Doomsday warning on fuel stock

28 02 2013

The situation is even more dire that I suspected! Looks like Adelaide cannot expect much help from other states when our even smaller fuel stock runs dry. –Michael Lardelli

Note that the only way this article could get published in the Australian is if population was not mentioned, and the scenario was called a “doomsday” one.

In fact this looming disaster should be no news. The last Inter-generational Report warned that our oil would be gone by 2020, just as the world’s diminishing oil is expecting to reach $200 a barrel.  The media took almost zero interest.

It is of course not impossible to swap minerals like iron ore for oil imports,  provided someone is still selling oil.  But they’ll need to be selling lots of it.

And very large quantities of the oil we buy will have to go on digging and processing and transporting the ores we hope to sell in return.


Mark O’Connor


Doomsday warning on fuel stock

  • by: Cameron Stewart
  • From: The Australian  (now behind a paywall…)
  • February 28, 2013 12:00AM

AUSTRALIA would grind to a halt within three weeks with almost no deliveries of food or medicine if its overseas oil and fuel supplies were cut off.

An NRMA-commissioned report on the nation’s liquid fuel security released today says the government has allowed the country to become too dependent on foreign supply of liquid fuels.

It says there are no coherent contingency plans to deal with the devastating impact of any cut to overseas supply because of war, economic turmoil or natural disasters, instead adopting a “she’ll be right” approach.

The report, written by retired RAAF Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn, finds that 85 per cent of transport fuel comes from overseas crude oil or imported fuel.

This dependency on overseas oil and fuel has increased steadily during the past three decades and will continue to rise as local refinery capacity decreases.

“Almost 95 per cent of our road transport network relies on oil and it would be crippled within weeks if Australia’s liquid fuel supply was disrupted,” NRMA Motoring and Services director Graham Blight said. “We have about three weeks’ worth of fuel at our disposal before the country would come to a standstill.”

The report finds that if overseas oil and fuel supplies are cut, the lack of adequate transport will see dry shops run out of chilled, frozen and dry food within seven to nine days; chemists will run out of medicine within a week, hospitals within three days and fuel supplies for motorists will be exhausted in three days.

The report says reliance on overseas supplies of liquid fuel will only grow with the expected loss of 28 per cent of Australia’s oil refinery capacity by 2014 following the planned closure of Sydney’s Clyde and Kurnell refineries.

Despite the report’s findings, the government has not previously viewed fuel security as a major concern because it says Australia will always have access to global markets for liquid fuel.

“The 2011 National Energy Security Assessment found that a significant reduction in refining capacity is not expected to cause fuel security problems, given our access to well-functioning global markets that can provide adequate and reliable supply,” the report notes.

But the report finds the government’s attitude towards fuel security is complacent and Australia would “not be the first country” in history to get such an important assumption wrong . . . The very small consumption stockholdings of oil and liquid fuels in Australia, combined with what appears to be a narrow assessment of our fuel supply chain vulnerabilities, does not provide much confidence that the strategic risks to our fuel supply chain are well understood and mitigated by our nation’s leaders, the business community or the population at large,” the report says.

The NRMA’s Mr Blight said in light of the findings, the government should bring forward its planned 2014 assessment of liquid fuel vulnerability.

He said a fuel security plan was needed to reduce dependence on overseas fuel supplies by sourcing local supplies and safeguarding local refining capacities.

Australia also needed to develop non-oil-based alternatives such as LPG and electric vehicles, he added.

Five years on…….

28 02 2013

I’ve only just realised, this blog is five years old.  Where has the time gone..?  And the older you get, the faster it disappears.

So I thought I’d revisit my first post…….  in it I wrote this: “So when the crunch arrives in about 4 or 5 years, what will you do?”  They say making predictions, especially about the future, is a bit risky…!  We came close to crunch time in 2008, but they bailed out the banks.  When they should’ve bailed out the little people…  Crunch time is still coming, but obviously predicting when is indeed tricky.

A friend of mine recently said he knows someone “high up” in the ANZ Bank who told him there would be a substantial crash this year, probably in the second half.  Then someone else (I should’ve paid more attention) on the internet recently specified the third quarter….  I predict (!) October.  Bad economic things tend to happen in October, in fact our twins were born on Black Monday, October 19 1987, the biggest stock market crash outside of 1929.  Could only happen to me, hey…….

