpayers' conservation money has recently been spent.'
The map I was looking for was the same one everyone was looking for – a kind of field guide to what was going on, from as many points of view as possible. It would show the state, towns crowded in its bottom right-hand corner and scattered out across the rest of its space. One overlay would show the fourteen regions the EPA was working with; another would show national parks, nature refuges, land for wildlife, or UN-mandated biospheres; world heritage-listed areas, land under VCAs, catchments, national reserves, the state-specific subset of 403 sub-regions of the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation of Australia – or the shadowy space of contested clearance, undertaken in the name of agriculture or of residential expansion. Over that, you could lay dots for every different sort of organisation – the branches of groups like WPSQ; wildlife conservancies, landcare organisations; botanic gardens, Greening Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society; all the single-species or single-issue groups – and dots for local government and community bodies and initiatives, and then state ones, and then federal, and all the schemes they had underway.
And then, on top again, which species was where and what research was going on, amongst landowners of any size, biologists, ecologists, taxonomists, modellers. The biogeographers, the molecular biologists, the urban and spatial ecologists ... if you could get a big enough map to plot these things, you could begin to see a complete picture. And you could begin to see what you didn't know as well.
TRYING TO ESTIMATE what we don't know is there has long been a problem for conservation strategists, although models of how this might be done are starting to emerge. For most people, though, the idea that so much does remain unseen, unclassified – well over half our biota – is as foreign as it was to some of Australia's earliest, most optimistic Western naturalists. After a month and a half at Endeavour River – today's Cooktown – Joseph Banks declared that ‘the Plants were now intirely compleated and nothing new to be found ...'
Cooktown sits within a bioregion that embraces Cape York Peninsula and is said to host 3,338 species of plants, including 379 that are ‘rare' and threatened. In the Biodiversity Action Plan for the Cape, the list of species judged data deficient – meaning that not enough is known about them to allow their proper analysis – runs to seven pages.
‘It means we're a lot clearer about our research needs,' says Sara Williams optimistically. ‘After one workshop, when we were assessing Queensland's palms, one of our experts took that data-deficient list back to his students, and said, "let's try to fill in the gaps." Which is fantastic.' Now: ‘If a researcher comes to us for advice, we can give them a range of areas where there are information gaps and where research would make a difference to the conservation of priority species. That's a big help in itself.'
Take the case of the pink underwing moth, one of the species funded by the latest WWFTSN community grants. It was recently found that it not only requires a particular food plant before it can breed, it also requires that plant to be growing prostrate, not vertically – and that seems to happen in only one location in the state. Its $40,000 of funding is enabling the extension and enhancement of corridors of its habitat, a survey program to work out where both the moth and its helpfully horizontal plant exist, and the dissemination of information through material packs and a workshop. ‘I was at that workshop,' says WWFTSN's Rebecca Richardson, ‘and one of the presenters was talking about the number of invertebrate species in Australia and how few have been described.' She shakes her head. ‘It's just amazing how little we know.' In fact, of Australia's estimated three hundred thousand invertebrates, less than 15% have been formally described.
Beyond the action plans, Williams is also working towards an interactive, online database – the Recovery Action Database. ‘It will be based on Back on Track, with all that information about species, about key threats and actions, and anyone will be able to access it ... People will able to say, "OK, I've been baiting for foxes and you told me that would save all my button quail. I did it in May, in these conditions, and it didn't work – wouldn't use the stuff again." Or they can say, "this baiting method is the best thing since sliced bread, applied it here, this was something I tried, and it worked." We've never been able to do that before, and it will give us so many clear outcomes. We all think we're doing the right thing, but are we?'
In the Terrain region, which covers 2.2 million hectares of wet tropics from the Daintree down, WWF has just initiated development of a community capacity database. ‘You might need to get involved in a particularly crucial area for a species,' says Richardson, ‘so it's important to see the gaps. Or you might be running a recovery program but you're not aware that another group is also doing work on that particular species. To be able to have all that information in the one place will really help assess how effective a recovery program is, how to use each group of people effectively, how to avoid investing money in the same thing.'
There's a sense of movement – even on the land. Leases on much of Queensland's leasehold land are coming up for renewal in the next five years, says Marta Hardeman, ‘and, in a brilliant policy move, in order to increase the area managed for conservation outcomes, it's now possible for leaseholders to get special extensions on their leases for improving the environmental management and health of their property.'
Farmers signing conservation agreements and conservation embracing the language of priorities and economics: what would WPSQ co-founder Judith Wright – who said she disliked the sound of two words, ‘progress' and ‘development' – make of it all? There were new negotiations, like the accommodation between conservation and accessing their land's potential that Indigenous owners wanted assured. And there were more familiar ones, like those springing from the inevitability of those large numbers of people wanting to move to Queensland and needing to be washed and watered. That might add two hypothetical dams to the hypothetical map, on the Mary and Dawson Rivers, which meant at least four species were also immediately sketched in as endangered: the lungfish, the boggomoss snail and two turtles. But here instead, said conservationists – drawing in desalination and new water-saving schemes – were viable alternatives. All these shapes and considerations jostled for primacy, while the conversations continued.
