Overloading Australia

February 1, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Mark O’Connor for sending me the following. Professor Ian Lowe, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has reviewed Overloading Australia in the ACF magazine Habitat (vol. 37, No. 1, April 2009). It’s one of four shortish reviews that occupy the ‘Green Reviews” page in the latest Habitat, and runs as follows.

Overloading Australia
, by Mark O’Connor and William Lines

How often have you wanted concrete counter-arguments against the mindless mantra of endless growth? This new book argues clearly and passionately that we should aim to stabilise our population. Our natural systems are already stretched by human demands. As the book acknowledges, ACF has a long-standing goal of encouraging government policy to stabilise numbers at an ecologically sustainable level. Our policy says Australians should be encouraged to have fewer children and we should have lower levels of immigration, while improving our commitment to accept refugees. The book criticises ACF for failing to pursue the population issue as vigorously as it has other environmental problems. The authors have a valid point. As Barry Jones said, the urgent prevails over the important. So we react to environmental degradation like the state of the Murray-Darling basin or the destruction of old-growth forests, before tackling the driving force of population growth and increasing consumption. Our 10-year goals include an explicit commitment to living within our means. This book reminds us that growing human population is behind most environmental problems.

(Envirobook, $19.95)
Reviewer: Ian Lowe, patron of Sustainable Population Australia and President of ACF.

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I don’t have a copy of Ian Lowe’s speech when he re-launched the book in Adelaide on 2nd April, but parts of it are in the media release John Coulter later put out. Here it is:

MEDIA RELEASE 5 April 2009

Top Conservationist slams Australia’s Population Growth

Professor Ian Lowe, former Chair of Australia’s State of the Environment Reports and now national president of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has described Australia’s policy of rapid population growth as reckless.

Lowe spoke late yesterday at a “re-launch” of Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population, by Mark O’Connor and William Lines. This is a book that has had remarkable sales since Bob Carr launched it in Sydney in February.

Lowe remarked that Australia’s current population growth rate of 1.8% a year (according to latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics) had us on course for over 100 million people in Australia by the end of the century. He said this was far more people than Australia could sustain, and suggested that even in the short term this would make nonsense of most of our attempts to reduce emissions or prevent environmental damage.

“On this issue,” Lowe told the audience at Dymocks bookshop in Adelaide, “recent Australian governments speak with forked tongue.” On the one hand, he said, they offer baby bonuses and talk nonsense about our “falling population” and about births not keeping up with deaths. Yet ABS figures show that our population growth is more than double the OECD average figure, and that our births per year have long been twice deaths. At the same time they tell international meetings that Australia must demand a much more generous emissions limit because of our rapid population growth – as if this rapid growth was something forced upon us by intergalactic aliens, rather than what the government itself has chosen by its surrender to business lobbies.

Lowe commended Overloading Australia as a counter to “the spin and orchestrated bullshit” inflicted on Australians by recent governments and some parts of the media. However he said the book’s reference to “dithering and denying” understated the problem. “Dithering is when you watch a fire grow out of control without calling the fire brigade. Our present State and Federal governments are not just dithering, they are pouring petrol on the flames.”

In reply co-author Mark O’Connor said that putting all the arguments against population growth into one small book had empowered ordinary Australians to counter the propaganda of a selfish growth lobby. “People can take this book to show their local MP or councillor, and when he or she says ‘What about our aging population?’ or ‘Aren’t we all learning to use less of everything?’ or ‘Aren’t most of our immigrants refugees who need to come in?’ they can just point to the chapter where this claim is refuted.”

Mr. O’Connor said he had been amazed by the public’s hunger for this book. He said “We bought 1000 copies thinking this would give us a reserve for a few years after the publisher sold out. Instead they all went in a couple of months. People are buying multiple copies. A councillor in WA bought 17 copies – one for each of his fellow councillors. A vet in Whyalla, Andrew Melville-Smith, has bought 53 so far. As resistance to overdevelopment grows, it’s likely that most councillors and MPs will soon be confronted with a constituent carrying a copy of Overloading Australia,” he concluded.

