Many thanks to Al Bartlett for this article. See a second related item below.
In many ways Australia is an empty continent. A bare 23 million people clinging to a coastline leaving the vast interior virtually unpopulated. Little wonder that there are those who would argue that there is plenty of room – Rudd’s 35 million by 2050 is a mere bagatelle; why we could easily accommodate three times that number.
Or could we?
If you look at Australia through the prism of someone from overseas all that one can see is a sparsely populated continent. However, we in Australia should have a more nuanced view of these vast open spaces. We should be well aware that even with all this space we struggle to feed ourselves. For those who question this, these links here and here unpack that argument. However, those arguments should reinforce an idea of which we would have an intuitive understanding, namely, given that we live on the driest populated continent on Earth the capacity of this land to support life is strictly limited. Yet, whereas most farmers have an accurate understanding of the carrying capacity of their land, we really have very little idea of what level of population this land can support: what we can deduce from our current knowledge is that our present population is already more than enough.
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Mark O’Connor emailed the following letter to the Australian Financial Review in July. It could be readily adapted to other debates and nations.
Your editorial writer (“P.M.’s Own Goal on population”, 5 July 2010) is one of several commentators recently to misuse the term “dogwhistling”. Yet the concept is not difficult.
A dogwhistle sends out sounds that are above human hearing. Hence in politics to dogwhistle is to send a message over the heads of opponent and critics to those whose prejudices or vested interests it suits. For the term to fit, the hidden message must be one that few observers will spot. Anti-immigrant prejudice is emphatically not such a message, since it is something to which commentators and political opponents are highly sensitised. So why is the term dogwhistling used?
Well, one can no longer get away with claiming that it is “anti-immigrant” to say Australia’s population growth is too high. After all, many or most immigrant Australians share that belief. Yet, sooner than admit they must now debate on a level playing field, some proponents of indefinite population growth want privileged status. The term dogwhistling attracts them, I suggest, because it sounds pejorative yet cannot be easily engaged with or refuted ¬ precisely because it lacks any clear meaning in this context. By opening with the ad hominem claim that “New Prime Minister Julia Gillard is showing all the signs of embracing dogwhistle politics in outlining Labor’s new approach to immigration” your anonymous editorialist takes the heat off his or her own arguments.
The real problem in the current population debate is not dogwhistling but ventroloquising — or in plain English, the concealing of vested interests. There are many firms or magnates in property investment, construction, retail, etc., who have billions to gain from high (or higher) population growth. Rather than speak as themselves, the smart ones have set up well funded institutes, foundations, task forces, “committees for…”, and such like. Few of these stray far from the ideas of their funders, and some are simply hired mouths. We need to call them to account and make sure the spotlight remain firmly on their bona fides, not on dubious accusations against those who count the costs of growth.
Current World Population
Net Growth During Your Visit