January 17, 2006 | Graham

The Australian solution to Greenhouse

AP6 which just held its meeting in Sydney, is little more than a public relations exercise. Just like Kyoto. The solutions to earth’s problems are intractable. At the moment we are concentrating on moderating energy requirements by trying to limit carbon dioxide emissions per person. This is fraught, because it ultimately will require decreases in standards of living unless other power sources can be found, or we achieve unimaginable standards of energy efficiency.
What politician in recent times hasn’t called for us to leave the world a richer place for our children? Fixing global warming by limiting per capita carbon dioxide levels has formidable political hurdles to clear.
The “Ecological Footprint” concept shows us an alternative way of addressing the problem. I will call it the Australian solution, but I could less chauvinistically call it the Gabon solution.
We are used to being told that Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. But does that matter? According to a spreadsheet produced by the Footprint Network Australia has an 11.5 hectares per person ecological surplus. What this means is that because of the land mass of Australia, as a country we absorb more than we emit. Gabon does even better. Bolivia, Mongolia and New Zealand are close.
The corollary of this is that, if every country had our population levels per hectare of land, we could live with these levels of energy consumption, and therefore these levels of carbon dioxide emissions, with no problems at all.
Maybe the problem has less to do with energy consumption than it does with population levels. How about birth control as a Greenhouse strategy? Sequestering carbon under the doona rather than undergound!

Posted by Graham at 10:17 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Are you calling for a one-child policy Graham? Mao would be proud! 😉

    Comment by Guy — January 18, 2006 @ 9:44 am

  2. Hi Ambit Gambit,
    One of the striking things that appeared to come out of the AP6 was the curious notion that progress in control of Global warming requires the subsidising of coal producers to the tune of $9 billion dollars and the removal of the domestic solar energy system rebate collectively worth $75 million dollars. That for me is progress alright, the continuous progress, at increasing speed to Global weather changes and human hardship. While I want to reduce my own outputs of CO2 I don’t want to commit to lowering my standards of living. These spreadsheets show us an important point, we need to be fewer humans. Rather than being 7 billion people and running ourselves back to Central African standards of living, why not as a species commit ourselves to being 2 billion people? Let us see ourselves progressively reducing our populations globally to 1.5-2.0 Billion and have all of them enjoy high standards of living. This could be done over the next 100 years or so. A hard ask but not impossible, a simple commitment to a highly valuable and empowering process known as “education” and BAM down goes the birth rate. Fewer people less CO2 and methane. In the interim perhaps an equal sharing of the $9 billion dollars in subsides to coal and alternative energy supply.

    Comment by Glenn Graham — January 18, 2006 @ 9:47 am

  3. I think that the second comment largely answers the first. Rich countries appear to naturally gravitate towards birth-rates that without immigration would stabilise, or lead to a steady decline of, their populations.
    However, I doubt whether it is possible to raise the living standards in the world to such an extent that this could happen at such a scale, to reduce global population significantly anytime in the next 100 years.
    Are there any demographers out there who can do the figures? What if the whole world had Australian fertility levels. How long would it take for population levels to halve?

    Comment by Graham Young — January 18, 2006 @ 10:20 am

  4. OK. No one nowadays believes in a geocentric universe. Thank you Copernicus, thank you Galileo. But – I promise I am not making this up – the Good, the Great, and the Wise still act as though we have an autonomous Earth, and hence, an autonomous climate. If you believe that “by doing the right thing about fossil fuel use”, we can regain the benign stability of a pre-industrial Arcadia, you will believe anything. The Sun drives our ever-changing climate, and planetary motions drive the Sun.
    These motions are amenable to calculation. If the Sun keeps playing by the rules, the next Little Ice Age cold period (Landscheidt Minimum) will be fully developed by 2030. This is within a responsible government’s planning horizon – people starved in the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715). Remember, in electro-magnetic and inertial terms, Earth is but a cog in a larger wheel – the solar system.

    Comment by Bob Foster — January 19, 2006 @ 8:10 am

  5. “What this means is that because of the land mass of Australia, as a country we absorb more than we emit. Gabon does even better. Bolivia, Mongolia and New Zealand are close.”
    Does sand in the deserts of Australia absorb carbon dioxide?
    Mongolia? Come on! it’s more desert than Aus.
    I did that test and was told “Blah blah blah, if everyone in the world lived liked you we would need 4.5 Earths to support everyone, guilt trip, guilt trip.”
    Well my conclusion was the same as yours, too many people, we need to massacre many of them. I think 2 billion is a good cap. Which means removing the 4.5 billion who are the ugliest, stupidist, weakest. etc…
    But killing is impracticle, massively so. So I proposed we ship them off on colony ships to colonise the rest of the galaxy. With of course appropriate corrective measures so that their genetic stocks improve over the generations of traveling.

    Comment by Benno — February 2, 2006 @ 10:15 pm

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