CQUniversity professor John Rolfe believes progress lies with economists and social scientists sitting alongside marine biologists and environmentalists.
CQUniversity professor John Rolfe believes progress lies with economists and social scientists sitting alongside marine biologists and environmentalists.

Solving the reef’s wicked problems

There is no easy fix to the wicked problems facing the Great Barrier Reef.

Many of the challenges, such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification, are environmental, but it would be a mistake to look exclusively to science as the saviour.

The nature of wicked problems, resources economist professor John Rolfe explains, is that they are very hard to solve for a variety of reasons.

The CQUniversity academic believes progress lies with economists and social scientists sitting alongside marine biologists and environmentalists. An increased focus from government on measuring cost-effectiveness has been an important step, but Prof Rolfe was surprised how public perception on spending on the reef had changed.

Surveys show that the proportion of people objecting to paying more for increased protection has risen from 6 per cent in 2008 to 21 per cent in 2019.

Prof Rolfe presented his map for a way forward during his presidential address at the Conference of the Australasian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in Perth last week.

There have been improvements in elements easier to measure and control, such as reductions of pollutants and improved water quality.

One of the best examples of solving a wicked problem is protecting the ozone layer by restricting the use of chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons.

Prof Rolfe said scientists developed a solution, economists said it wouldn't be too expensive, and diplomats got agreements between countries.

To best protect the reef, he advises a similar approach.



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