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How City Dwellers Affect Their Resource Hinterland

A Spatial Impact Study of Australian Households


Address correspondence to:
Manfred Lenzen
The University of Sydney
Centre for Integrated Sustainability
School of Physics A28
NSW 2006, Australia


This article links databases on household consumption, industrial production, economic turnover, employment, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions into a spatially explicit model. The causal sequence starts with households demanding a certain consumer basket. This demand requires production in a complex supply-chain network of interdependent industry sectors. Even though the household may be confined to a particular geographical location, say a dwelling in a city, the industries producing the indirect inputs for the commodities that the household demands will be dispersed all over Australia and probably beyond. Industrial production represents local points of economic activity, employment, water use, and emissions that have local economic, social, and environmental impacts. The consumer basket of a typical household is followed in Australia's two largest cities—Sydney and Melbourne—along its upstream supply chains and to numerous production sites within Australia. The spatial spread is described by means of a detailed regional interindustry model. Through industry-specific emissions profiles, industrial production is then translated into local impacts. We show that annually a typical household is responsible for producing approximately 80 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, uses around 3 million liters of water, causes about A$140,000 to circulate in the wider economy, and provides labor worth just under three full-time employment-years. We also introduce maps that visually demonstrate how a very localized household affects the environment across an entire continent. Our model is unprecedented in its spatial and sectoral detail, at least for Australia.

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