In fact, Australia is the FIFTH MOST BIODIVERSE country in the world. This means that, at a time in history when the world's eco-systems are under pressure on a global scale, Australia has become a refuge of rare and endangered habitats. In fact, Australia is one of only 17 countries recognised as a site of GLOBALLY SIGNIFICANT BIODIVERSITY.
Virtually all original vegetation cover has disappeared from the Mediterranean, in Western Europe about 1% of the original forest cover remains, while in America, less than 1% of the grasslands of the Great Plains remains undisturbed by human activity.
Australia is a country rich in biodiversity, meaning rich in species diversity. What's more, over 80% of our native mammals, reptiles, flowering plants, fungi, mollusc and insects exist ONLY in Australia. If they dissappear from our country, they are gone forever. AUSTRALIA HAS THE HIGHEST RATE OF EXTINCTION IN THE WORLD.
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State of the EnvironmentThe unique conditions created by Australia’s size, climate and isolation means that our country is now the refuge of rare and endangered habitats, most of which do not exist anywhere else on earth. Yet, Australia remains on a development track that is leading to the disappearance of these precious remnants rather than their protection:
In the past 200 years, an
estimated 27 species of Australian mammals, 23 species of
birds, and over 60 plant species have become extinct. A
further 592 vertebrate taxa, 6,175 vascular plants and
48,000 invertebrates may currently be threatened with
extinction or are of conservation concern. Around 30% of
the original vegetation remains in Victoria, Australia's most cleared state,
with some grasslands and open woodland habitats existing at
less than 1% of their original cover.
About one quarter of
Australia's original rainforests now exist. Remaining
rainforests are threatened by land clearing and logging.
Less than 8% of Australia's old growth forests now exist,
half of which remain open to logging.
2.5 million hectares of
Australian land is salt affected, and this is likely to
increase six fold in the coming decades. The amount of land
affected by salinity in WA is increasing at a rate equal to
one football field an hour. About 70-80% of irrigated land
in NSW is threatened by rising water tables and associated
More than half of
Australia's wetlands have been lost and the remainder are
under threat from changes in water flow patterns, land use,
pollution and introduced pests. Rivers have been diverted,
dammed and used for waste disposal. The flow of the Murray
Darling river system, the source of life for Australia's
south eastern states, has been reduced by three
Since 1976, global surface
temperatures have been rising at three times the average
rate recorded over the past century, with Australia's
temperature matching this trend. This increase is
unprecedented in the 1,000-year record that includes ice
core sampling, seabed mud and tree ring samples.
And the world's oceans? In
2002, tests on a beached killer whale revealed levels of
toxic substances higher than were measurable by standard
testing. Threats to Australia's marine environment include
human pressure from waste disposal, urban and agricultural
drainage, commercial fishing, toxicants, physical habitat
destruction, the introduction of exotic organisms, mineral
exploration and extraction, construction, and transport. 5%
of Australia’s coastal estuaries and marine habitats
are formally reserved as Marine Protected Areas
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Human ImpactIt can be argued that natural systems are in a constant state of change, that some species extinction can be expected due to natural selection, and that environments can withstand and adapt to human impacts.
These arguments have been used to suggest that people are not at all responsible for what is happening to our planet. This idea is easy to adopt in Australia where, with a relatively small population we enjoy clean beaches, fresh air and open tree filled spaces. It is this lack of visible impact that has allowed us to become the nation that we are:
Australia's per capita
ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT is second only to the USA. This means
that, Australians use up more of the world's natural
resources (9 ha per person) than any other country except
the USA (10.3 ha per person). The global average is 2.8 ha
High consumption levels
equal high WASTE levels. In the last 10 years, Victoria's
solid waste stream has increased by 60%, reaching 8.6
million tonnes in 2002-03. 51% of this waste is recycled,
the rest goes to landfill or enters our waterways, beaches
and land as litter. Despite greatly expanding recycling
activity, Victorians are still producing more and more
waste, outpacing rising recycling levels.
- Australians are the
largest emitters of GREEN HOUSE GASES per capita in the world.
That's right, we beat the USA. Australia lags behind other
OECD countries in its investment in renewable energy sources,
with 90% of our energy still produced by burning coal. We also
drive more cars further than any other country. Transport is
the single biggest source of Green House Gas emissions.
