9 December 2003

Rich lifestyles cannot go on, says EPA

The amount of land needed to produce the goods and services we consume, known as an ecological footprint, has increased by 23 per cent in five years. In that period the population grew by only 7 per cent. It now takes 7.4 hectares of land to maintain each Sydneysider's lifestyle, an increase of 16 per cent on five years ago. Regional residents saw their footprint grow by 15 per cent to 7 hectares.

The deputy director general of the Department of Environment and Conservation, Simon Smith, said: 'We take out too much of the good stuff and put back too much of the bad stuff.'

While per capita consumption of water has dropped, total consumption is increasing due to the growth in population. The current per capita use of 412 litres a day in Sydney is far above the target for 2005 of 364 litres.

The report notes that while it is possible to maintain existing levels of consumption in the short term, 'it means that water restrictions will occur more frequently in the future'.

'This, together with the need to increase the amount of water left in rivers for environmental flow, climate change and natural variability means that there is an urgent need to reduce consumption through such measures as water conservation and recycling.'

More energy is also being used, with electricity sales up by 4.5 per cent in the past two years, driving up greenhouse gas emissions produced by coal-fired power stations.

The report is available for download. This is a case of competing policies working at cross purposes. Raising public transport fares always shifts people out of buses and trains and into cars. That will increase the environmental footprint. Falling usage will exacerbate State Transit's fiscal situation. That will lead to further demands for fare rises. The vicious cycle is easy to establish and very hard to break away from. Fiscal and ecological rectitude are not always the same things.

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