The book has also been endorsed by Robert Birrell, Director of the Monash University Population Centre, as “the most informed and accessible analysis of the implications of Australia’s high rate of population growth available.”
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Overloading Australia

Mark Diesendorf*

Greenhouse gas emissions, peak oil, urban traffic congestion, air and water pollution, destruction of biodiversity, and loss of soils are all driven by three factors: population, consumption per person and technological impact. A doubling of any one of these factors doubles the environmental impact. To address each factor requires separate policies from governments and political parties, so it makes sense to consider each factor separately.

The environment movement and, in particular, the Greens have been very strong on improving technology (eg, backing renewable energy) and have been making a modest effort to reduce consumption per person and to question the existing economic system in general. But we as a movement have been very weak on addressing Australia’s population, which has one of the highest rates of growth in the OECD. I include myself in this criticism, although recently I’ve begun to try to stimulate a rational discussion.

To my surprise, I’ve found that many environmentalists and others have adopted a wide range of irrational myths and obfuscations that inhibit open discussion of this issue. For example:
• Australia is a large country and so could absorb 100 million people.
• The economy benefits from population growth.
• Australia’s birth-rate is less than its death-rate.
• Immigration keeps the population young.
• Environmental damage is caused by consumption per person and inappropriate technology. Population is irrelevant.
• The real driver of environmental damage is poverty, not population.
• Australian population growth is irrelevant. We should focus on world population growth.
• The only way to stop Australia’s population growth is to interfere with human rights.
• We cannot stop growth in immigration without cutting refugee intake.
• Even if we could, reducing immigration is racist and would destroy our multicultural Australia.

These myths have almost succeeded in making population issue taboo among the environment movement. Yet they are all easily demonstrated to be false. An excellent contribution to mythbusting is the new book by Mark O’Connor and William J Lines Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population (Envirobook, 2008).

Environmentalists are savvy about the vested interests pushing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet many environmentalists are unaware that many of the population myths originate from vested interests in rapid population growth. These population boosters include the property and housing industry; industries seeking cheap labour for low-skilled and dangerous jobs; businesses generally seeking a large pool of labour so that wages and other working conditions can be diminished; the Roman Catholic Church; and governments seeking revenue from wealthy immigrants.

One of the peak groups of population boosters is the Australian Population Institute. It has a name that could be easily confused with the Australian Population Association, the demographers professional association, and the motto ‘populate and prosper’. It sets out a large array of population fallacies as if they were fact. On the other side, raising awkward questions about population growth, is Sustainable Population Australia, whose members include scientists, demographers and environmentalists.

One of the few leading environmentalists who has spoken up about the need to limit Australia’s population is Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. At the recent launch of Overloading Australia, Professor Lowe pointed out that Australia’s current population growth rate places us on course for over 100 million people by the end of the century. He said that this is far more people than Australia could sustain and suggested that even in the short term this would make nonsense of most of our attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or prevent environmental damage.

It is time for the Greens to address the issue of Australia’s population issue properly, revising our weak policies. Australia must terminate the baby bonus; strongly support voluntary birth control programs in Australia and overseas; and substantially reduce immigration by cutting our large business/professional component while increasing the small refugee component (which is currently only 5% of total immigration).
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*Mark Diesendorf is a member of the Ryde-Epping Greens and deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW.

Note: as published in The Canberra Times on 15 April 2009
The heading was:

Population growth negates efforts to halt greenhouse harm:
We need to end the baby bonus, back birth control programs and cut immigration, Mark Diesendorf writes.

Also, the early passage:
I include myself in this criticism, although recently I’ve begun to try to stimulate a rational discussion.

To my surprise, I’ve found that many environmentalists and others have adopted a wide range of irrational myths and obfuscations that inhibit open discussion of this issue.

Was altered to
This is because many have adopted a wide range of irrational myths and obfuscations that inhibit open discussion of the issue. For example:


Current World Population

7,229,185,536

Net Growth During Your Visit

12,783