Posted Wednesday, 1 December at 2:47 pm in People
This is by no means a comprehensive list of definitions but it does give you the picture. ‘Sustainable’ is a word that has established itself in our vocabulary – it’s here to stay and rightly so.
The last few years have seen an extraordinary shift in our perceptions. It wasn’t so long ago that we had little understanding (or desire to understand) the impact of our lifestyle on the environment. Today, climate change is a very real problem staring us right in the face and it’s not going away. There will always be a small minority who continue to deny its existence but, in general, the masses are starting to sit up, take notice and demand action from governments and themselves. The word is spreading quickly and if you haven’t taken heed yet, it will only be a matter of time before you do.
I recently attended the Sustainable Living Festival at Federation Square in Melbourne. Now in its eleventh year, this event raises awareness about the environmental and social challenges we face as a community and offers some potential solutions. As a frequent public transport user, I was pleased to see that sustainable transport was on the agenda.
Speakers for a session hosted by the Metropolitan Transport Forum included economist, Professor Ross Garnaut; Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Water, Greg Hunt MP; and Federal member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson MP. If Professor Garnaut’s name sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve heard of the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, his independent study about the effects of climate change on the Australian economy.
There was consensus among the speakers that sustainable transport, both public and private, is critical to the functionality of any city. It affects our economy, society and liveability. It affects individuals, businesses and governments. Our transport has to meet the needs of a growing population (which in Melbourne’s case is very rapid), be economically viable and minimise environmental harm.
Professor Garnaut had several interesting points to make. He drew attention to the grim reality that Australia leads all developed countries in total greenhouse gas emissions per capita (yes, we’re even ahead of America). We use more private transport (mainly cars) than most of the developed world and all of our larger cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth) are in the bottom third of developed cities when it comes to using public transport, walking or cycling.
He described how only 27% of Melbournians regularly commute to work via public transport, walking or cycling (and in doing so, lead every other Australian city) compared to 82% of Hong Kong’s population. Astonishing when you consider the fact that Hong Kong has approximately 3 million more people than Melbourne. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
And it may come as a surprise to hear that if we all changed to electric cars tomorrow, this would actually increase our greenhouse gas emissions significantly. The reason, Professor Garnaut explained, is that Melbourne (and most of Australia) still relies heavily on coal for electricity. So electric cars are good but only if they are powered by clean energy such as solar, water or wind.
He also spoke of reviewing the distribution of finance between the states and territories. Funds that could be used to improve infrastructure are often diverted away from our biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney – the ones that need them most. This is in contrast to well-known international cities like London.
As a proud Melbournian, I feel passionately about the health of this city. I believe that moving people onto public transport is more achievable than a mass switch to electric cars and simultaneous overhaul of our electricity supply to clean energy (at least in the short term anyway). It would also combat the growing congestion on our roads. But encouraging public transport use starts with a reliable and sustainable system that can be used by all. Unfortunately this description does not currently apply.
Governments, at all levels, often overlook long-term planning for the ‘quick fix’ to impress voters. Over time, the lack of investment in Melbourne’s infrastructure has become all too apparent. For example, it’s ludicrous that rail workers may have to hose down the train tracks on hot days because they start to buckle. I only hope it isn’t drinking water they use while the rest of us observe the 155L target set by the government (that would be very ironic indeed). We have seen the subsequent train cancellations bring the city to a grinding halt on more than one occasion.
In short, on hot days our public transport becomes a game of chance and in a city where the mercury often heads north of 35°C, that’s a game we play too often. How long are we prepared to put up with a third-world public transport system?
Professor Garnaut concluded his talk by saying Melbourne must be re-designed in order to move forward. It’s a huge project that will take decades but it needs to happen. Given that our population is projected to grow a further 1.5 million by 2036, it’s clear that Melbourne needs rescuing now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. This great city just won’t cope otherwise.
Say ‘no’ to more roads and to expanding Melbourne’s urban growth boundary.
Say ‘yes’ to better public transport and a more sustainable Melbourne.
I’ve had my say. Now it’s your turn. Complete the Metropolitan Transport Forum’s public transport survey at http://www.pt4me2.org.au/. The results will be presented to the major parties in May ahead of the state elections later this year.