Questioning Dr Liz Allen's False Dichotomy - Article by Mark Allen
The latest film clip by Dr Liz Allen via the ABC explains why we apparently shouldn't be worrying about Australia's population size, because the real issue is in fact social inequality. But what Dr Allen is doing here is creating a false dichotomy. In doing so she is attempting to channel all discussion on what is actually a highly nuanced issue into one where those involved are forced to pick a side.
In reality we can play a major role in reducing inequality at a global level by providing universal access to education, family planning and healthcare. That is, of course, what many people who care about the issue of population, advocate for, because this is the most effective and least coercive way to enable populations to stabilise over time.
In Australia rapid population growth is compounding social inequality, as it is a catalyst for urban sprawl and the over-priced, poor standard high-density development that is springing up across our conurbations. This has the impact of both gentrifying and slumifying communities at the same time and, in turn, it has the knock-on effect of pushing people on lower incomes out to the increased social isolation of the urban fringe.
Life on the urban fringe has huge ramifications in terms of social inequality and this translates into increased reliance on driving, a lack of walkability, a lack of access to non-human nature and major difficulties in services and infrastructure keeping up with demand.
The environmental impact of urban sprawl is also significant and as the sprawl increases, so does our average per capita carbon footprint (and this challenges another false dichotomy).
As we are experiencing a climate emergency, anything that adds to the problem of climate change will have huge ramifications for those who are living in poverty because they will be the first in the firing line.
The environmental impact that medium to long-term rapid population growth is having, and will continue to have, is significant, especially at a time when we need to be tackling this emergency head on. This is why the education and empowerment of women (and men), as well as access to family planning, plays such a major role in climate expert, Paul Hawken's seminal book, 'Project Drawdown'.
Therefore, continuing to rapidly grow Australia's population to suit our GDP driven ponzi economic system makes no environmental or social sense, especially in face of the enormous challenges that the world is facing.
Dr Allen also perpetuates the myth that we must grow in order to counteract an ageing population. This has been disproved so many times and much has been written on this topic. For any population to stabilise, it is inevitable that there will eventually be a larger than normal cohort of older people (for a while). This is not something that we need to be scared of. Delaying the ageing population issue by a few generations will only exacerbate the challenge further down the track.
While we need to seize the opportunity to allow our domestic population to start to stabilise, an effective way of tackling population growth at a global level is through a system of mutual aid, where we share knowledge and expertise with as many different cultures as possible.
This mutual aid will not only help to provide access to education and medical services where they are needed, it will also help countries such as Australia to lower their per-capita emissions through learning resilient methods of land management and climate specific architecture.
Of course migration wouldn't have to end but it would be driven by a different paradigm; one that understands that we need to work to non coercively stabilise populations both at a global and at a local level in tandem with a much greater emphasis on retrofitting our existing built stock.
In short, the time has come to have an ongoing discussion about population; one that understands that it is complex and that it intersects with a whole range of hugely significant issues.
Mark Allen is an ex town planner and is the cofounder of Population Permaculture & Planning and Holistic Activism & Behaviour Change.