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The Forum > Article Comments > WA: the unsustainable state? > Comments

WA: the unsustainable state? : Comments

By Peter McMahon, published 27/7/2009

The future for WA: it relies on cheap oil; has a volatile and fragile climate and environment; and it is isolated.

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A very worrying article Peter.

Yes, there are some positive signs of change with the Barnett government needing green votes to survive the next election, and the Greens on the rise. But really, even if we saw a strong swing towards sensible governance, it would still most likely be nowhere near enough.

WA (and the rest of the country) is just so fundamentally dependent on cheap oil that a most fundamental and massive readjustment would be needed to prevent major economic and social collapse when the price of oil reaches an uneconomic level, which is likely to be in the very near future.

I can’t see that any government can do what is necessary without getting itself booted out of office. The only way a government could implement changes of the magnitude needed would be to react after major economic and social upheaval. Proactive governance is just so incredibly inhibited by a business regime and general community that just desperately wants to continue with business as usual.

Even if the local community was strongly onside, we'd still have other enormously powerful forces acting against us.

“The rise of national centralism has diminished the role of state governments to some degree, and the growing importance of huge firms like BHP-Billiton and Rio Tinto along with foreign investors like the Chinese and Russian governments present new challenges for local control over local resources.”

It is a grim outlook indeed.
Posted by Ludwig, Monday, 27 July 2009 9:37:11 AM
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*Agriculture needs to be moved away from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels (including for fertiliser) and additives like superphosphate*

The author does not seem to understand agriculture, for if nutrients
such as phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, moly and others are
removed, they need to be replaced, or its not farming, but mining.

Last time I checked, Western Australia, with about 10% of the
population, was producing around 50% of Australia's exports,
quite an achievement. Fact is, without our contribution,
the rest of the country would soon become a banana republic. Sadly
most of the royalties don't stay here, but land up in Canberra.

I would not panic just yet about energy. There are something
like 200 billion $ worth of gas projects in the pipeline, with
our production set to more then quadruple. It won't take rocket
science to divert some of those supplies to the local market, if

Yes, mining and farming depend on oil, that is a global reality.
As the price of oil goes up, so will the price of agricultural
commodities and minerals of they won't be produced, its as simple
as that. Farmers are miners can easily cut back of production,
but it will be interesting to see how long city folk cope without
food or steel etc.

WA has one huge advantage, ie not the hordes of people as in other
parts of the world. In fact less then 1 person per km2, last time
I checked. Its the one place in Australia that still needs
skilled migration, for the development of gas resources, doctors
for rural areas etc.

The last labor Govt learnt the hard way, that being city centric
and ignoring those people in the regions will come back and bite
them in their arse. Its the regions producing the States wealth
and ignore the population living there, at your peril.
Posted by Yabby, Monday, 27 July 2009 11:56:49 AM
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"If WA is to survive as a viable state at some point in the not too far distant future socio-economic activity will have to be reorganised to accommodate this new reality of energy scarcity"

Would "Dr Peter McMahon, lecturer in sustainable development and co-director of the WA2020 Project at the School of Sustainability, Murdoch University" be prepared to be in charge of such reorganisation? I can see quite a few 5 year plans being required. No doubt the electorate will support such reorganisation.
Posted by blairbar, Monday, 27 July 2009 12:40:45 PM
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As has already been pointed out, the state has vast reserves of LNG. Therefore to be concerned over future energy shortages is plainly ridiculous. Should there be any serious shift in prices to the point where ordinary petrol becomes costly enough to be of concern to the average budget then consumers can switch to LNG. Their cars can be converted. This happened to a certain extent during the recent surge in oil prices. And that assumes that there will be a dramatic shift in oil prices in the next couple of decades. Sorry but the article's assumptions fail.
Posted by Curmudgeon, Monday, 27 July 2009 5:53:06 PM
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What a depressing article Peter McMahon! Yabby certainly provided some valid arguments that I totally agree with.
I would like to reply with an article called "W.A. The Mother State" if only I had better writing skills!
Have you ever lived in the North and South of W.A. Peter, like I have?

It is no more volatile or fragile in climate than any other state really. It is certainly the largest state, so naturally there will be greater diversity of climate and environment than the other states or territories.

I am sure that without W.A. resources, Australia would not be riding out the global economic downturn as well as it is
Perth may be the most isolated city in Australia, but that's the way they like it!
Posted by suzeonline, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 1:01:29 AM
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"It was the ready availability of reasonably cheap fossil fuel energy... and the discovery of gold that turned WA into a genuinely promising economic prospect." True Peter. At what cost?

Now read the following excerpts from the last EPA State of the Environment report:

1. Some WA settlements are growing at an unsustainable pace with increasing demand for land water and energy and increasing waste generation

2. At a global level, the South West is recognised as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots

3. WA currently has 362 threatened plants, 199 threatened animals and 69 threatened ecological communities

4. Recovery plans have been developed for less than one-third of threatened species and ecological communities

5. There is ongoing loss and degradation of biodiversity in WA. Most biodiversity issues are serious and appear to be getting worse

Other historical and current reports of concern include:

6. 2003: Algal blooms in the Swan and Canning estuarine basins resulted in the deaths of 300,000 dead fish. (Swan River Trust)

7. 2006: Curtin University researchers study found a plume of groundwater containing dissolved phase gasoline that discharges to the estaurine beach of the foreshores of the Canning River. The groundwater contained benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene isomers.

8. February 2009: The Swan River Trust warned that the health of the Swan and Canning rivers has no chance of improving unless pollution entering the waterway is cut by almost half in the next seven years.

9. March 2009: The Swan and Canning rivers are polluted with toxic levels of cancer-causing heavy metals, pesticides and hydrocarbons. Poisons including zinc, lead, copper, mercury and dieldrin were found to exceed guidelines at seven sites across Perth

10. Clearing of native vegetation for agriculture has left 1.047 million hectares of southwestern Australia affected by a severe form of environmental degradation called dryland salinity, characterized by secondary soil salinization and water logging. This area may expand by a further 1.7–3.4 million ha if current trends continue. (School of Population Health UWA 2008)

“WA: the unsustainable state?” Yes! And worse, we have rock ape, Premier Barney Rubble on the loose!
Posted by Protagoras, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 11:46:25 PM
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