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Jill Quirk: Sustainable Population - deal or no deal?

This article title is based on the title of a debate at the Municipal Association of Victoria AGM, which took place on Thursday, October 21 at Hotel Sofitel. The article itself is based on speech notes from SPA Victoria's president, Jill Quirk, for her part in the debate. Panel members were: Jill Quirk, President of Sustainable Population Australia (Victorian branch); Pru Sanderson, CEO, VicUrban; and Professor of Physiology, Roger Short, Melbourne University. The Chair was Jon Faine.

Sustainable population MUST BE THE DEAL since the alternative is societal and ecological collapse.

Sustainable means – able to be sustained/maintained without decay or degradation. Unless this is envisaged over a long period of time, it is meaningless in human terms. The previous custodians of this continent had staying power of over a period of 40,000 -60,000 years. Europeans have only made their mark- over about 230-50 years.

In other words if we are to be sustainable over any significant and meaningful time period, we’ve hardly begun.

Victoria at present does not have a sustainable population.

The State of the Environment (SOE) report 2008 reflects the simple fact that most areas of the state are highly stressed. Most natural vegetation, waterways, wetlands, coasts and rivers are reported in a parlous condition.

“Population growth, settlement and consumption patterns and climate change are the key drivers of environmental degradation in Victoria”

“Victoria’s population growth, increasing affluence and the expansion of our cities and towns, have contributed to unsustainable levels of resource consumption and waste production.”

It is clear that population growth combined with the broad practices of our society are leading us in the wrong direction. It is ultimately our environment which will dictate whether or not we are sustainable and it is therefore non negotiable. In order to achieve sustainability our environment must come before all the considerations including the economy.

To understand the seriousness of the SOE report and that with continuing population growth, if no changes are made, the situation will worsen must be also to understand that the end of our stay here is in sight.

Sustainable population must not be confused with "sustainable growth" in population which of course is an impossibility, even an oxymoron. Stabilization of our population as soon as we can should be our aim as it is necessary but not sufficient for long term sustainability

From localized to more pervasive environmental issues -

Greenhouse gases are an example of a waste product and in Australia rise in lock step with population growth.

Instead of striving to stabilize our population, which is necessary but not sufficient for sustainability, the push from those with the loudest voices is to grow as fast as we can.

Our leaders and planners need to incorporate resource depletion, including peak oil, in realistic rather than fanciful visions of our future.

In Victoria- what I hear is:

“Extension of UGB
High rise /Activity centers.”


Post peak oil, Melbourne's outer suburbs and established areas will become less sustainable. Peak oil will highlight terrible problems of transport and self sufficiency.

Authorities, leaders and planners must bear this in mind.

Right now, as we cannot start any sooner –

Democracy crucial

The issue of democracy at a local level is crucial in shaping our future and needs to be protected.
We associate planning very much with local government. The role of councils ideally is as an intermediary between the rights of some and the assumed freedoms of others. At this level, the sustainability of local areas has the best chance of being protected.

As David Suzuki once said, referring to the protection of the environment, “Every victory is temporary, every defeat is permanent.”

We have no serious option but to be a sustainable population, so to me it is definitely a deal. The possibility of achieving it rests with all levels of government.

We need to acknowledge our impact, lessen our individual impact, stop seeking more, do less, and acknowledge that infrastructure is not the cure-all for runaway population growth.

We can stabilise our population. We cannot do it immediately but by mid century – yes.
We are not sustainable now.
We face oil depletion and declining environment

We owe it to ourselves and to our grandchildren and great grandchildren that a sustainable population must be THE DEAL.

Details of Event:

Audience of about 250 Councillors and Council officers from across Victoria, at MAV Annual Conference on Thursday, October 21, at Hotel Sofitel. Session title: "Sustainable Population – Deal or No Deal?"
Session Chair: Jon Faine
Panel members: Jill Quirk, President: Sustainable Population Australia (Victorian branch); Pru Sanderson, CEO, VicUrban; Professor Roger Short, Melbourne University.
Each Panel member spoke for approximately10 minutes , followed by questions and general discussion.

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Unfortunately the various forces driving Australia's rapid, perpetual population growth seem irresistible. Something will stop us growing, probably within a century, but we won't do voluntarily.

* The vast majority of business leaders are obsessed with short term profit above all else. Population growth is more profitable short term, whereas population stabilization is unprofitable short and medium term.

* Our politicians are mostly hardcore cornucopians (especially our former PM and now foreign minister Kevin Rudd).

* Most everyday people are cornucopian too, in a kind of lazy unthinking way.

* Our economy seems to have become fine-tuned to depend on perpetual rapid population growth.