DEVELOPMENT, EMPLOYMENT AND THE ENVIRONMENT
JOHN CURTIN MEMORIAL LECTURE-1974
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Let me say from the outset that environmental issues in Australia do not just concern nature conservation or wildlife protection. Our environmental problems are the problems of the cities. They include congestion, overcrowding, lack of essential services, noise, air and water pollution, social isolation, and poverty.
And the citizens who suffer these depredations most acutely are the urban working class--the traditional victims of industrial development. It is to them primarily that I address this speech.
I am aware that, up till now, the environment movement has been controlled and directed by the articulate and relatively affluent middle-class. That is an inevitable and valuable stage for a pioneering social movement to pass through. However, I strongly believe that environmentalism is doomed to experience a series of petty triumphs and important defeats unless it redirects its energies towards those areas which are under most attack from the ravages of industrialism. In Australia, those areas are the cities.
I hope I can contribute something to this change of direction by focussing on two prevalent myths about the environment movement which are very damaging to the true interests of employees, consumers, and even producers. Ironically, these myths claim to enhance the community's welfare.
The first myth--which could be called the Relevance Ruse--asserts the high importance of employment. It takes the line that basic economic needs, compounded by pressures such as inflation and unemployment, mean that the environment movement is an irrelevant, trivial diversion from real issues. The same point is sometimes made by claiming that environmental protection is a luxury which can be afforded by affluent communities only when economic problems are under control.
The second myth--which I will call the Fake Fix--is primarily concerned with development. It argues that technological innovation to promote continuing economic growth will provide the means of coping with any serious environmental problems which do arise. This is sometimes expressed negatively by an attack on environmentalists as naive economic illiterates who want to stop growth in favour of an impossible return to pre-industrial squalor.
I am not suggesting that these ideas are always promoted cynicaIly or even consciously. But I am sure that, despite the environmental movement, these two myths do enjoy widespread community support. They provide a hard-headed consensus against which the questions of development, employment and the environment are usually considered.
In other words, the Relevance Ruse and the Fake Fix are the invisible co-sponsors of development at any price as a guarantee for full employment. The environment does not have the same kind of backing. Perhaps that is why the contest has been so uneven until very recent times.
The Relationship between Employment and the Environment
I would like to offer a different version by beginning with the relationship between employment and the environment. The orthodox line--the working model of the Relevance Ruse--is that full employment should be a goal of the utmost priority for governments, that improved salaries and working conditions are the proper goal priorities for unions, and that any activity which threatens either goal should be resisted fiercely by all reasonable men.
This means that environmental theories may be tolerated in general, but that objections to a specific project should be permitted neither to jeopardise the revenue and job opportunities generated by the project, nor to impose price increases due to environmental requirements (such as the Polluter Pays Principle) which might render the economics of the project questionable.
It is this argument which links the trade unionists who support mineral sand mining at Myall Lakes with consumers who supported the Hydro-electric Commission's flooding of Lake Pedder. It is the same argument which brings union opposition to the IAC recommendation on motor vehicles in accord with State Government support for bauxite mining in future water catchment areas.
Of course, it is difficult to convince anybody to exercise restraint now in the hope of future satisfaction. Everybody has pressing immediate needs, and it is hard to convince a hungry worker that a sand dune or a live whale is more important than his weekly pay. It's just as hard to persuade a development company that it's wiser to conserve a scarce resource than it is to exploit it.
Put in these terms, I concede that the workers and the boss are both right. But these terms wrongly assume the absence of alternatives. They assume that a general economic need can be met by one--and only one--industrial response. The real choice is different. It is a choice between providing work which is satisfying and fruitful, or frustrating and destructive. It is not really a choice between a particular sand dune and a particular job, or between a specific hole in the ground and general sales revenue.
Who would seriously argue, for example, that the superb sand dunes abutting the Myall Lakes should be mined only because the local workers need continuity of employment? That would be a foolish and barbaric argument. In the first place, it is self-defeating. What is to happen after the dunes have been destroyed? There will be no dunes and no work. A precious resource will have gone, and potential alternative employment will have disappeared. Immediate exploitation would certainly buy time, but only at the cost of future despair.
