Resetting the Compass

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Australia's Journey Towards Sustainability

Resetting the Compass: Australia's Journey Towards Sustainability Updated Edition sets out Australia's environmental problems in their global context and explains what is now needed to fix them. It also illustrates how ecological sustainability can be achieved together with economic, social and cultural sustainability. + Full description

The book examines the pressures on our environment from population growth, consumption patterns and technological change. The specific actions needed to deal with each of the problems identified are described in detail.

This Edition includes:

  • Assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Figures related to Australia's emissions from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
  • Assessments of conditions and trends from the National Land and Water Audit.
  • Estimates of the volume of vegetation clearing and new information on wind farms.

This book is essential reading for politicians and public servants; business leaders and managers; environmentalists; academics and students in environmental courses; and all those interested in environmental issues.

- Short description


No longer available in a print edition.


"An excellent piece of scholarship, filling a major gap in Australia's environmental debate. . . a desperately needed guide to achieving ecological sustainability in Australia."
Tim Flannery, Author

"Everybody should read this book. It is a major contribution to understanding the deterioration of the earth's life support systems and the urgent need to adopt policies and practices which will lead to a sustainable future in ecological, economic, social and cultural terms."
Ralph Slatyer, Australia's first Chief Scientist

"This book both helps us to understand the underlying issues and provides a substantial reference work. I will certainly be glad to have easy access to it on the shelves of my study."
Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate

"Immensely important: it discusses and suggests answers to questions vital to all life on Earth; vital also to the kind of world the children of today will inherit from us."
Sir Ninian Stephen, former Governor-General and Australia's First Ambassador for the Environment

"This is a book about Australia's environmental conditions and the action needed to understand and manage them. . .I like this book for several reasons: It has a clear sequence of chapter, taking a sustained, and consistent theme towards a logical conclusion recommending government and public action. . .The book is full of ideas which are useful in bringing the context of physical (and human) geography up to date. . .The credibility of the writing, apparent in the text, is reinforced by the end notes indicating sources and demonstrating the authenticity and authority of the writing. This is a book to be read and used by geography teachers to reinforce their critical role as educators – leaders in taking the next generation into Australia's journey towards sustainability. It is highly recommended."
Geoff Conolly (Geography Bulletin, Winter, 2000)

“There is so much of interest in this book it is difficult to select sections for a review, suffice to say, buy the book, it is hard to put it down. … What appeals most about this book is the holistic approach it takes, highlighting all the components involved and the current state of scientific knowledge both in Australia and globally.”
Australian Landcare, December 2000

“The language of this substantial text is easily accessible enough for first-year students, and its breadth and depth of coverage … will ensure it becomes a reference work retained on the shelf long after specific courses have been completed. A well-structured and indexed title with useful end notes."
The Australian, 3 May 2000

“This is a timely and important book which should be at least on your bookshelf, if not on your desk or even your shoulder-holster! ... The span of the book is truly impressive, and the language is always clear and compelling.”
Ian Lowe, Griffith University, Brisbane (Australian Journal of Environmental Management v.8 no.3 September 2001)

“This is a practical book and it ought to be on the reading list of every planning course in Australia.”
Nicholas Low, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne (Urban Policy and Research v.19 no.4 December 2001)


ePDF | November 2001
ISBN: 9780643091733
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers


The Context

Chapter 1: The Issues

  • Damage to the land
  • State of the Environment reporting
  • The approach in this book
  • The four pillars of sustainability
  • Ways of knowing about the environment: Scientific, local and community knowledge

Chapter 2: The physical and global context

  • The evolution of life
  • The principles of conservation and the laws of thermodynamics
  • The industrial revolution: Exploiting new sources of energy and materials
  • The limits to growth: The right argument for the wrong reason?
  • Disturbances to the system
  • Global environmental trends
  • Conclusion

Pressures on the Environment in Australia

Chapter 3: Population, consumption and technological change

  • Pressures from population increase
  • Consumption
  • Organisation
  • Technology
  • Reducing the pressures

Chapter 4: Energy

  • Energy and society
  • Energy issues
  • Energy reserves in Australia
  • The environmental impacts of different energy uses
  • Implications
  • What should we do?
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5: Material flows and wastes

  • Flows of damaging substances
  • Total material flows
  • Accumulations in the anthroposphere
  • Models for assessing energy, material and waste flows
  • What should we do?
  • Conclusion

The Condition of the Environment and What we Need to Do About It

Chapter 6: The sustainability of settlements

  • A conceptual framework for assessing urban sustainability
  • Stocks
  • Flows: Resource inputs
  • Outward flows – wastes and emissions
  • Impacts on areas outside the boundaries of human settlements
  • Major influences on sustainability
  • What should we do?
  • What matters most

Chapter 7: Atmosphere

  • Global impacts
  • Air pollution in regional airsheds
  • Indoor air pollution
  • What should we do?
  • What matters most

Chapter 8: Biodiversity

  • The condition of biological diversity
  • Why is biological diversity being lost?
  • The implications
  • What should we do?
  • What matters most

Chapter 9: Land and waters

  • Ecological integrity of our lands
  • Ecological integrity of Australia's inland waters
  • The implications
  • What should we do?
  • What matters most

Chapter 10: Estuaries and the sea

  • Australia's marine and estuarine environments
  • The implications
  • What should we do?
  • What matters most

The Journey Towards Sustainability

Chapter 11: Present policies and future targets

  • International action
  • National action
  • Why current policies will not achieve ecological sustainability
  • Evaluating past efforts and building on success
  • Recasting the strategy direction of environmental policy
  • Setting environmental targets for Australia
  • Developing specific targets for Australia

Chapter 12: Political and economic change

  • The relationships between ecological and economic, social and cultural sustainability
  • From problem to opportunity
  • A new politics of the environment
  • A sustainable economy

Chapter 13: The four pillars of wisdom

  • Social sustainability
  • Cultural sustainability
  • Concluding comments