UPDATE:  this just came up on the Chris Martenson website……  thought this was a good place to park it!

Warning: Stocks Likely to Crater from Here – losses of over 50% may be in store

That “they” actually managed to keep the Matrix going under all the conditions we are currently facing would be a credit to “them”, were it not for the fact that the longer they allow it all to continue, the worse the collapse will be.  But who will listen to me when the ASX has topped 5000 again….  Who will listen to me when the media is continually spraying misinformation about the recovery……  such that when things in Greece go totally pear shaped….  they simply stop writing about it.  When was the last time you heard about Greece?  Think about it….  the Pope’s abdication is now filling newspaper columns…

“The Greek economy is finished. The Greek economy is in a great, great
depression… There is no power, no force within the Greek economy, within Greek society that can avert it…. Imagine if we were in Ohio in 1931 and we were to ask: What can Ohio politicians do to get Ohio out of the Great Depression? The answer is nothing.”

– Yanis Varoufakis, Greek economist

After 5 years of negative growth, record-high unemployment and savage cuts to essential safety-net programs, Greek society is beginning to buckle. Diabetics cannot afford their insulin, suicides and anti-depressant usage is
off-the-chart, tuberculosis and HIV rates are soaring, and desperate pensioners in Athens have been reduced to dumpster diving outside grocery stores for a few scraps of food to feed themselves and their families.

Sounds of collapse………………?  You didn’t hear about it on Fairfax and News Limited though…

The Energy Cliff has simply got five years closer since I started this blog……

Can we live again in 1964’s energy world? asks Andrew Nikiforuk over at  “Everything has to get worse. We are behaving so badly.”  Or so says Vaclav Smil, who actually knows something about energy in a world that has grown largely energy illiterate, thanks to a now threatened diet of cheap hydrocarbons.  Smil’s analysis of energy transitions at the resilience site is well worth the read.  Go for it.

On its fifth birthday, I thought I’d google Damnthematrix, just for fun.  About 397,000 results (0.26 seconds) says the search engine…….  To have any impact on society, I reckon we need 100 times more hits.

Happy Birthday Damnthematrix……

Sleep Apnoea

25 02 2013

If you read my post about visiting the dark side, you will know I had a sleep study done to establish whether my chronic fatigue was due to sleep apnoea.  I fully expected to be told (as usual!) that there was nothing wrong with me and to go away…….  The results, however, are far from those preconceived ideas I had about my sleeping patterns…!  My doctor duly rang me this morning to discuss my results, and what he had to say literally blew me away.  I had one of the worst results possible.  Below is a chart showing a fraction of my sleep time:

apnoeaThat circled area shows one of the many times I simply stopped breathing.  You’d think you’d wake up choking or something, but apparently that is not a given, most people are totally unaware that this is happening to them.  The problem with not breathing, is that your blood Oxygen levels drop……  and this can, obviously, lead to tiredness, brain damage……. or worse.  Below is another graph showing my blood Oxygen levels……  isn’t technology just dandy…?

SpO2My doctor told me that only very young children achieve 100, most people are at 90~95.  Anything under 80 is not good, and that very low spike you can see, which I’m told reached 72 is, according to the doctor, “not compatible with life”!  Did I die?  Can’t remember…….  which is what happens when you have apneoa, your memory goes south.  Worse, sleep apnoea raises your chances of stroke and heart attacks by some 50%, and we can’t have that, I want to be around when the collapse takes hold!

Fortunately, there is a remedy.  I’ve met a few people who now sleep with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP) which apply continuous positive pressure to your airways through as mask to maintain unobstructed airways.  They all tell me it’s changed their lives, so there is hope for me after all.  It would be nice to get the old me back again….  even if it means another trip to the dark side for another sleep test to calibrate the machine I will try out.

Apparently a very large number of people suffer from this affliction and know nothing about it.  I didn’t.  Obviously, I will keep my readers informed on how well the CPAP system works out, but I would recommend, even at this stage, that if you always feel tired, don’t sleep well, can’t concentrate, or just generally feel like crap, then it wouldn’t hurt to have a test.

