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Population Growth is good?

"The growth lobbyists will tell us that we can solve our problems by converting to “clean coal” technologies or nuclear power, building more high rise, producing desalinated water at $10 litre (who knows?), installing “smart” electricity meters, piping water from the Northern Victoria to Melbourne, importing more food on more and bigger ships etc." Federal Candidate, Jenny Warfe writes, "I'm looking forward to a different way of 'moving forward.'"

Editor: Headings introduced by editor

Honouring our Provision of Asylum obligations

Firstly, I believe we must honour in word and deed our international obligations to provide asylum (1) for those who seek it, especially in view of our present international military activities. What’s more, the few thousand refugees who gain Australian residency each year make no significant difference to our population growth, so are irrelevant to the following discussion.

Dick Smith’s recent ‘Population Puzzle’ (2) documentary has brought population impacts into the mainstream so now seems like a good time to discuss one of my policies:

Develop a population plan informed by best available relevant science. Migration program should focus on political and climate asylum and reunions. Remove reliance on skilled migration by re-skilling and training Australians.

Neither the ALP or the Libs understand the mathematical realities of growth

As Dick Smith discovered to his amazement – there is no plan and neither major party seems capable of understanding the mathematical realities of growth.

Population growth in most developed countries is declining, but Australia’s growth rate has been rising fast. It’s currently 2% per annum - more than twice the world average and higher than most other developed or developing nation, eg: India’s 1.4% and UK’s 0.4%. At 2% per annum, Australia will almost double its population by 2050. Melbourne is set to double to 8 million in the next 50 years (3). Impacts of our growth rate are being felt in inadequate public transport services whilst tollways and freeways continue to expand; water restrictions; stresses on our coastline, oceans and waterways; loss of productive land to new suburbs; loss of marine and terrestrial biodiversity; destruction of our natural and built heritage for continuing urban expansion – and the accompanying carbon emissions and climate change. Surely the elephant in the room is the world’s inability to deal wisely with our own expansion?

Where's the logical end point to this?

I think every nation on Earth needs a plan based around some concept of carrying capacity. This might be a long way off, but a good start would be to restructure the UN as a real global government, extinguish domination by the USA and its allies, all countries to be represented equally and global defence and armaments expenditure to be significantly re-allocated to humanitarian and environmental restoration activities.

1994 Australian population carrying capacity Inquiry

In 1994 Australia did look at its carrying capacity in the Parliamentary report: Australia's population "carrying capacity”: one nation - two ecologies (4). But – the idea has gone nowhere since - buried it seems under the rise to power of the growth lobby, including the Business and Property Council of Australia – the few faceless entities who benefit from more of everything, and ably assisted by media commentators such as Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman. The growth lobbyists will tell us that we can solve our problems by converting to “clean coal” technologies or nuclear power, building more high rise, producing desalinated water at $10 litre (who knows?), installing “smart” electricity meters, piping water from the Northern Victoria to Melbourne, importing more food on more and bigger ships etc.

Climate change and paving habitat

Mr. Rudd was right. Responding to climate change is one of the greatest moral challenges of our time, but dealing with that challenge whilst we continue to expand will be all the harder. Until our political leadership has the guts to ignore the ramblings of Andrew Bolt et al we will be stuck in a reactive policy merry-go-round. As our natural heritage disappears it isn’t good enough to fall back on a “19th Century zoo mentality” and list yet another species as critically endangered (what’s the point if we pave over its habitat?) or propose a National Park to save a piece of our land or sea, when what we need to do for the safety of the planet and all who live on it is to reduce the impact we humans are having on the land and oceans.

Psycho-social and economic disconnect from Environment

It’s my view that since the industrial revolution humans have become the only species on Earth whose population numbers, at least in the “First World” are no longer prescribed by the environmental constraints that controlled us for thousands of years and other species for millions of years. Now, especially in the West we have become increasingly disconnected – both physically and psychologically – from the environment which sustains us, allowing us to consider the environment as a resource for our use and exploitation rather than our habitat. But the standards we have constructed in the West and our addiction to growth and its underpinning consumerism have come at huge cost to others on the planet. Poorer nations subsidise our wealth, providing consumer goods made with cheap labour in harsh conditions, and many such country’s lax regulations allow their environments to become degraded and their endemic species to be obliterated.