Secondly, the argument suggests a kind of desperate cannibalism. Can anyone seriously contemplate a society in which the only work left involves destruction of the natural environment? That prospect surely invokes images of an anarchic, forlorn struggle for survival. Despite what you read in the newspapers, Australia has not reached this stage yet.
In reality, the conflict between employment and the environment is not so stark. Usually, the conflict can be resolved by engineering controls, legislated sanctions, or economic reforms. If anything, these pressures generate employment--for equipment manufacturers, administrative staff, and consultants.
In the Myall Lakes example, a compromise has in fact been reached which allows some dunes to be mined and others to be protected. This is a fairly typical--although unsatisfactory--response to conflicting demands. A compromise formula has been used by the Queensland Government at Cooloola, and to a lesser extent by the Australian Government at bauxite mining sites in the Northern Territory. The clash between economic imperatives and environmental needs is usually resolved in this country before an either/or situation is reached.
Conflict between Employment and the Environment
I must point out, however, that there are certain situations in which employment does threaten the environment, and vice versa. An exotic but worrying example which comes to mind is provided by the powerful petro-chemical industry.
Vinyl chloride is a gaseous chemical which is a key building block in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride--that ubiquitous, pliable, durable plastic known as PVC.
Theoretically, vinyl cloride is catalysed and bonded within PVC. Sometimes, however, it is not fully integrated into the structure of the final plastic--which means it can escape into the air around employees engaged in its manufacture, and it can also leach out of PVC products as a liquid.
The trouble with these two facts is that vinyl chloride has recently come under strong suspicion of causing a rare form of cancer--angiosarcoma of the liver. In the United States, 17 deaths from this disease amongst PVC workers have been attributed to vinyl chloride. There have even been unconfirmed reports from New York that angiosarcoma has been found in four people not working in PVC plants--which implies a mammoth increase in the population at risk. As a result, the Environment Protection Agency has suspended sales of all pesticide aerosols containing vinyl chloride which are meant for use in homes, food handling establishments, hospitals, and other enclosed areas.
Given the fact that the latency period of angiosarcoma may be as long as 25 years (roughly equivalent to lung cancer), it seems certain that more US deaths from the disease will be discovered in the population of workers exposed to vinyl chloride.
The chemical industry is taking some precautions within Australia, and our National Health and Medical Research Council is considering a recommendation from one of its committees that PVC should not be used for food content applications. However, no research is under way into the possible carcinogenic effects of vinyl chloride.
This is where human arithmetic enters the picture. There are almost 1500 workers employed in the manufacture of PVC within Australia. Should they be allowed to breathe a substance which may be very dangerous? Should they be permitted to manufacture a product which may place the community at risk of fatal illness?
The chemical industry, of course, would deploy the Relevance Ruse to strenuously oppose any attempt to withdraw vinyl chloride from its PVC plants. Withdrawal would force the industry into expensive and time-consuming tests of alternative ingredients and products--and would also lead to unemployment.
So here we could have a raw conflict--employment or environmental health? I suggest that, if vinyl chloride is confirmed as cancer-inducing, the conflict could only be resolved one way--the community at large would demand the banning of PVC, the manufacturing plants would close down, and employees in that industry would be thrown out of work.
The problem is, vinyl chloride is only one of many new chemicals that have appeared since the postwar petrochemical boom. Hundreds of new substances are introduced every year, and the New Scientist estimates that 25,000 chemicals in use need to be screened. How many of these are carcinogenic?
I don't wish to pursue this point by arguing against sugar, cigarette, and automobile manufacturers. It should be clear, however, that increased industrial sophistication has led to the release of countless untested products into the environment. Most of these products may be harmless. Some certainly are not. When our scientists finally do their research, as they will, and produce evidence of harm, the conflict between the environment and employment will acquire a hard edge.