As an aside, it’s pissing down rain again, we will be cut off from civilisation tonight (yeaah!), and we will have surpassed our entire annual rainfall in barely more than a month…..  if the rain wasn’t falling so hard on the tin roof, I’m sure you’d be able to hear the grass grow……..  Tomorrow, I’ll fire up the AGA and cook the duck I killed yesterday, might as well make the most of it!

Are we running out of people to vote for…?

21 02 2013

Recently, my friend Dave Kimble (who wrote this post) contacted the leader of the Australian Greens regarding many of the things we discuss here on this blog.  Christine Milne’s office sent him the following reply:

Dear Dave,

Thank you for contacting Senator Milne; I am replying on her behalf.

We appreciate you providing us with your comments on peak coal use and reduction in China. Christine has long been an advocate of the urgency of addressing peak oil. In a speech to the Senate on March 15 2012, Christine highlighted that “We are talking about that vision for Australia in the context of the major crises facing the nation now: the global climate crisis, the global energy crisis—including peak oil —a food security crisis and a water crisis. All of those things are coming together and every nation, including Australia, has to face up to them.”

Christine is confident in Australia’s, and the world’s, ability to overcome these problems. As she has said, “it is time to act. Australia needs a strategy to oil proof the country through investment in everything from public transport to electric vehicles as well as assisting farmers in getting off petro-chemical fertilisers.” The Australian Greens are committed to reaching 100%  stationary electricity in Australia from renewable sources, and are confident in our ability to achieve this through increasingly (sic) the renewable energy target (RET) and in addition measures such as feed-in tariffs and regulations to support a range of prospective new ret, renewable energy technologies. The capacity for Australia to do this has been recognised by the Climate Commission (see their full report here: You may also like to read Christine’s recent interview with Renew Economy, where she talks about her experiences visiting solar thermal plants in Spain: Interestingly, over the last three months in Spain, wind farms have produced more electricity than any other source:

I hope that this has clarified the Greens position, and given you some insight into the renewable energy opportunities the Greens are pushing for.

Kind regards,

Felicity Gray
Office of Senator Christine Milne
Leader of the Australian Greens
GPO Box 896 Hobart TAS 7001 | Ph: 03 6224 8899 | Fax: 03 6224 7599 |

Dave’s thoughts on the matter..?  “As a political party hoping to win more votes, you can’t sell limiting peoples’ right to have children, cutting consumption and not wasting energy trying to find technical fixes for Peak Energy, even if you had found policies on how to achieve it.

So we are locked in to disaster.”

And I agree.  Nobody, but nobody gets entropy…….

I had to laugh when I recently read “The inability to adapt to the changing world economy is the primary cause of Tasmania’s ills” in an article written by the fellow who replaced Bob Brown in the Senate (Peter Whish-Wilson) at the Tamanian Times website….  I thought he was an economist?  Yet, platitudes like “Clean, green and clever” [economies] abound, without a thought being given to the debt problems…..  because nothing will become “Clean, green and clever” until we get rid of the debts.

Letter to Julia Gillard (NOT from me!)

19 02 2013

Dear Julia

I am writing to you because you are the leader of the nation of which I am a citizen. Though the matter about which I write is essentially a global issue, the inability at this point for the international community to overcome the barriers that divide us into separate nations, compels me to pursue this matter at the highest level of governance within my own nation. I do believe that it is possible for Australia to stand up and take the lead that is required in the face of this issue.

Julia, as you are close to my age, I am quite sure that in the 1970s you attended high school and were compulsorily required to study science as a core subject. I can clearly recall that the “greenhouse effect”, caused by the increasing concentration of certain gases in the atmosphere, was well and truly accepted and documented in our science text books at that time. I also recall doing an experiment which entailed growing bacteria in a petri dish that contained a nutrient rich medium. Several days later, the teacher warned us not to open the petri dish because the bacteria population, which had consumed all the available nutrients, had died in its own toxic waste.  This warning proved to be too much of a temptation for at least one of us in the class and one or more petri dishes were opened.  The stench exuded from those petri dishes was overwhelming and nauseating. As I sit here today, I can, more than ever, appreciate the inclusion of those lessons in the curriculum and yet I sadly ponder why, we the students of that era, did not apply our understanding of nature to the real world when we left school.

