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The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, brings together researchers from different disciplines to help create a more sustainable society. It acts as an information portal for research at the University of Melbourne, and as a collaborative platform where researchers and communities can work together to affect positive change. This book can be freely accessed from MSSI’s website:

Cite as: Pearson, C.J. (editor) (2012). 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne Published by Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute in 2012 Ground Floor Alice Hoy Building (Blg 162) Monash Road The University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia Text and copyright © Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission of the publisher. A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the catalogue of the National Library of Australia at 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society, ISBN: 978-0-7340-4773-1 (pbk) Produced with Affirm Press Cover and text design by Anne-Marie Reeves Illustrations on pages 228–231 by Michael Weldon Cover image © Brad Calkins | Proudly printed in Australia by BPA Print Group



he last two centuries have seen extraordinary improvements in the quality of human lives. Most people on earth today enjoy access to the necessities of life that was once available only to the elites. Most people enjoy longevity, health, education, information and opportunities to experience the variety of life on earth that was denied even to the rulers of yesteryear. The proportion of humanity living in absolute poverty remains daunting, but continues to fall decade by decade. The early 21st century has delivered an acceleration of the growth in living standards in the most populous developing countries and an historic lift in the trend of economic growth in the regions that had lagged behind, notably in Africa. These beneficent developments are accompanied by another reality. The improvements are not sustainable unless we make qualitative changes in the content of economic growth. The continuation of the current relationship between growth in the material standard of living and pressures on the natural environment will undermine economic growth, political

stability and the foundations of human achievement. The good news is that humanity has already discovered and begun to apply the knowledge that can reconcile continued improvements in the standard of living with reduction of pressures on the natural environment. The bad news is that the changes that are necessary to make high and rising standards of living sustainable are hard to achieve within our current political cultures and systems. Hard, but not impossible. That is a central message from this book, drawn out in Craig Pearson’s concluding chapter. This book introduces the reader to the many dimesions of sustainability, through wellqualified authors. Climate change is only one mechanism through which current patterns of economic growth threaten the natural systems on which our prosperity depend. It is simply the most urgent of the existential threats. Climate change is a special challenge for Australians. We are the most vulnerable of the


developed countries to climate change. And we are the developed country with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per person. There are roles for private ethical decisions as well as public policy choices in dealing with the climate change challenge. This book is released at the time of ‘Rio+20’, a conference in Brazil to review the relatively poor progress we have made towards sustainability in the past 20 years, and soon after the introduction of Australia’s first comprehensive policy response to the global challenge of climate change. Australia’s emissions trading scheme with an initially fixed price for emissions permits comes into effect on 1 July 2012. The new policy discourages activities that generate greenhouse gases by putting a price on emissions. The revenue raised by carbon pricing will be returned to households and businesses in ways that retain incentives to reduce emissions. Part of the revenue will be used to encourage production and use of goods and services that embody low emissions. The policy has been launched in controversy. Interests that stand to gain from the discrediting of the policy argue that it is unnecessary either because the case for global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the associated climate change has not been proven, or that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians. The health of our civilisation requires us to bring scientific knowledge to account in public policy. Everyone who shares the knowledge that is the common heritage of humanity has


a responsibility to explain the realities to others wherever and whenever they can. The argument that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians can be answered by seeking honestly to understand what others are doing. The critics of Australian policy argue that the world’s two largest national emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, are doing little or nothing to reduce emissions, so that it is either pointless or unnecessary for us to do so. China has advanced a long way towards achieving its target of reducing emissions as a proportion of economic output by 40 to 45 per cent between 2005 and 2020. It has done this by forcing the closure of emissions-intensive plants and processes that have exceptionally high levels of emissions per unit of output, by imposing high emissions standards on new plants and processes, by charging emissionsintensive activities higher electricity prices, by subsidising the introduction of low-emissions activities, and by new and higher taxes on fossil fuels. China has introduced trials of an emissions trading system in five major cities and two provinces. This adds up to a cost on business and the community that exceeds any burden placed on Australians by the new policies – bearing in mind that the revenue from Australian carbon pricing is returned to households and businesses. The US Government has advised the international community of its domestic policy target to reduce 2005 emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. President Barack Obama said

