Cities face crisis in a bigger Australia


Major Australian cities face decreasing drinkable water, increasing traffic congestion and pollution problems by 2050 if immediate changes are not made to current government policy, says a leading Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic.

Mr Barney Foran, a research fellow with the University’s Institute for Land Water and Society, is also concerned that Sydney, Melbourne and Perth could grind to a halt if the predictions of ‘peak oil’ are reached in the next 20 years.

And he warns that the current Federal policy to encourage a larger population growth for Australia is putting our citizens on the road to a more constrained future.

“Multimillion dollar plans to restructure and rebuild Sydney, Melbourne and Perth have already been developed. However, the immediacy of natural disasters such as fires, floods and cyclones in recent months remind us of the growing risks facing Australians in a changing climate and that longer-term plans may be ‘put on the backburner’ while day-to-day recovery projects receive priority.”

Mr Foran believes that if Australia transitions to a relatively stable population of between 26 and 28 million people in 2050, the nation will be more resilient to future economic and environmental shocks.

“A stable population would allow better planning, good design, ongoing retrofitting and low impact lifestyles to evolve in Australia while maintaining relatively high living standards,” he says. By design, a larger Australia means we are always catching up on critical infrastructure and environmental problems,” Mr Foran says.

“Oil is a particular concern. Expecting that oil will always be cheap and easily available is a key uncertainty, whether Australia is bigger or smaller. Decreasing oil availability could solve traffic congestion problems in our cities but will leave many people marooned in isolated suburbs that lack mass transport connections.

“We already have solutions planned but they have not been embraced with the vigour and speed needed to match the risk we now face.”

According to Mr Foran, technologists and engineers promise that the solutions exist to solve many of the water, energy, ‘greenhouse’ and pollution issues.

“But in reality, hot button topics like ‘housing affordability’ mean that new suburbs consist of average houses whose size and designs continues to add to the average impact of each Australian, rather than the one-half or one-third impact which would be needed in order to stall the impending crises in energy and water. Therefore, each additional citizen will have the same impact as current ones!”

Mr Foran believes ending the \’ponzi\’ scheme behind the drive for a bigger Australia will not be without pain. “Most people’s aspirations are based on an economy that always grows, makes jobs for our children and fills our superannuation accounts.

“A smaller Australia could live within its means, repair its rivers and soil and limit its loss of biodiversity. But few of our political leaders will dare talk about this other Australia unless they take a longer view of where Australia is going, rather than just winning the next election.”

Mr Foran’s concerns arise from his recent paper published this month in the journal People and Place looking at Australia’s energy, water, biodiversity and land resources in the face of a major increase in population by 2050.