Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fossil Fuel Footprint Stepping on Biodiversity

By Nathalie Butt, Hawthorne Beyer and Leonie Seabrook

The footprint of fossil fuels is encroaching on biodiversity hotspots that are currently undeveloped.

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There’s a global biodiversity crisis unravelling before our eyes, and most of the major threats to biodiversity (such as habitat loss and invasive species) are being exacerbated by the growing impact of climate change. Science has convincingly demonstrated the connection between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change. Less well-understood is the impact on our natural world of the actual extraction of these fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.

The process of extracting fossil fuels, which includes drilling and all forms of mining, has traditionally been seen as a temporary and spatially limited disturbance. In many cases it is assumed that some kind of restoration activity will return the ecosystem to a state close to its pre-disturbance state. Because of this, extraction activities have been considered trivial disruptors of natural systems in comparison with other human activities (such as agriculture). Indeed, in many countries extraction areas are considered “borrowed” rather than “consumed”.

The assumption of a relatively small disturbance footprint (e.g. less than 0.05% of the land surface of Australia is disturbed by mining) has meant that it was previously easy to dismiss the environmental impacts of extraction as unimportant at larger scales. But should it be dismissed? In reality, ecosystem disturbance and degradation, as a direct or indirect...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.