to the Australian Parliament that all countries should take seriously the targets that they had reported to the international community, and made it clear that the United States did so. United States efforts to reduce emissions are diffuse but far-reaching. They now include controls on emissions from electricity generators, announced in March 2012, effectively excluding any new coal-based power generation after the end of this year unless it embodies carbon capture and storage. From the beginning of next year they will include an emissions trading system in the most populous and economically largest state, California. The United States is making reasonable progress towards reaching its emissions reduction goals, with some actions imposing high costs on domestic households and businesses. Australia has now taken steps through which we can do our fair share in the international effort, at reasonable cost. It would be much harder and more costly to do our fair share without the policies that are soon to take effect. What Australians do over the next few years will have a significant influence on humanity’s prospects for handing on the benefits of modern civilisation to future generations. This book will help Australians to understand their part in the global effort for sustainability. Ross Garnaut University of Melbourne 15 April 2012


Contents Foreword by Ross Garnaut Table of Contents

v viii

Author Biographies




1 Population Rebecca Kippen and Peter McDonald


2 Equity Helen Sykes


3 Consumption Craig Pearson


4 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change David Karoly


5 Energy Peter Seligman





Ethics Craig Prebble



Culture Audrey Yue and Rimi Khan



Awareness and Behaviour Angela Paladino



Local Matters Matter Kate Auty


10 Public Wisdom Tim van Gelder


11 Mental Health Grant Blashki


12 Disease Peter Doherty


13 Corporate Sustainability Liza Maimone


14 Governance John Brumby



Natural Resources


15 Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Rodney Keenan


16 Water Hector Malano and Brian Davidson


17 Food Sunday McKay and Rebecca Ford


18 Zero Carbon Land-Use Chris Taylor and Adrian Whitehead




19 Changing Cities Peter Newman and Carolyn Ingvarson


20 Affordable Living Thomas Kvan and Justyna Karakiewicz


21 Built Environment Pru Sanderson


22 Infrastructure Colin Duffield


23 Transport Monique Conheady


24 Adaptive Design Ray Green


25 Handling Disasters Alan March




26 Twenty Actions Craig Pearson


Further Reading





05 Energy Peter Seligman


f we are to create a sustainable society, we need to generate energy from renewable, non-polluting sources and use it wisely: to use less and more efficiently than we do today. The transformation to renewable energy and efficient use will take time, but it is urgent that we take a significant step along this journey within the next 20 years. Australians are among the biggest energy users on the planet – equal to the Americans. We use about 60 per cent more than the Europeans. In this chapter we will first look at how much energy we actually use and where we use it. How do we get this information? It is available from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences on This site breaks the energy use into all sources: coal, gas, oil, hydro and other renewables. It also breaks the information down into where that energy is used. Australia exports more energy than it uses, and that is also reported by ABARES. Secondly, we look at how we can make a transition from the use of fossil fuels to sustainable energy. We need to make this transition for two reasons – because if we don’t we will just run out of fuel and because our continued use of fossil fuels will change

the climate, restricting where we can live and where we can grow food. These dangers will be aggravated by a rising population.

How We Use Energy Australians use about 8000 watts per person of what is called primary energy, the energy we need to generate our electricity, drive our cars and heat our houses. It is important to distinguish between primary energy and end-use energy. Each fuel and/or application has a different efficiency. For example, if we heat our house with gas, about 80 per cent of the energy in the gas goes into the house and rest goes up the flue. On the other hand, when we generate electricity, only about 30 per cent of the energy in the fuel – the coal or gas – ends up as electricity at our power points. When we drive our cars, only about 20 per cent of the energy in the petrol is used to drive the wheels. The rest is rejected as heat through the radiator and exhaust pipe. Overall, about half of the energy in the fuels we burn is put to use. Put another way, the average efficiency is about 50 per cent. That’s 8000 x 0.5 = 4000 watts per person for the actual energy we use to do the things we want to do.



How We Use Energy

Hydro Power

It is normal for us to focus on our personal energy use but it is important to remember that there is a wider world which uses more energy on our behalf. To illustrate this, let’s convert energy into even more familiar units – 100-watt incandescent light globes, as in the table below. Our total energy use is 4000 watts per person, or 40 100-watt light globes per person burning continuously. About a quarter of this is personal or domestic, equivalent to 10 100-watt light globes. Three quarters of our energy use is public infrastructure and industry, equal to 30 100-watt light globes burning day and night.

