Professor Peter Newman
Director, Sustainability Policy Unit
Department of the Premier
15th Floor, 197 St Georges Tce
Perth WA 6000
6 March 2002
Dear Professor Newman
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE:
Opportunities for Sustainability in Western Australia
Thank you for your invitation to comment on the FOCUS ON THE FUTURE: Opportunities for Sustainability in Western Australia study.
Because of the enormity and complexity of the problem and thus the broad range of expertise needed to address it, I am not able to offer many practical solutions in attempting to achieve true sustainability. I do however know that the resultant outcome of this study will not and cannot be taken seriously unless themajor impact on sustainability, namely population numbers, is included as a sustainability component and is studied and reported. The Western Australian Premier in a Media Statement on the 26th of Feb 2002 indicated his support for a National Population Policy. His statement can be found at:
It was puzzling for me to learn that sustainability, as you express in your consultation paper, has more than one definition. It would appear that your definition has been created with the meaning manipulated to fulfil the role that you require. It is my belief that the true definition of sustainable and its derivatives should be adhered to, and should be simply those found in some of the English languish dictionaries mentioned later. You should have called your study something else if it doesn’t study sustainability as in the true definition of the word.
The Collins English Dictionary definition of Sustainable in terms of [economic development and energy sources] is:
“Capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.”
The Chambers dictionary definition of Sustainability, in ecology, is:
“The amount or degree to which the earth’s resources may be exploited without deleterious effects.”
The Macquarie Dictionary, Federation Edition defines Sustainable Development as:
“Economic development designed to meet present needs while also taking into account future costs, including costs to the environment and depletion of natural resources.”
The producers of the before mentioned publications simply want to accurately articulate the English language meanings of the words and phrases.
How can one establish a universal benchmark for sustainability or sustainable development if the definitions are being manipulated? Your definition of sustainability, as you know, is:
“The simultaneous achievement of environmental, economic and social goals.”
I have to wonder why your definition is also the triple bottom line often trotted out by “big business”, many still with unsustainable growth for profit aspirations.
Dr John Cole, Director of the Sustainable Industries Unit at the QLD EPA, told a sustainability forum in July last year that “triple bottom line is nonsense – the economy is a subset of the society, and they are both contained within the environment. The environment is that which holds it all.”
It must be recognised that it may never be possible to achieve environmental, economic and social goals simultaneously. In the long term, the needs of our economy and society must fit within the finite restrictions applied by the natural environment, both locally and globally. Anything else will not be sustainable.
To achieve true sustainability, quite simply a two-pronged approach is needed.
We must adopt for the State that which Professor Tim Flannery advocated in his 2002 Australia Day address for the Country. For Western Australia we must establish just what is our sustainable population level giving consideration to our current consumption of the finite natural resource. This figure may change over time as we consume more or less. Right now we must take the conservative approach until we know the answer to this question.
Secondly, at the same time we must take whatever steps we can to ruthlessly limit/reduce our consumption, as your paper has suggested.
I believe that a great deal of steering legislation, no matter how politically unpalatable it may be, will be necessary to achieve both of the above outcomes.
Surely you must recognise that if it were possible to reduce our consumption 10 fold, as you have deemed necessary, in order to achieve sustainability, this reduced level of consumption would only be valid until the next population increase occurred. A further consumption reduction would then be needed. We can’t continue to reduce our consumption as a result of population increase until we are consuming virtually nothing. Isn’t this what you are proposing as a sustainability strategy?
Following are my answers to some of your key questions, not necessarily in the order or format you suggest. Some of my suggestions are elementary and may be under consideration already.
True sustainability is not only a worthwhile pursuit, it is vital for our survival. We can set a demonstrable and marketable example to the rest of the country and the world to follow if we are successful.
There would be many benefits. One that springs to mind would be the commercial opportunities stemming from truly sustainable developmental projects. You have mentioned many in your paper. The globe is crying out for solutions, and we can contribute. Let’s not dilly-dally and fall behind. We seem to be lagging because R & D is not being supported by large injections of public money, particularly into the education sector. Private sector funding is of dubious value because of the possibility of it having strings attached, obvious or subliminal. Perhaps some soul searching is warranted for the sustainability group, considering some of its funding entities.
