Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2983


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is there any objection? There being no objection, leave is granted subject to the document being inspected. (The document read as follows):

The first law of ecology to biologist Barry Commoner is 'everything is connected to everything else'. This point was made about 80 years ago by the poet Francis Thompson, who said -

All things by immortal power Near or Far Hiddenly To each other linked are That thou canst not stir a flower Without troubling of a star.'

It is the existence of these 'hidden links' which we must recognise now when we talk about 'the environment'. Clearly the 'environment' means virtually 'the world'. It is not a component such as clean air or water'. It is not something which is as readily definable as 'education', 'defence' or trade'. It is an entire complex of Nature, Man, Technology and Society, all these are interlinked, changing, evolving and influencing each other. In a world where everything is connected to everything else, it can be very misleading to isolate 'basic environmental factors'. No system in the world, be it a watershed, a national trade pattern or an urban unit, can be regarded as self-contained and cut oil from the rest of the world. Up until recently we have tended to regard parts of the NatureManTechnologySociety complex as separate from one another. This is not so. Our technology affects the other three for example. New methods of fishing are threatening the entire world's fisheries. The motor car has perverted the design of the cities and dehumanised them. City planners have made the situation worse and worse by trying to re-model the city to fit the car. Only now are we realising how much we have lost by regarding motor car transportation as a separate entity in itself. We must recognise the 'hidden links' which exist. Not to do so will be to risk our own survival.

What then is 'the environment'? Dr Aurelio Peccei, the founder of the Club of Rome expressed 'environment' in a systems way which embraces both natural and man-made components. each subsystem or system is contained in a system of a higher order, which represents its environment. All systems besides overlapping here and there are linked directly or indirectly by relations of interdependence.

The subsystems can be natural or man-made but they interlink anyway. We must forever bury the notion that the 'environment' means clean water or air, depleting resources or anything in an absolute sense. It is foremost a relative thing. It is a way of looking from the subsystem level to the system level. It is a way of seeing which part of the system the subsystem depends for its existence.

Let us look at a factory. Let us consider the various parts of the larger system of which it is a part, which affect its productivity. That is, let us consider its environment. A factory uses water, air, energy, capital, knowledge, material resources (both renewable and non-renewable) labour and technology. Using these resources for production this factory takes one thing and fabricates it into another. The raw material of this factory was produced by the harnessing of renewable and nonrenewable resources. The air used came to it in an 'air shed', and it has a history of use before it gets there. It also possibly has a history of abuse.

In other words the 'hidden links' to that factory are many and far reaching. As we have seen, we can drawn a similar picture for a house.

The environment of a wild animal can be expressed similarly. It is that eco-system of which it is part and upon which it depends for food, air, water, and protection.

In each case the principles are the same. The environment is the system upon which the subsystem depends for its maintenance.

There are three things which we must constantly keep in mind when we consider the environment. These points are also based upon some made by Aurelio Peccei.

(1)   The world's destiny has become one and indivisible. Disaster is certain unless each nation broadens its own limited circle of solidarity, progressively embracing all mankind. The UN conference in Stockholm in June will be a big beginning. It could be the most important conference so far held on the earth. Significantly one of the six major subject areas being discussed in Stockholm involves 'Problems of Human Settlements'. It is also the only area in. six which Australia presented a paper worthy of itself, to the Conference a paper on the planning of Canberra by the NCDC. The planning of Canberra is a good example except when you consider the land, water, and energy consumed by its 150,000 inhabitants and compare that to an. Indian or African town of the same size. Western culture consumes far too many resources of all kinds. One major problem for the future is that we must come up with alternatives which consume far less resources per person.