Hydro-electric power is the most developed of the sustainable energy sources. Water is collected in dams and runs down long pipes or tunnels, through turbines that turn electric generators to produce electricity. The biggest scheme is in the Snowy Mountains, which produces 55 per cent of Australia’s hydroelectricity. Another 29 per cent is in Tasmania where it provides much of the state’s electricity. Overall, Australia supplies only about 6 per cent of its electricity from hydro. This is not easily increased because there just isn’t enough water at suitable sites. All the best places are either taken or are in national parks. The last major dam was built in Tasmania at Lake Pedder, with famous protests against it by environmentalists in the late 1960s and early 70s. In the 1980s the Gordon-belowFranklin dam was halted, and development of large hydro power has virtually ceased.

Sustainable Energy Options There is a lot of discussion about how little, or how much, energy can be provided from sustainable sources. Attitudes to climate change influence the level of optimism about this, but we will leave opinions out of it. Let’s see how much energy Australia could provide from different sustainable sources. What are these sources?

Personal energy use Food Electricity Gas Fuel for transport Goods we buy House construction


Wind Power Wind power is the second most developed of the sustainable energy sources. Wind turbines

Public energy use Factories Offices Shops Hospitals Schools Universities Public transport Sporting facilities Street lighting Cinemas, theatres


are in mass production and can be ordered and installed quickly. They are well supported by maintenance and have a life of 25 years or more. Wind turbines are built in sizes up to 7.5MW(a MW is megawatt – or 10,000 light globes) and operate at a capacity factor of about 30 per cent. This means that, appropriately located, they can supply about 30 per cent of their rating on average – about 2.2MW for a 7.5MW turbine. Wind turbines collect energy at 1–6.3 watts per m2. Although this doesn’t seem like much, at 4.5 watt per m2, 0.25 per cent of Australia’s land area would be sufficient to provide all of our end-use energy from wind power alone. In addition, the land is still useful for agriculture when a wind farm has been installed. Wind turbines are efficient on a large scale but individual domestic-sized wind turbines in suburban environments are not. There has been a lot of emotional debate about windfarms in recent years with some people claiming that low frequency noise from turbines is injuring their health. It is doubtful that this is the case and the claim has not been supported by peer-reviewed literature. The noise from windfarms is below the level of noise from many other natural and manmade sources such as ocean beaches and railway lines. It is substantially quieter than the low frequency noises generated within the human body. It is likely however that people are suffering health effects from fear and stress due to the belief that windfarms cause health problems. Governments are reacting by introducing exclusion zones and wide setbacks.

A hydro power dam. Source: au/cec/technologies/hydro

Solar Power Solar power comes in many forms: 1. Heat collectors for hot water services. The sun heats the water directly. This is one of the easiest ways of using solar energy. Heating water is one of the biggest uses of domestic energy. 2. Solar panels that generate electricity directly. Although popular, so far in Australia these are on a small domestic scale. Large installations exist in other countries including the United States and Spain. 3. Solar collectors that concentrate the sun’s rays on a spot to obtain very high temperatures.



A community wind farm. Such communal schemes have a much higher level of public acceptance than corporate installations. Source: Hepburn Wind.

This heat is used to drive a steam power station, like a coal or gas power station. 4. Solar collectors that concentrate the sun’s rays to heat molten salt stored in insulated tanks. This heat is again used to drive a steam power station with the difference that the salt can stay hot overnight and keep generating power 24 hours a day. Although solar photovoltaic panels on domestic houses can provide much of the electric power for an economical house, they are not a complete solution. Domestic solar can be expected to provide between 1 and 2 per cent of the country’s total energy needs. For big problems we need to think big.


Large-scale solar power stations have been built since the 1980s in California; the largest is in the Mojave Desert. More recently, very large installations have also been built in Spain. Such power stations can generate power at densities between four and 15 watt per m2. At 4.5 watt per m2, similar to the power density of wind farms, again as little as 0.25 per cent of Australia’s land area would be sufficient to provide all of our end-use energy.

Biomass Power Stations Biomass power is where crops are grown or waste material is used for fuel in a conventional steam power station. The difference between using plants and using


Left: A 1kW domestic photovoltaic system. Such a system produces about 160 watt averaged over a year, about one and a half light globes equivalent. About three times this is required to provide electricity for all the needs of an economical family of four. Right: Large-scale solar at Kramer Junction in the Mojave Desert, California.

coal or gas as fuel is that the growing plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. While this carbon dioxide goes back into the atmosphere when the fuel is burnt, the cycle can continue without constantly adding to the atmospheric carbon dioxide. Biomass power is relatively well developed and there are many such power stations in existence already using bagasse, the waste fibrous matter from sugar cane crops. A little-known fact is that in major cities, there are power stations that run on the methane emitted by rubbish dumps (13 in Melbourne and eight in Sydney). These power stations produce several megawatts each, the equivalent to several tens of thousands of light globes.

