Water management options for urban and rural Australia
Converging insecurities: The water, energy, carbon and food nexus
Wednesday 4 November 2009
Andrew Campbell is the Managing Director of Triple Helix Consulting and, for the foreseeable future, its sole employee. Andrew has been at the cutting edge of natural resource management in Australia for 25 years. He has played influential roles in research (notably as CEO of Land & Water Australia from 2000-2006), in policy as a senior executive in the Australian Government, and in extension with the Victorian Government. Andrew was instrumental in the development of Landcare, working with Rick Farley from the National Farmers' Federation and Phillip Toyne from the Australian Conservation Foundation to develop the proposal to then Prime Minister Bob Hawke that catalysed the Decade of Landcare. Andrew was Australia's first National Landcare Facilitator from 1989-92. He also pioneered the concept of Whole Farm Planning as Manager of the privately-funded Potter Farmland Plan initiative in western Victoria in the 1980s.
Andrew Campbell: Thank you. It is an absolute pleasure to be here and especially to be talking in this magnificent building.
I am going to outline a context for the challenges that face the management of water in Australia in particular. In my view that context is much broader than water. I will then go into some of the imperatives that derive from that and the knowledge needs that flow from those imperatives, and finally, what that means for the way in which we do science and policy in Australia.
We face a very challenging external operating environment around climate, water, energy, soil and land, and food. I'll go through those briefly.
The graph on the left is global population, with the red colour being less developed countries and the orange being more developed.
The graph on the right is the billions of tons of carbon that we emit globally per year. Basically we are facing the most radical restructuring of the economy ever attempted, which is to decouple the left‑hand graph from the right‑hand graph. I will get onto that more in a moment.
The globe is warming and the black line there is an 11‑year rolling average of the mean surface temperature anomaly.
Some people – mischievously, would be the kindest thing you could say about it – are trying to suggest that the last few years there represent a global cooling.
When the black line starts to go down, and when it gets below zero, then we can start to form some tentative conclusions about cooling. But to suggest that, because we haven't had another year as hot as 1998, that the world is cooling, is not credible.
The graph on the left is global fresh water availability per capita. You can see it is declining quite steeply. In aggregate, we use about a litre of water for every calorie we consume. This is one of those statistics that works much better in aggregate than it does when you unpack it. We use much more than that in irrigation and in processed foods. We use more in some countries than others. But in aggregate that relationship has been relatively stable for a long time.
The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture undertaken by the International Water Management Institute, which is a water equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has looked at water availability for food production all around the world. It found that the Murray‑Darling Basin is actually typical of the world's big irrigated food bowls. They have either fully committed or over-committed groundwater and surface water resources.
This is the Perth hydrograph, the inflow into Perth storages. Many of you will have seen this before, but I still find it an extraordinary graph. Looking at the period from 1911 to 1974, the green line is the average inflows to Perth's storages, 338 gigalitres per year on average. There hasn't been a single year since 1974 that has reached that previous average.
So we haven't had ‘an average year’ now for 35 years. From 1974 to 1996 the new average was 177 gigalitres – half the previous average. But we haven't had another year since then that's reached that average. So there has been a step down in inflows. For a given reduction in rainfall you get a much bigger reduction in run‑off.
This is from the Bureau of Meteorology; the period is from 1 October 1996 to 31 May 2009. This is now the driest 13‑year period in the instrumented record in Australia: much drier than the great Federation Drought, and the 1930s drought, for south-eastern and south-western Australia.
The hydrograph for Melbourne looks eerily like that of Perth, except it's further behind. So the last seven years have been the driest seven years since records have been kept in Melbourne. And since 1997 the average inflow to Melbourne storages is 35 per cent lower than the previous average.
These are the different catchments of the Murray‑Darling Basin from the Paroo right through to the Lofty Ranges. CSIRO estimates all of these catchments are likely to have less water availability in future. These are the median estimates. If you take the more scary scenarios they are much, much worse.
In terms of water, it is pretty clear for the temperate regions of the world that we are going to have less of it in future. We are going to have much less reliability, much greater variability and probably less predictability.
My take home from tonight is that you can't think about water without thinking about energy. And you can't think about energy without thinking about carbon. And then I'll go on to food and health – human health.
In my view, the coming oil crunch is actually a bigger policy challenge for us than climate change for the next 10 or 20 years.
Ultimately climate change is the biggest, but in the short‑term I actually think oil is going to hurt us much, much more.
The era of abundant cheap fossil fuels is coming to an end. That has huge implications. So in the top left graph we have historic discoveries of oil. The black line is production. The yellow bits on the right‑hand side are speculative future discoveries.
In Australia we will be pretty close to stock depletion by 2020. The red line there is consumption, and the blue line is production in Australia. It's amazing what oil feeds into.
Our oil demand is growing dramatically – expected to grow 50 per cent by 2025. Out of 65 oil producing regions world-wide, 49 have already hit their peak, and the average decline in those is nearly 7 per cent per year.
Despite the supply situation and extraordinary demand and increasing prices – we all know what petrol got to in 2007 – there was no growth in conventional oil production between 2005 and 2008, despite massive investments in exploration. That's unprecedented. In the past, whenever prices have gone up dramatically, so has production, with a little lag.
Something that hasn't had as much attention is the – I will call it EROI – but it is the ratio between how much energy you have to put in to get a given amount of energy out.
In the 1930s in the US, oil was a wonderfully energy‑dense material and they had an EROI then of about 100:1. So you were using one barrel of oil to get a hundred barrels of oil. That's already declined down to 14:1 today. The best estimates for tar sands are around 10, but the more realistic ones are around two – consuming one barrel of oil in order to extract two barrels of oil.
