Thursday, 25 May 2017
Mr Speaker, thank you for earlier this year visiting Banksia Park International High School in the electorate in Makin and spending an hour with the students there in a very interesting Q&A session. I think it was very much appreciated, and it was a great day.
In his budget speech on 9 May the Treasurer claimed the federal budget will return to surplus in 2021-22. The forecast is made on an assumption that the Australian economy will grow by 2¾ per cent in 2017-18 and by three per cent thereafter. As in Australia, the dependency on growth to balance budgets is common practice throughout most economies, yet the practice is rarely questioned by economists or political commentators. Dependency on growth raises two questions. Firstly, are we living beyond our means and relying on future generations to pay for our lifestyle? Secondly, how much longer can growth continue?
The reality is that growth comes at a cost. More energy and resources are needed, whilst pollution rises and resources are depleted. One hundred years ago, global population was 1.9 billion. Today, it is almost four times that, at 7.5 billion. By 2050 it is estimated the global population will reach 10 billion—almost a third more people in the world than there are today. Most of the growth will be in developing countries where per capita consumption is also likely to rise and living standards improve. That means consumption and, therefore, demand on global resources will very likely rise even faster.
Through technological and scientific advancements we can become more efficient in how we live and grow food, but that is of little use if those gains do not offset growing consumption. That requires drastic changes in how we live. There are no signs of that, with global growth for the next three years alone projected to rise from 3.25 per cent in 2017 to 3.75 per cent in 2019. The strongest proponents and greatest beneficiaries of global growth are the big international corporates. For them, more consumption means more profits. Interestingly, as global GDP grows so too does the gap between the super-rich and others.
Increased global consumption is directly linked to the depletion of resources; pollution of waters, air and land; and the destruction of ecosystems. There are credible reports that our oceans are already dying because of human activity. Contaminated land water runoff, acidification and temperature changes, nuclear disasters such as that of Fukushima, plastics and other waste material, ocean vessels, oils spills and over fishing are all contributing, but very little is said about the extent of ocean degradation. For most people, ocean degradation is out of sight and out of mind. Our land and atmosphere are under similar threats. Rainforests, which covered 14 per cent of land mass in the past, now barely cover six per cent. According to author Julian Cribb, humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances each year. He points out:
The European Chemicals agency estimates there are more than 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence. The US Department of Health estimates 2000 new chemicals are being released every year. The UN Environment Program warns most of these have never been screened for human health safety.
There are countless other statistics I could refer to that confirm the challenges we face, but my time today is limited. In summary, the earth is warming up, finite resources are being depleted, pollution in parts of the world is at crisis point and ecologies are being destroyed at a faster rate than ever before. The planet cannot continue on this trajectory without catastrophic consequences for humanity.
The human fight for survival is already underway. Many of today's world conflicts originate from disputes over land, water or resources needed to sustain growing populations. Those conflicts spill over into every other nation throughout the world through burgeoning refugee, migration and international aid demand. Future generations are being left with a depleted and polluted earth under stress from multiple factors. Unsustainable growth is the elephant in the room as world governments struggle to deal with climate change, water and food shortages, resource depletion, environmental disasters, disease, famine and civil unrest. As with climate change, the effects are already with us. As with climate change, are we simply going to pass the problem on to future generations?