Biomass to Produce Liquid Fuels Presently almost all of our road transport runs on liquid fuels. The energy in a litre of petrol or diesel is astounding – 10kWh. But at an efficiency of 20 per cent, it converts to 2kWh

of electricity. It takes about five standard car batteries to store that much energy – for each litre of petrol. Electric cars are becoming more common but more effective batteries and a greater range are needed. Liquid fuels will be required for aeroplanes and some road transport for many years. Although biofuels can produce ethanol for use in cars and planes, biomass has been much criticised where it takes away from agricultural production for food and where forests are cleared to grow crops for fuel. Algae could be a way of producing sustainable liquid fuel. Each car would need about 350 square metres of algae pond. Given that we have about 16 million road vehicles, that would require about 3.4 per cent of the country to be devoted to growing fuel from algae. So the solution is likely to involve electrifying as much of the transport fleet as possible and using liquid fuel only when there is no alternative.



Geothermal Power In some countries, like New Zealand, hot water and mud just bubble out of the ground. Australia does not have this kind of geology. However, in Australia there are places where if you drill down four or five kilometres and circulate water through boreholes, the rocks are hot enough to generate steam to drive a power station. This heat is due to the low level radioactivity in the granite. Geothermal power is sustainable to a point, but the hot

rocks, which have heated up over millions of years, will eventually be cooled by extracting heat from them. On an ongoing basis, the heat is being replaced at about 0.1 watt per m2 so at an extraction rate of several watt per m 2 – it is effectively heat mining. Nevertheless a significant proportion of Australia’s energy requirements could be provided for several hundred years. The power is effectively free of carbon emissions and is available on demand – a major advantage over wind and solar.

A concentrating solar power station built by Gemasolar in Spain, commissioned in 2011.



A scheme for tapping into geothermal power from hot rocks.

Several geothermal energy companies are at work developing this resource in Australia. The largest is Geodynamics, which claims that geothermal power will be the cheapest of all sustainable energy sources.

Wave Power Wave power has been under development for many years and is slowly becoming commercial. But the equipment can be easily damaged by storms and corrosion. The Australian wave power resource is estimated to be about 130kW per linear-metre of coast.

This sounds like a lot. Assuming 7.5 per cent extraction efficiency, for the best 2000 kilometres (facing the southern ocean) we could generate about 800 watt per person, compared to our 4000 watt per person demand. All of Australia’s coast would be required to supply our needs!

Tidal Power Tidal power uses the change of sea level as a form of hydro. A dam is built across an estuary and turbines in the dam wall generate power. Alternatively the turbines can be free-standing



under the sea and work like underwater windmills on the tidal or ocean currents. Another method is to use high and low ponds that fill or empty from the tides. Port Phillip Bay could supply about 10 watts per Melbournian. If we used the 10-metre tides in the north of West Australia we could supply about 150 watt per person. A major obstacle is the detrimental impact on the marine environment.

Nuclear Power For better or for worse, nuclear power will probably be needed in countries that have a

lot of people, not much land and not much sun. As we have seen, for a large country with a small population like Australia, wind and solar power are realistic possibilities. This is not the case in densely populated countries with less sun. Important things to know about nuclear power: • Conventional reactors use 2 per cent of the fuel – the rest becomes waste, which is a big problem. Also at this efficiency, the world would run out of uranium in a couple of decades.

20m Pond 90m 7km


A schematic showing clifftop pond and turbine system.




• Breeder reactors use 98 per cent of the fuel and produce only 2 per cent waste – but they are not yet commercially available. • Thorium is a nuclear fuel, far more abundant and less toxic than uranium. It too can produce only 2 per cent waste in a breeder reactor and it is not useful for producing nuclear weapons. Thorium is far safer than uranium because it cannot produce a runaway reaction. Some continuous source of neutrons is required to sustain the reaction. India is developing thorium nuclear power. Australian and India together have most of the world’s thorium. • By the use of thorium and breeder reactors, the world would have enough fuel for some thousands of years of nuclear power.

