Today is the 40th anniversary of my full time work in the field of population and family planning. Four decades of continuous work in this field has been a very interesting ride – one that becomes more interesting every day. The challenges that come with the issue are worth putting up with, because there is no more important work to be done on the planet in order to move toward sustainability. So, I don’t plan to stop now, nor should you. There is no acceptable alternative. Thanks for all you are doing for this cause… Bill Ryerson.
Thanks to Simon Nasht for this article. See: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-idiocy-of-endless-growth-20110529-1fata.html
The idiocy of endless growth
May 30, 2011
It’s the obvious but forbidden truth: on a finite and already swollen planet, we can’t expand indefinitely.
Some time in the next few months, the world’s population clock will tick over 7 billion people. Global population has tripled in my lifetime, and is continuing to rise. The United Nations has just predicted we face a world of 10 billion in 2100. This has immense implications for all of us, and Australia will not be immune from the impacts.
No one can confidently predict where we will find the food, energy, water and resources needed to supply even the basic needs of so many people. On a finite planet, we are already using up far more than we can replenish, literally exhausting the environment on which we rely for our survival.
For decades, overpopulation has been off the international agenda. It is barely mentioned in the media, and is rarely discussed in relation to, say, climate change or the looming global refugee crisis. Yet it is the common factor that links all our global problems, and ignoring it condemns billions of people to lives of poverty and injustice.
This is why I am so disappointed that Australia has missed the chance to deal realistically with the challenges of an ever-growing population. Earlier this month, the federal government released its population strategy, and it is long on rhetoric and short on action. It mentions the word ”sustainable” dozens of times – three times just in its title – yet never defines what this overused word means.
The report ducks entirely the question of just where we should be aiming in terms of our numbers in coming decades. This renders virtually meaningless any attempts we may make to plan for the future. How, for instance, can we expect to reach the government’s target of a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by mid-century if we have no idea how many people we will have making those emissions?
The strategy makes grand statements about encouraging people to settle in regional areas, completely ignoring the reality that nearly all new migrants choose to settle in our major cities. Little wonder that federal Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson described the report as a missed opportunity to map out a direction for Australia’s future.
To me, the report represents a wider malaise, which is the failure of leaders here and abroad to deal with the really big inconvenient truth: the impossibility of endlessly expanding our economy and population in a finite world. No politician or business leader dares mention that there are natural limits to growth, and that the evidence suggests we are already hitting against many of them.
Instead, they hide behind the near meaningless calls for sustainability, all the while accelerating us towards a precipice.
The essential requirement of a sustainable system is that it can be continuing. Yet the global economic system is based on the need for perpetual growth of output and consumption that clearly cannot last indefinitely. Australia’s economy is based on two especially precarious principles: extracting as rapidly as possible mineral resources that have taken millions of years to accumulate, while propping up our housing and retail markets with a continuing influx of extra consumers.
How much longer can we exponentially expand our demand for energy and resources? The global economy is already five times larger than it was 50 years ago, and as China and India’s people demand more of what we have been keeping for ourselves, this explosive expansion is accelerating.
Perhaps even more alarming is that despite all this growth, the numbers in extreme poverty, currently 3 billion, continue to rise. The world’s poorest 20 per cent consume just 1.5 per cent of its resources.
Between now and 2050, we will add billions more to the global population, and the vast majority of them will be in the poorest nations. This growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for conflict and chaos.
If Australians feel these problems are remote, then they may be surprised to learn that the issue is very close to home. Our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is experiencing a demographic tsunami that will see its population double to about 15 million in the next 25 years. Our concerns about a few desperate boat arrivals today will pale into insignificance if desperate young Melanesians, denied opportunities at home, look enviously across the Torres Strait for a better life.
One day a politician will be brave enough to speak the obvious but forbidden truth: that on a finite planet we cannot continue to exponentially increase our consumption of natural resources, nor survive as a civilisation if we keep adding billions more people to our already swelling planet. Until then, I fear we are creating a dangerous world for our children and grandchildren.
Dick Smith is a businessman and former Australian of the year. Dick Smith’s Population Crisis is published today by Allen & Unwin.
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