POPULATION AND URBAN TRENDS
Australia’s estimated resident population of 20.3 million at June 2005 grew by nearly 2.3 million people or 12.5% during the past decade. As the population continues to increase, both in numbers and in affluence, there is more pressure on the environment. All uses of land, whether urban, agricultural, industrial or recreational, exert pressure on the natural landscape.
This section looks at a number of trends which are drivers of environmental change, including population, households, economic growth (GDP), household income and wealth, and consumption.
- Population growth has occurred unevenly across the states and territories. Population growth occurs because of natural increase (the number of births less the number of deaths) and migration patterns, which have seen people moving into cities and coastal areas and out of rural and remote areas. Where people live has important environmental implications. Increasing numbers of people in certain areas, such as cities, can affect air pollution. The concentration of people in coastal areas of south-eastern Australia has resulted in relatively high rates of land clearing of native bushland and agricultural land for residential development. This has caused loss of habitat for native plants and animals, which reduces their numbers and geographical spread. Urban developments also need water and sewerage services and landfill sites, all of which can affect the environment.
- Households in Australia, which numbered around 7.4 million in 2001, are becoming smaller on average in the number of residents, yet larger in terms of composition. Dwelling characteristics impact the environment in terms of energy and resource usage.
- Economic Growth (as measured by GDP) is a key determinant of employment and, therefore, of economic wellbeing of households. However, economic activity often has associated environmental costs. For example, economic activity, especially among the more energy-intensive industries, creates pollution, which has implications for the environment through its effect on native flora and fauna and on human health. There is a debate about how to balance economic progress, often measured by gross domestic product (GDP), against the need to maintain resources for future generations to enjoy – getting this balance right is often referred to as environmental sustainability.
- Household income and wealth largely determines the economic resources available for households, which have been on the rise in recent years. Higher levels of wealth also support higher living standards.
- Consumption of goods and services has increased in Australia due to rising household incomes. Rising levels of consumption can cause an increase in waste generation and energy consumption.