Michael Mobbs doing his bit with the vegie garden in Chippendale

1 July 2010 – Chippendale, a small Sydney inner suburb, is using Earth’s energy and water unsustainably and increasing its pollution of Sydney harbour and local air.

The trends for increasing pollution and resource use show that this little suburb, home to some 4500 people, is declining and getting less and less sustainable every year.

New initiatives by local residents and businesses and the Sydney City Council over the last few years are cutting the rate of increase of the pollution and resource imports but their savings are tiny compared to the amount of waste and pollution.

Still, at least some folks here are trying to make the trends sustainable and, who knows . . . “from little things big things grow”.

Here’s data about some key trends in two of the suburb’s 59 streets.

The data shows, for example, that in the two streets the amount of sewage pollution leaving each year has risen by 56 million litres a year over the last 30 years, and the amount of imported dam water has risen by 80 million litres a year (1).  The two roads put over ten Olympic swimming pools of rain water into Blackwattle Bay each year – 10 million litres. Accumulated pollution in the Bay of heavy metals and other toxic sediment that’s run from the two streets for the 30 years to 2000 exceeds 30 tonnes and is a serious threat to the aquatic life there. (2)

Water wasted and polluting Blackwattle Bay:

More rain falls in the catchment (which includes Chippendale) and is wasted as pollution to Blackwattle Bay than is imported as mains water from dams and rivers.

A 2003 study showed that in that year Chippendale and the other suburbs in the catchment –

  • imported dam water  –  2.6 billion litres
  • Rainfall there – 3 billion litres
  • Sewage exported to harbour and ocean –  1.8 billion litres
  • Sewage overflow pollution into Blackwattle Bay – 30 million litres
  • Dam water consumed by residents – 3 million litres

The more water consumed the more sewage pollution there is of Blackwattle Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Notice how little dam water is consumed – most of it is used for non drinking purposes.

Governments don’t collect key data on sustainable resource use such as the amount of rainwater storage capacity though the Bureau of Statistics does collect some data on the number of tanks.

Nor do they collect data on the amount of solar energy generated. Many solar systems make less than the promised energy due to poor workmanship, inferior materials and changing solar radiation (for example, climate change is bringing more cloud cover in some areas).  Electricity retailers have this data but governments don’t get it.

Governments are run by spin doctors, not Earth savers, and, despite Leonard Cohen’s advice, fair dinkum leadership is beyond them (6).

To live here, however, is a delight.  We’re blessed with beaut cafes several of which buy from local farmers and compost their food waste.  Art galleries abound – at least 20.  Dance studios, writers, artists, warehouses with sunlight in them to gladden the heart, design studios, conversations in the street, some cheap pubs with good grub, a mix of peoples, races, cultures and levels of wealth. We have the smallest block size in Australia; 90m2 compared to the average of  443m2 within 10 k of the Sydney CBD (7).


Chippendale’s pollution and unsustainable use of resources is similar for all of Australia’s cities, so let’s hope the little beginnings there continue to grow.

It’s what we’ve built that’s causing Earth’s decline.  If we can’t fix our existing suburbs our cultures will decline, and I expect we’ll experience that decline before 2020 (others think this, too  (8)). Imagine, for example, not being able to eat tuna in the tins we buy from chainstores as by then that fish will have disappeared (9).

How’s your suburb going?  Where will you and it be in 10 years?


(1) Two streets surveyed:  Buckland, Myrtle (from Buckland to Abercrombie): Note the data was partly developed from excellent research by students of the University of Technology, Sydney, Faculty of Engineering.

(2) Taylor referred to in: https://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s17246.htm

(3) Austroads 2003, Guidelines for treatment of stormwater runoff from road infrastructure Table 3.1 pp7, Midlam City of Sydney Draft Final Report Blackwattle Bay Stormwater abatement program Stage 3, Objectives

(4): https://www.acfonline.org.au/consumptionatlas/ – enter postcode “2008” to achieve the calculation

(5)  BASIX, NatHers, Green Star for example are irrelevant to the two streets as no development there is controlled by or affected by those policies and the few developments which may occur over the next 10 years are irrelevant because they will have little if any impact on the rate of increase of use of water, energy, cars, materials.  Those policies do not, in any event, seek to return water and energy use to sustainable levels, merely to reduce the rates of increase.

(6) “Take the only tree that’s left and stuff it up the hole that’s in your culture”. Leonard Cohen, The Future.

(7) https://www.smartcompany.com.au/property/20100517-big-block-housing-stock.html

(8) The long emergency, James Kunstler (2005); Eaarth, Bill McKibben (2010)

(9) https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/magazine/27Tuna-t.html?pagewanted=2&src=un&feedurl=https://json8.nytimes.com/pages/science/earth/index.jsonp

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy. www.sustainablehouse.com.au