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Mark O'Connor on population on The World Today 14 May 2011

The media is so full of the ghastly propaganda for population growth by our government, its ministers and the same old academics who play to big business, that we thought we would bring you some exerpts from The World Today, but edited to highlight the anti-growth lobby's contribution. Enjoy.

For the full transcript go to Interview with Mark O'Connor, environmentalist and co-author of the book Overloading Australia - how governments, the media dither on denying population and professional population growth-booster, Peter McDonald, from the Australia National Universities Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute. If you want to read what Peter McDonald said, you can go to the site and do so, but we aren't repeating it here, because it's not news; it's propaganda of the kind that saturates the mainstream media. Or you can go to our Peter McDonald pages and read about his views.

Do we need a firm population target?

EMILY BOURKE: The most recent Treasury modelling projects that Australia will reach a population level of 36 million by the year 2050. So how will Australia deal with more people, where will people live and work and crucially how will we live?


EMILY BOURKE: Mark O'Connor do you think we need to set a firm population target?

MARK O'CONNOR: Yes of course we do. I mean it's people who want population growth to go on who like to pooh pooh looking far into the future because it's easier to think that you can go on the way you are going for another 10 or 20 years.

It's when you look at figures like Treasury's projection of 36 million and then of course you continue at that rate. If you did you would have about 100 million totally unfeedable by the end of the century.

And people who want growth don't like to look that far down the track. But we should. And we should also be seeing the damage that's being done now, particularly the high cost of infrastructure is killing some regions of Australia already.


Do we need population growth to preserve standard of living?

EMILY BOURKE: Well Mark O'Connor I'll bring you in here. How do you counter that argument that we need population growth to preserve and even improve our living standards? Is that achievable without bringing in more people?

MARK O'CONNOR: Of course it is. I mean what worries me about Peter is not so much his demography as the way he incorporates the assumptions of the big business lobby which obviously has a vested interest in growth.

I mean if you're counting your success as a company by the number of shopping centres you build each year then of course you want more suburbs and more people.

But in small business the extra congestion and the increased costs in real estate and rent may be killing you.

And for ordinary people of course infrastructure costs are deadly because basically every extra person we bring into the country costs between $200,000 and $400,000 in infrastructure...


Do we need population growth to deal with skills shortage and aging?

EMILY BOURKE: Well Mark I'll bring you in. You said the words rubbish there. How do we deal with our current and future skills shortage? There are labour demands and how do we indeed offset the needs of an ageing, retired population?

MARK O'CONNOR: Okay first you realise that it's most unusual to be growing at this rate. I mean we are growing at about four times the rate of advanced countries. I mean we are growing faster than Indonesia which only has 1.1 per cent growth, a third world country and it's trying to reduce it.

So you know Peter's whole assumption that it's inevitable, it's natural and it's being caused as he claims by the need for labour I think is highly dubious. I think it's caused by governments giving in to the immigration lobbies.

The Australia Institute which had a look as to whether we are actually short of labour found that we have something like 20 per cent of Australians either can't find work or are trapped in part-time but want full-time.

What you're getting is you know the ambit claims of employers who would love to have a large surplus of unemployed workers because that as they say prevents wage inflation or in plain English, puts them in a strong bargaining position.

But where is the evidence that we are short of workers? You talk to any young person who is trying to get into the job market or even any older person who is trying to get back into it. Jobs are scarce in Australia. And employers are very reluctant to train people because so often they can bring in a pre-trained person who will often work for less and be un-unionised.


Selective fatalism and free will in population policy

EMILY BOURKE: Mark O'Connor if it's inevitable that our population will sharply rise, how do we deal with the concerns about property prices, urban design, congestion and the like?

MARK O'CONNOR: Well we'd be in a terrible pickle wouldn't we particularly with peak oil coming on.

But Peter's line which I call selective fatalism - you know assume that what you want is what's going to happen - isn't true.

I mean most European countries have already stabilised their populations. It's normal for developed countries to be reaching stabilised populations around now. Some are even slightly declining and they are not necessarily the worse for that.

We've got to remember that the age of cheap oil is over and with that an awful lot of business plans are going to be invalidated.

These assumptions that there is going to be vast growth and we are going to go on selling off our minerals at a crazy rate and impoverishing our grandchildren - these are not inevitable. These are foolish choices being made under the influence of powerful lobbies, vested interests and a very large amounts of political donation that keep the politicians listening to often what is not in the interests of the people.

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The economy, our ideologies, our desires, our wants and needs are all a subset of the environment, not the contrary. Our existence and survival depends purely on finite natural resources. The problem is that we humans do not grasp the power of exponential growth,. This generation's desires mean that future generations will be denied a lifestyle and comforts that we are demanding. The world is not growing, but humans want to grow their population size - for the "economy"?.

It's an evolutionary trait that all animals have, the instinct to consume, grow and be successful, even if it means denying other species the right to exist. Wildlife are declining in numbers to ensure human "carrying capacity". We don't have to be victims of our own short-sightedness and greed, or our fecundity.

As humans we should have the moral and ethical capacity to control our wants and desires and consider a holistic strategy that incorporates the welfare of ourselves, our environment, the rest of our community, other indigenous species and future generations who should inherit a planet intact.

Population expansion used to be based on colonial conquests and the plundering other cities and towns and territories by the invading forces. Now, there are not new lands to conquer. It's not territories that we are basing our nation's power, wealth and success on, but sheer human numbers and the size of our economy! Such internal growth, without further land size, surely means we are vulnerable to eventual implosion?

Humans have been on the planet for 200,000 years, but the way we are heading, we won't be here even in the next 100! It's all about greed and me-ism.

if anybody doubts the problem, I suggest they read book 1 of the free e-book series at particularly the chapters on skepticism of climate change and of overpopulation.