What is sustainability? At the moment sustainability is driven by poor science, bad
accounting, large subsidies and emotion.
This is a bad thing. At the moment, for someone to call something sustainable is
enough to make it so.
This of course is untrue.
There is no measurement of sustainability against any metric and no
appetite for doing so. If somebody “in
authority” says this is sustainability it becomes so and anyone who disagrees
is treated as an earth destroying
radical. Far too often, the
environmental lobby is given the veto - meaning that sustainability is only
about environmental protection. But
sustainability and environmental protection are not the same thing.
Let’s look back to the
Brundtland Commission in 1987 where sustainable development was defined as, “Sustainable
development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
And again to our own Local Government Act which states that councils must take,
“a sustainable development approach...” including social, economic, cultural
and environmental. Both of these refer
not to sustainability but to sustainable development. This is important as without development we
cannot have sustainable development.
For example, there are real issues around using rainwater
tanks as a supplementary supply in a reticulated area. We want to make affordable housing in
Auckland and yet we are adding $10,000 per household to install something that
offers no environmental benefit, has no measurable social benefit and has
little or no cultural benefit. Much
uniformed and badly researched material has been produced showing how
“sustainable” these things are.
Power generation is another area where people assume that a
wind farm or solar panel is “sustainable”.
For example, the United Kingdom had subsidies for people to
put in solar power generation systems and made the energy suppliers buy back
the surplus energy from the household.
“Great” we all shout, “let’s get in there!”
But when do solar
panels produce their power? During the
day when everyone is at work. When are
the power spike demands? Between 6am and
9am and between 6pm and 9pm when the sun is low and solar panels are doing
nearly nothing. (It’s dark during these times in the winter in the UK when
power demand is highest).
So the power companies have to buy power at a premium (because
it’s green power) during the day when they don’t want it and they have to wind
up their power stations during the high demand periods when solar is not
helping at all.
How does this help? Who
is paying for these subsidies and who do you think the power companies are
charging for buying this unwanted premium cost power? The poor British taxpayer and the poor
British consumer, that’s who. (In
Australia, where the air conditioning is running all day and the sun actually
makes an appearance, it may be a very different story.)
For something to be sustainable development then first it must
be development and then we need metrics against which to measure the sustainability. Anything else is an emotional response which
will cost our country millions of dollars and continue to have no measurable
impact on environmental protection, social improvement or cultural respect.
This thought leadership article by Iain Rabbits, a Senior Water Specialist Engineer at Harrison Grierson, is intended to provide you with an insight into the real meaning of sustainability. Our thought leadership articles on topical and specialist issues are designed to present the key points in an easy to digest and interesting manner.
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