HUMAN ACTIVITY TRENDS
Australia’s population is increasing, especially in coastal urban areas, which is placing increasing pressure on the natural environment through habitat loss, waste disposal and pollution. This is accentuated by increasing consumption of energy, land, water and other products dependent on natural resources.
There have been developments in recent years towards better management of natural resources, such as increased recycling of some materials, improved efficiency in the use of energy by households and reduced use of water by households on a per household basis (see Water trends section). Nevertheless, many problems remain, most as a result of the very high level of material and energy consumption which continues to increase at a high rate. This section focuses on three areas of human activity – energy, waste and people’s attitudes – and the main trends in these areas that can have environmental impacts.
- Energy is a vital input into all sectors of the economy. As well as supplying the power on which industry and households depend, the production and supply of energy provides employment, investment and export opportunities, all of which contribute substantially to the welfare and standard of living of Australians. Energy sources are divided into two groups – renewable (energy sources for which the supply is essentially inexhaustible) and non-renewable (energy sources with a finite supply). Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, hydro-electricity, geothermal and biomass. However, most of Australia's energy comes from non-renewable sources, which include the fossil fuels of oil, natural gas and coal. The amount and type of energy used by households has considerable implications for the environment, including depletion of natural resources, greenhouse gas generation and air pollution.
- Waste is one of the by-products generated by human activities. Almost everything we do creates waste. Australia's growth in income and wealth has created a massive increase in the disposal of redundant goods, with an associated increase in waste diversity, toxicity and complexity. This can create threats to public health, the environment and urban amenity. The extent and nature of environmental or health threats from waste depends on the type of waste and the way it is managed.
- People’s attitudes influence energy use and waste generation, among other environmental trends. Overall concern about environmental issues has shown a decline between 2001 and 2004 (from 62% down to 57%). This is despite many areas of Australia being in drought conditions over the past three years, resulting in an increased awareness of water use and conservation issues by many Australian households. However, the overwhelming majority of Australians (90%) use at least one type of environmentally friendly product.