Following are some suggested solutions and also an expression of some of the problems we are encountering in the Peel. Although not ground breaking in nature you may be able to draw from this local experience to help you understand the problems being encountered in the regions. Unsustainable development and growth is being encountered and often still promoted by boosters in many areas of the business community, news media and Local Governments.
The Policy unit should:
- Emphatically recommend to government the importance of establishing the truly sustainable population level for this state, taking into consideration our present rate of consumption of the finite natural resource.
- Establish the methodology required to achieve this population level.
- Recommend that government implement the required strategy to achieve this goal
- Recommend phasing out production of local and export revenue via our presently unsustainable agricultural methods, with a movement toward sustainable organically based food production. Organically based food production methods are comparatively labour intensive. That’s what we need. Jobs. At the same time you should also widely and vigorously promulgate the need and wisdom of paying more for “clean green food.” Food that will benefit public health and thus be likely to create savings in the future through resultant reduction in public health costs. Britain is recognising the need to produce food sustainably and is recommending a move in this direction at home and in the European Union. See transcript of a recent BBC news report which is at:http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_1787000/1787329.stm.
- Have the government recognise the limited future of many of our minerals extraction operations, particularly the fossil fuel extraction industries and other energy intensive industries.
- Recommend that we quickly move toward clean energy production technologies, as other progressive and innovative countries are doing, in an effort to achieve greenhouse gas reductions.
- Any industries that deplete the natural resource base should be discouraged.
- In light of the CSIRO’s prediction of a 60% reduction in rainfall in S/W Western Australia in the next 40-70 years, recommend to government that legislation be introduced requiring water catchment and storage systems be introduced as a mandatory requirement for all new private, public and commercial buildings. Also recommend that incentives be given to retrofit existing buildings with water catchment and storage elements. Potable water could be collected and used locally, reducing transport/pumping/piping costs.
Vigorously encourage the further introduction of native garden or other water conservative features in all new real estate developments as opposed to European lawns, for obvious water saving reasons. Promote conversion of existing lawns to native or other water conservation style gardens. “Outlaw lawns”
- I believe you when say a 10-fold reduction in consumption is required in order to achieve sustainability. Of course this would have to be applicable to our current population level. An increase would need another assessment. In light of this reduction necessity, we can no longer afford the luxury of sewerage. It must be rapidly phased out and compulsory compostable toilets need to be introduced as an alternative. Obviously, massive savings would be affected in terms of potable water use [transporting poo], power [pumping poo] and valuable nutrient loss [treating and discarding poo]. The third world can’t afford to waste their effluent. Nor can we. Drastic solutions are needed for drastic problems. Jobs could be created, collecting composted poo from those property owners who do not utilizes the product on site.
- Recommend that planning approvals be subject to passive design incorporation, both in site orientation and building plans. These principles are already being incorporated in other contemporary countries and in a limited application here in the West. Also recommend that incentives be made available for existing buildings to be retrofitted to incorporate elements of design passivity. Applause is deserved for the current policy encouraging solar hot water use by offering financial incentives. The Commonwealth’s “Sustainable Housing” incentive is also worthy of merit but unless mandatory sustainable housing design legislation is introduced for site and building, the industry will be tardy in application of same. Liveable Neighbourhoods are a step in the right direction.
- Because of dwindling known fossil fuel reserves, increasing demand, and the present lack of suitable alternatives, including Hydrogen Cell technology, investigate the dubious benefit of constructing more major transport infrastructure. It may be of no use in the future in its present form. In addition, major highways often attract further development along their path. This exposes even more areas of remnant and pristine bush and wetlands to urban development with consequent biological diversity reduction.
A typical example of such a project is the proposed Peel Deviation Freeway. If traffic bypass of Mandurah is the goal, upgrading the existing South West Highway should be undertaken. Surely we must attempt to promote decentralization, as promulgated in the Premier’s recent media release, previously referred to.