(2)   The sum of human things must be guided by long range vision and objectives. Decision making is becoming all the more difficult by the quickening rhythm of events, growth and change, Under such conditions if we are guided by expediency or short term decisions we can likewise court disaster. We must know where we want to go. We must have long term planning goals. Otherwise successive 'ad hoc', short term decisions will increasingly mean 'bad news' for people. Results of such decisions will deviate more and more from true human welfare. Look at where all the decisions which have been made to accommodate the motor car in the city have got us; bad air, destroyed homes to make room for freeways, decaying public transport, destroyed lives from traffic accidents, urban noise, destruction of buildings for car parks, growth of junk yards, and many other consequences. Despite all these decisions we are now worse off. What we have done by successive short term 'ad hoc' decisions is to have 'thrown out the baby, but kept the bath water'. Another good example is the impact of one sub-system, migration, on the integrated urban system where migrants have settled. Migrants have made great additions to the city by enrichment of cultural diversity. The arrival in Australia of such large numbers in the last 10 years particularly, has, however, strained almost every aspect of the Nature-Man-Technology-Society System. It is not migrants specifically but the increase in population growth from 1 per cent to 2 per cent caused by migration which is doing the damage. A 2 per cent home grown population growth rate would impose similar strains.

(3)   Problems of a complex nature do not have simple solutions or can they be solved by partial approaches. In other words, we cannot 'isolate' the basic factors of the environment. AH problems are interlinked with other problems. Again the impact of the motor car on the urban system can be .seen as a consequence of not seeing the 'hidden links' or of ignoring them altogether. We must become system oriented in our thinking when we consider the environment. We must understand what is the environment of any subsystem. This is equally true of the level of a house, a city, a natural region, a nation or a whole earth. Each sub-system is part of a larger system. That larger system is the environment of the subsystem.

For the first time in our history we have a chance to handle these difficult problems. We can look at the way these complex systems operate and where and how the links occur. Recently there have been some attempts made to simulate on computer the entire world system, by systems specialists in the USA. These specialists have worked under the auspices of the Club of Rome. Their results have had tremendous impact and have caused much debate. The biggest breakthrough however is that we now have the courage to do this sort of thing at the global level. We can then tackle the problems at other subsystem levels - regions, nations, cities and houses. In our era of doomsday prophesies we perhaps now have the techniques to confront the problems. However, the social problems stemming from implementing necessary reforms should not bc underestimated.

These three basic guide lines must constantly stay in the front of our minds from now on when we consider environmental problems.

Besides thinking system-wise the other essential thing which we must do is to define goals. If we do not, in this rapidly changing world, we will continue to throw out more babies and keep more bath water. To keep our lives human and preserve at least some of nature at all we must reaffirm our control of technology and end our mindless slavery to it and worship of it. The Concorde is an example of such a situation. Anybody who does a total cost-benefit study of the Concorde to society, must decide that it is not in the interest of most to go ahead with it. If we do not put man in control of his technology we will continue to stagger from one crisis to the next. We will do too little, too late and often the wrong thing in addition; all because we do not know where we want to go.

We must sit down and decide what kind of environment we want. We can do this successively at every level from the globe down to the house. It is the job of all, not only Governments. Hie housing industry, for example, can do it within its own area of interest, making sure that it recognises all the hidden links which connect the house and its inhabitants to the systems of which they are part.

The definition of goals is a difficult thing to do, but it is by no means impossible. Already we would have considerable consensus on what we want in terms of air and water quality and freedom from pollution, of housing, of access to recreation and work, of working hours and conditions, of education and health services, of access to and use of material resources, of cultural facilities, of wages and salaries as a proportion of the total wealth and so on. We can hammer out a basic set of guidelines to keep us on course. Obviously we should revise them often. We should put all of them down as an optimum environment statement. The biggest single difficulty which we will face will be to reconcile the different cultural preferences in our pluralistic society.

In Australia we have serious and escalating problems. However, by world standards we are still lucky, despite a rapidly worsening situation now. We have one of the best population resources ratios in the world. We have the chance to prevent problems by planning. We should be setting an example to the world. One of the most urgent problems, for example, is that we must make decentralisation work here in Australia. We must build new planned communities outside the sprawling disasters which Sydney and Melbourne are rapidly becoming. Decentralisation is working in a few places (notably Western Europe, England and Scandinavia). An optimum environment statement, can be used to provide the framework for policies of decentralisation just as it can for other policies. It should be the frame in which we design all our national and foreign policies. As well as guiding the shape of new cities, it gives as a yardstick to measure what has to be done in old, problem filled cities.