At that stage, we will have to ask ourselves whether jobs are indeed more relevant to our lives than good health. The question will cease to be: Can we afford to create unemployment by protecting the environment? It will become: Can we afford employment at tne expense of the environment? We should all be prepared for that question, for it will reappear, in one form or another, until we reform industrial and political decision-making processes so that they include environmental factors first--not last.
Alwest--An Example of Conflicting Interests
So that is an example of one set of hard decisions which the community might have to make in the future. Closer to home, I'd like to amplify the problem with a prominent local example--the Alwest project. As you know, this proposal seeks to establish a bauxite mining and refining operation. Bauxite is to be mined from the Darling Ranges, crushed and railed to a refinery and then alumina is to be railed to the port at Bunbury for shipment.
The total project, which is being managed by three large joint venturers, will cost $285 million. It will generate employment for 1,325 people directly, and an extra 683 people indirectly.
Earlier this year, the Premier of Western Australia wrote to the Prime Minister expressing his Government's support for the proposed development and seeking favourable consideration by the Australian Government of the joint venturers' application. This application was accompanied by a detailed submission presented by the three parties directly concerned.
More than $4 million had already been spent on geological investigations of bauxite reserves in the area. And there was even an agreement between the joint venturers and the WA Government that environmental investigations and assessments should proceed during the detailed feasibility study stage of the project following the signing of the agreement.
So far, this case study provides typical support for the Relevance Ruse. A very large project is involved which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars; it will generate revenue for State Government and Federal Government, ensure employment for local workers and provide upgraded facilities in a burst of regional development. It is a typical glowing description of a major project.
In the past, this kind of Ruse always worked. It did not work in this instance because we have begun to realise that such a glowing prospect usually relies on a distorted picture based on questionable economics and phoney figures. A closer examination of the Alwest project is worth the effort.
The Darling Ranges are important to the south-west region of WA for two related reasons which are quite separate from the economic virtues of bauxite. Firstly, the Ranges are significant actual or potential water catchments for an expanding Perth and its adjoining regions. Secondly, the Ranges are covered in Jarrah forests. In fact, the Jarrah species is mainly confined to bauxite bearing areas--to the extent that over 50% of the 4.5 million acres of WA covered bv State forest is subject to bauxite mining leases. Let us forget, for the time being, the beauty of the Jarrah tree, and the many values of forests. Here is the rub--the bauxite cannot be reached without uprooting the trees. The trees, however, serve to lower the surrounding water table. When the trees are removed the water table rises. Often, when a water table rises, it brings salt up with it. Increased levels of salt seep into ground waters and streams, and salt is deposited on the surface of the land.
This means that, since the bauxite which Alwest wants, is trapped below catchments which do or will supply Perth with water, an expanding and developing Perth may have its water supply threatened by increased salinity. Neighbouring farm activity is threatened by the same possible salinity increase.
For the record, I should point out that, after about 200 years, a new equilibrium probably will be established and streams probably will freshen up--if there is an environment left to freshen up in.
As well, the forests are already threatened by phytophthera, or die-back disease. The spores which carry the fungus from which this disease derives are spread through the forest by physical action. Every visitor, every vehicle, every piece of mobile equipment is a potential instrument of destruction. Obviously, however, the movement of transport involved in mining intensifies the risk of die-back in neighbouring areas not directly destroyed by mining, while the mining itself removes large areas of the forest directly.
In general, it is clear that bauxite mining in the Darling Ranges raises certain environmental questions which have not been answered. These include the effects on water catchments, recreational uses, agricultural and forestry production, and existing or proposed national parks. These largely unanswered questions would be increased in number by consideration of the other major activities associated with this project--namely, the extensions of coal mining and power generation, refining procedures, transportation, and port facilities.
Thus, to the glowing picture of the Alwest project must be added some of the significant environmental problems which might be associated with the seemingly simple proposal to mine bauxite. These include increases in the salinity of groundwater, streams, and land, affecting the value of the water for drinking and the land for agriculture; the removal of forest and the need for rehabilitation; the spread of destructive fungi such as phytophthera; and the destruction of wildlife habitat.
