Hydropower and water transport

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Inland water sources on the mainland, with the exception of the unreliable Murray-Darling River system and the Snowy River, are almost all unable to support fluvial transport or reliable power generation. Tasmania is the only state where fast-flowing rivers make widespread hydropower possible.

On the positive side, if substitute big-energy systems are not found, this will also remove the structures and their beneficiaries which currently present barriers to relocalization and land redistribution. On the other hand, by the time this becomes possible, there may be very little salvageable land left.

On current trends,53 there is going to be less than half the land (due to degradation mentioned above), more than twice the population, and severe water-shortages with greater climate extremes. Based on the above projected losses of arable land, we might assume a loss of at least half of the 5 percent gain in net primary productivity since 1788. Without surplus production or abundant energy, Australia's agricultural and mineral-based export economy will shrink to nothing. Standard of living and quality of life will be locally determined. Without fossil fuel or a new technology substitute, the continent's capacity to support more than its natural biomass will presumably reduce to near zero, and the human population will shrink, one way or another, perhaps to something like 2.5 percent larger than the aboriginal population before 1788 - that is, below 1.5 million. Climate change, however, may even reduce this potential.

There are so many variables. The fertile islands of the remaining land could possibly be boosted using permaculture and terra preta technologies and water-saving and tree-growing plans to reform microclimates. It seems clear that permaculture could rehabilitate many degraded soils in Australia. Finding the secret of terra preta, an ancient technology which maximizes carbon-loaded surfaces for soil microrganisms, once employed by South American Indians and others (for example, Northeastern Thailand)54 is another area of promising soil research.

Such a population might subsist mainly by hunting indigenous fauna (birds, kangaroos) or herding exotic, imported fauna (like cattle), using draft animals (camels, horses, and cattle), and cultivating, by recycling manure and other wastes, a greatly reduced area of arable land. It would use mostly flow energies, of which (based on pre-World War I practices) the most dominant will probably be wind with some solar, if this technology can be retained, and some biomass, if combustion engines are maintained for limited, specific purposes. These flow energies might add to the productivity of the land, but from that gain should be subtracted land needs for work-animal fodder, and the human built environment.

Although it might be possible to use trains and grid electricity on a limited scale using wind,55 the distance between cities and the fuel-poor-related fall in population and activity would make social organizing to maintain these options unlikely. There might perhaps be a case for wood-fired rail transport from the major inland food production area (should any of this survive), with secondary distribution by road using draft animals, and coastal shipping.

To clarify: The distances and areas required for traditional agriculture in Australia are so vast that they are generally incomprehensible to those from the Northern hemisphere without science-based ecological knowledge. If we strip off all the fossil-fuel-reliant economic and technical features of twenty-first-century Australian society, we are left with isolated communities in an isolated continent where the desert and rangeland most naturally supports a hunter-gatherer economy, some herding, and some agriculture on the parts currently densely occupied, mostly on the coasts.

Described in 1994 as "one nation: two ecologies,"56 Australia may become a desert and oasis land, if long-term drying trends continue or increase with climate change. Although the pre-1788 Aboriginal population did not possess draft animals, it is not hard to imagine a Bedouin-like alternative operating in the deserts and rangelands, trading between oases. Between 1838 and the 1890, Afghan Cameleers accompanied by hundreds of their camels were brought to Australia to provide desert transport,57 forging routes which subsequently became roads.

Strong isolation means that large populations may crash and their complex societies and technologies may actually disappear from memory, leaving survivors with little or no connection to the society of their ancestors. Australia is famously a continent which was geographically virtually isolated for between 65,000 and 40,000 years until coal produced the kind of critical mass in iron and fossil-based capital and population to bridge that isolation and that of so many other countries. Keeping that bridge intact is no sure thing.


1. S.M. Newman, The Growth Lobby and its Absence: The Relationship between the Property Development and Housing Industries and Immigration Policy in Australia and France, Swinburne University, Victoria, Australia, 2002, chapter 7, http://tinyurl.com/yt58yh.

2. "Australia's Population" (Population Clock), Australian Bureau of Statistics, www.abs.gov.au/, November 5, 2007.

3. Including national "baby bonuses" and misleading information from the Federal Treasurer that the population would not grow without immigration (P. Costello (Federal Treasurer, March 1996 to November 2007), Introduction to Sydney Morning Herald Supplement, "Births of a Nation," January 26, 2006), and from State Premiers, such as Steve Bracks of Victoria, that "deaths outnumbered births" (when in fact the opposite was true) (Steve Bracks on the Jon Faine Show, ABC Radio, Australia, August 15, 2005, documented in correspondence by Jill Quirk, President, Sustainable Population Australia, Victorian Branch).

