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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Higher density is more sustainable

Brisbane and the whole of Southeast Queensland is set for rapid population growth over the coming decades. Estimating how many people will arrive is difficult but it’s safe to say there will be many more people living in the region than there are today.

To deal with this growth, councils and the state government have realised that the only sustainable way to accommodate people is to increase the density and stop the urban sprawl. Provided people don’t take to living underground, that means build up…yes more storeys.

A sprawling city is disastrous. More land has to be cleared for houses – you don’t have to clear airspace when you build upwards instead of outwards. Public transport is inefficient when people are dispersed. Infrastructure such as electricity, water, sewage, telephones and internet is more expensive per person in a sprawling city. Policing is more expensive, less effective and not as visible in a sprawling metropolis. As far as environmental sustainability goes, higher density wins hands down in a well planned city.

In the past, Australians have rejected higher density living, opting for the sprawling cities we now inhabit such as Greater Sydney and Southeast Queensland. Large conurbations mimicking Los Angeles and much of California. But now we are reaching the limits. The commute from the outer suburbs to Brisbane city once took 20 – 30 minutes but now can take 60 – 75 minutes or more – to much wasted time. Prices for blocks of land in the inner suburbs are now out of reach of most people. Cheaper more efficient alternatives are needed.

The solution lies in filling in the gaps within the inner suburbs and building up.

Unfortunately the current ‘first settlers’ of these inner suburbs don’t want to see their suburb change. Objections such as ‘change the character’, or ‘spoil the skyline’ are proffered. They prefer to banish the generally younger generations to a life of constant commuting on the ethic of first come first served.

The beachside suburb of Manly is currently looking at plans to increase development heights to 5 storeys in certain areas. Small groups are rallying to object on the basis that it spoils the ambience of the village. On weekends you can see the oldies (those first settlers) signing the petitions down by the markets.

Change is a part of growth, people change as they grow up and cities will change too. As we approach the limits of resources, our attitudes towards those resources change. We begin to use them in a more sustainable way.

Building works cause fish kill in beachside lake

There has been a large fish kill in a lake at Beachmere near Bribie Island. This morning residents noticed thousands of fish floating on the surface of the lake. The fish had died overnight. Many species were affected and those identified include mullet, mangrove jack, bream, whiting and flathead. The cause is not confirmed but recent building works at the nearby sewage pumping station is suspected.

A marine biologist who lives near the lake has reported that a pipe from the building site is pumping approximately 2 litres of ground water per minute into the lake. The ground water is not contaminated with sewage but unfortunately it is rich in sulphur compounds. These compounds consume oxygen to form the ‘rotten egg gas’ or sulphur dioxide which residents have reported smelling. The lake is not flushed daily by the tide and inputs stay there for a while. The input of ground water from the building works is likely to be consuming the oxygen in the lake, leaving non for the fish and subsequently causing their death.

Ground water in the estuarine regions of southeast Queensland are often rich in sulphur compounds. When they are undisturbed they do no harm. When they are pumped into water that is poorly flushed fish kills do occur.

Poor planning appears to be responsible here. If the ground water had been pumped into a well flushed system then it is unlikely that such as large fish kill would have occurred.

Pumping out anoxic ground water into adjacent waterways is a common practice in southeast Queensland. Our reporters have seen it being done on waterfront developments on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Council should have foreseen the effects of this action and if an environmental consultant reviewed the development proposal, someone should be looking to see if they were negligent.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Queensland today the topic of Dams is heating up. The Queensland government wants to build a new dam north of Brisbane, the Traveston dam. They want to do this not because they like dams but because the human population in southeast Queensland has out grown its water supply. Every now and then, when we don’t get more than the average rainfall, the dams get low and water restrictions are encouraged. So the solution is build a dam and increase the water supply.

Seems sensible enough? Of course it’s not it’s incredibly short sighted and selfish. Why?

Well it all comes down to fixing the problem or delaying it.

The problem is that too many people are moving to southeast Queensland. Now, if human population growth in southeast Queensland stopped, then building a dam might be the solution, southeast Queensland might store enough water for the current population. But the reality is that population growth is planned to continue. Stopping population growth in southeast Queensland is the last thing the government wants. Imagine what would happen to all the economic benefits of ‘growth’. So building a dam does not fix the problem it just pushes it off into the not too distant future when it will be a bigger problem because there will be even more people wanting water and one less place to build a dam!

Sound familiar, here’s another, bigger, scarier example.

The other day the ‘father of the green revolution’, Norman Borlaug died. Not the ‘green revolution’ you might associate with Greenpeace and WWF but the agricultural green revolution of the early 1960’s and 1970’s. Norman and others worked together in science and government as part of this green revolution. They increased the yield of global agriculture and ‘prevented’ starvation of millions of people in places like India, Pakistan and Africa. But did it really prevent it or delay and displace it?