So we are not going to find the same sorts of oil. Even if we do find some more, it is highly unlikely we will be finding stuff that gives us the same return on investment that we have had in the past.
The International Energy Agency, which has a track record of over-estimating reserves and production – in other words it has traditionally been an optimist – is saying that by 2015 the gap between supply and demand will be seven million barrels a day – 60 per cent of China's demand, 40 per cent of America's demand. For existing fields, production is expected to drop 50 per cent between now and 2020.
So these are the IEA's figures – not Greenpeace's or anyone else – the IEA is saying that if we keep going on the current demand trajectory we need to find six new Saudi Arabias between now and 2030. Bear in mind this is the optimistic projection.
The chief economist from the IEA is now saying ‘we have to leave oil before oil leaves us’. As the old saying goes, the Stone Age didn't end because the world ran out of stones.
There was a very good report a couple of weeks ago from the UK Energy Research Centre. I am pondering why this is not getting more policy attention.
Obviously the implications for our attempts to tackle climate change are enormous, if we forget the oil crunch.
Getting to food. This graph projects global food demand. This is CSIRO work done for a speech that Megan Clark gave in Japan on 6 October. The years are 1500 through to 2000. Then it projects global food demand between now and 2050.
Using those assumptions, and I think there is a lot of debate around those assumptions – I don't think that per capita food consumption in developing countries can or should equal what the average American or Australian eats today – but if they did, this is how much food the world would need.
I don't think we can afford to reallocate 15 per cent of current land and water use for food production to biofuels. I don't think we can afford to go on wasting the amount of food we currently do.
If you assume that all those things happen, then essentially the world has to produce more food between now and 2050 than it has produced in the last 500 years put together.
The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] has had a more recent go at this and they say we only need to increase world food production by 70 per cent between now and 2050.
It should be noted that in the past we have done that quite easily. But: with radical large expansions in the amount of country we've cleared, the amount of country we've cultivated, the amount of country we have irrigated, the amount of fresh water resources we have diverted. And yes, the green revolution with better varieties, more intensification, more fertiliser and so on, has made a big difference.
That is in aggregate. We have certainly had some distribution issues. If we think about those traditional means of increasing food production, with climate change we can't continue bowling over rainforests. We can't continue expanding the area of agriculture. The best country (in terms of soil and land quality) has already been converted to agriculture. We are not going to get the same opportunities for expansion. And at the same time it should be noted that in affluent countries, in particular, there are very significant concerns around modern industrial food systems.
So we had a little food supply scare in 2007.
That is the little blip on the right‑hand side of the graph here. Compared to what happened during the OPEC oil crisis – these are food prices for the staples – look what happened in the OPEC oil crisis within our lifetimes. So there are two take homes from this graph for me. One is the long‑term decline in real prices for food with that little blip, but look what happens when energy prices take off.
The FAO has recently looked at land condition worldwide and found that the world is losing arable land. Land degradation is increasing in severity and extent. Country that was flogged in 1991 hadn't recovered at all by 2004.
Moving now from the global situation to Australia, water and energy have historically been very closely coupled to GDP. We have a challenge here to decouple our economic growth from both our water and our energy footprint.
So here are the technical challenges arising from that context. We need to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions – the most radical economic restructuring the world has ever attempted – to tackle what Nicholas Stern called the greatest market failure in human history.
We need to break that relationship between calories and litres of water consumed.
We need to radically increase our energy productivity so that we get more food energy out for the amount of energy we put in. We need to do that, while transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
We need to do all of the above while developing food systems that look after the natural landscapes we have left, that improve animal welfare and that lead to improved human health. At the moment we have a food system where the cheapest calories in the supermarket are by far the worst ones for you.
Getting greater access to fresh whole foods is a big part of the health story.
Those are all formidable technical challenges, but we have to do them all simultaneously.
One of the things that has come home to me very strongly in my work with Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited, is that if you are in the water business now you are in the energy business. One relationship we are not going to be able to break is that a litre of water weighs a kilogram.
A kilolitre, which you pay less than $2 for, to have quality control delivered to your house, weighs a tonne and costs less than two bucks. A megalitre is a thousand tonnes. That means that unless you are using gravity to move it around, you are in the energy business. Pushing it uphill or through a pipe or through a nozzle or through a dripper means you are in the energy business. If you are in the energy business, then you are about to come into the carbon business. If you hadn't thought about how those three lines of your business interact then you run the risk of getting a very rude shock.
Similarly, if you are in agriculture, if you are in farming, you are part of the food system. If you are in the food system, you are part of the health system. But as I sit there as a consultant out in Queanbeyan, I don't see these things joined up in a policy or a science sense very often. Now we are starting to see treasuries focusing on what happens when the health system is not properly aligned.
Access Economics reckon the direct economic cost just of obesity is around A$20 billion per year. The National Health Alliance says it is closer to $50 billion.
We have some wicked feedbacks to think about. This is from a very good paper from the Fenner School that I refer you to [bottom line of text]. Basically, a lot of the options to save water require using more energy – and vice versa. A lot of our efforts to ameliorate climate variability and climate change use more energy and water. Obviously if we use more energy we are exacerbating the root cause of climate change. So we need to think about the interactions between them as much as these things individually.
To bring it down to reality, I am doing work with Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited, a bulk water provider in the MIA [Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area]: a very innovative company with an eye on the future. The current value of agricultural production in the MIA is about $1 billion. That value adds to about $7 billion. But the irrigation network, put out there in a great spirit of optimism in the early 1900s, is a hundred years old. It clearly needs modernisation. That is happening with very significant investment from the Federal Government, which is great.
