Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents 30 scoop SPRING 2010
A has one of the world’s largest
endemic terrestrial and marine
biodiversity, more than the whole
European Union put tog ether.
With a population of about two million people at a
density of about one person per square kilometre,
we have room to manoeuvre. WA possesses the
largest mineral wealth per capita in the world.
We also have an almost unlimited supply of water
in the South West (in the Yarragadee aquifer) and in
the north in increased rainfall. Underneath WA is
the world’s largest hot water supply to which we may
add an almost infinite supply of energ y from the sun,
waves, tidal motions and winds, giving us potentially a
huge source of pollution-free energ y.
With a small population, huge biodiversity and
unlimited water, energy and carbon sources and
a sizeable mineral wealth we have the luxury to
explore new options. We could be an example to
the rest of the world, if we have the courage to try.
The challenges facing WA
The annual rainfall in the South West has fallen
by about 300mm in the past 40 years. However,
contrary to common belief, this reduction is due to
land clearing not climate change.
Global warming has caused a 200mm rise in sea
levels around the WA coast over the past 40 years
and humidity increases are leading to a southward
migration of Dengue fever and other diseases. In
the North West, increasing severity of rain events
is posing a threat to infrastructure.
At current extraction rates, the overall life of
our mineral resources is only about 100 years. WA
has become a vehicle for global companies to gain
wealth from our mineral resources with few net
long-term benefits accumulating for the WA
community and practically none returning to the
In addition the resources sector is so dominant,
it is narrowing the range of jobs available in WA’s
economy. There has also been a marked increase in
mental stress, with 25 per cent of West Australians
experiencing severe levels of stress (ABS).
Indications are that in the next 50 years the
effects of climate change will see 500 million
refug ees seeking a new home. If distributed
proportionally to responsibility (and we are the
biggest greenhouse g as emitters per capita) we will
need to accommodate between 5 and 10 million
refug ees in the next 50 years.
A well thought out course of action will fix
many of our problems and also make financial
sense that is hard to argue with.
Suppose we reward our farmers to return strategic
areas of the south west to native forest, leaving
agriculture only for domestic consumption and
selected high yield exports. This would lead to an
annual sequestration of about 50 million tonnes of
carbon a year, roughly equal to our annual man-made
emissions (value ~$0.5 billion pa). This would bring
back the rain and obviate the need for further water
resource developments (value ~$1 billion pa). The
natural vegetation would reclaim the land impacted
by salinity, reverse water-logging problems and
enhance tourism, especially eco-tourism (value ~$10
billion pa). The loss of agricultural exports and the
cost of reforestation would cost about $2 billion pa.
Research has shown that having better access
to natural sur roundings improves human health
(value at 15 per cent of health costs ~ $1.8 billion
pa). Total value ~ $ 9.5 billion pa
Secondly, we need to better manage our
resource wealth to get long-term benefits. Norway
has shown that even temporary wealth can be
turned into long-lasting benefit, if the profits are
invested for the community as a whole. Currently
WA transfers most of the g ain from resources
east. This must be stopped and the money used to
build a future fund for the long-ter m wellbeing of
generations to come (value ~ $8 billion pa).
WA must also become water, energy and carbon
self-sufficient. Reser voirs sequester large amounts
of carbon dioxide as they house algal growth. If we
increased the net primary production of Lake Argyle
by a factor of 10 by encouraging fish production, we
would not only provide WA with fish protein (value ~
$0.05 billion pa) and alleviate pressure on the ocean
fisheries, we’d also bury approximately three million
tonnes of carbon a year (value ~$0.03 billion).
Deep aquifers, such as the Yarrag adee and
Lesueur contain hot water (120oC) enough to
use for both bulk water and the g eneration of
electricity. There are now clear indications that
home and car energy storage devices (new forms
of batteries) will be available in about five years.
This would allow us to change over completely to
wind, wave, tides and thermal, making WA carbon
neutral (value ~$0.5 billion pa). When combined
with uranium resources in WA and suitable waste
burial sites, WA could become a major exporter of
energy to Indonesia and possibly even to the rest
of Asia; all with no carbon penalty (value ~$0.1
billion pa). Total value ~ $0.68 billion pa.
We must also prepare for climate change
refug ees. There is no easy answer here, but
avoiding reality is also not an option. We must
plan how we will select and then help to settle
those in need. The important thing about
immigration is to ensure that people who settle in
Australia, are given the support that allows them
to become Australians and to understand what it
means to be Australian; this will take money, care
and a few generations, but is much more important
than the entry process.
The above simple actions would lead to a total
net gain to the State’s GDP of about $18 billion
a year, huge new employment opportunities from
farming to IT, marketing, financial ser vices and
engineering. The current State Budget is about $20
billion pa and about half of the above gains would
flow to government revenue through payroll tax,
royalties and fees, so we would have plenty of money
to improve education, health, Indigenous wellbeing
and to prepare for the expected influx of the new
refugees. Under this scheme, WA would become an
example of how to live sustainably and with dignity.
A Vision for WA
Jörg Imberger and Mark Andrich, UWA Centre for Water Research
“Suppose we reward our farmers to
return the south west to native forest”
The challenges that WA faces – mineral depletion, climate change and population pressures
need to be seen as a radical opportunity to become a world leader in sustainable living
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