- Australia has the fourth highest
rate of native VEGETATION CLEARANCE in the world, exceeded only
by developing countries with far greater populations and no
legislative controls. Vegetation clearance is the single
biggest threat to terrestrial species, which explains why .
- Australia has the highest rate
of EXTINCTION in the world. Yet, instead of caring for and
utilising the land we already have, we continue to clear more
habitat, eradicating native species. In Tasmania, 1080 poison
is still used to kill native animals (including endangered
species) to prevent them from feeding on the seedlings of
commercial tree plantations. Despite the fact that ocean
dwellers are joining endangered species lists, Australia
utilises fishing regimes that discard up to 86% of the catch as
unwanted refuse. This 'discard' may involve over 500 species
including turtles, snakes, sawfish, sharks and seabirds.
- RAINFORESTS continue to be
cleared and logged in Australia, often in breach of the
Government's own legislation. Queensland's tropical Daintree
continues to be cleared for development, and logging continues
in the temperate rainforests of Victoria's East Gippsland, in
habitats which occur nowhere else on earth. Rainforests, which
are home to around half the world's species are now globally
- Australia is one of few
remaining countries that allow the logging of OLD GROWTH
FORESTS. Australia's native logging regime exceeds that of
exploited developing nations such as PNG, Burma and Zambia
where illegal logging is rife. Around 90% of Australian logs
are exported as woodchips, made into cardboard, paper or toilet
paper, and then thrown away. The Australian public will
subsidise timber corporations an estimated $41 million over a
20 year span to cut down and sell their natural heritage. No
100% recycled paper is manufactured in Australia.
- More than half Australia's
farmland requires treatment for LAND DEGRADATION and it is
costing the economy well over $600 million a year in lost
production alone. Yet intensive agricultural practices
continue, resulting in broad scale erosion, the loss of
topsoil, rising water tables and resulting salinity. The
grazing of hard hooved animals, a major cause of land
degradation, is allowed in State Forests, conservation reserves
and even National Parks, including fragile alpine and coastal
environments. Intensive inorganic pesticide regimes mean that
chemicals which are manufactured to be toxic are washed into
our waterways and incorporated into the food we eat.
- Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world, with the lowest average rainfall (except for Antarctica). Yet we use our WATER resources as if they were infinite. We plant thirsty exotic species, grow water intensive crops such as rice and cotton and graze great herds of cattle and sheep for export. Despite residential water restrictions, logging continues inside Melbourne's water catchments reducing our water supply by up to 50%.
It is now widely acknowledged by scientists, ecologists, industry and the population that human impacts are causing irreversible changes to our environment on a global scale. 'Climate change', 'habitat loss' and 'toxic waste' are phrases that did not exists a few decades ago, but are now part of our every day vocabulary. But so are words like recycling, re-newable energy, conservation and revegetation.
Our world has become what it is through the accumulated impact of every one of us, of each of our decisions. This means that we have the choice to make the same decisions and continue down the same path, or to make new decisions that take us and our world in a different direction.
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Sustainable DevelopmentIt is still widely believed that the form of human development we are currently pursuing is the only viable option. But while we have the capacity to irreversibly alter our environment, we also have the capacity to protect what is left, rehabilitate what is damaged, and above all pursue a form of development that does no further damage.
Sustainable Development follows the principle of sustainability, which is:
"meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
This means using Australia’s natural resources in a way that does not lead to their exhaustion, damage the integrity of surrounding environments, or create non-biodegradable or dangerous wastes.
With its wealth of natural and renewable resources, Australia is well placed to lead the way in sustainable development.
provides many sources of RENEWABLE ENERGY, the sustainable
alternative to fossil fuels. Green Power, the company that
distributes electricity from renewable energy sources, now
has over 100,000 customers, including close to 5,000
businesses. As a result of the growing demand for Green
Power, over 150 new approved renewable energy projects have
been installed in Australia since 1997, including the
southern hemisphere’s largest solar farm and numerous
The ORGANIC food industry is
growing at a rate of 10 to 15% a year, while demand for
organic produce is forecast to increase 20 to 25%. This
gives farmers an opportunity to move towards sustainable
farming practices and lessen the environmental impact of
PLANTATIONS and RECYCLING provide enough material to
satisfy Australia's wood and paper demands. There are
almost a million hectares of plantations for timber
production in Australia - plantations already supply over
half of Australia’s domestic wood supply. Even
without plantation supplies, Australia could be making
paper out of post consumer waste. The Visy group now
operates six paper recycling machines producing more than
1.2 million tonnes of 100% recycled packaging paper
annually. As yet, there is no company in Australia that
manufactures 100% recycled paper for non-packaging use (ie
Australia has a strong
tradition of local market trade providing locally grown
fresh produce and crafted goods without excessive
- Chemical free alternatives exist in abundance, and are beginning to replace traditionally high impact cleaning agents and hygiene products.