We are bound by the same limits and laws of nature as those bacteria in the petri dish. The abundant supply of nutrients that has allowed an exponential growth of the human population has only been possible by the large scale burning of fossil fuels. The toxic waste of this consumption may be primarily an odourless gas, but everything associated with this exponential growth truly does stink. The multifaceted crises, that we continue to accelerate towards, are just as well accepted and documented as those two science lessons that we were taught in school nearly 40 years ago.  Unlike bacteria though, we have a highly evolved brain that possesses both consciousness of the consequences of unrestrained growth and a moral conscience that is screaming at us to do something about it. If we choose to ignore the reality of our situation, and continue with mindless consumption and growth, we must accept that we have consciously chosen the same fate as the bacteria in the petri dish. I do not believe that any informed and sane person would make that choice.

Julia I believe that you do genuinely care about the future of this planet. With that in mind, I would like to invite you attend “The Automatic Earth Tour” on Sunday March 17th at the Big Pineapple on the Sunshine Coast. My partner and I would also like to extend the invitation to have you and your partner stay as guests at our home on the Sunshine Coast on that weekend. I understand that you might not be able accept this invitation so I have included a link that advertises the dates and locations of this event as it moves around Australia. The main speaker is Nicole Foss and the picture she paints, with eloquence and raw honesty, is alarming. But it is also a call, for every one of us, to seriously consider how we are going to best survive in a post carbon world. Nicole claims that our governments are not going to save us from collapse and that we must prepare lifeboats at individual and local community level. I would like to think that the Australian Government and society at large can work together to prove her wrong.

Recently your unprecedented early announcement of a date for the next federal election was lauded by many as an example of great leadership. Leadership of this nature is required on all fronts to tackle the real issues that confront humanity at this point in history. Business as usual is irrefutably leading us to a future that we do not want to see written in the history text books of our great grandchildren. The island nation upon which you and I walk is uniquely positioned, in many ways, to be a model of sustainable and just human habitation. You may or may not be the Prime Minister after the next election, but regardless, I implore you to heed the lessons we teach in our schools and to make the most of your position to lead us forward in a direction that nature necessitates.

Yours sincerely,

(name removed for anonymity)

Energy crisis closer than you think?

15 02 2013

I’ve been considering making a methane digester for years now, but procrastination rules.  Much of what I need has been hoarded, and now this article in the Drum has appeared, it might be time for me to get my act together….

Within the next three years, three massive gas export terminals in Queensland will begin operating. This will allow them to export vast amounts of gas by ship to Asia. The price they can get for the gas in Asia is around $15 per Gigajoule, around four times the amount we pay in Australia (see table 22, p75).

These companies will not sell gas to Australian factories, power stations or households for a quarter of the price they can get overseas. Once the export terminals start operating, if Australians want gas, they are competing with the Asian market and will have to pay Asian prices minus the cost of exporting it. This means the price in Australia is likely to at least double, or even triple (see Chart A, p7).

And that’s if you can get it.

Last October the Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply predicted domestic gas prices increasing to over $10/GJ by 2015 and gas scarcity for domestic contracts. 

AND – UPDATE 12 March 2013:

Inpex tells Territory it has no more gas for sale
By Jane Bardon

Japanese company Inpex has confirmed all of the gas from its Ichthys fields off the coast of north-western Australia has already been forward-sold and none is available for domestic needs in the Northern Territory.

So there you have it.  Not only are we going to have petrol shortages soon, but gas too.  We don’t use a lot of gas.  Three 9kg bottles of LPG a year, for a total cost of just over $60.  If that cost tripled, it might put a dent in the beer budget, but it wouldn’t break us.  So why bother with a biogas digester?

