Building a case for environmental action

Posted on December 15, 2009

What determines how an environmental issue comes to be defined as a “problem” requiring a policy response?  This question has been explored using the extraction of sand and gravel from theBrisbaneRiveras a case study, and shows how pressure for environmental intervention grows as claims are successfully assembled and presented.  Sand and gravel extraction from the Brisbane River started in the early 1950s and peaked in the 1970s, when public concerns about the adverse effects of dredging (increased turbidity, bank erosion, noise pollution, loss of visual amenity) were articulated and promoted through community rallies and media attention.  From 1977, a series of river conferences played an important role in defining the scientific and technical basis of these concerns, and the formation of the Brisbane River Management Group provided a forum for addressing public demands.  The crucial role of policy entrepreneurs in achieving change is illustrated by the involvement of the Lord Mayor ofBrisbane, who channelled community sentiment, negotiated with gravel extractors, and pushed for an end to dredging.  This eventually occurred in 1999.  Although factors such as sewage inputs, agricultural runoff and increased population pressure had more significant impacts on river water quality, the mayor focussed on dredging because it represented an iconic issue with definable and achievable policy targets.  The authors note that uncertainties about the detailed environmental effects of dredging allowed both its opponents and proponents to draw on scientific information to support their respective cases.

Reference:  Jakku, E., Burch, D. & Rickson, R. 2009.  Constructing an environmental problem: claims-making in the Brisbane River dredging dispute.  Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 16, 25-35.


Posted in: social, water quality