But when we do the energy budget, the piping and pressurisation of that little irrigation system is going to treble energy consumption, and of course greenhouse gas emissions.
So what are our options? When we start thinking about carbon, water and energy in an integrated way, all sorts of options pop out. There is half a million tons of food processing and agricultural residues that can be turned into biomass energy. Depending on the carbon price, solar thermal kicks in at a certain point. You could actually have the collectors above the irrigation channels so they cut down on evaporation as well.
You can save a little bit by converting to biodiesel, but insignificant compared to the other options. You can buy some time in the first instance through some large‑scale carbon offsets with tree planting. But if you put the trees in the wrong spot, you are likely to exacerbate water problems. If you don't think about where they are going to be – their precise location – you could exacerbate other issues too.
So we are looking at turning a water company into a water, energy and carbon company. Many of the systems that you use for water are analogous for energy. Looking at it in a more integrated way opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Now I am going to think about the implications for science of all of the above, and for public investment in science.
I had a look at this a couple of years ago and there is a paper on my website [www.triplehelix.com.au] analysing Australia's Natural Resource Management Knowledge System. I concluded there are three main reasons why the taxpayer should invest in knowledge: 1) to help us make better decisions 2) to underpin innovation, which doesn't imply for a moment that all innovation comes out of places like this (the Academy of Science) and 3) so that, as Peter Cullen used to say, ‘at least we should be making new mistakes.’ The system should be getting smarter as it goes along.
The best work on knowledge that I have come across in that work was from Dave Snowden, who used to run the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management at Cambridge University, who now has his own firm. And Dave places great emphasis on trying to work out which knowledge domain you are in. If you are in a ‘known’ demand you can apply standard processes and you sense and categorise and respond. If things are ‘knowable’, you just need good analytical techniques. You determine the facts. You work out your options.
If things are ‘complex’ it is much more difficult to determine cause and effect. You often have some multiple interventions to work out what the options might be. You tend to probe, sense and then respond.
But if things are chaotic, there is no hope of working out cause and effect. We tend to act first, then sense, then respond.
Climate change spans all of those domains. It is very clear from the science that if temperatures increase more than 2 degrees then we are in the bottom left‑hand corner [chaos].
We need to think about how we develop responses that are sensible in all of those domains, and that we have a system-wide perspective in doing so. That requires as much focus on learning systems as it does on knowledge assets per se.
So how nimble are we? How strong are our evaluation and feedback mechanisms and so on?
When I look at the current situation I actually think that community concern is way ahead of political courage. And knowledge across the board is incredibly patchy. So as Mark Twain used to say: 'De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt'.
When I look across just the agricultural knowledge system, it lacks cohesion across the states, the Feds, disciplines and institutions. But when I extend that out across energy, carbon, climate, food and health, then cohesion is a mirage. We are so far away from cohesion it is not funny.
Alternative approaches and technologies really struggle to get funding from current funding programs. The cross‑system learning is abysmal, and especially across those boundaries.
If you think of an organisational diagram – this is a metaphor we used in the dearly departed Land & Water Australia – organisation diagrams often have boxes connected by arrows. Invariably when you have a look at the budget, the money is all in the boxes, with nothing allocated to the arrows. When I look at the whole knowledge system, we have hardly anything allocated to arrows, and yet we are always talking about linkages and so on.
Our overall literacy in this area, to me, is woeful considering the challenges in front of us. I don't think about ‘climate change’ any more. I prefer to think of ‘climate chaos’. And whether we are talking about a community level, at a bureaucratic level or in corporate board rooms, our literacy is way too low.
Julian Cribb has posited in his forthcoming book called The Coming Famine – I think it is going to be University of California Press in April 2010 – that it wasn't that Malthus and the Club of Rome were wrong, it is that the world responded in each case to Malthus’ and the Club of Rome's dire projections. Responded with an agricultural revolution – the industrial revolution in the first instance, and the green revolution in the second.
Julian says we need a third agricultural revolution. I think that is a more than arguable case. Here is what I think it could look like. Firstly, down at the farm level we need to close the loop on water, energy, nutrients and carbon. We need much more efficient systems than we currently have.
We have way too much waste right along the food chain. The majority of that is at the consumer level.
We certainly need to have our farming systems producing energy. I think there is no reason at all why Australian broadacre agriculture can't be a net energy producer, not consumer. With the coming oil crunch, we will have to be.
There are huge areas for exploitation around ICT, photonics, robotics and nanotechnology.
There is an equally exciting frontier in soil microbial activity.
Urban food production, in my view, is a really exciting potential. Maybe 10 to 15 per cent of our food production could be happening in cities. Cities are an amazing magnet for water, energy and nutrients. A lot of that becomes a waste problem. If we can turn some of that into food we will be doing better.
I'm very excited by some of the things that overseas food retailers are starting to do – Tesco in particular. It has put 100 million pounds into a Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester [www.sci.manchester.ac.uk/]; twenty‑five million pounds of which is into a carbon footprint labelling system. The first tranche is coming online by the end of this calendar year. But by 2012 every product on every shelf in every Tesco store has to have its carbon footprint made apparent.
When you look at some of these big corporations, their targets are about halving emissions per square foot of shelf space by 2012. Not 60 per cent by 2050, when we are all dead. Real, meaningful, current targets, that actually influence your current budget. Things that managers can be held to account for and be written into their duty statement right now.
They're the sort of targets that make sense. Stuff about what we are going to do in the Never-Never is nonsense.
‘Carbon plus’ offsets and incentives. If you just want tons of carbon you can go out and plant a clone of blue gum across a whole landscape. But if you are smart about it, you can do it in ways that preserve native species, that fix the Barrier Reef, that achieve landscape amenity and that keep rural communities in place.
