Toward a Sustainable Australia

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-By Dave Côté

A sustainable community is one that is built or modified to maintain sustainable living, by catering to its inhabitants needs. These needs range from the availability of food, water, transportation and energy, to necessary materials, appropriate shelter and waste removal. Environmental sustainability, including manageable development and safe and healthy agriculture, as well as economic sustainability, are two of the major pieces of the puzzle. But the social and ecological systems that make up this community must also provide and promote productive, healthy lifestyles so that all of its inhabitants can live a happy and meaningful life and feel engaged in and empowered by the community.

A definition by the UK government sums it up well: “Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all.”

In response to many issues brought forth in over 370 submissions received from community groups, individuals, local governments, state governments and their bodies, academics, environmental, social population non-government organisations, industry associations and businesses, in 2010 the Government of Australia took on the task of developing its first sustainable population strategy. To tackle the overwhelming number of differing views being expressed, three advisory panels were formed, charged with the task of taking into consideration the different perspectives of the public and advising the Government of all possible approaches.

Of the issues brought to the fore in the creation of this strategy, the main topics of discussion were plentiful and in some ways just as diverse as the population that brought them fourth. They are as follows:

• Examining the differing views on population stabilisation and immigration – immigration can bring skilled workers, supplement the aging population and increase economic prosperity whilst making the country more diverse, vibrant and well connected;

• Determining the importance of, and balance between, environmental, social and economic needs in influencing future wellbeing;

• Understanding which aspects of the Australian economy and environment the people value most and wish to protect and enhance;

• Evaluating the impact of a growing population and economy on Australia’s vulnerable wildlife habitat. This includes water availability, greenhouse gas emissions, food security and the loss of biodiversity;

• Making significant improvements in terms of liveability – the availability of affordable houses in cities, access to services, green space and traffic congestion;

• Establishing greater communication and cooperation between all three levels of government as they relate to cities, urban development, planning and infrastructure provision.

The future wellbeing of Australia’s population crucially depends on addressing these issues. The government has ways to address them, but must also set forth a plan to manage and absorb the changes these developments may bring. The difficulty comes with trying to keep growth consistent and continue to enhance quality of life while managing the pressures that are being put on precious natural resources.

Strong economic growth is seen by many as the most important factor in sustainability – essentially, because it supports our capacity to take the actions that are required to build a sustainable Australia. The economy supports quality of life, security and the ability to shrink the environmental impact of day to day life so that it is more manageable. The economy also funds research and development so that we can find smarter ways to keep our communities sustainable. Australia’s population can continue to grow, thrive, and be happy and healthy while living in fully sustainable communities by having consistent access to employment, services, and easy ways of connecting with friends and family.

Environmental sustainability includes not only Australia’s natural habitat but also the built environment in which we live. It also factors in the use of natural resources and the conservation of biodiversity, Indigenous land, and our heritage. These are considered sustainable when they are able to stand up to hazards while providing value to Australia over the long term. Of course this may take a bit of planning to achieve, but after all the hard work is done, the little pig that built his house out of bricks was most likely able to hand it over to his piglets after living a nice long and happy life.

Sometimes, moving forward and developing new communities can have some complex repercussions. While a development in one area can bring positive change, it may negatively impact the sustainability of another area. And there are some factors, of course, which simply can’t be avoided or mitigated – climate change, for one. After all is said and done, our quality of life will forever be linked to our location and we’re lucky that the diversity of Australia’s physical environment gives us plenty of choice where that is concerned.

In Australia about 75 per cent of the population lives in an urban community with more than 100,000 residents, making ours one of the most urbanised countries in the world. To protect the natural habitat around these urban areas, the Australian government has decided to build up instead of out, by tearing down existing old or simply underused buildings and using the space for larger residential establishments. If this building plan is integrated appropriately with existing transport, green spaces, recreation locations and access to services, it will offer a wealth of high amenity living and will maximise the efficiency of these major urban areas while increasing their sustainability and allowing them to support greater numbers.

A challenge for major cities will always be the location of employment centres with respect to the location of residential areas. The desire to own newer and bigger homes has driven the demand for land for residential development. Life in the outer suburban communities looks quite nice but unfortunately often comes with a lack of good job opportunities. This forces many residents of these areas to commute longer distances, generating traffic congestion and much longer travel times. An 8 hour work day becomes an 11 hour day and the night becomes a lot shorter. This puts the residents of these suburban areas at a clear disadvantage; it also puts strain on the social, psychological and physical wellbeing of those individuals. These areas also have a dearth of available community services, making them less socially and economically hardy than the major metropolitan areas.

Outside the cities there is a mixture of growth and decline in regional and remote areas. On the Coast there continues to be a great deal of growth, especially in areas close to a city. Farther inland there are pockets of growth centred on mining and gas operations. The development of inland Australia has always depended on agriculture and resource extraction. Technological advances and communications improvements make it easier for people living in rural communities to stay connected while giving them more opportunities to live apart from their educational institutions and workplaces.

The future is upon us and the weight of the sustainability of the communities in which we live, learn and make a living will not only rest in the hands of the ones who govern us, but on the shoulders of the population. To thrive in our communities we must continue to be active and engaged so that we can keep our economy stable and growing. We must teach our children to be good useful members of society so that they can live well, be healthy and enjoy the communities that not only provide them with their livelihoods, but provide others with theirs as well.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 17, 2019, 4:56 AM AEDT