Sustainability (book review)

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  • Book title: SUSTAINABILITY
  • Author: Alex Colley AO
  • Publisher: Envirobook 2006 89p
  • Reviewer: Ian Edwards, September 20, 2007

Alex Colley probably wouldn’t appreciate being called a grand old man, but having, at the age of 97, produced such a gem of a book I can’t think of a more apt description. In 2004, in conjunction with the photographer Henry Gold he published Blue Mountains World Heritage, a history of the struggle for the Blue Mountains National Park and its listing as a world heritage site. His Order of Australia having been awarded for services to conservation, being a graduate of Hawkesbury Agricultural College and having earned a Bachelor of Economics degree at the University Sydney, he is a rare combination of ecologist and economist.

Although Australia is still a long way behind many other countries in its awareness of the importance of sustainability there has been some improvement recently largely as a result of such factors as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Stern review on The Economics of Climate Change. Colley is well aware of all the issues raised by these works and Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish but, just as Gore is primarily addressing Americans, Colley as an Australian sees the issue of sustainability in an Australian context.

He is critical of our government’s immigration policy and advocates zero net immigration i.e. immigration equal to emigration. His chapter headings are The Growth Obsession, Population, Soil, Trees, Water, Air, Fish, Wildlife, Waste and Transport and a final chapter on The Future which seems to me, in the tradition of Carlyle’s description of Economics as the dismal science, to be unduly pessimistic: although we should never underestimate the strength of the fossil fuel and mining industries to which our previous Prime Minister had been unduly attentive. On each of these topics he not only makes clear what the problems are but also suggests solutions.

If the book has a defect it is its failure to deal adequately with the looming global crisis brought about by the confluence of anthropogenic global warming and the depletion of the world’s oil resources: but this defect is shared by all the major Australian political parties. The situation has improved since our ratification of the Kyoto protocol but there is still an urgent need for investment in renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and biofuel and the phasing out of nonrenewable resources such as coal, oil and uranium.

The Colong Foundation for Wilderness ( foundation@colongwilderness.org.au or 9261 2400) is selling it for $20 (including postage). Alternatively it may be obtained through Envirobook (02 9787 1955). It is a small book but it is well worth the price.

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