Methane digesters yield two useful products from animal manure: methane gas (CH4) and a liquid fertilizer. The fertiliser can be applied directly to the garden and the gas can be used as a source of energy. The technology is simple and easy to reproduce. The unit requires about 4L of slurry per day in order to maintain a charge, and yields about one hour of burn time per day. Below are instructions for making a floating drum system.
two 200L drums (one with a tight fitting lid)
one 160L plastic rubbish bin
1200mm of PVC pipe 150mm diameter
2 pieces of plastic tubing 2400 long and 25mm diameter
1 valve to moderate flow of methane
Silicone sealant
Cut a hole in the lid of one of the 200L drums, near the outer edge. The holebiogas1
should be the same diameter as the PVC pipe. Now cut away a 600mm section of half the PVC pipe as shown in the illustration at right (PVC can be cut with a saw). Slide the pipe into the hole and all the way down until it rests on the bottom of the drum. Seal the fitting between the pipe and the lid with silicone.

Now cut a smaller hole (sized to fit the tubing) near the opposite edge of the lid and attach one of the pieces of 25mm diameter tubing with silicone. Run the tubing into the bottom of the rubbish bin, and slide it into the drum so that it runs the depth of it. Be certain to seal all fittings with silicone.

biogas2Cut a second hole in the bottom of the 160L bin, sized to fit the valve from the tubing. Attach the valve to the hole. Fill the second 200L drum (without a lid) with water. Invert the rubbish bin, open the valve, slide the drum into the 200L drum with water, and then close the valve. Now your digester is set up and ready to be filled with a manure slurry.

Manure from any type of farm animal can be used. Cow and pig manure tend to be preferred for a Biogas digester but I will use what I’ve got, chook, duck, and goat manure. Harvest the manure into a bucket and add water. Mix the water and manure until it forms a slurry of a thin enough consistency to be poured into the digester (about 50% water, 50% manure). It is best to start your digester with an initial charge of 200L (or whatever the capacity of your drum is). Subsequently you can add manure as needed.  You will need to add about 2% of your digester’s volume daily.biogas3
Fill the digester by pouring the slurry into the PVC pipe. I think a funnel of sorts would be a good idea… BE SURE that the level of slurry is always maintained at a level higher than the cut-away part of the pipe. If the level drops below this point, gas will escape out the top of the pipe. Before adding new slurry, an equal volume of slurry must be removed from the 4 inch charging tube. This can be done using a bailer—for example, you can use a 2L milk bottle with its bottom removed, attached to a stick. The removed slurry can be used immediately and at full strength as a garden fertiliser.

Once the digester is charged there will be a waiting period before the manure begins to cook and release CH4 and CO2. The digester does not need to be in direct sun but it should be in a place that heats up to at least 25°C during the day. Depending on ambient temperatures, you may need to wait seven to ten days for gas production to begin. As the temperature rises the manure will start fermenting and releasing gas. The gas flows through the plastic tube and is released into the inverted rubbish bin. It bubbles out into the water where the CO2 is dispersed and methane gas bubbles to the top. As the drum fills with methane, it will start to rise up in the water. Once the drum has risen, you can begin using your methane as a fuel. At this point you can connect your methane blow-off tube to a cookstove and start running it with naturally generated methane gas.


Most stoves are fitted with LPG jets.  Mine is, but I was given jets for the purpose of using natural gas when I bought it.  Make sure you change the jets!

By placing a brick on top of the inverted rubbish bin that holds the methane, you can create enough pressure to do the job……..

Tasmania on the bumpy road to economic sustainability

13 02 2013

Republished with permission from “the Conversation”
8 February 2013
The Conversation

No basket-case: Tasmania on the bumpy road to economic sustainability

Is Tasmania at a tipping point? Over the next two weeks The Conversation, in conjunction with Griffith REVIEW and the University of Tasmania, is publishing a series of provocations. Our authors ask where does Tasmania’s future lie? Has it reached a “tipping point”, politically, economically and culturally…

Is Tasmania at a tipping point? Over the next two weeks The Conversation, in conjunction with Griffith REVIEW and the University of Tasmania, is publishing a series of provocations. Our authors ask where does Tasmania’s future lie? Has it reached a “tipping point”, politically, economically and culturally? Thinkers, writers and doers from Tasmania and beyond, including members of its extensive diaspora, challenge how Tasmania is seen by outsiders and illuminate how Tasmanians see themselves, down home and in the wider world.

A steady drumbeat of purportedly bad economic news from Tasmania has been seized on by mainstream politicians and pundits to drive home a standard Economics 101 lesson.

Economies must grow or they are doomed.

