Australians like to think in widescreen: big skies, big, dry stretches of land, big oceans. And now you can add big houses to that list. New data reveals that Australians have the world’s largest homes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that the average floor area of a new home is 215 sq m, up 10 per cent on a decade ago. The Commonwealth Bank, which commissioned the study, says that by comparison the size of an average new US home is 202 sq m. Much of the additional floor space is found in extra bedrooms, more bathrooms, home theatres, billiard rooms, extra living spaces, even butler’s pantries and second kitchens. Census data also reveals there are 8 per cent more dwellings than households in Australia, pointing to a love of holiday homes.
All this might make for a seemingly comfortable lifestyle. But despite abundant natural resources the country is not prepared to deal with the pressures placed on it by large, inefficient homes. “Our problem is that we have relatively abundant supplies of fossil fuels and a powerful fossil fuel lobby,” says Caitlin McGee of Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures. With Prime Minister Kevin Rudd due to arrive shortly in Copenhagen, climate change and the environment have been on top of the country’s political agenda, especially after the issue toppled the leader of the opposition party. On the eve of a Senate vote on an emissions trading scheme (ETS), the Liberal Party – awash with climate change sceptics – unseated its climate change-believing leader and replaced him with a hard-right sceptic, who once eloquently described climate change as “a load of crap”.
McGee says Australia’s credibility has taken a hit. “I’m not aware of too many other countries that give climate sceptics such prominence in the debate.” So where to from here? The Senate is in recess until February so a final vote won’t take place until then and energy companies are frustrated, saying it creates a climate of uncertainty.
“If I was an investor in the energy sector, I would be very reluctant to put my money into anything right now,” says Chris Riedy of the Institute for Sustainable Futures. ”Nobody really knows what the next step will be in the political debate and whether we will end up with an ETS or a suite of direct regulatory measures,” he says. Some energy companies, such as BP Australia and Origin Energy, have come out in favour of the trading scheme, describing it as appropriate and balanced. “BP Australia supports action on climate change and believes that an ETS should be central to Australia’s response,” says a company spokesman. ”Furthermore, we believe that any trading scheme should be supported by measures that drive the uptake of large-scale, low-carbon technologies.” Despite Australia’s abundant natural resources, it remains mostly desert and the driest inhabited continent on the globe, and the Bureau of Meteorology argues that climate change is already starting to have an impact. But it seems that Australians living in their mansions believe that they can cope by just flicking the switch on the air con.