4. Institut National d'Etudes Démographiques (INED), Paris.

5. Agriculture Durable et Conservation des Sols, European Conservation Agriculture Federation, www.ecaf.org.

6. J. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998; 12th reprint, 2005, p. 201.

7. F. Ronsin, La Population de la France de 1789 à nos jours, Seuil, Paris, 1997.

8. "France's Role in Exploring Australia's Coastline," www.ambafrance-au.org/article.php3?id_article=475, accessed December 3, 2007.

9. "Il aura fallu deux cent deux ans, et vingt ans de discussions, pour enterrer la vision napoléonienne de la famille. Sa «haine» des secondes noces. Sa répugnance à l'égard du divorce. Sa conception du conjoint, considéré comme étranger à la famille. Ainsi, la loi votée le 23 juin «portant réforme des successions et libéralités», et qui sera applicable dès le 1er janvier 2007, donne un véritable coup de balai sur le Code civil, en modifiant plus de 200 de ses articles inchangés depuis 1804." Sabine Delanglade, "Héritage Tout change," L'Express, October 26, 2006, www.lexpress.fr/ info/economie/dossier/heritage/dossier.asp.

10. See my chapter, "Nuclear Fission Power Options," this volume; Figure 6, "History and forecast of uranium production," in "Uranium Depletion and Nuclear Power: Are We at Peak Uranium?" www.theoildrum.com/ node/2379, accessed December 3, 2007.

11. See Michael Dittmar's chapter, "Fusion Illusions," this volume.

12. P. Burger, "La géothermie, une énergie d'avenir pour la production d'électricité," Electrosuisse, February 2, 2006, http://a3.epfl.ch/SeSo/ S0documents/2006/Electricite_geothermie_A3_orale.pdf, accessed December 3, 2007.

13. Colin Campbell, "The Caspian Chimera," this volume.

14. The standard workhorses of the SNCF are BB locomotives (1960-1970s vintage still in service) and TER automoteurs (some 1950s vintage) relying mostly on diesel fuel.

15. R. Darbéra, "Le Versement Transport est-il la meilleure façon de financer la subvention aux transports collectifs urbains?" Transports (Paris), no. 368 (November-December 1994), pp. 374-84.; "Velib à Paris, le vélo en libre accès avec ou sans abonnement, c'est quoi?" www.aquadesign. be/news/article-9490.php, accessed December 3, 2007.

16. Newman, The Growth Lobby and its Absence, chapter 7.

17. "La Mission de développement des parcs naturels régionaux," www. parcs-naturels-regionaux.tm.fr/upload/doc_telechargement/grandes/ plaquette%20Missions%20PNR.pdf, accessed December 2, 2007.

18. Much of this art functioned as maps of areas of land with markers for water, game, people, and landmarks.

19. Total land stock is 770 million hectares, or 7.7 million square kilometers. Estimates of population range between 150,000 and 300,000, through to 900,000.

20. Joseph B. Birdsell, "Australia: Ecology, Spacing Mechanisms and Adaptive Behaviour in Aboriginal Land Tenure," in Land Tenure in the Pacific, ed. Ron Crocombe, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1971, pp. 334-61.

21. Jennifer Macey, "Vic Bushfires Uncover Ancient Aboriginal Stone Houses," The World Today, February 3, 2006, www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/ content/2006/s1561665.htm.

22. "With Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament became dominated by spokesmen for 'White Australia'. In October 1901 legislation was passed prohibiting the introduction of Pacific Islanders after 31 March 1904" (R.F. McKillop, referring to G.C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away: A History of North Queensland to 1920, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972, p. 239, in "Australia's Sugar Industry", Light Railway Research Society of Australia website, www.lrrsa.org.au/LRR_SGRa.htm).

23. The Colonial Sugar Refinery Company aroused similar responses among indigenous Fijians who also objected to blackbirding as well as to the importing of Indian indentured labor: "The Indian Connection," Frontline, vol. 17, issue 12 (June 10-23, 2000), www.hinduonnet.com/ fline/fl1712/17120130.htm.

24. Newman, The Growth Lobby and its Absence.

25. For a discussion of Work Choices policy and issues, see Colin Fenwick, "How Low Can You Go?" Economic and Labour Relations Review, vol. 16, no. 2 (2006), www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/ELRRev/2006/5.html.