Despite the incumbrance of a government that continues to subsidise unsustainable industries and choses not to invest in sustainable alternatives; despite an economic system that makes being sustainable an added cost, sustainable industries are flourishing in Australia.
This is because of growing numbers of people choosing to start sustainable projects, work in sustainable industries, support sustainable industries and campaign for change.
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Reduce Your FootprintWhile a large burden of environmental damage lies with unsustainable industries that over decades have exhausted natural resources and polluted the air, water and land, it is us as individuals who are the recipients of their products. It is our lifestyles that demand their levels of production. While in the past we could plead ignorance, this is no longer the case.
The future of the planet depends upon individual responsibility. While it is not always our decision how resources are used, it is our decision which industries we choose to financially support, how much we chose to consume, and how we dispose of the waste we create.
There are ways to reduce your
footprint right now.
Consume less: buy fewer
things that you don't really need, buy things with less
packaging, use less electricity, gas and water, swap and
re-use with other people, and if you can't consume less. . .
Consume consciously: buy
organic, buy recycled, buy second-hand, buy locally grown
or made, buy from local markets, buy from small green
business, switch to green power (solar and wind) for energy supply,
support the sustainable economy.
Give up meat:
go vegetarian or vegan, take a look at the Australian
Vegetarian Society website to find out how to create
a healthy meat-free diet and how much you are helping
the planet, and if you can't give it up completely. . .
Eat less meat:
every time you don't eat meat or dairy you'll be using 2% of the water
needed to make your meal and avoiding severe land
degredation. If you still want to eat meat and dairy you can reduce its
impact by choosing organic and local.
Give up the car: get a bike
and ride, walk, take public transport for longer trips, get
to know your neighbourhood, and if you can't give up the
Drive consciously: get your
car regularly tuned and cut your emissions by up to 50%,
buy a fuel efficient car, buy a fuel hybrid, convert to
LPG, find out about bio-diesel and veggie oil, car pool, no
more four wheel drives!
Create less waste: replace
chemical products with bio-degradables (detergents,
shampoos, chemical sprays), replace disposable products
with re-usables (take your own coffee cup), don't accept
plastic bags, and if you can't create less waste. . .
Dispose of waste
consciously: compost food scraps, recycle paper, plastic
and cans, install a greywater recycling system, don't put
chemicals down the drain, call your local council or
EcoRecycle to dispose of toxics, take your
old stuff to the op-shop, not the bin.
Plant natives and grow your
own veggies: find out what plants are indigenous to your
area and make your garden native, grow your own veggies
and herbs, and if you don't have a garden. . .
Use community gardens: to
grow your own food, and go plant some native trees with a
conservation group like Conservation Volunteers.
Get Active: express your
concerns about the environment, speak up, write letters
to the paper, join in a protest, organise an awareness
raising event or media engagement, organise a public talk
at a school, university or community group about an issue
that's important to you, and if you don't want to do it alone . . .
Join a local community group
or environment group: to be involved in decisions for your
local area, and help protect and conserve your environment,
and if you don't think you have time to join a group. . .
Support an environment
group: by becoming a member, making a donation or joining
Start your own group or
project: get other people involved in their environment,
becoming part of the sustainable community, create new
Vote for the environment:
let your local politician know about your environmental
concerns, make an appointment, write a letter, vote for
people who protect the environment.
Stay informed: about what's
happening locally and nationally, what decisions are being
made that effect our environment, use this website to find
out more about important issues, links to further
information, groups, campaigns, events, sustainable businesses,
sustainable jobs, subscribe to an environmental publication
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SourcesA Question of Balance 3rd edition by David Mercer 2000, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia State of the Environment Report 2001, Biological Farmers of Australia, CSIRO, EPA Vic, EcoRecycle Vic, Green Power, Land Care Australia, Organic Federation of Australia, UNEP Global Environmental Outlook 2000, Visy, Rainforest Action Network, Wetland Care Australia, The Earth Council, The Wilderness Society, WWF