So now the Alwest picture is more complete. We can see that a project concerned exclusively with the economic use of mineral resources within a rural hinterland proves on examination to raise potentially serious problems for present and future urban and rural water resources.
A Question of Accountancy
This is where we come to what is called accountancy--the question of profit and loss, cost and benefit. No one would deny, I think, that the provision of a clean, drinkable water supply is an important benefit to any community, and that adulteration of that supply is an important cost. It is only one step further to recognise that a company which profits from an activity which harms the quality of water needed for other sections of the community, does so only by bringing loss to the community.
There is a logical consequence to these truisms--a form of accountancy which arrives at company profits and benefits, whilst ignoring community losses and costs, is an inadequate form of accountancy; its conclusions are based on a phoney set of figures. If the costs of resource use in terms of real cost to the whole community were charged to the companies concerned, the economics of the project might change dramatically. In this example, the Relevance Ruse (that environmental factors are an economic luxury) can be seen for what it is--a misguided, selective analysis based on incomplete information, which ignores very real environmental costs to the community. If salinity levels do rise, who will pay for pure water for Perth? Who will pay for the rehabilitation of farm land poisoned with salt?
Obviously, it is necessary to find some way of making everyone--the producer, consumer, and employee--know the real impact of a proposal, which includes economic and environmental factors. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has formulated a principle, to which Australia subscribes, which expresses this belief. I mentioned it in passing earlier. It is called the Polluter Pays Principle. Simply stated, the principle requires, in the first instance, that the polluter should pay for the damage caused by the pollutants he has generated or that he should meet the cost of his pollution abatement. The principle includes environmental costs in the producer's costs of production. The principle, of course, is not an end in itself. By revealing the total real cost of any product to the community, we will be better able to judge its importance to us compared with other possible uses of the resources available. In this way we can better achieve an optimal allocation of resources, thereby increasing the well-being of the community.
When my department examined the agreement reached between the Alwest venturers and the State Government, they were surprised to find that, apart from the absence of a coherent Environmental Impact Statement, the Polluter Pays Principle was being assiduously ignored. Under the proposed arrangement, the venturers would be responsible for some environmental controls, but the cost of correcting any adverse environmental effects was to be the responsibility of the State Government--not the companies concerned. Apart from the irrationality of this arrangement, it meant that normal market forces would not operate to induce the mining firms to adopt practices or programs that would minimise resulting salinity.
It is for this reason that I argued, and the Australian Government concurred, that the agreement between Western Australia and the joint venturers should be amended to provide that detailed environmental investigations are carried out at the joint venturers' expense. Also, the costs of any steps necessary to arrest and/or correct significant environmental degradation revealed by these continuing investigations must be met by the joint venturers.
I doubt that these additional costs have made the venture uneconomic; yet they will certainly ensure that, given deficient early planning, it is as environmentally sound as we can predict. If the environmental requirements do make the venture impossible, I hope that the whole community, including trade unionists who might have worked there, would recognise that their true interests were being revealed and protected by the imposition of true costs.
I believe that society should be able to create a,job for every person who wants one; I am also convinced that governments have a special obligation to employees, and that working conditions and wages have improved mainly because of trade unions. But the Alwest example should explain why I also believe that the orthodox line on the environment and its possible effect on jobs is persisting for so long because of phoney accountancy, and inadequate economic analysis.
I have a second ground for disbelief--the orthodox line is too simple. It implies that employment should over-ride all other social objectives--including environmental goals. I don't believe that. I was a young boy in the Depression, I have been the Director of a Trade Union Health Clinic, I represent the interests of ordinary working men and women--but I don't believe that securing a job, any job, at any cost, is always the most important social goal.