The prescribed medicine takes two rather different forms. The standard neoclassical remedy is to cut taxes, eliminate red tape, downsize government, and let the market work its magic.

In contrast, a Keynesian approach promotes deficit financing to stimulate the economy and regenerate business confidence.

Before we swallow either pill, it would be prudent to get a third opinion.

Even using conventional economic measures, Tasmania remains one of the best places in the world to live.

Consider the following. Tasmanians’ average per capita income in purchasing power parity terms is about $31,472. While certainly lower than the Australian average ($42,112), if ranked as a country, Tasmania would still be in the world’s top 30.

True, Tasmania’s unemployment rate of 7.3% is greater than Australia’s (5.1%). But the state is well below European (11.3%) and OECD (8.0%) averages. It is also well below that paragon of market virtue, the United States (8.1%).

The state’s debt is minuscule. Projected debt for 2013 is $134 million which, for a $24 billion economy, gives a debt-to-GSP ratio of less than 1%. Few other OECD economies come close.

In modern economic discourse, the growth mantra drowns out measures of fairness. It should be noted, however, that Tasmania has a low Gini index (0.238) indicative of an egalitarian society. This measure is substantially below the coefficient for the United States (about 4.0).

Luckily, Tasmanians recognise how well they are actually going. An August 2012 EMRS survey of community attitudes reported that almost 90% were satisfied or very satisfied with their own life and personal circumstances. Similar high percentages were reported with regard to standard of living and level of personal happiness.

So, as a broad generalisation, Tasmanians are doing fine, thank you very much.

This is not the same as saying that no Tasmanians are hurting. The shake-out from the bursting of the woodchip bubble, for example, has affected the forest sector heavily, especially in the state’s northwest.

More generally, a recent study by Tasmania’s Social Inclusion Commissioner suggested that around 13% of Tasmanians live on or below the poverty line.

The trick is to figure out how to improve the lot of those who are doing it tough without dismantling all that makes living in Tasmania worthwhile: stunning natural beauty, safe communities, affordable housing, low traffic density, rich culture, and superb food and wine to mention but a few.

Asking the right question

There is so much wrong with modern economic theory that it is entirely understandable that it asks — and then answers — the wrong questions about national and regional economies.

A central problem is that, at its core, modern economics whether neoclassical or Keynesian has little interest in either social capital or the physical processes that underpin the operation of the market.

With regard to the latter, as ecological economists have clearly demonstrated, the operation of national and regional economies depends on physical, biological and chemical laws.

Production and consumption fundamentally involve the conversion of matter and energy. We know from the Second Law of Thermodynamics that this is a one-way process. Production and consumption use up low-entropy energy sources — such as coal and oil — leaving in their wake not only the (not-always) useful products (which deteriorate over time) but waste and pollution.

The waste and pollution are disposed of in the earth, air and sea. The more we produce and consume, the more waste and pollution there is, unless there are accompanying gains in “eco-efficiency”.

Labour efficiency is not the issue here. It is throughput efficiency. Less material, less energy, less waste and less transportation per unit of output is what is required. The market only haphazardly delivers this kind of eco-efficiency, as even the World Business Council on Sustainable Development recognises.

While some producers are working hard to be more eco-efficient, marketers, advertisers, fashion designers, promoters and yes, even governments, are busy stimulating us to consume more and more indiscriminately. In the race between the two, eco-efficiency clearly seems to be the loser.

From an ecological economics perspective, therefore, the right question to ask is not why Tasmania’s economic metrics are lower than the rest of Australia’s and thus require either market or state stimulus, but whether the state is beginning to live within its ecological means.

Answering the right question

Is Tasmania on the path to sustainability? One way to answer this question would be to calculate the state’s ecological footprint.

Ecological footprint analysis measures how much annual biocapacity (land and sea) a region has at its disposal to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the wastes it generates.

If a region’s annual consumption continuously exceeds what can be produced from its available biocapacity, then the region is living beyond its means and needs to modify its production and consumption profile to bring it back into balance.

Ecological footprint analysis is now well established, following the publication of Our Ecological Footprint by Rees and Wackernagel in 1996. It is being used to compare countries and regions within countries.