We already have a case study on how not to do it. It was called MIS – Managed Investment Schemes.
Here is my own farm [background image of slide]. This is my superannuation woodlot, or one of them, of pines. Last June I spent four days on a chainsaw doing a non‑commercial thinning, and that is now kindling, that waste, lying on the ground.
If I was in Scandinavia, I could have had someone turn up with a semitrailer (to process the woody waste into pellets or chips for later conversion to biomass energy) – all of that going straight back into the energy grid. My thinnings would have been a profitable operation instead of something that cost me about $20,000 to create a problem.
Now I can't graze it. I can't tidy up that mess without spending a hell of a lot more money.
If we look at Finland, it has the same area and population as Victoria. Much shorter growing season and much slower growing rates. Yet 23 per cent of all their energy is forestry thinnings and prunings; that’s seventy-five percent of their heating needs. And if you have ever been to Finland, there's a lot of heat required. Twenty percent of total electricity comes from biomass from private forestry.
In Sweden it is going to be their biggest source of renewable energy. These mills are up and running now. They have been going for decades. This is not radical technology.
Barney Foran did some work that Land and Water Australia commissioned in 2000, in a report called Transition to a Biofuel Economy for Australia. That very rigorous work concluded that Australia can actually produce the bulk of its liquid transport fuel needs through cellulosic second generation biofuels.
Now to the broader implications for science. That was a little detour into biomass energy. In my view, that is one of those items on the agenda of a third agricultural revolution.
Considering the whole landscape and how it fits together is more important than ever. We need tools that help us to handle this convergence or collision of water, energy, carbon, food and human health.
Not just at a conceptual level, but in a real actual place, whether it is the MIA, south‑western WA, the Darling Downs or the Midlands of Tassie, how do you actually put it into a region? No‑one is going to grow the feedstock if they don't know that the mill is going to be there. No‑one is going to build the mill unless they know the feedstock is going to be there.
Once we've run out of oil we are going to need other transport options – affordable oil I should have said. We will never run out of oil. It is just that it will have another nought or two noughts on the end of the price.
But how these things play out is where we need really good science and policy.
Thinking about our portfolio, we need to make sure that we have genuinely innovative and creative work happening, not just all of our money in incremental tweaking of the status quo. We need to be pluralistic, in my view, around disciplines and methodologies and to think about how the whole knowledge system works, not just to inform decision‑making but to underpin innovation and for long‑term learning. The lack of investment in monitoring in this country is deplorable.
In my view, we need to engage with community science.
Putting all that together. There is talk about ‘joined up government’. We actually have to make that work, not just horizontally within Canberra but vertically across the federation and so on.
In my simple mental arithmetic, climate chaos is both a row and a column. It affects everything else and yet we need deep work within specialist areas.
We need to integrate the way we do planning. (You will notice fires in there; I could give another talk at length on fires.) That means, thinking back to that Cynefin knowledge framework, we need an evidence base that helps us in the known domain, in the knowable domain and in complex domains. And when we think about chaotic domains we need to be investing in adaptive tools: real time monitoring; environmental literacy across the whole community; local governments that are environmentally literate; scenario development; the attributes of resilience; buffering; redundancy and so on. And above all, we need to be investing in people.
There is a wonderful line from André Gide in Les Faux-Monnayeurs, The Counterfeiters: 'In order to discover new lands, one must be prepared to lose sight of the shore for a very long time'. We actually need leaders who are prepared to lose sight of the shore and to discover new lands. We need to be investing in people at all levels who are prepared to help discover new lands.
When I look around – and again this is just as a Lone Ranger from Queanbeyan speaking, without any institutional hats on – desal plants for Sydney and Brisbane! Honestly! The energy budget is going to be criminal. Not that they are needed in the first place.
Friends of the Earth have just put out a terrific report called 'Sub‑prime carbon' saying that if you think there were sharks around a couple of years ago, just wait until the carbon market cranks up.
I am President of the school council at Queanbeyan Public School, the biggest primary school in the electorate of Eden Monaro. I am sure we will do very well out of (the Federal Government’s stimulus package funding for) Building the Education Revolution. We are not allowed to build a green building. You are spending $16 billion over here, why would you not want it to put state‑of‑the‑art energy saving measures in? Not just state‑of‑the‑art but better than state‑of‑the‑art. In Queanbeyan, we have got Dyesol producing glass that generates its own electricity.
We have got drought policy that subsidises the bank's worst loans and rewards people for flogging the country. We have declining real investment in agricultural R&D. How myopic is that? We are hardly spending anything on the biomass energy issue, compared to what we are spending on CCS [carbon capture and storage].
Twenty percent of the surface of Perth is already roads and yet we are still building more freeways as if oil is going to last forever. It is just bizarre. We are in denial. And the current political debate is the most depressing I have ever seen. I thought Ross Garnaut was incredibly complimentary about it. We seem to have a race to the bottom to see who can subsidise the biggest polluters the most.
The whole point is to have a price on carbon, and yet we are going to offset any fuel prices with decreases in the petrol excise. We are going to cap the carbon price. We are going to try and mask its impact on the biggest polluters.
Public transport I won't go into. And our current urban design is not remotely food sensitive.
So we have food deserts within big suburbs where it is much easier to walk to a poker machine than anywhere near where you could get fresh whole foods.
Fortunately the people who really matter in this town seem to agree with me. This is the head of the Prime Minister's Department only a couple of months ago:
'… I believe the public service gives good advice on incremental policy improvement. Where we fall down is in long‑term, transformational thinking; the big picture stuff. We are still more reactive rather than proactive; more inward rather than outward looking. We are allergic to risk.’