To continue with the Alwest example: 2000 jobs will be created, providing a degree of security and guaranteed income for some years. It is instructive, I think, to recall that Alwest has been supported mainly by the State Department of Industrial Development, on the grounds that the project would promote decentralisation and help solve unemployment in the Collie-Bunbury region. In fact, Alwest is a short-term, capital-intensive project which will generate relatively little employment while the resource is exploited.
But, more importantly, if our fears about salinity are correct, does anyone suggest that Perth's future citizens will thank the workers from the mines for having created an undrinkable water supply? Or, if it comes to that, will the employees' own children and grandchildren be able to drink previous earnings as they survey a desolate environment?
The Inverted Lottery
I don't wish to over-dramatise this point, but it must be made. Bauxite mining in the Darling Ranges, including the Alwest site, may, if not controlled, lead to the salination of Perth's water supply. The risk is small, but it is serious enough to warrant the most stringent controls. Against such a risk, the opportunity of 2000 jobs for 20 or 30 years becomes much less attractive.
Dr H C Coombs made the same point more elegantly earlier this year when addressing a workshop of the Australian Water Resources Council. Speaking about a related project--the Manjimup woodchip venture--he criticised the inverted lottery nature of the decision to proceed. He said:
In a normal lottery the investor stands to lose the price of the ticket. This is usually small in relation to his resources and it is certain in its magnitude. Certain and small! On the other hand, he stands to gain a very large prize for the winning of which, of course, he has a very small chance, ie the benefit is large but improbable. This is perhaps not an unreasonable exchange.
In the decision-making process I have just described th e pos ition is reversed. What can be gained is small and reasonably certain: but the price of the ticket is not known i n advance and could be so high as t o be ruinous. Few investors I think would be attracted by such a lottery.
Clearly, Dr Coombs' statements could have been directed at the whole question of bauxite mining in the Darling Ranges. Even if you forget the destruction of wildlife habitat, the eradication of beautiful native forests, the elimination of diminishing recreational sites, the community is still left with a potential conflict between fresh water and fresh aluminium.
The conflict is even more pointed in the context of an obvious need for rationalisation. Some parts of Alcoa's leases fall in more signifcant water catchment and forest areas than either the Alwest or Pacminex areas. It would be sensible to investigate appropriate farm-in arrangements. On a broader scale, bauxite in the Darling Ranges is of a lower average grade (in terms of alumina percentage) than that of the other three main Australian sources--at Weipa, Gove, and the Mitchell Plateau. It would be sensible to consider bauxite exploitation in a national context. As well, techniques are now being developed to obtain aluminium from ordinary alumina-bearing clays and shales. If these processes are adopted commercially within the next five years, and found to be competitive with bauxite-based alumina production, we will have destroyed some of our Jarrah forests and perhaps even jeopardised Perth's water supply quite needlessly.
I must point out at this stage that I have not chosen to dwell on Alwest for any special reason. Most of its environmental difficulties are shared by Alcoa, and there are many development projects in Australia which are worse environmentally--such as the Ord River scheme, and most woodchip ventures. Alwest simply allows me to argue a case with an example with which you are all familiar.
Alwest provides reasons for my counter to the simplistic belief in the over-riding virtue of progress at any price to provide employment. Some projects offer good jobs now, but at the cost of a spoiled environment in the future. Some jobs harm more people than they help. In general, job security is not being threatened by environmentalism. It is under attack from the economic system itself, a wasteful, clumsy system which pursues short-term profit regardless of longer term social and environmental consequences.
Together, phoney accountancy and simplistic analysis combine in an orthodox line of argument--a Relevance Ruse which threatens the whole community's welfare. The Ruse distorts the true interests of employees, furthers the economic interests of corporate exploiters, and jeopardises a rational allocation of resources and activities. All of these evils are encouraged by a private enterprise system which makes its decisions in response to market forces rather than human needs.
The Relationship between Development and the Environment
I turn now to the relationship between development and the environment. The orthodox line here--the theoretical model of the Fake Fix--is that growth and progress can only come about through technological development, that the earth's resources are virtually a function of market fluctuations, and that talk of decay or scarcity is largely misplaced.
