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Sustainable living a must for the future -

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Australia's population is set to grow by 60 percent to 35 million by 2050. Part three of The 7.30
Report's population debate series looks at how the world's driest populated continent would cope
with those numbers. The recent record-breaking drought has already forced planners to re-think
strategies about how to keep our cities and farms running sustainably.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Continuing with this week's special series on government projections that
Australia's population is set to grow by 60 per cent to 35 million by 2050, we look at how the
world's driest populated continent would cope with those numbers.

Many Australian communities already know what it's like when the water supply dries up. The recent
record-breaking drought has already forced planners to rethink strategies about how to keep our
cities and farms running sustainably.

With a larger population, it's possible that water will simply become too scarce for some centres
to keep growing. There's also the fundamental issue of food supply and how we would meet
significant new energy demands. Matt Peacock reports.

MIKE YOUNG, ENVIRONMENT INSTITUTE, ADELAIDE UNI: Water's going to be critical to the future of
Australia, perhaps more than anything else.

You could easily see power prices doubling in most regions of Australia over the next 10 years.

BOB CARR, FMR NSW PREMIER: On one windy day, the fragile soils of Australia you can blow 1,700
kilometres away. We don't know where the rain's coming from. We don't know whether this long
drought that seized so much of Australia is going to last for decades or not.

MATT PEACOCK, REPORTER: On the world's most arid inhabited continent, can Australia really cope
with a 60 per cent surge in population to around 35 million within 40 years?

developing country facing the challenge of not enough water, too many people, leading to supply and
increasing demand for food. Globally, we call this the perfect storm.

MATT PEACOCK: Already in recent years almost all Australian cities have faced the stark prospect of
running out of water - water for industry, electricity and our homes. Supporting more people with
the same amount of water, believes urban planner Professor Bill Randolph, will force big changes.

BILL RANDOLPH, FACULTY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT, UNSW: There's no reason why we should consume
water on a per capita bases the same way as we do today. We can do things differently and use less
resources - the same with energy. We don't have to continually increase our consumption of energy.
We can go the other way.

MATT PEACOCK: Australians have already had a taste of things to come during the recent drought,
with restrictions imposed on hosing cars and watering gardens. In water-starved Brisbane at the
time, per capita water consumption plummeted to one of the lowest levels in the developed world.

But in 2006, people in Toowoomba drew the line at drinking their own treated waste water, voting a
resounding "No" in a referendum on recycling.

In a bigger Australia, we'll have no choice, according to Adelaide University's Professor Mike

MIKE YOUNG: Should we drink our own sewage? The experience around the world is most people already
do at some time. When it goes back into the river, everybody's relaxed. The problem comes when it
goes straight from the treatment plant back into the dams. We're going to have to get used to that,
or alternatively go to very, very dry, barren cities.

STUART MCQUIRE, SCIENTIST: The fountain's part of our water recycling. We get water from the shower
and the bath and the laundry.

MATT PEACOCK: In his green-friendly house in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, scientist Stuart
McQuire has already made the transition to a more water-conscious future, dramatically slashing his
dependence on mains water.

STUART MCQUIRE: We use hardly any mains water now. Like, the last five years, our mains water has
been between four and five litres per person, per day, which, if you compare it to the Victorian or
Australian average, it's about 96 or 97 per cent less than what a typical home would be.

MIKE YOUNG: The backyard which is the green backyard will be a thing of the past. We'll have a
small probably paved area with some plants growing around the edge, which'll be your garden and
then areas that are shared for barbecues and for playing football, playing cricket and just going
for a walk, which'll be open landscapes. Much more like the Australian landscape, much less of them

MATT PEACOCK: Australia, though, is surrounded by sea and in the past five years there's been a
stampede by state governments to build desalination plants. Three are already up and running in
Perth, Sydney and the Gold Coast, with another four on the way. But desalination chews up
electricity and it requires to be pumped uphill from the coast, all in a world where power will
cost much more.

BILL RANDOLPH: I think we've got to the point where we don't need another blast of desal plants.
That can keep us going for so long, but their energy - they're very unsustainable over the long
term. We have to change our way in which we live.

MATT PEACOCK: For these concrete canyons on the Gold Coast, water may finally end the extraordinary
growth of south-east Queensland, as it simply becomes too expensive.

MIKE YOUNG: You can imagine them hitting real barriers as they recycle and drink all their sewage,
desperately trying to find ways to keep on being the population growth centre of Australia. But I
think water will pull up the south-east corner of Queensland quite quickly.

MATT PEACOCK: And that's not the only place limited by water. Canberra, the nation's landlocked
capital, has almost run out of options.

MIKE YOUNG: They're already recycling 100 per cent of Canberra's water. If Canberra's going to
grow, then it's going to mean less water downstream because there's nowhere else to go.

MATT PEACOCK: Australia's cheap coal-fired power generators, driven by steam and cooled by water,
will also be hard-hit by water shortages, warns Sydney University's Professor Tony Vassallo.

electricity, we're using a litre or two of water with that electricity, which has to be lost at the
power station.

