Political debates about a "big Australia" have reappeared in response to high levels of immigration, increased congestion, and property price increases in Sydney and Melbourne, where 90% of migrants are settled. In 2010, China exceeded the UK as the largest source of permanent migrants in Australia (a position now owned by India). Since then, migrants born in China have recorded an average of 15% of annual consumption. This is a significant contributor to Sydney and Melbourne's "asianisation" that Peter McDonald indicated a decade ago.
In this context, our research focused on the much neglected dimension of the environmental impact on cities, population and immigration. Australian cities are the world's leader – in the worst sense – in terms of the magnitude of their environmental footprints, a measure of the use of resources and greenhouse gas emissions. And we have found that Chinese people have more than three times the average consumption level, compared to when they lived in China, even surpassing the consumption of Australian residents.
What did the study find?
We were interested in understanding the urban consumption behavior of China's 21st century migrants (measured by their ecological footprint) when they settled in Box Hill. This is a suburb of the middle ring of Melbourne, with the largest concentration of inhabitants in China. We compared consumption with their pre-migration footprint (when living in China) and that of residents born in Australia from the same suburb.
Our findings are based on a comprehensive face-to-face study of 61 births in China and 72 Australian residents. The main findings were as follows.
Over a decade of arrival in Melbourne, urban consumption patterns in China were more than three times higher than their consumption before migration. They even went beyond the consumption levels of other suburban residents. Household consumption was 5.4 times higher than when China's food consumption was 4.7 times higher and carbon footprint 2.7 times higher.
In part, this is due to higher incomes, being in a city with the highest dimensions and cost of living among the highest in the world, and in which the private car is the dominant form of transport. But cultural influences are also at stake.
Ting, Newton & Stone (2018), Authorised
It is obvious that consumer acuity is the major process through which Chinese migrants came to mirror the host society in Australia. Cultural integration is less obvious – it is the camp of consumer acuity. This was clear from the comparison of scores on a cultural-linguistic index (CALD).
The index incorporated birthplace, English competence, religion, food preferences, entertainment and festivals, ways of social interaction and involvement in neighboring communities. The difference between the scores of the groups originating in China and those of the groups born in Australia on the CALD was significant (see Figure 1). This suggests that a strong cultural influence on the urban consumption behavior of the Chinese group is likely.
Ting, Newton & Stone (2018), Authorised
A comparison of the different components of the ecological footprints of the inhabitants of China and the nations of Australia was also revealing. Dwellings that measure the size and type of housing occupied by Chinese residents were 18% higher.
This is due to the role played by housing in reflecting an achieved status (mien-tzu, or "face salvage") in the host society. Consumption levels exceeding those of residents born in Australia indicate the potential danger that housing consumption will be used to indicate a "successful" settlement in Australia.
People's consumption patterns in China were 16% higher than those born in Australia. This reflected the high consumption of meat and dairy products and reduced consumption of home-grown vegetables.
China's birth emissions were 37% higher, mainly as a result of more frequent travel abroad.
A growing burden on the planet
The global implications of these findings are potentially enormous. Increasing the incomes of the Chinese population to those in developed countries can be expected to release new levels of urban consumption as this population aspires to the urban viability of the people of Australia and North America. In these countries, however, ratings on the viability of cities are closely linked to ecological footprints, which are almost triple to China.
Based on the growth rate of the Chinese continental middle class and the increase in middle-class consumption in China now living in Australia, China's ecological footprint of 1.4 billion can be expected to double in the next 10 to 20 years . This has significant consequences for planetary and geopolitical ecosystems.
Written by Peter Newton, Research Professor of Sustainable Urbanism, Center for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology; Christina Ting, postdoctoral researcher, Swinburne Business School, Swinburne University of Technology and Wendy Stone, Associate Professor, Center for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology. This article is republished from the Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.