While a green economy is a worthy theme for this year’s World Environment Day on June 5, Australian governments are determined that ours will be a brown rather than a green economy.
Australia is moving farther and farther away from a sustainable future. Our total energy use increased by 19 per cent in the seven years between 2001–2 and 2008–9. ABS estimates of Economic Demonstrated Resources of black coal were 1,103 EJ (exajoules) in 2009 with about 75 per cent of our black coal being exported. Exports have increased by 50 per cent in the last ten years, increasing at 4.1 per cent every year. If this rate continues, half our black coal reserves will be gone in 17 years (2029) yet we have a government vigorously intent on exploiting as rapidly as possible not only our black coal reserves but every single non-renewable resource as soon as it is discovered.
‘A green economy will not happen if populations continue to grow,’ according to Dr John Coulter of Sustainable Population Australia (SPA). ‘As populations grow, the demand for oil and every other non-renewable resource becomes ever greater. Thus the push to exploit all resources with monumental environmental cost.’
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says a green economy is one that results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
SPA’s national vice-president Dr John Coulter says an ever-growing population can only add to increasing environmental demand and ecological scarcity.
Dr Coulter says we are losing species at an alarming rate, largely because of loss of habitat to human activities.
‘For instance, there are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild,’ he says. ‘Indonesia’s population growth rate may have declined to 1.04 per cent; however, with a population of 246 million, that means an extra 2.56 million people a year.
‘All these extra people have to be fed, clothed and sheltered. It means forests are cut down to grow food and fibre. It creates greenhouse gas emissions. There is nothing green in this kind of economy.’
Dr Coulter says the problem goes way beyond Indonesia.
‘Australia’s population is growing much faster than that of Indonesia. Our much larger per capita environmental demand causes population increase here to have the effects mentioned above. The carbon tax will not reduce Australia’s emissions while our population grows.
‘Population growth is a recipe for dysfunction, not for a green economy,’ Dr Coulter says.