This is not me. This is Terry Moran.
'The APS still generates too much policy within single departments and agencies to address challenges that span a range of departments and agencies … We are not good at recruiting creative thinkers.'
I reckon that is the understatement of the year.
Ken Henry (Secretary of the Australian Government Treasury), a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly, here are Ken's four big long run forces affecting the Australian economy. Oil doesn't even get a mention. So 1) the ageing population and the population increase 2) climate change adaptation and mitigation – even within that section oil didn't get a mention 3) the ICT revolution and 4) China and India.
The Treasury has already done the modelling. They think that if we are going to have a population of 35 million, Sydney will have a 54 per cent increase in population, Melbourne 74, Brisbane 106 per cent.
And Ken is saying, how are we going to do it?
‘Surely not by continuing to expand their geographic footprints at the same rate as in the past several decades. Surely not by loading more cars and trucks onto road networks that can't cope with today's traffic…. Are Australia’s natural resource endowments, including water, capable of sustaining a population of 35 million? What are the implications for environmental amenity?’
What must it mean?
An ever greater loss of biodiversity … ?
Ken goes on to say – stressing that it is his personal opinion not that of Treasury or the Government – that regrettably he thinks the answer to the last question is yes.
He is saying that with a population of 22 million we haven't been able to find accommodation with the environment. And in his view we are not well placed to deal with 35 million.
Sophisticated infrastructure planning is going to be required if we want to address these questions in a world that improves our well‑being in a sustainable way. The imposition of a price signal to reflect the negative externalities of greenhouse gas emissions is intended to cause a significant shift in the structure of the economy. He finishes up, 'that's the point of doing it'. Which is quite right.
So bringing it all together – I am comforted when I read those words from our most senior civil servants. I'm really looking forward to the filter down effect when that starts to transform the way we do policy, in this town in particular.
This diagram illustrates the way the Canadians are thinking about what they calling agri‑food and health policy. We are a long, long way away from that. And that doesn't even account for energy and carbon.
I am going to finish on the human dimension. I love Simon Schama’s phrase that ‘landscapes are where nature meets culture’. Our landscapes are socially constructed. And we need to move beyond what Keith Bradby calls ‘ecological apartheid’, where you have a national park over here where you do conservation, and you have production in the middle where you don't do conservation, and then you have somewhere else where you do conservation again.
But if we want sustainability, people at the grass roots have to be involved.
Soon after the global financial crisis our Prime Minister was giving a sermon in Westminster Abbey with Gordon Brown on the evils of neo liberalism, suggesting that the free market needs a moral compass. He said:
'To these values of liberty, security and prosperity must also be grafted the values of equity, of sustainability and of community'.
And I thought 'bingo'. That's fantastic. It sounds like Landcare to me.
In my view we actually have to revisit those community empowerment and engagement models. We should re‑invest in our regional architecture of natural resource management. At the end of the day it is the everyday decisions — countless everyday decisions — of people going about their daily business that will affect what happens in the landscape and ultimately the atmosphere.
So adaptation knowledge will emerge from the ground up, as much from the hallowed halls of Canberra and other places. I think we haven't scratched the surface yet in use of modern web 2.0 tools in thinking about social learning in a broader scale.
We saw what happened in Toowoomba with a modest attempt to use recycled water. The challenges that we are going to face to try and do some of this restructuring and decoupling are going to make the Toowoomba debate look like a teddy bear's picnic. We are going to need an environmentally literate, engaged polity. We are going to need champions at community levels who know this and are empowered.
I think we haven't treated community leaders and grass roots volunteers as well as we should have in this broader debate.
In my view there is no getting away from the need for an integrated regional planning framework that puts development approval, planning, zoning, rating, transport, energy, carbon, water through a single sieve to sort out these interactions, rural and urban.
I have mapped out this seven‑point plan in more detail in the Journal of Agricultural Science (second issue of 2009). I won't go through all of those elements in detail. It goes across our monitoring systems, our regional arrangements, our drought policy, our agricultural policy and so on.
Just to finish with underpinning principles. We need to ensure that what we do builds resilience. I must admit, I thought that the pendulum of centralism had swung as far as it could under our previous Prime Minister, and I was expecting a move back to cooperative environmental federalism and subsidiarity, and some of these phrases were being used. I am still looking forward to that happening.
We still have an extraordinarily centralist approach.
We need to be re‑engaging stakeholders and devolving responsibility. That is what subsidiary is about, making decisions at the lowest practicable level. We started off brilliantly, I thought, with the Garnaut methodical, really rigorous approach. And you do need to take time to sort through some of those issues. Then we saw an enormous amount of money allocated in an incredibly short time.
You need an evidence base to underpin these sorts of complex policy challenges and you must invest in skills, knowledge, innovation and leadership. All of those. They are different things. And we are not doing so to the degree that we need to.
Agencies need budgets. You don't want a situation where you are a discretionary line in the Federal budget, I can assure you of that.
We are in a period of rapid environmental change. This isn't a blip. ‘Business as usual’ won't be resumed any time soon.
‘Business as usual’ is a route to misery. People who aren't thinking about restructuring their businesses have their heads in the sand.
I look on that as a very exciting context in science, in policy and in business. There is a wonderful big picture agenda there that we need to sort out, and I think there are a lot of people in this room that can contribute a lot to it. So thank you very much.
There's lots of background information on the Triple Helix website.
Question: Jenny Golding from Sustainable Population Australia, but I am not asking about population this time.
