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Albert Bartlett: Population Problems Downunder

By Albert Bartlett

Let me thank Bill Ryerson of the Population Media Center for circulating a set of several reports telling of the concern that a growing number of thoughtful people in Australia are having about Australia’s continuing explosive population growth and dwindling water and other natural resources.

In the first report, Penny Wong was listed as the Climate Change Minister in the government of Kevin Rudd. An interviewer asked the Minister, “Australia’s population is projected to increase by 65%... by 2050. During the same period, the government is committed to cutting our carbon emissions by 60%. Aren’t these goals or facts mutually exclusive?”

Minister Wong responded emphatically “…Absolutely not.”

Minister Wong’s response notes that “Whereas the last few hundred years …growth in our carbon pollution has essentially tracked our population and economic growth…The key issue here is breaking that link, not trying to reduce population.”

Let’s look at some numbers.

The average growth rate needed to increase Australia’s population 65% by the year 2050 is only 1.252 percent per year.

The average annual reduction of emissions needed to reduce emissions 60% by 2050 is 2.291 percent per year.

Add these two rates (1.252 + 2.291) and you find that to accommodate the projected population growth AND to reduce overall annual emissions by 60% would require an annual rate of decrease of per capita emissions of polluting greenhouse gases of 3.543 percent per year over the next forty years. The per capita annual emissions would have to be cut in half every 19.6 years!

What is the basis for Minister Wong’s belief that this enormous reduction can be achieved, year after year for 40 years? What progress toward this goal has Australia made during Ms. Wong’s leadership in her present position of Climate Change Minister?

Does Minister Wong really believe that this can be done? Or is she basing her policy recommendations on Walt Disney’s First Law:

“Wishing will make it so.”

Let’s look a little farther. The present rate of growth of Australia’s population is quoted as being 1.8 percent per year which is significantly higher than the 1.252 percent per year assumed above. If this current higher rate continues, Australia’s population will double by 2050 and would reach a density of one person per square meter over the whole continent in just over 700 years!

Surely the Minister will admit that population growth in Australia will stop itself through starvation, pollution, warfare and lack of resources long before the population density reaches one person per square meter.

The critical question for the Minister then is, “Should Australia encourage continued population growth or should the people of Australia act to stop the growth before Nature stops it?”

If the Minister feels that Australians should act to stop population growth before Nature stops the growth, then why not stop it now while there are still some resources and some open spaces?

It would be very helpful for the people of Australia if Climate Change Minister Wong would give these facts and options some serious consideration and then report the results of her considerations promptly to the people of Australia.

Albert A. Bartlett; Professor Emeritus of Physics
University of Colorado at Boulder, CO; 80309-0390
Phone, Department Office; (303) 492-6952
Home; 2935 19th Street, Boulder, CO; 80304-2719
Phone; (303) 443-0595; FAX; (303) 449-9440

Circulated by Bill Ryerson, President of the Population Media Center and Population Institute


Population growth rate for Australia last year was 2.1%, ABS figure, not 1.8% as quoted above. At this rate, Australia's population rate will have more than doubled by 2050. If our government can keep the figure "down" to 35 million, then they can start keeping it down now. Why wait until Nature, or Gaia, stops the infestation? More and more land has been taken over for food production to feed the growing population, to provide housing and infrastructure for that population and now, to provide land for energy crop production. And oceanic fishing has increased in intensity. The consequences are manifold.
With our Rudd government all out encouragement of non-renewable energy sources, mining and population growth, any addressing of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is a pure charade to convince a naive public that something is being done when in reality it is pure tokenism.