The Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) interactive Consumption Atlas provides data about consumption by postcode and the environmental impact of that consumption. It calculates how much water and land is used, and how much greenhouse pollution is created, to support our lifestyles. The good people of Aspley generate 19.85 tonnes of greenhouse pollution per person per year (more than the state average and less than the national average). Food has the biggest impact on this, representing 28.2% of our consumption profile. Our water use per person per year is 780,000 litres (higher than both the state and national average). Again, food has the largest impact representing 43.2% of our consumption profile. Aspley’s ecofootprint – the measure of land required to supply the resources a person’s lifestyle demands – is 6.96 hectares per person per year (again, higher than both the state and national averages). Food has the largest impact, representing 48.7% of the consumption profile.
These figures are lower than some inner city suburban profiles, such as West End and New Farm. The high inner city environmental impact is attributed to wealth and higher incomes rather than land, energy and water use. Wealthier areas have greater environmental impact due to consumption habits and preferences. The benefit of lower petrol consumption is far outweighed by strong consumer spending on everything else.
The Atlas is presented with a companion report titled Consuming Australia (PDF). It found that the indirect impacts of consumption outweighed direct household use of energy, water and land – sensible consumption is as important as turning out the lights and installing a water tank. The report notes the following trends:
- Affluent areas have higher environmental impacts
- Inner cities are consumption hotspots while under-consumption afflicts some remote areas
- Larger households have lower environmental impacts
- Sources of power generation strongly influence greenhouse pollution in the states. Some states are reliant on dirty energy.
The ACF proposes some solutions including moving towards a smart consumption society and offers some strategies for this. Another ACF website, GreenHome, addresses some of these issues.
There has been some commentary that these figures downplay the need for sensible urban development and land use. It’s important to recognise the role of urban and regional planning in providing frameworks for adaptation of human settlements – Brendan Gleeson provides some insight to where planning can be useful. However, Gleeson proposes that ‘greener lifestyles’ (behavioural change) are ineffective. The problem is overproduction rather than overconsumption given that 70% of household energy use is embodied in the goods and services that the household uses, and given that the economy remains hardwired for growth.