26. "Largest Population Increase Ever: ABS," Media Release, September 24, 2007, http://tinyurl.com/22z6kd: "Net overseas migration contributed 54% (162,600 people) to this growth, which was more than the natural increase of 46% (138,100 people or 273,500 births minus 135,400 deaths)." This occurred with confusing changes to statistical methods plus new ease of transfer from temporary to permanent migrant (largely equivalent to European citizenship).

27. Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters, chapter 27, Reed Books, London, 1994, pp. 368-9.

28. In the words of Dorothea McKellar's poem, "My Country" (1908).

29. Flannery, The Future Eaters, p. 114.

B. Foran and F. Poldy, Future Dilemmas: Options to 2050 for Australia's Population, Technology, Resources and Environment. Report to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs by CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, October 2002, p. 130, www.cse.csiro. au/publications/2002/fulldilemmasreport02-01.pdf. Macey, "Vic Bushfires Uncover Ancient Aboriginal Stone Houses." Net productivity is measured by carbon gained through photosynthesis and carbon lost through plant respiration. Net primary productivity averages 0.96 Gt of carbon annually for Australia. Nearly 60 Gt of the total continental carbon is stored as plant biomass (45 percent) and soil carbon (55 percent) (Australian National Resources Atlas, http://audit. ea.gov.au/anra/agriculture/docs/national/Agriculture_Landscape.html). Carbon, organic nitrogen, and organic phosphorous have nearly doubled since 1788. Some of this is now counterproductive (Australian National Resources Atlas).

For the lower figure: S. Siedlecky and D. Wyndham, Populate and Perish, Australian Women Fight for Birth Control, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1990, p. 142. For the higher figure: James Jupp, ed., The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, its People and their Origins, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, NSW, 1988, p. 148 (the higher figure refers to estimates by Noel Buttlin in 1983). Cook and Joseph Banks commented on the low density of the Aboriginal population and Banks correctly inferred this to be a consequence of the low fertility of the land. Thomas Malthus wrote in his second volume that he was inspired by these comments to write his first volume on population (T. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population and a Summary View of the Principle of Population, Penguin Classics, London, 1985, p. 251. Foran and Poldy, Future Dilemmas, p. 125.

Ibid; such as legume pastures without balancing lime applications and nitrogenous fertilizers.

F. Morgan (Director), The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, Alchemy House Productions Inc. and Community Solution, 2006; D. Pfeiffer, "Cuba - A Hope," www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ ww3/120103_korea_2.html.

J. Skatssoon, "'Censorship' Just Tip of Iceberg," ABC Science Online www. abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1569599.htm, accessed November 20, 2007.

www.abareconomics.com/interactive/energy_july07/index.html. A petajoule (PJ) is 1015 (one quadrillion) joules.

"Nuclear Energy Prospects in Australia," Briefing Paper No. 44, September 2007, www.uic.com.au/nip44.htm.

Ian Hore-Lacey (Director - Information), Australian Uranium Association, provided these petajoule estimates (email correspondence, November 30, 2007).

"Primary Energy Consumption in Australia by Fuel 2005-2006," www. abareconomics.com/publications_html/energy/energy_07/energy_ update_07.pdf.

Using centrifugal separation and depending on quality of uranium ore; www.uic.com.au/nip57.htm.

46. Newman, The Growth Lobby and its Absence, chapter 6.

47. VAMPIRE index: J. Dodson and N. Sipe, "Oil Vulnerability in the Australian City: Assessing Socio-economic Risks from Higher Urban Fuel Prices," Urban Studies, vol. 44, no. 1 (2007), pp. 37-62.

48. Jennifer Marohasy, "Toowoomba Votes Against Water Recycling," www. jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001511.html; "Your Water Your Say," www.yourwateryoursay.org/; "Communities Against the Tunnels Forum," www.notunnels.org/; "Blue Wedges Against Deepening Port Phillip Bay," www.bluewedges.org/index.php?page=home.

49. See Alice Friedemann's chapter, "Peak Soil," this volume.

50. As Andrew McKillop suggests in his chapter "No Choice but International Energy Transition," this volume.

51. Newman, The Growth Lobby and its Absence, chapter 6.

52. See my chapter, "Nuclear Fission Power Options," this volume, on uranium supply.

53. Foran and Poldy, Future Dilemmas, p. 125.

54. See Chapter 16, this volume.

55. J. Coulter, "Size, Cost and Timing of Change." Paper to the National Conference of Sustainable Population Australia, University of Adelaide, 2002.

56. Title of a carrying capacity report in 1994, resulting from an interparliamentary inquiry chaired by Barry Jones.

57. "Australia's Muslim Cameleer Heritage," http://tinyurl.com/2afed7.

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