This means that environmental concerns may be accepted and permitted to change certain minor developments, but that no environmental objection can seriously expect to halt large-scale projects. Even more it asserts that economic growth will resolve environmental problems through technological development dedicated to that economic growth.
As a general rule, institutional flexibility to environmental requirements varies in inverse proportion to the dollar value of a given development proposal. That is why there is no contradiction between Victoria's decision to substitute a proposed dam at Yarra Brae with a small dam further upstream, and Tasmania's decision to keep Lake Pedder flooded. The Victorians saved money and protected the environment by acceding to a change in a minor development. The Tasmanians are prepared to create a major environmental loss by pursuing increased industrial capacity of doubtful value. It is the same approach which allows a government to codify its office building plans, but also to encourage the accelerated growth of regional centres without preliminary environmental studies.
As it happens, I believe this selective approach is not always wrong. Some environmental problems are minor or temporary, can be resolved fairly easily, and do not warrant prolonged concern. Obvious examples would include truck diesel fumes, noise from motor bikes, advertising billboards, or street litter. Even localised air and water pollution--the most prominent and popular of environmental evils--are not necessarily devastating or permanent. Given the planning, the finance, and the resources, both of these problems can be brought under control. London, for instance, has managed to clean the Thames and abolish peasoup smogs.
But none of these examples acknowledges the genuine long-term, complex environmental problems which uncontrolled development invites. These problems involve resource use and depletion, energy consumption, food production, water quality, world-wide air quality, land use, and waste disposal and they are all exacerbated by population growth.
Obviously, I could now begin to read a treatise on environmental degradation, or perhaps paraphrase The Club of Rome's shocking forecast of Limits to Growth. I won't do so since I am sure you are well aware of the problems I have in mind. Let me simply state that the pressure mix of population growth, technological development, and increasing per capita consumption levels, is threatening to explode through the world's delicate environmental fabric. There is a genuine long-term conflict between the environment and uncontrolled industrial development, and it is being brought into global focus by the rising expectations of underdeveloped nations.
Oil in waterways, chemicals in streams, heavy metals in seafood, rising energy prices, reducing species of fauna, disappearing native forests--all these are real indicators of harmful change in our natural surroundings. Overseas, the most serious environmental problems relate to waste accumulation and to fossil fuel depletion and the coming energy crisis. In Australia, serious environmental problems are caused by our uncertain climate, the dominance of the motor car, the scarcity of water, and the heavy distribution of people in urban conglomerations.
Local politicians and communities are certainly starting to appreciate these problems. And just as well. Too often in Australia the advocates of the Fake Fix have committed us to development projects without serious prior investigations of likely social and economic effects. The Ord River scheme is just such a project.
The Ord scheme was originally proposed as an ideal vehicle for northern development--northern development for white southerners. The development is based on the very dubious assumption that a dam-building-irrigation technology which would work in a Mediterranean climate as in the south, would work equally well in a tropical savannah system in the Kimberleys. It ignores a whole series of large differences, which generate large ecological, social, economic and human health problems.
The trouble is, the scheme causes dislocation rather than development. To make the scheme work, white labour has been transported from Perth to Kununurra. However, the whites don't like this fierce climate and can't be expected to develop a long-term involvement with the region. Meanwhile, the blacks, who didn't want the development but who lived in the region and had successfully adapted to the climate, have become peons at the bottom of a white-man dominated economic system. If the scheme is to work, it should be for the benefit of the black people who live there and have done so for centuries--but only if they want it.
At the same time, the rosy economics of the scheme are now being undermined by severe environmental problems. Insect plagues, pesticide residues, arbovirus diseases, and bird population explosions are costs adding to the immense subsidies which the scheme now requires to remain viable. The Ord scheme is a virtual disaster--simply because the great development god was accepted on faith. Even worse, unlike Alwest, the Ord scheme wasn't even conceived as a way to reduce unemployment. The people weren't even there.