I was lucky enough to go to an ASBO [Association of School Business Officials] conference in Denver last month where it was agreed that peak oil probably occurred in July last year. But what emerged from this conference was that we weren't quite getting to natural gas peak just as early as we thought we might because of new finds in America in particular.
You mentioned Julian Cribb. He has been very critical of the government for selling off the Gorgon fields to China. I am wondering whether you care to comment on the extent to which natural gas might be a transition fuel, if only we'd stop selling it to China.
Andrew Campbell: Only very briefly. I haven't looked at that in detail myself. But Barney Foran has, and that was a conclusion he reached, that natural gas would be a very important transition fuel for us while we wait for fuel cells or whatever to come along as a transport solution, provided we haven't sold it off in the meantime. Particularly if we have sold it off too cheap.
Question: Eric Creswell from the Fenner School of Environment and Society. You mentioned nutrients but you didn't mention peak phosphorus. Recent estimates are about 20/30. How do you see that as an issue for Australia and the global problem?
Andrew Campbell: I do think it is significant. I actually think the oil question is going to hit us around the ears well before the phosphorus one will. Something I didn't mention and that is in Australian agriculture we have a bell curve, but it tends to be rather flat. In other words, there is a very big gap between the best and the middle, and another big gap between the middle and the tail. In most areas, if we could shift the mean, and narrow the standard deviation, in my view we can make huge improvements.
Phosphorus isn't readily substitutable, and we are facing a crunch there. I think the oil one is going to whack us a lot earlier than the phosphorus one. It will be the best operators that handle it the best.
Question: David Gwynne Jones. You've already touched on the issues around public administration and public policy. The Prime Minister has launched now the first major review of Australian Government administration since the Coombs Commission, and he is in fact, I think, asking Terry Moran to propose how we would reshape the Australian Public Service to address the kinds of challenges that you have outlined. I guess there is a month to go for submissions. Do you have any particular things you would like to see happen as part of that process?
Andrew Campbell: I must admit, I hadn't thought about that deadline. I guess an incredibly centralised approach, with everything going through a single funnel, might be a good way to win an election, but it is a terrible way to run a government long-term. So the first thing would be to try and devolve real authority and decision‑making and initiative back down to the troops, and then you might find that talented people aren't leaving as fast.
When I was a senior executive in the government, at one stage 65 per cent of the people in my branch were graduate entry people. Incredibly smart. People who had done extraordinary things. I was on the committee within the department that tried to sift through how many graduates we would take each year and which ones we would pick. We finished up having to have ludicrous selection criteria, like must be a university medalist, be in a couple of different orchestras and have an Olympic selection trial as well under the belt, just to try and get the numbers down. We all felt that none of us would have got in against that sort of talent.
So I know there is talent in the Australian Public Service. You don't have to be a graduate to have talent, but I would be trying to unleash some of that. As Terry Moran hinted at in his comments, having more things that work across departmental boundaries, more horizontal mechanisms, invest in them, and take notice of them when they do produce a finding.
I think that you could achieve a transformation. There aren't any more exciting agendas than this to be working on in the world right now. This is our future that is absolutely at stake. This is the challenge of the age and so of course we should have the best brains in the country working on it.
I think we can learn a bit from the Americans in terms of the porosity of the boundary between the public sector and the private sector and between the public sector and academia. So I was quite excited to hear the Prime Minister's speech here at the ANU recently. If Australia could have something like the Kennedy School of Government – and this is the logical place to do it – and get much more porous boundaries with people coming between the private sector, academia and government, that would make a big difference in my view.
Some of the work I have seen in consultancy reports that is commercial‑in‑confidence is much further ahead than the policy documents in the public domain in thinking about how these things fit together.
Question: Bill Mulchen (?), retired. I recently went through or visited the Coolangatta desal plant in northern New South Wales. It is producing, I understand, or will produce, around 20 per cent of south‑east Queensland's water. Notwithstanding the energy requirement, with south‑east Queensland set to double its population, how would they get on without a desal plant, as you indicated?
A second question: how long do you think it will be before things like livestock and, dare I say, beer and wine become luxuries that are just not sustainable?
Andrew Campbell: How to end on a bright note!
To be building desal plants in the subtropics is a nonsense, in my view. So one simple option for south‑east Queensland, for a fraction of the cost you could have put a really decent sized water tank on every house in the whole region.
You could certainly be doing way more with stormwater re‑use and so on for public open space and for industrial processes and what have you. I don't have a problem with the one for Perth. I think that's justified. But if you actually had the place plumbed right, a desal plant is an absolute last resort. In the subtropics it is just not required at all, if you get the plumbing at a landscape scale right. There, because of the nature of the rainfall events and so on, you can actually catch a lot of water at a distributed local level. And you could do so at a fraction of the cost, using gravity as your energy provider, which is by far the best.
Beer, wine and barbecues – I'm a great fan of Michael Pollan and his wonderful book An Eater's Manifesto, or In Defense of Food. He comes up with some simple rules. ‘Eat food.’ That's not straightforward in America these days. By that he means real food, not what he calls 'edible food‑like substances'. ‘Not too much.’ Again, that's quite a significant change from where we are at with portion sizes. ‘Mostly plants.’ In other words, a Sunday roast or a big celebratory meat dinner on occasions is absolutely fine.
‘Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognise. Don't eat anything with more than four ingredients on the packet. And don't eat anything with high fructose, corn syrup or a bunch of other things.’ Read his book. It’s very simple. If you follow those rules society would shed an enormous amount of weight very, very quickly and we would be a lot better off for it.
I think a really top wine or a really superb piece of meat should be not something that is a daily thing, but should be something you really look forward to and cherish. I actually think that the world needs livestock, but I don't think we all need to be eating hamburgers every day as a really cheap commodity. Livestock have a really important place in the system. But concentrated animal feedlot operations on the scale they have in Kansas are a different matter entirely.