Capitalism can work well without growth

But, there is another way to organise ourselves. As even capitalism loving Dick Smith says, “capitalism can work wonderfully well without growth”.

We can get along very well in a steady state economy – indeed our quality of life, not just the quality of our possessions – might even increase. There’s quite a bit written about it, and it’s all pretty inspiring. See:

Inhumanity of Growthism and Paying the Ferryman

I reckon if we don’t want to consider our population and growth impacts we aren’t being humane. Already, with 6.5 Billion people on the planet, over 1 billion can’t access clean water. With 9 billion people by 2050 how can we possibly address appalling realities like that? Sometime soon we are going to have to pay the ferryman.

I’m looking forward to a different way of “moving forward”.


(1) And on-shore processing centres


(3) The Age August 5th 2010

(4) Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives. Standing Committee for Long Term Strategies

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Population Minister, Mr Burke, recently said there would come a time when we had to acknowledge that some of the land going into building houses would be better preserved for food production.

Isn't this time now?

What is he waiting for?
Half or more of the population unable to afford fresh food?

Jenny Warfe is so far ahead of our current ministers that not-voting for her would be stupid.

Its a well known rule of thumb that a 2% constant growth rate quadruples a population every 70 years. For simplicity assume our population is now 25 million (we are very close to that I think):

70 years - 100 million
140 years - 400 million
210 years - 1.6 billion

Thats right - at our current growth rates, which most of our business leaders and economists absolutely love - we will reach China-like population levels within 200 years. This is not very long in historical terms.

If we halve it - which our business leaders and economists would bitterly resist - we will probably reach 200-250 million in the same timeframe.

None of these people really want an Australia of 200 million or a billion or more people, but at the same time they don't want Australia's population to ever stop growing. You can't have it both ways - either plan to stop Australia's growth very soon, or plan for an Australia of hundreds of millions of people.

"Migration program should focus on political and climate asylum and reunions".
Sorry, I disagree! First, asylum seekers are defined as those who can't live in their own country due to religious, political or social discrimination or persecution. If we add "climate" refugees, we could open the flood gates, and there will be millions of displaced people wanting to migrate from overpopulated countries. We ourselves are predicted to be hard hit by climate change, and we already have limited carrying capacity due to lack of regular water, already over-irrigated river systems, poor soils and urban sprawl. We in Australia do not have reciprocal resettlement alternatives.
Secondly, "family reunions" can be easily exploited. I know from my own experience, stories of divorce, a new marriage in the country of birth, and then the new spouse brings his/her distance relatives, often on borrowed money that isn't paid back. Families "help" financially to bring out relatives, and are then broken due to unpaid expenses. Marriages have been used as a scam to get residence into Australia, and distant relatives put pressure, emotionally, to come to Australia. People have paid to get married for residence.
Some of the people brought here to Australia in the past - and I won't name the nation - were totally unsuitable for settlement. There have been too many rorts in the past, with peasants quite content with living marginally and taking advantage of our generous social security and housing benefits. Family reunions mean that the same type of people end up in Australia!
Let's just keep the status of "refugees" the way it is now.

Sooner or later a time will come when global security and stability will be so severely impacted by the combined threats of over population and global warming that the community of nations will need to and be willing to consider more confronting means of halting runaway population growth.

Already there is technology available to build entirely new and novel species of bacteria by building a genome from the ground up. So it would be entirely feasible to use this technology to modify an existing bacteria species to act as a self replicating and self administering 'pill' to reduce the over all fertility of the human species.

An appropriate gene for oestrogen could be inserted into the genome of common but relatively harmless bacteria species. Candidates might be Chlamydia, passed on through sexual intercourse, or possibly Staphylococcus aureus, part of the normal skin flora and passed on through casual contact. Their oestrogen secretion could prevent ovulation in woman, in the same way that 'the pill' works, as well as probably reducing the sperm count in males.

We already recognize the need for these sorts of techniques to control populations of various animals confined to national parks. It is about time we applied the same standards and principals to ourselves for the greater good of our civilisation and our descendants.

Such a method would be as fair as possible and be akin to 'drawing straws' with westerners being at equal risk of picking up the bacterium as third-worlders, on an individual basis. But over all the third world would bear a larger burden commensurate with is larger contribution to over population.

