Population growth is a choice
When it comes to questions of population, ignorance often prevails. The business lobby in Australia, often through its many and varied “independent” centres and institutes, leads the way.
Through its complex web of public relations activities, it pushes its population growth propaganda, specialising in denial.
Here are some facts:
It took all of human history to reach one billion people early in the nineteenth century and a mere hundred years to add the next billion. We are now adding a billion every thirteen years and stand just short of seven billion people.
With this extraordinary growth, thanks largely to the exploitation of finite resources, it’s understandable that some are wilfully ignorant of limits to growth.
They are happy to live the comfortable lie, paying scant attention to peak oil and the depletion of other finite resources, the sprawl-fed loss of arable land, food security, water supply, carbon emissions or climate change.
But living on an arid desert continent with an estimated six per cent arable land, Australians in particular have much at stake as we clamour together on our thin green coastal strip.
If these overarching issues are not food for thought, add into the mix the fact that most of our major economic, environmental and social problems are caused or exacerbated by population growth.
Think: increased business and living costs like rent, energy and water placing upward pressure on inflation and interest rates; loss of recreational parkland, bushland, biodiversity and native wildlife; reduced per capita value of our mineral wealth and exports; diversion of investment into relatively unproductive housing construction and away from vital research and development, manufacturing and export creating industries; surging imports to satisfy a bigger consumer market; collapsing land and marine ecosystems; housing affordability crisis; growing health and obesity implications in polluted and congested cities; suburb planning conflict and loss of heritage; just to name a few.
According to the population deniers though, an ever-increasing population will not be a problem. Future technology will solve everything.
In other words, their strategy is hope. Population realists also hope for a better future, but since when is hope a strategy?
To be fair, the deniers also like to add a dose of fear mongering into the strategic mix.
Apparently we’re all going to grow old and no-one will support us unless we increase the fertility rate and import more and more young immigrants. Apparently immigrants don’t age. Apparently pyramid schemes are back in vogue.
Deniers refer to “stagnating” nations like Japan and Germany. It’s funny that they never mention successful nations with stable populations. Probably because eight out of the top ten per capita wealth nations have stable populations of under ten million.
According to the recent Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, seven out of ten Australians do not want further population growth, so why are successive federal governments ignoring the will of the people through deliberate policies? What happened to democracy? Striving for a stable population and a sustainable future is what the vast majority of Australians actually want.
In 1994, the Australian Academy of Science held a conference to publicise its population enquiry findings: considering the resource needs of our cities, and Australia’s supply of water, minerals and arable land, 24 million is the safe upper limit at which to stabilise Australia’s population.
This was before peak oil and climate change became real issues. Such eventualities may significantly reduce our ability to grow food to feed Australians, let alone export it to other nations in need.
One hopes that the growth lobby has paid some attention to the water issues in Australia’s most important agriculture region - the Murray Darling Basin.
As Australians see these issues develop and link many major problems back to population growth, the Australian Academy of Science advice looks very, very sound.
So rather than an arbitrary ‘big Australia’ based on guesswork, Australia should aim for an optimum population target in the mid 20 millions, based on the overwhelming evidence.
That way we can plan and manage sustainable economic development, infrastructure needs, essential services, the environment and our quality of life.
If we run permanent immigration at around 50,000 per annum, we would likely achieve zero net migration. This, coupled with a relatively stable birth rate of around two children per woman allows us remain in the optimum population range of around 23-26 million through to 2050, and beyond.
At the same time, we can generate a high per capita return from the exploitation of our mineral resources. This will allow us to maintain our per capita wealth, invest appropriately in education and training and generously assist other countries experiencing population growth problems.
Education for women and family planning should be a focus.
We have the opportunity - and some would say moral obligation - to become global leaders in sustainable population management.
No matter what big business and their well-funded puppets tell us, endless population growth is not inevitable. It’s a choice.
Population realists know that a stable Australia is the sustainable choice.
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