Question: How soon do you think that that would be forced on us by price?
Andrew Campbell: Make no mistake, if you put another nought on the end of oil prices, and you have a genuine carbon price and make big polluters actually pay the true cost of their production system, then some of those things will drop out immediately, as Al Gore said on the radio this morning.
Question: Thank you. A fascinating talk. I certainly wanted to come along to hear what you have said this evening, so thank you.
I have heard reports, and I don't know the truth of it all, but the Americans are apparently experimenting with farming in multi‑storey buildings, which they seem to believe can be more productive across all the areas you are discussing. Have you heard about that and do you think it is viable?
Andrew Campbell: Yes, I have heard about it. It is probably not astonishing that the Americans would come up with a high tech, shock and awe approach to it. I haven't looked at the energy economics or whatever of those systems.
In my view, urban food production is a 10 to 15 per cent solution (in terms of the proportion of total food production that is grown in cities). If you look at what happened to Cuba, where their economy went off a cliff, they still only got to about 15 per cent urban food production. In my view that is the absolute – that would be a natural ceiling for it.
In my view the opportunities in urban food production are still very largely at ground level, particularly with our very large spread‑out cities. We've got high‑rise flats where there are no green waste disposal options for people. There is a mob in Melbourne called Cultivating Communities just doing food gardens for the Housing Commission flats. It is amazing what they are doing.
A friend of mine is a recreation planner in Maribyrnong, which is the largest food desert in Melbourne – Maribyrnong City Council. He says a lot of the migrants in the suburb – this is Julia Gillard's electorate – are not interested in an English notion of a park, a genteel thing with benches under a rotunda and where you walk your dog and so on. What they want to do is grow food and eat it with their extended family.
So why aren't we producing neighbourhood parks for that? I think the literacy that we would get at a community level through getting more people back in touch with the food production is a big gain. For me, I would much rather that linked to a farmers market. We are playing around in Melbourne with the idea of railway carriages or containers designed to be used by farmers as a mobile farmers market. You have the train come in from Gippsland, western Victoria, or the north‑east, with farmers selling produce off the train all the way in, and relocate your farmers markets to the big carparks beside the train stations.
If you look at food miles, the biggest proportion of food miles is the miles done by the consumer to go to the supermarket and then go home again with their one little green bag or whatever, or a lot of plastic ones.
I drive from Queanbeyan to Canberra's farmers market and often come home with less than 10 kilos of food. That is ridiculous from a greenhouse perspective. I will buy a chook from someone who has brought it from Gilgandra to the farmers market at Epic.
So the food miles debate – I've gone off on a tangent there – but it is not straightforward, and it is at the consumer end that we need to fix the way people access food and buy food. Getting direct contact between people and their food, to me, is a huge area of opportunity. Philippa?
Question: Thanks, Andrew. I will try to be brief, but I would like to make two comments and then ask you a direct question. I was really deeply pleased to hear you bringing up the ideas of integration and the transition strategy. I have come up from Bega, from Clean Energy Fraternity, partly to try and get a community solar farm up and running.
I have had an opportunity to travel and talk with people in Canberra, and the sense that I have, there is a lot happening, but a lot of it is piecemeal and it is not connected. I am not seeing a plan to get us from where we are now to where we have to be quite soon. So I am really deeply grateful for that idea of an integrated view of it.
The second comment is that I'm not sure how many of you know there are a group of Emergency Services crews from Victoria that have actually headed off on Tuesday – yesterday – to run from Cooktown in Cape York all the way down through Sydney and Canberra to end up having gone through the Koorong back to Melbourne. They are running 6,000 kilometres in a month. They have given up a month of their leave. They are doing this to raise awareness and funds for a group started called Safe Climate Australia.
It is hoping to try and integrate research and find some solutions in an Australian context. They are coming through Canberra on the 15th and they will be going through the ANU looking at the solar dishes. People here might just want to support those Emergency Services crews that went through the Victorian fires, trying to put their energy into doing something about it.
The direct question though, I was really heartened to hear you considering agriculture being an energy provider, not just an energy consumer. I think that has got a lot of legs in a regional community context for mapping out a pathway for farmers that are really being squeezed at the moment and very fearful of what a carbon trading system is going to mean for agriculture.
Could you give a few comments about the importance of soil carbon and how you think that might play out?
Andrew Campbell: Yes. On my website you will find a couple of soil papers that I have done; one looking at a discussion paper for a new soil policy framework for Australia. In that work I guess I concluded that there are incredibly important reasons for us to build soil carbon, especially the subject of tonight's talk, which is water. So for all sorts of reasons we need to be building carbon in the soil to improve water infiltration, soil water holding capacity and so on. It's the best way to drought-proof dryland agriculture.
It also reduces energy requirements and so on. And it improves soil health and soil fertility.
I've got an open mind about the soil carbon market. I think we should be funding a couple of trials at a regional scale to see whether we can make a soil carbon market work, in much the same way we have done with bush tender and bio tenders and plains tenders and so on for biodiversity reasons. So I think we should be doing significant experimental work there.
At this stage I am persuaded by the CSIRO analyses that suggest that it is pretty hard to be building soil carbon at a rate that you could sell into a market, if you are also selling product off the land at the same time; cropping or grazing or whatever.
If you have had to purchase nutrient to do so, then the economics start to look wobbly – ditto with bio-char. It is technically feasible, but economically at this stage it doesn't stack up at all. Yes, you can produce the stuff. But getting it out into agricultural soils requires a lot of energy. You need to do an energy budget of the whole system before you see what it looks like and an economics budget. At the moment it just doesn't stack up.
