Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 4: Water

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


The combination of climate change, population growth and increasing affluence is putting pressure on water resources in both urban and rural contexts. Climate change will have most of its social impact through water-related phenomena (Falkenmark 2008). Water footprints (Hoekstra and Chapagain 2007) are now often calculated alongside carbon footprints. Water supply is clearly a global issue, but it is a regional resource requiring varied policy solutions. Unprecedented recent droughts in southeastern Australia and the southwestern United States have brought water issues strongly into public consciousness, and provide insights into how we might adapt better to such conditions in the future. At the same time, it is important to remember that some 1.1 billion people worldwide still lack access to an improved water supply, and up to 2 billion experience regular water scarcity (MEA 2005). The examples in this chapter are mainly from Australia, the driest inhabited continent, in which the challenges of sustainable water supply for affluent populations are increasingly felt. This context exemplifies issues of wider international relevance. As one water manager says, ‘we must never take a water-only view’ (Kelly 2004, 38), because some proposed solutions to save water in fact create larger environmental footprints through the energy use and infrastructure required to move it around, clean it up and pump it to homes. At the macro-scale, the water industry is energy-intensive – although in geographically variable ways. It contributes around 1 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom (Water UK 2009, 1). For one shire council in rural New South Wales (NSW), 48 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions came from water and wastewater, primarily through pumping stations, sewage treatment plants and dam aeration systems (Still 2008). At the household scale, Wright et al. (2009, 14) estimate that supplying water to a typical three- person Australian household produces 270 kg of CO2-e, about half of one per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions for such a household (Wright et al. 2009, 4).

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