Australians need to work less, play more and stop buying junk if they want to achieve a more sustainable future, a leading CSIRO researcher says.
Speaking at the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia conference in Townsville on Tuesday, CSIRO researcher Dr Graham Turner called for a lifestyle overhaul.
He said Australians needed a four-day working week and less consumption.
“We need to use the efficiency dividends of technology to enrich our lives in ways that aren’t based on material things,” he said.
“It means spending more time with family and kids … Elderly parents spending more time in the environment or on cultural things.
“Buying less things to fill our houses with, (like) plasma TVs, or more jet skis.”
Dr Turner said his family was finding greater happiness by making lifestyle changes to live more sustainably.
“I have solar panels at home, solar hot water … We’re trying to grow as much of our own food as possible, collecting our water. I cycle to work as much as I can in chilly Canberra and I’m progressively moving towards a shorter working week myself,” he said.
Dr Turner said change could be incremental, such as every five years removing an afternoon off the working week.
He said people had become too focused on consumption and recommended a reversion to a society more centred on family and frugality in an effort to combat environmental damage.
“We tend to think if we’re more productive and more efficient we’ll be better environmentally, but there’s an irony here,” he said.
“If we didn’t grow the economy and were more efficient we would just simply need less workers. In other words you would have large unemployment.
“To make sure we don’t have that unemployment we make sure people buy more and more things.
“So we end up using the environmental savings we thought we were going to make with the technology.”
He said the window for change was in the next 10-20 years before global energy shortages emerged.
“We have to do this transition quite quickly because there’s a danger that if we don’t, we may not have the oil that lets the workers get to the factories to make the new (fuel efficient) cars that we’re changing over to,” he said.
Dr Turner said shrinking the population would ease pressure on resources but was not a solution in itself.
“I think it boils down to nuanced combination of population, technology and lifestyle change,” he said.
He declined to give an ideal population figure but said a smaller population could enjoy as much wealth and growth as a larger one.
“There’s no exact number that one can say is sustainable,” he said.
Dr Turner also spoke about his research into water resources.
“Our simulations show in the future that urban use of our water may start to dominate, rather than agriculture,” he said.
“With climate change, it looks like a number of the major capital cities could be under continuing water stress.”
Technological solutions like desalination plants could quadruple energy use, Dr Turner said.