It is important to recognise that such problems cannot be solved by high productivity or more undirected technology dedicated only to profit in the orthodox sense. If the world is suffering from diminishing energy resources, it makes little sense to come up with pollution control equipment which itself consumes more energy. In the same way, it is futile to seek salvation from the energy crisis through the development of nuclear energy, when this alternative creates the most dangerous, insidious, and persistent waste products ever experienced on this planet. These wastes could destroy life on the planet. That would certainly save energy.
In other words, the deep-seated environmental problems which we all face as a result of industrial development are not open to simple technological fixes. Technology, as it is primarily used today, is not part of the solution--it is part of the problem. So we have to recognise the Fake Fix as inadequate. If there is a solution at all, I believe it will combine political innovation, community agitation, and changed lifestyles.
Political Safeguards for the Environment
Politics first: Governments will need to ensure that safeguards for the quality of the human and natural environment become a key component of all decisions concerning development proposals. They will have to see through the Relevance Ruse and the Fake Fix, and demand at least the same degree of consideration for environmental values as is already accorded to economic and technical factors.
The Australian Labor Government is about to introduce legislation which gives effect to the principle I have just stated. The Environment Protection Bill will require submission to the Australian Government, wherever it possesses the power, of Environmental Impact Statements for any development proposal which has a significant impact on the environment. The Bill will also allow for public participation and open public hearings on matters of environmental dispute. Several State governments are also following this procedure--although WA is not one of them.
Under this legislation, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will demonstrate need for action, examine alternatives to the proposed development, describe in detail the existing environment in which the development is to occur, and forecast as accurately as possible the environmental consequences of approval for the proposal. The EIS will be drawn up by the proponent agency, thereby requiring it to include environmental factors within its own planning. After public hearings on controversial proposals, the EIS will then come to my department for assessment, after which the original proposal, the EIS and the assessment will be circulated to Cabinet for a decision. It is, of course, impossible to legislate for wise decisions--so don't expect too much until politicians are educated by people.
However, I am convinced that, once brought into force, this single piece of legislation will transform decision-making associated with development proposals--not only in Canberra but also throughout the States and within private companies.
I have already referred to the Polluter Pays Principle; however, I must admit that, up till now, very little has been done to translate the Polluter Pays Principle into action. Within Australia, my department has just commissioned a pilot study of the principle's effects on the pulp and paper industry. Within the OECD, the principle is constantly being breached and modified as reluctant member nations struggle to achieve economic stability first. Yes, even the OECD has fallen for the Relevance Ruse.
Nevertheless, I am sure that, if the stresses created by our economy do not force governments to change their attitudes for humanitarian reasons, the disappearing environment will do it for them for biological reasons.
That is why the Polluter Pays Principle must be applied if the free-enterprise economic democracies are to survive.
Sensible community agitation is also necessary if we are to enjoy benign industrial development. I have said elsewhere that, if there is no community pressure for reform, politicians perceive no problems. But the community must make sure it perceives the problems correctly in the first place.
For instance, an extension to Perth's Kwinana Freeway has been proposed because the Main Roads Department sees a need to relieve increased local traffic volumes and congestion in residential side streets. The method proposed requires a route which assumes the acquisition of 20 hectares of private land and the reclamation of six hectares of the Canning River. The effects include environmental change to the existing residentlal areas and to the river frontage.
I understand that, in the context of the existing transport infrastructure of the city, some development of the freeway seems justified. It has been provided for in the city plans for many years. Yet the proposed extension is highly controversial. To whom should the authorities listento the local residents, to the freeway's potential users, or to the general public?
I don't wish to offer unsolicited advice, but I suggest that concentration on a specific route or even a specific freeway misses the point. Where is Perth's overall transport plan? What consideration has been given to alternative solutions to the transportation needs of Perth's citizens? Have these needs been considered in the context of total environmental amenity? Is any planning being undertaken to prevent freeways from destroying this beautiful city and turning it into another dirty asphalt slum like Sydney and Melbourne? These are real questions which the Kwinana Freeway could raise--and with fruitful results.