An optimum environment statement should be idealistic and be reached as much as possible by consensus. It is an easy matter to set up the necessary institution to produce this statement. A Commonwealth Department of the Environment would be a suitable place. A forum in that department could hear the views of state and local governments, conservation and consumer organisations, and just people as well as experts. It will be difficult to do it. Not to do it will mean disaster to us all, for we will face the future rudderless.

The optimum environment statement should also include the rights of the environment. This can provide the legal basis for protection of the environment from man and his technology. Up until now the law has protected man from man. Man is now doing violence to the environment at an increasingly alarming rate. It is very easy for a subsystem to wreck the larger system of which it is a part, that is its environment. The subsystem ignores oris not aware that the system of which it is part has a finite limit.

Such an attitude was summarised very well by Dr Garrett Hardin as the 'Tragedy of the Commons'. Hardin considers a common cow pasture where local people can graze their cows. Each herder can increase his number of cows as he pleases. This is because his gain is offset by a loss which is distributed between all other users of the common who do not recognise what they are losing, because it is so small. All the others of course can do the same. Soon there is no grass on the common and everybody loses. Hardin concludes 'freedom of the commons bring ruin on us all'. The subsystem (the single owner) did not recognise the limits of the system (the common) and the 'hidden links' (the demands of others on the common and the flows of air, water and sunlight to make grass).

The situation applies to most other systems, be they at house or global levels.

Finally, it must become obvious that once we recognise that everything is interconnected in a systems way, that the environment can be overloaded and destroyed, we must realise that our concepts of 'freedom' will have to undergo great changes. Years ago robbing of banks became illegal. If everybody robbed banks, the entire social system would collapse. That is another way of saying that the rights of the majority who did not rob banks would not be served. There will be a host of equivalents of 'robbing banks' in the near future, if we want to survive at all. The right to bear arms and the right to drive cars in the central city are now openly questioned everywhere. They have already been abolished in some places. The former is not in the interest of the majority who did not bear arms but had rights to walk the streets in safety. The latter is not in the interests of the majority who are not riding in a car but have a right to breath good air, be safe from traffic and noise and take a seat on an alternative system of public transport. So there will be many 'rights' in conflict in the near future. However, if, ahead of time, we have agreed upon a set of environmental goals we will be better off. We will have then a frame of reference within which we can rationally decide which rights' society can keep, increase or decrease in the interests of most people. It is the only way which will be socially responsible, be fair to all people at the same time, and which will result in the collective survival of all men.


Mr UREN - I thank the House. The Minister recognises at long last that Australia has an international role to play. We in Australia are in a very lucky country. We are one of the few countries on this planet with a good populationresources ratio, high literacy, a reasonably skilled work force, and competent specialists. We can show the way by setting a good example at home. This will require extensive planning and Commonwealth leadership in that planning. The financial resources of the Commonwealth will have to be involved to combat the brute economic power of many of the large multi-national corporations which are located in this country, which have been bad polluters in other places and which are increasing their power and influence daily. Above all, we have the chance to prevent problems before they occur, to learn from the mistakes of others, and to commit ourselves to building a new alternative. Let us take up that challenge; let the Commonwealth lead the way it is the only authority in Australia that can do so.

Might I repeat the criticism of the Government for not including one member of the alternative government among those to go to the important conference in Stockholm. We on this side of the House believe that in matters of the environment everything is connected with everything else. This is the only way to look at the problem in this country. We have to look at it nationally and globally and to make sure that we manage the environment and I use that word 'manage' deliberately one cannot control the environment; it can only be managed in this sector of planet earth.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.







Suggest corrections