When we were moving from Sydney to Brisbane, people suggested different things I'd need to get used to. And it astonishes me now that so few of them mentioned the four-minute shower – a triumph of water restriction that seems inconceivable to any other metropolitan population in Australia, whether or not it faces such parlous supply issues.
If there is one thing that conservation has achieved in Queensland – or at least South-East Queensland – that could be emulated around the country, Darryl Jones nominates the initiative that got daily per capita water usage below an ambitious target of 140 litres. ‘People can really see how that worked,' he says, ‘and it's not as if Brisbane's the only place that's facing this problem. Perth seems to think it can just take more water out of the aquifer – they're using just under 500 litres per person per day, and no one seems worried.'
Change can trickle out from the most unexpected decisions. Jones, who cites traffic as the biggest challenge facing South-East Queensland as it bears the brunt of those two thousand people a week, was astonished when a former lord mayor, insisting on the upgrade of a busy road from two lanes to four, said: ‘All right, here's your challenge. I want you to make a bigger road that has less impact on fauna.' Then, Jones says, ‘the council said it would fund one of the biggest arrays of fauna crossings and structures anywhere in the world – for this little area in the city's south-east. It's got a huge land bridge – we drive through a tunnel; the animals walk over the top – and all these specially designed culverts and underpasses and rope ladders. It's insane. And the animals use it like a highway.' Not only did it reduce wildlife deaths, it became an example for upgrading other roads in the shire.
And perhaps those new residents might engage with what's here. ‘It's imperative that people know about where they're settling,' says Possingham, ‘and how much of the state's economy is driven by biodiversity, how many billions of dollars koalas or the Great Barrier Reef are worth. Australians just do not understand that the infrastructure that is biodiversity makes us billions of dollars a year. Normally you look after infrastructure – and if you're making $10 billion a year out of it you're investing three or four billion a year to make sure the asset keeps going, and making that much profit. But biodiversity is just going down the toilet. It's like letting a house fall down around your ears.'
YOU CANNOT TELL a story about conservation in Queensland without koalas – the most iconic of the state's iconic species and subject to their own massive conservation and management program. It calls for habitat assessment and mapping, and for that mapping to be incorporated in all ‘statutory and non-statutory processes'. It calls for koala spotters from greater Brisbane down to the border, out to Toowoomba, and up towards Gympie. It calls for attention to road strike, which delivers three hundred koalas to one koala hospital alone each year. From around a million animals at the beginning of the twentieth century, there are now somewhere between one and three hundred thousand. As Turnbull says: ‘Some lay observations suggest that certain populations' numbers have already passed a critical level and now need urgent attention to remain viable.'
But under the EPA's prioritisation framework, the koala is not a critical or high priority species: ‘When you look at it at a species level as it occurs across the state, then other species come up as critical and high priority in comparison,' says Sara Williams. ‘That's the thing I'm always trying to enforce – this is about prioritisation. We have to make some decisions and yes, some things will fall out, but that's part of setting priorities.'
The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is a twenty-minute drive from central Brisbane, and home to more than a hundred of these animals. On a regular Saturday morning, visitors come from Germany, Spain, Japan and the suburbs of South-East Queensland. A thick smell of eucalyptus drifts pleasantly underneath everything, and the koalas seem non-plussed by all the attention. One, with fluffy ears that make him look like Einstein, takes his time to turn, to scratch – his eyes squinted with pleasure – from his armpit all the way up to his chin, before he leans face-first into the branch he's sitting on. The whirring click of digital cameras is as ubiquitous as the eucalyptic smell.
A tall Nordic girl bends over, picks up a single gum leaf and leans forward. The koala shakes its ears so they rattle, and potters a little way towards her along the branch. She leans, he inches, and after a little while hand and paw touch through the thick green of the leaf.
The koala takes it, nibbles a bit. The girl pulls back, rubbing her fingers together where the leaf was, smiling. She might follow this into a thousand stories – a curiosity about this species, this place, this country; a story to tell when she gets back home; a wish that she'd got someone to take a picture; or just a nice moment in the sun. Even something as superficial as this could create a path to understanding and caring for environments and their inhabitants in the future.
‘Gee those koalas are popular,' says one man.
Ubiquitous, you'd think, perhaps even universally known. But Deborah Turnbull tells of a carer answering a call from someone who'd found an injured possum. ‘Brush-tail or ring-tail?' asked the carer. ‘Don't know,' said the caller. ‘Grey-brown or red-brown?' asked the carer. ‘Oh, grey-brown,' said the caller. ‘Right,' said the carer, ‘I'll come over' – and arrived to find a koala instead.
‘I used not to believe that someone couldn't recognise a magpie,' says Turnbull, ‘but it really is amazing what some people don't know.'
One last intersection between unawareness and understanding of where and how we live: Hugh Possingham worries that although climate change has honed some people's focus on the environment, the issue of biodiversity never rises to the surface. ‘What I noticed at the 2020 summit was that it's all about climate and water, and to me that's the here and now. Water's a molecule; carbon's an atom; to me these things are easy. But biodiversity is complicated: if we lose half the species on the planet, then we have to live with that for the next five million years. Those sorts of things repair on the timescale of millennia, not the timescale of decades.' ♦