Australia among top 10 environmental offenders – By Jason Om

by Priyo Australia | May 10, 2010 6:10 pm

A new study ranks Australia among the top 10 worst environmental offenders in the world.

Researchers from Australia and overseas have sized up more than 150 countries on land clearing, carbon emissions and species loss.

They say the findings dispel the view that poorer countries are mainly to blame for trashing the environment.

The study aimed to take a big-picture look at how humans are changing the natural environment around them.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide, the National University of Singapore and Princeton University pulled together figures from various sources, including the United Nations.

The first list ranks impact on a global scale. Large-scale land clearing in Brazil puts that country at the top, while Australia is ninth.

Professor Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide says too much damage has been done to the continent since European settlement.

“Basically the richer you get the more damage you do,” he said.

“We have some of the highest per-capita water use and some of the highest per-capita carbon emissions. We also have the world record for modern mammal extinctions, mainly due to invasive species but also habitat loss.

“So there’s quite a bit of damage we’ve done to the Australian continent. For example, since European colonisation we’ve lost over half of our forests and the ones that remain are largely fragmented, so we have done quite a bit of damage.”

But Australia did much better on the second ranking, which is proportional, comparing the amount of available resources and the rate of loss.

Australia comes in at 120. The heavily urbanised city state of Singapore is at number one.

“I think anyone who has been to Singapore wouldn’t be terribly surprised by that result – I mean it’s a very small country – it’s mostly urbanised and any green spaces left are essentially manicured parks,” Professor Bradshaw said.

Myth busted

The researchers say their study dispels a long-held idea that countries become more environmentally aware as they get wealthier.

Professor Bradshaw says it is based on what is known as the Kuznets curve.

“It hypotheses that as a poor country starts to develop, it increases its environmental footprint,” he said.

“Then at some threshold of per-capita wealth it gains access to cleaner technologies. It has more educated public. It gets an environmental self-consciousness, if you will.

“At that point the total environmental impact should start to decline with increasing per capita wealth.

“It’s a very controversial thing because it depends which metrics you look at, but we found absolutely no evidence for it in either the proportional or absolute metric.”

Professor Bradshaw says the study provides a rationale for easing consumption.

“Australia has a lot to learn certainly in terms of our consumption rates,” he said.

“That was definitely the aspect that pushed us into that worst position, because we do have such high consumption and… we’re a very wealthy country so we tend to live to excess.”

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