Economic Development and Your Speedos

Flicking through a local paper a while ago I came across an ad calling for five community representatives to be involved in an economic development working group to “deliver an economic development strategy … to grow Fremantle’s economy with a focus on increasing employment … and the number of businesses in Fremantle.”

After due consideration I don’t think I have the prerequisites to apply for one of the positions but I did have a few thoughts about economic growth generally.

Let me start with four things I really like about Winter:

  1. Snuggling up in bed every night with a yummy rich hot chocolate
  2. Butter melting through a stack of crisp yet deliciously spongy crumpets
  3. Toasting marshmallow over an open fire
  4. Slothing around in comfy old tracky pants (the ones with a really stretchy waist band.

OK what about Summer?

Here is one thing I really don’t like about the start of Summer.

Trying to get into your budgie smugglers on the first sunny day after the rains and realising that they just don’t fit any more … or more to the point, as they haven’t changed over the Winter, you don’t fit anymore! 

Struggling with the unimaginable notion that you have grown too big, your mind rushes about grasping more and more implausible explanations. 

Maybe the very last time you went to the beach last summer you mistakenly took someone else’s Speedos (someone much smaller, of course) . . . .

Maybe your bathers are made out of some new fangled lycra which shrinks when not exposed regularly to sunlight. . . . . 

Maybe your partner is messing with your mind by replacing your togs with an identical but much smaller pair.  . . . .

Finally (possibly after a reality check in the mirror) you are faced with the incontestable fact that they are your bathers and you’ve just grown too big.  There’s no escaping it.  How depressing. 

At this point you have three choices.

One, you can decide you never really liked swimming anyway and you’d rather spent the rest of your life wearing comfortable trackies.

Two, you sneak out and buy a bigger pair of bathers, which is fine this year and may be next year, but at some point in the not too distant future you may find yourself at the centre of a mob of enthusiastic young conservationists trying to push you back into the water and chanting ‘Save the whales, save the whales’.

Three, you come to the painful realization that your pleasurable overindulgence has led to your unpleasant over expansion and that as painful as it may be, the best time to address the problem is sooner rather than later.

What’s this all got to do with economic development?  Well it’s like this.

Essentially, some things get bigger, and some things don’t. When the two collide there’s a problem.

Let’s look at some non-budgie smuggler examples:

Some things get bigger –

1) Population. At the moment, Australia’s population is growing at over 2% annually – one of the fastest in the world.  Perth’s population is predicted to double by 2050.

2) House sizes and the urban sprawl.  Since the 1950s the average Australian house has doubled in size (despite the population per house halving). We are living in four times as much space as we used to.

3) Cars. Between 1980 and 2003 the number of cars in Australia doubled to 10 million and continues to increase faster than the population.

In fact, if you look at just about anything to do with consumption of resources, you’ll see a parabolic increase since about the end of WWII

Some things don’t get bigger –

1) The number of habitable planets currently at our disposal. 

2) Happiness. Despite a threefold increase in the material wealth of the average Australian since the 1950’s our happiness has flatlined.

In fact some things are actually on the decline – (mostly natural resources!)

3)Water. Water inflow into Perth dams has fallen from about 330 gl (in 1960) down to about 80 gl (2009) and continues to decline.

4) Oil. Australia’s oil production has peaked and is in decline, and according the ASPO predictions production worldwide may well have already peaked.

5) Land. Viable food producing land. At present 2.4 million hectares of Australian farmland has become unusable due to salt encroachment. This is estimated to increase sixfold over the next 30 – 50 years.

Maybe I’ll stop there before I run out of fingers . . . .

It concerns me that economic growth is taken as a given, even though it is based on increasing consumption of our dwindling natural resources, driven largely by increasing population (baby bonus anyone?), which in turn has only been made possible by the availability of cheap oil.

I understand that the very suggestion that we can’t continue to grow indefinitely will be howled down as ridiculous. 

After all, the last fifty years has seen the average Australia undergo continued increases in wealth and prosperity. 

Surely the next fifty years will be the same!

Surely growth is good … 

Or is it?

Think about it next time you try to fit into last year’s Speedos.

Cheers, Tim