Fusion Power Fusion power also converts mass to energy but uses hydrogen as a fuel. This has only been done so far in a hydrogen bomb! Fusion in controlled reactors would be a near inexhaustible energy source but a useful fusion reactor always seems to remain 20–30 years away. A useful reactor is well beyond Australia’s means and an international effort has been underway for many years. Fusion power has been the subject of several false alarms (cold fusion). Recent developments may make it seem more promising. One is laser fusion where a number of lasers are used to compress and contain isotopes of deuterium and tritium contained inside a beryllium sphere. This could then spark ignition, at which point the deuterium and tritium should undergo sustained nuclear fusion that produces excess energy.

Another fusion development is the idea of a hybrid reactor in which the fusion takes place within a conventional fission reactor. This approach is said to address the two biggest problems of fusion reactors: the size of plasma required and containment. In a hybrid reactor, the size of the fusion ball required is much smaller than in a pure fusion reactor.

The Storage Problem: Wind and Solar What happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow? Some solar power systems use molten salts to hold the heat so that power can be generated at night. Pholtovoltaic systems, which generate electricity directly, sometimes use batteries. But batteries are very expensive and don’t last very long. The most cost-effective way of storing a really large amount of power for a still, cloudy day is to use a hydro-electric system as a battery. This has been done in the Snowy Mountains for many years. It works by using the same water many times. When there is spare power, the turbines pump water up the hill, back into the dam. When there is a demand for power, the water runs back down and turns the turbines to generate electricity. Australia has many cliffs 100 metres above the sea that could be used to pump, and then release, water for electricity. Dams on these cliffs could be used to store electricity, as demonstrated in a pilot system in Okinawa, Japan. Clearly with a system like this, corrosion can be a problem, which would add to the cost over a system using fresh water. However, it is not insoluble: almost every ship has a propeller operating in sea-water.



ACTIONS FOR 2020 Since we use 60 per cent more energy than the average Briton, we could obviously do better. Let’s assume for a start that we become more efficient and reduce our energy needs to the same as Britons (who in the meantime will get more efficient). If we supplied all of Australia’s energy from a mix of sustainable sources, this is how it could look: Hydro: the existing 6 per cent of electricity which is 3 per cent of total energy needs Wind: 0.11 per cent of the country – but compatible with farming for 30 per cent of total energy needs Solar: 0.05 per cent of the area of the country for 28 per cent of total energy needs Geothermal: 22 per cent of total energy needs from existing measured resources Biofuels: 2 per cent of arable land for 17 per cent of total energy needs

We could supply all our energy needs from sources that are renewable or at least sustainable over centuries. Only a tiny proportion of Australia’s land area would be needed. Wind and large-scale solar power are the most promising technologies. These would complement each other in a mix that would provide the optimal energy storage requirement. Pumped hydro using sea-water could be used for energy storage as well as molten salts in large-scale solar installations. The molten salt installations can provide backup in the event


of low solar input by heating the salts with power from biomass and waste products. Some transport would be electrified while some could be supplied from liquid fuels. Geothermal power would be an important contributor. Many of these technologies are available now. We could make a very good start on them by 2020. But which is the priority and the most practical? The wind power industry is already up and going and the main obstacle to extensive wind power is public acceptance. We need to put in place reasonable controls, make sure that there is proper consultation and local participation, as in the Hepburn Wind Park Co-operative, in the Daylesford area in Victoria. Our priority should now be to raise largescale solar with molten salt storage to the same level. At present, each power station is a one-off – a sure way to keep the price high. Incentives are required for companies to invest on a large scale. I suggest the Liberty Ship approach. Between 1941 and 1945, the United States built 2751 Liberty Ships to replace the depleted Allied merchant fleet. The first ship took 230 days to build but this dropped to an average of 42 days. An ongoing contract to build a large number of solar power installations would attract the required resources; designs already exist and an example has been built in Spain. There is so far no significant opposition to solar power as there is with wind. It is silent and not as visually intrusive. There is a role for a mix of energy sources since they complement each other and there is an optimal mix, which must include energy storage, to give the lowest cost solution.

Further Reading Energy Beyond Zero Emissions (2011). Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, Melbourne Energy Institute. http://, D. (2009). Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, UIT Cambridge Ltd. McNeil, B. (2009). The Clean Industrial Revolution, Allen and Unwin. Seligman, P. (2010). Australian Sustainable Energy – by the numbers, Melbourne Energy Research Institute.

Energy | 2020 Vision for a Sustainable Society