Monday, 18 November 2013

Why Australia must be “sued into sutainability”

The elimination of the woefully inadequate carbon tax by the Abbott Government is depressing. Knowing as much as I do about the extremely low productivity, age and infertility of the Australian continent those with serious ecological knowledge would hope for better.

Nonetheless, is there a point in crying over something scientists can do nothing about??

The answer is no - we must look to alternative causes to see why Australia lags further and further behind the rest of the world in greenhouse emissions reductions, when its infertile soils, hot climate and high species diversity suggest firmly it needs to be moving further and further ahead. It is pointless arguing the toss: Australia will move away from sustainability as the rest of the world moves toward it.
This map, taken from the FAO site “”, shows just why Australia has such a poor sustainability record: it has little incentive to be efficient with land and energy use due to its continuous and abundant very flat land.
The map above is based on the FAO’s map of median terrain slope, with the modification of cutting off cryospheric land as if it was above about 9˚ slope. Although my rendition is not perfect, it is striking how vast the areas of extremely low slope are in most of Australia, and how even the relatively steep areas of the east coast, the Kimberley and central Australian ranges are not highly “dissected”. The vast supply of continuous flat land northwest from the Main Divide is rivalled - and barely - only in the Amazon and Sahara under climates equally or more inhospitable, and there the flat land is far more broken and less economic for farming or housing.

This is why “feeling” types, strongly interested in other people and deep romantic relationships, are attracted to Australia’s suburbs, whereas “thinking” types who are interested in things and ideas more than people gravitate to Eurasia and the Americas, where dense populations and lack of space allow for intensive discussions but little room for nurturing families.

Countering the natural tendency for exploitation in Australia and conservation in the northern and western hemispheres requires a completely different line of attack.

The most likely method is to demonstrate why Australia is responsible for global warming even though its emissions are not yet a large proportion of the global total (though they certainly will be in the future). Per capita emissions, especially given the relative ecological energy consumption of Australian vis-à-vis Enriched World ecosystems, are enough reason to give Australia an exceptional responsibility for man-made global warming.

With time the power of the Enriched World to demand Australia pay its fair (large) share for the costs of man-made global warming abroad will decline. This makes the Kyōtō Protocol more of a failure than its sceptics think, and makes a complete rethink of policies all the more urgent. If Australia was made to pay or sued for demonstrable damages, it would completely alter its ultraconservative, pro-mining and pro-freeway politics at a stroke. The effect would be immense compared to the changes made of late in Eurasia and the Americas!

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