It's not much use to politicians or planners anywhere in Australia if a local Freeway Action Group, having solved its own immediate problem by preventing construction of a freeway through its suburb, then proceeds to ride blithely on relocated roadways through other people's suburbs, parks or rivers. This is a serious problem which has the potential to discredit the environment movement. Nobody likes freeways, or airports, or prisons--next to them. But everybody wants to use cars and planes, and agrees that we need to lock up criminals. Clearly, difficult as it is, small and scattered single-issue groups will need to recognise their total community interests and pool their united resources against their common problems. Until they do so, it will be too easy for the problems--and the politicians--to remain unmoved.
Finally, however, sensible community agitation and effective political reforms will depend on changed values and life styles. I don't mean that we should all love one another, learn to light fires by rubbing sticks, and exist on a vegetarian diet. There never was a golden age of human tenderness, and there is no way of retreating from the Industrial Revolution.
But we must find a way of satisfying our material needs without threatening biological survival on the planet. We must become involved in the pooling of resources and the conservation of energy. We must place community benefit above personal gain. We must seek to satisfy genuine needs only. And we must seek communal participation in decision-making.
Perhaps these changes sound utopian. Both the notorious communes of the counter-culture and respectable cluster-housing for the middle-class are seeking to express some of these values. Even the desperate short-term remedy of women's refuges, or the attempt to provide community facilities in schools represents dissatisfaction with prevailing community standards and life styles.
Earlier, I said that the question which faces and threatens those of us in the environment movement is not whether employees can afford to worry about the environment, or whether industrial development should be hampered by over-rated environmental objections. I hope I have shown that those questions are misguided.
Genuine environmental protection is not a trivial or temporary concern. In the long-term, it relates to the capacity of mankind to ensure biological survival on the planet. In the short-term, it relates to our ability to satisfy our immediate material needs without causing more damage than benefits.
Up till now, our air, water, and soil have been free--and freely ravaged. Or else our natural resources have been undervalued so severely that employees and developers have treated them cheaply. This treatment just can't last. Whether it is recognised or not, employment and development exact real costs from the environment. These costs occur whenever we leave the natural environment in a worse state than before it was modified by our activities. The environmental bill will arrive one day, and it is in all our interests to pay the real costs now.
I do not intend this to suggest that all development proposals are by nature environmentally unsound. A suburban office block can be designed so that it merges into its surroundings. A mining venture can be located in innocuous areas, it can include environmental controls, and achieve successful subsequent re-afforestation. A new household product can save energy and resources. In the service sector, tourism, recreation and accommodation are growing needs which can be met without fouling the air or water.
The key to all these possibilities is the acceptance of responsibility for the environment. I know that many communities--including Western Australia and Tasmania--think they have few marketable resources and see their economic survival as dependent on intense exploitation of those resources. That is a fact which must be faced.
But also we need to keep in mind the purpose of development and employment. Is it just to generate profits and provide wages? Or is it to allow people to get some enjoyment out of life?
Surely, one of the attractions of Perth or Hobart is its very under-development--the charming old buildings, the clean and lush natural environment, the relative lack of congestion and rush. These qualities are valued by the local population. Do they also want to support uncontrolled development proposals which would destroy those qualities? Do they want Perth to become a concrete slum, or Hobart to become a sunless cavern?
I am sure that sensitive regional planning would indicate that environmentally sound traditional developments, as well as alternative more labour-intensive forms of development can satisfy the community's economic needs. In reality, despite the Relevance Ruse and the Fake Fix, even isolated communities can provide a range of development and employment opportunities which vary greatly in their overall impact.
We are all living--and living uneasily--in a system which creates profits by manipulating human needs and abusing the natural environment. Our ramshackle economic philosophy is propelling man and his environment towards chaos. And yet there are many different development projects capable of supplying our wants, and many different jobs waiting to be created. There is only one fragile Earth.
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