One alternative is to leave the matter to an indifferent Gaia which will eventually restore the ecological balance through famine, disease, war and genocide etc. The other alternative is regulation of reproduction by governments which would be prone to ethnic favoritism.

It is time that the human race 'grew up' and out of its religious naivety about our place within Gaia and the limits that we are subject to.

This comment argues that the imposition of lower rates of fertility upon a large proportion of humankind is likely to become inevitable, due to the nature of governments and of overpopulation. Consider, however, that humans are very often prevented from organising socially to avoid high immigration or high birth rates by undemocratic governments, with the awful consequence of overpopulation.

The U.N. says:

"At least 200 million women want to use safe and effective family planning methods, but are unable to do so because they lack access to information and services or the support of their husbands and communities. And more than 50 million of the 190 million women who become pregnant each year have abortions. Many of these are clandestine and performed under unsafe conditions.

The need for voluntary family planning is growing fast, and it is estimated that the 'unmet need' will grow by 40 per cent during the next 15 years. But even though it is an economically sound investment, family planning has been losing ground as an international development priority. Funding is decreasing, and the gap between the need and the available resources is growing.

The international community has agreed that reproductive choice is a basic human right. But without access to relevant information and high-quality services, that right cannot be exercised."

So, if these unmet democratic needs were met, would the spectre of harshly imposed population control ever arise?

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Provision of contraceptives and family planning services to the third world is great in theory but, with the global population expected to peak at 9 billion plus, I suspect we have missed that boat on account of ignoring this particular elephant in the room for so long. Instead of pursuing Norman Borlaug's 'green revolution' back in the 50s - 70s we should have addressed global hunger with family planning back then.

The logistical task and economic cost of providing family planning services to 2 billion plus impoverished people are truly herculean and I am pessimistic that it can be done in time to avert a human catastrophe of unprecedented proportions for all of us, including those of us in the west.

Corrupt and authoritarian governments may prevent the provision of family planning services to their impoverished people, but that will get far worse as the population climbs towards 9 billion plus. In addition the Vatican is in the ear of many of these governments.

Hard and unpallatable choices are going to have to be made, or I fear our modern civilisation will be a casualty of the coming global over population catastrophe.

In an ideal world we would not need to consider the imposition of fertility control but unfortunately our world is far from ideal.

We have organisations like the Vatican in the ear of third world governments telling them they will go to hell if they provide their population with contraception.

We have corrupt governments that don't care if their country is over populated and many of their people suffer greatly due to over population.

Instead of confronting the over population elephant in the room back in the 50s and 60s, the west chose to ignore it and instead embark of the 'green revolution' which as ultimately made over population and the associated human suffering worse by causing the global population to triple from 2 billion to 6 billion.

As far as proving family planning to the third world, I fear we have missed that boat by about 40 years or so.

There's been a link kicking around population discussions for a YouTube lecture by Albert Bartlett, a retired Physics prof. at U of Colorado-Boulder. The presentation is titled "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy".

I highly recommend the whole lecture which is in 8 parts.

Julia Gillard has emphatically denied a returned Labor government would put the brakes on economic growth by cutting migration.

Her plan is to reduce immigration as part of a promise to deliver "a sustainable Australia".

Describing herself as a supporter of immigration, Ms Gillard, born in Wales, said targets had to be set according to economic circumstances. What about peak oil, peak water, peak soil, and peak humans?

Economic without considering climate change and sustainability is simply "business as usual"!

With such contradictory double talk, can we really trust her?

If you listen to her speeches you can decipher some of her double talk. She uses expressions in a different way from most people.

"Sustainable Population"
What we assume it means: stopping population growth entirely, stabilizing the population.
What it means to Julia: maintaining rapid population growth indefinitely - just make sure there's enough infrastructure in place for all the new arrivals

"Big Australia"
What we assume it means: An Australian population in excess of ~30 million people.
What it means to Julia: the term "Big Australia" has no reference to the actual number of people. It just means that too many people are concentrated in the existing major cities. So just expand the growing population into what are currently rural or wilderness areas - then you could have 100 million+ people but it would still qualify as "Small Australia".