Populations must be encouraged to migrate to smaller regional centres like the ones along the existing S/W Highway route. Another benefit of upgrading the S/W Highway would be to take pressure off the already critically stressed Peel Harvey Estuary. This would be achieved by not delivering inevitable urbanisation close to the Eastern side of this threatened waterway as a result of the proposed new route. See below draft EDRMP report, clearly indicating the future threat to the health of the Peel Harvey Estuary as a result of anticipated Population growth.
- Although legislation already exists to discourage clearing of remnant and pristine bushland, ensuring that this legislation is adhered to/enforced is essential. Perhaps increasing penalties are needed to discourage offenders. Give the newly created Department of Environment, Water and Catchment Protection some teeth. Lamentably the State Government is a major clearing offender. Some, perhaps many, local governments deplorably do not enforce clearing legislation. This situation must be addressed.
- The State could assist in the diversion of the vast amount of money that is invested in superannuation products from damaging investment, into products that support ethical/sustainable projects.
Many self-funded or semi funded retirees are presently interested in just two things: a small income derived from, and security for, their life savings. Surely if in addition to income and security they also believed that their investments would be helping to provide a sustainable future for their descendents, such investments would be even more attractive.
For this reason I believe that the state should give preferred treatment, promote and perhaps even underwrite, investment products that have a proven “ethical investment charter”. An example of this may be Australian Ethical Superannuation, which I believe is filling part of this niche. Careful investigation of such Superannuation Funds would be needed before endorsement could be given, but redirection of such vast fiscal resource pools into sustainable/ethical projects is worthy of consideration.
- Recommend that the growing of industrial, non-toxic cannabis be allowed, with supervision, in this state. The proponents are presenting very good supportive arguments. Cotton production should be vigorously discouraged.
I draw your attention to the recently released draft ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND RECREATION MANAGEMENT PLAN for the PEEL WATERWAYS [EDRMP]. The Executive summary is at:
and says in the highlighted findings box on page 3:
“The major finding of this report is that the Peel Waterways will not be able to sustain the increased recreational demands of expected population growth. Under such stress, the environment will decline further unless resources are found for action in the catchment to improve water quality throughout the system, and affirmative action to restore the environment and habitats of the rivers, particularly the Murray.
Surely you will acknowledge the findings in the draft of this $84,000, year long study. It is my belief that State and Commonwealth resources, already stretched, will never be provided in sufficient quantities to over come this local Peel degradation problem. Everall Consulting Biologist showed courage to articulate so clearly in the findings the relationship between the population impacts and resource application. Additionally, even if enough resources were forthcoming right now, soon, with continued population increase the degradation problems would just re-emerge. Surely you understand this undeniable corollary, applicable to the Peel, but also relevant for the State, the Country and the Globe?
Noosa Shire has recognised the problem and has capped its population. Busselton recently had a capping motion narrowly defeated. Mandurah City, in its Community Charter and Strategic Plan 2001-04 has committed to studying growth in 2003. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks stacked a Population Forum with growth proponents on the 25th of this month in Melbourne, at least recognising the need for a population policy. NSW premier Bob Carr has recognised the population growth problem and has expressed his views regarding this on many occasions. The late Jacques-Yves Cousteau has said that“Over consumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” John Witheriff, President of the Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce, is calling for an examination of population levels on the Gold Coast. Even previous growth proponents, Gold Coast business owners, [although possibly with the wrong motives] are beginning to question the lunacy of allowing our populations to increase, no doubt unsustainably.
The momentum is gathering as some in the community recognise and try to articulate the problems being encountered by unsustainable population increase. Your study group has a crucial responsibility to do the same.
A massive “sea change” will be required over a relatively short period to achieve a goal for true Sustainability for Western Australia. I fear that a generally apathetic community will not recognise the seriousness of the problem until they perceive an imminent threat to their social and economic security. They will resist the necessary change to their lifestyles unless they can be made to understand this critical threat. You must make them aware of the crisis we are facing. I wish you good luck with what is probably the most important study yet undertaken in Western Australia. You must get it right.
SUSTAINABILITY = POPULATION X CONSUMPTION OF THE FINITE NATURAL RESOURCE