Australia fares very badly in international ecological footprint comparisons. As a nation, we consume about 6.6 global hectares per person per annum, ranking us 8th worst in the world behind Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, USA and Belgium.

If the whole world consumed like Australia, we would need three Earths instead of the single one we have.

Is there anything more unrealistic than that?

A few Australian states and territories have calculated their own ecological footprints. In 2008, the Government of Victoria released a report that concluded “The average Victorian requires 6.8 productive hectares to support their lifestyle…. This level of consumption is unsustainable and places significant pressure on the natural environment” (page 3).

The key elements contributing to Victoria’s high ecological footprint were food (especially processed foods) (28%), services (22%), residential energy use (16%), goods (14%) and transport (10%).

Sadly and surprisingly, no ecological footprint has been calculated for Tasmania. How would it fare, if one were done? An inter-temporal comparison might demonstrate it has embarked on the bumpy journey towards real rather than rhetorical sustainability.

Several unique features about the island state suggest that its ecological footprint might be lower than Australia’s or Victoria’s. Compared to Victoria, we can note that Tasmanians:

  • produce much of their own food
  • have a sustainable energy mix of hydroelectricity and wood heating
  • earn and spend less
  • spend fewer hours a day in cars and traffic.

These features may mean that Tasmania’s economy is more sustainable than Australia’s overall as well as than most other states in Australia. For comparative purposes, it is not unreasonable to think that Tasmania might rank similarly to New Zealand, which is currently 35th in the ecological footprint league tables.

We won’t know of course until a detailed study is conducted.

Of course, if Tasmania were to have a similar rank to New Zealand’s, there would still be no room for complacency. Tasmanians would still be consuming more than four productive hectares per capita per annum: the required level for global sustainability is 1.8 hectares. But while there would be some distance to travel, the analysis would indicate that Tasmania is on the path to sustainability while the rest of Australia is lagging behind.

That would all paint a rather different picture of where we are, where we need to go, and the policies that might get us there.

Getting to sustainability

Ecological economists have proposed numerous policies to help regions like Tasmania in their quest for sustainability. Many of these policies are designed to reduce the level of material throughput and foster a more social economy.

One set of policy measures that goes to the heart of the matter is known as Sustainable Consumption and Production, or SCP. SCP emerged at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and played a bit-part in last year’s hugely disappointing Rio+20 conference.

While the SCP agenda has been all but ignored in Australia, a few other countries, notably the UK, have been more welcoming. In 2009, Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner for the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, published Prosperity without Growth, a landmark analysis of all that’s wrong with our current economic growth fetish.

From his and other reports, a wide range of infrastructural, taxation and information policies can be elucidated to promote far more sustainable consumption patterns at the national, state and local levels. These include:

  • sustainable transportation policies, like dedicated bike lanes so people can cycle to work without fearing for their lives
  • food security policies, like community supported agriculture to foster producer-consumer partnerships in the production of locally grown, low-input vegetables, fruit and other produce
  • green taxation policies, like a tough carbon tax to make carbon-intensive goods substantially more expensive than their decarbonised substitutes
  • certification and labelling schemes, like the Forest Stewardship Council’s, to enable consumers to purchase economically, socially and environmentally responsible products.

A shift to knowledge-intensive industries would also be actively encouraged.

In fact, there is no end of SCP and degrowth policies that could be implemented to keep Tasmania on the trajectory towards sustainability.

The problem is not a lack of policy ideas, but the continued dominance of the vision of materialistic growth embedded in modern economics on the one hand and of a governance system that is ill-adapted to tackle the range of complex, cross-cutting issues raised on the other.

Knowing this means that we cannot call upon the normal suspects to lead on the issue. Most are too fully committed to the growth mantra and too embedded in a winner-takes-all political system to be able to think and act outside the box.

It will be up to innovative groups in civil society — especially those committed to fostering sustainable communities of place and interest — to be the agents of change.

Luckily, this is an area where Tasmania has proven capacity.

Tasmania is uniquely placed to be a world leader in sustainability and is clearly taking faltering steps along a very bumpy road to get there.

Rather than lecture Tasmania on its growth-mania shortcomings, perhaps it’s time for the rest of Australia to follow the island state’s lead.

You can read the whole series here.