MATT PEACOCK: A higher price on carbon emissions means that coal's power will become more
expensive, driving an increase in renewable energy.

The McQuire household has already gone solar, escaping an electricity bill altogether.

STUART MCQUIRE: We generate something like 2,000 to 2,100 kilowatt hours a year. So we have a
surplus of 500 to 700 kilowatt hours a year and we actually get paid for electricity rather than
paying for it and we haven't paid for electricity for over 13.5 years now.

TONY VASSALLO: Within 10 or 20 years, we could generate 10 per cent of our electricity from solar
power. It's happening in a lotta countries around the world. It doesn't happen in Australia without
support because our existing system uses a very inexpensive fuel, being coal. But as the price of
that fuel goes up, with carbon taxes and emissions, it makes the renewable sources like solar more

MATT PEACOCK: Australians already have the biggest houses in the worlds, with many of these new
so-called McMansions being built on the urban fringe of our capital cities. But with the price of
petrol and electricity likely to soar in the not-too-distant future, already it seems their days
are numbered.

KIM DOVEY, ARCHITECTURE, UNI. OF MELBOURNE: The releasing of more and more land on the urban fringe
is simply irresponsible. And it's setting up those people who do buy out there for really an
unaffordable future, because it's completely unsustainable.

MATT PEACOCK: On a hot day, powering the air conditioners in these sprawling suburbs can more than
double energy use in our major cities. Soon, mandatory energy audits for house sales will force
changes, warns Curtin University's Professor Peter Newman.

PETER NEWMAN, SUSTAINABILITY, CURTIN UNI: In many ways, our buildings used to be quite
well-adapted, climate wise. And then we started building them so appallingly, with black roofs and
no eves and pointing the wrong way and getting bigger and bigger and bigger to the point where we
just were consuming so much more fossil fuel for the air-conditioning. Now that's a future that we
must come to terms with.

TONY VASSALLO: The average Australian home uses about one kilowatt of electricity every hour. So
over a day, the amount of coal that's burnt for that amount of electricity equates to about two
lots of this, two bags of five kilograms of coal are burnt for every house, every day in Australia.
And there are millions of households, so you can get a feel for how much coal actually needs to be
burnt to provide that energy.

MATT PEACOCK: The nation's sprawling suburbs also threaten the food that we eat.

Vince Vella was born and raised here on his father's farm. 40 years ago it was bush, many
kilometres from Sydney's centre. Now, farmers are selling up to developers.

VINCE VELLA, FARMER: A lot of people are retiring, the older people are retiring and not many young
ones are going back onto farming.

MATT PEACOCK: Sydney basin farms like this one are highly productive, supplying 18 per cent of the
state's food. But soon, 20,000 new homes will be built in this area.

VINCE VELLA: It's starting to be a lot of houses; too many houses for me.

MATT PEACOCK: Australia can feed more than double its population. Currently it produces enough food
for around 50 million people a year, most of it exported. And more than half is produced here in
the Murray Darling River Basin, consuming around 80 per cent of the country's water.

MIKE YOUNG: The Murray Darling Basin is in a state of crisis. It's still producing a lot of food.
The big thing that's happened in the last decade is our irrigation farmers have learnt to be very,
very efficient. And as a result of that, we've held up a lot of productivity. The opportunities for
productivity growth, though, are now becoming very, very limited.

MATT PEACOCK: Last year's dust storms that engulfed Sydney and Brisbane provided a vivid example of
another problem that's rapidly getting worse: the loss of the nation's arable top soil. And Sydney
University's Professor John Crawford has a dire prediction.

JOHN CRAWFORD: The world is gonna run out of soil in about 60 years. A very detailed calculation in
Europe has indicated that it's within 100 years or so there won't be any top soil in Europe. We
haven't done the same calculations for Australia, but it's likely to be significantly shorter.

MATT PEACOCK: In the past 200 years, Australia's lost about 70 per cent of the nutrient from its
top soils. The solution is more sustainable farming practices, less tilling, rotation of crops and
spelling of land.

JOHN CRAWFORD: We need to treasure the soil that we have and the good soil that we have in
Australia 'cause there ain't a lot of it.

MATT PEACOCK: As the climate changes with global warming, more pressure will be placed on our
natural resources. And with the larger population projected by Treasury, even the modest proposed
cuts to Australia's carbon emissions of five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 will be impossible,
warns demographer Professor Bob Birrell.

BOB BIRRELL, DEMOGRAPHER: That cannot happen at the same time as we're engaging in a massive
city-building exercise to accommodate the extra millions and generating a massive mineral boom to
accommodate China's need for raw materials.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt Peacock with that report and tomorrow we'll examine the social impacts of a
booming population. Are we thinking of how we'll maintain that social - that critical social
cohesion? We'll also be talking with the Prime Minister.