Question: Patricia Dannon (?) is my name. I found your talk very interesting. I have listened to Garnaut. I have listened to Stern. I have listened to Penny Wong at the Press Club and I agreed with everything they had to say. So I'm converted grassroots. But my concern is not about linking up all these things. I think that is crucial. My concern is how are we going to achieve this with our system of government where we have one party playing games with another party and finding little things to score points about? How do we achieve all of this?
Andrew Campbell: That is a great question and one that I have pondered a lot. I have been very depressed and echo Ross Garnaut's comments about the quality of the policy debate in recent times, in comparison with the immensity of the challenges that we face.
In my view it is going to come from mobs like Philippa's, at a grassroots level organising and doing things. The Transition Towns Alliance, innovative private firms. You know, I'm not sure if it is a Leunig cartoon or a Tandberg, but, 'I am their leader. I must follow them'.
I think that's where we might have to go. Leadership doesn't have to come from the apex of our political system. Leadership can come from all sorts of levels. I think we need leadership to flower at a whole bunch of different levels. But it would be lovely if there was a space to enable initiatives like a solar farm at Bega.
What they have done down there is just fantastic with Clean Energy for Eternity. The Hepburn Windfarm – and this is from someone who spent more than $20,000 on a PV array above my garage – I would much sooner buy shares in a solar farm where you do something at decent scale than my stupid little system on my garage with my single inverter for 2,000 watts. It just doesn't make sense.
But I did it as an experiment. Two quarters ago, for my feed‑in tariff, I got $8.50 in return for the energy that my system generated. So that's not a way to fix our problems, I can assure you. It's a pretty expensive experiment.
I would love to see a framework that enabled those sorts of initiatives at a grassroots level to get more oxygen and a lot more exposure.
Question: Michael Banyards, Sustainable Population Australia. At the outset of your talk you identified the key problem as being an increasing world population and increasing food demands. But a little bit later when you identified the imperatives – I think there were five points – population didn't appear as one of those points, which seems strange that the core problem that you have identified appears to be population growth. So long as that population is not addressed then changes, efficiencies and other measures that are put in place still don't, in the end, address the underlying problem. That was one question I would like you to comment on.
The other one is, as far as the ageing population is concerned, Professor Peter McDonald at the ANU, demographer, has indicated quite clearly and analysed quite clearly that the ageing population is in fact ageing off a high base. When we had rapid young population post‑war we had an unusually young population at that point in time. No matter what we do in the long‑term we will return to an older population because that, in fact, was an aberration of the post‑war baby boom. Thank you.
Andrew Campbell: I am not as fussed about the ageing issue. I certainly don't intend ever to retire. Getting back to an earlier question – I think a lot could be done in this town if we made better use of retired people or semi‑retired people.
Julian Cribb had a look at that. One of his projections says that we need to find a peaceful way of reducing the world population down to 2 or 3 billion. He just doesn't elaborate on quite how we would do it. I keep looking for that bit.
I haven't got the faintest idea, to be frank. So I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it.
Question: Can I make a supplementary point? Our rate of growth at this point is over 2 per cent. We are in the league of under‑developed countries in terms of our growth rate, so there is an opportunity for policy to in fact contribute to a reduction in growth rather than augmenting the problem.
Andrew Campbell: I understand that. Yes we are an island. I don't think we can pull the ladder up or pull up the drawbridge, or whatever other metaphor you like. In my view, if we had our act together we could be living far more sustainably than we are. There are lots of opportunities for us to do that. I frankly think there will be lots of pressure on us to take a lot more people.
We would be far better off investing in how we are going to do it than pretending will go back to 10 million or 15 million or whatever. That is a personal unscientific view.
Question: Deb Kerr from the National Farmers Federation. Seeing I think the theme was water I will end with a water question.
The legislation surrounding the Murray‑Darling Basin plan and the development of that plan constrains that development to quite a short timeframe. The draft plan is to be released in mid‑2010. Given that there is a lot of community angst about the basin, water sharing, the environment and irrigated agriculture, and given water resource plans that have been developed on a regional basis have taken sometimes up to five years to develop, I am just wondering if you would care to comment on the efficacy of the short timeframe for such an important thing like the basin plan compared to some of these regional base plans that have taken five years?
Andrew Campbell: There are two dimensions to that, Deb. Basically I agree with the premise of your question. I personally would like to see something that is really rigorous and fine-grained and considered with an appropriate degree of community input.
Equally I understand a whole heap of planning fatigue, and people are up to here with plans, and there is a certain urgency about drawing a line somewhere.
So it is not straightforward. One of the reasons why regional plans have taken so long is because of a lack of investment in capacity of people to do water planning, and deskilling of state agencies and deskilling of the sector more generally. I think we need to look at some of those underlying causes too.
From my talk you will see that I don't think we should just be doing water planning. I think we should be doing water, carbon, energy and food planning at a regional scale alongside infrastructure. Again, to quote Peter Cullen, I think we are in grave danger of concreting in the mistakes of the past. I think we are in grave danger of refurbishing infrastructure in areas where long‑term we won't need it, through a rushed approach.
So in my view we do need to be acting in a more considered way, but in a more integrated way across these issues. With water buy‑backs we are risking, if we don't have an integrated strategy of feral animal and weed control, we are going to use environmental water for a lot of carp and a lot of weeds.
If we don't think about how these things fit together we are going to potentially cause a lot of other problems. There are lots and lots of – in my view – gains to be made through looking more broadly and taking longer to do it. You really need to invest at a community level if you are not just going to burn out the same few leaders and piss off the rest.