This year, for the first time ever, the number of chronically hungry people exceeded 1,000,000,000 (a billion) as published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. That’s the most ever and it’s predicted to continue to rise. The problem is not poor agricultural productivity but excessive population growth. Every day there are more mouths to feed. Stop the growth and the problem starts to go away. This is the classic case of not fixing the problem but pushing it off into the future when it will be a bigger problem because of the population growth.

So you ask, if population growth is causing the Queensland government to build a dam and population growth is the reason that over a billion people are chronically hungry, why don’t people focus on the problem instead of pushing it into the future so it becomes a bigger problem for future generations?

And then there’s carbon sequestration and nuclear waste…



Traveston Dam

Premier Bligh's Announcement

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Every now and then I have a ‘philosophical’ moment and think about things.

When you think about where you spend most of your waking hours youbeing to realise that your time is rarely your own. For example, Iwake at 6am. Breakfast and everything else before leaving home isabout ‘getting ready for work’. Work consumes me until I return homeand shed my work clothes, normally around 6pm. If I sleep for 8 hoursthen I have just 4 hours to spend in a place I want to be, doingthings I want to do with people I choose to be with. 4 hours. Just 4out of 16 waking hours: 25%...25% for me and 75% for work. True, Icould be more efficient, reduce my commute, but I think most people incities have similar stats. I’m lucky I like my work…imagine if Ididn’t…what a waste. But I do get paid. And that’s the reason we doit, isn’t it, to get paid.

Money buys things.

Things. Houses close to work, cars, petrol, things from Harvey Norman,fashions, baby clothes and toys, beer and cigarettes, holidays awayfrom work, phones and of course debt. All of these things in exchangefor 75%. Marketing tries to perpetuate this, enticing you into buyingthings you don’t need…’stimulating’ consumption…for 75%…The conceptnags at a thinkers mind others carry on, oblivious.

Of course there are some who have realised that there are other things to do…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shrinking Whale Sharks in Western Australia

Whale sharks are the biggest shark in the sea growing to 12 metres and weighing 13 tonnes. That’s a big fish! They live for 70 years and swim the earth’s tropical waters and warm oceans. Unlike the stereotypical shark, they eat plankton and don’t have sharp scary teeth. They swim gently near the surface, mouths wide open, straining the oceans of plankton.

They are spectacular. Dark blue on top , lighter underneath, and covered in white spots like a starry night. In fact, these starry patterns of spots are used to identify individual sharks with software developed by NASA to identify stars in the night sky.

Because they are beautiful animals and swim near the surface they have become a major tourist attraction in places like Belize, the Seychelles, and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Unfortunately though and because they swim the oceans, they are easy targets for fishermen looking for the biggest shark fins in the world.

New research on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia (Bradshaw et al 2008) has found that the sharks are getting shorter! The average length of the sharks that visit the reef is about 2 metres less than it was. There are also few sharks turning up each year, sightings have fallen by about 40%! This has happened despite a total ban on fishing for these sharks in Australian waters – no good for the tourism industry…and the sharks.

A decreasing size and abundance of a fished species is a classic signal for overfishing. Because this beautiful shark wanders the oceans of the world it is exposed to different fisheries regimes, some conservative and some totally unregulated. With shark fins being worth so much in the Asian markets, capturing a large whale shark is like a big Christmas bonus for fishermen. As human populations grow the pressure on these fish is only likely to increase.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nemo’s home to be the world’s largest marine park

Everyone’s heard of the Great Barrier Reef, in the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia. You know, the home of Nemo, that cute little clown fish with the odd shaped fin. Recently Australia’s best marine scientists together with the Pew Environment Group have called for the Coral Sea to be declared a marine protected area. A National Park in the sea.

That’s 400 000 square miles, even bigger than Texas!

Professor Terry Hughes from James Cook University (a man whose seen the Caribbean coral reefs fade away) said “There is overwhelming evidence the world's marine ecosystems have been seriously degraded by overfishing, pollution and global warming. These trends call for urgent, practical solutions”. The Coral Sea is a beautiful place and one of the last relatively unscathed warm water environments on Earth. The endangered Hawksbill and Green turtles call it their home as well as 25 species of whales and dolphins, countless species of fish, birds, invertebrates, and of course little old Nemo.

The large fish like sharks, tuna, marlin and sailfish are some of the fastest animals in the seas. They are targeted by fishers in all the oceans of the world because they are so valuable. Fishermen can get up to $110/ kg for shark fin making them well worth the hunt. The Coral Sea is one of the few places left on Earth where these large fish have not been overfished…yet.

With climate change on the way and an ever increasing human population, marine ecosystems need as much biodiversity and responsible management as they can get if they are to be resilient in the face of changing ocean currents, ocean acidification, and habitat loss. There are only a handful of places in the world where a large oceanic marine park could be made, and enforced, Australia and the Coral Sea is one of them.