News & Media Opinion Pieces Populate and Perish

Populate and Perish

This must be the silly season but I wish I could laugh about it. Addressing a business luncheon at the Brisbane Club on Tuesday, September 4th, Mr Beattie said Australia’s current ageing population of 21 million was too small to meet future needs. The credentials of the Queensland government to make any statement on this issue are surely very poor. It has failed to plan for the large numbers of Australians attracted to SE Queensland when climate change data suggested that they could not be sustained. In South Australia there are “aspirational” targets for a large increase in population in the face of continuing water shortage. The pressure comes from commerce, the building and real estate interests. Governments worry about the increasing numbers of elderly Australians and reason that we need more young people to pay for them. How naive, population growth in perpetuity!

No-one likes to talk about it, in fact it’s off the agenda, but population is the final common denominator of climate change. Climate change cannot be arrested with an expanding population consuming food and resources. It is worrying that the 2 billion airline journeys each year are the fastest increasing cause of green house emissions, but as calculated by James Lovelock, the world’s population by living and breathing creates 4 times as much carbon dioxide each year as the airlines. Add to this the footprint of energy usage and consumption and it is easy to accept that even if the world managed to achieve a 52 per cent cut in its 1990 emission levels (21.4 billion tonnes) by 2050 – not far off the IPCC’s 60 per cent target – it would be cancelled out by population growth. The most effective global and national climate change strategy is to limit the size of the population.

Now Mr Beattie is apparently not recommending “One for the Country” as Mr Costello has done. Rather he wants skilled immigrants. We support necessary immigration of refugees but not immigration that purloins skilled workers from developing countries. See DEA population policy under “policy”.

We have to move to 21st century thinking. Governments must look at what science can offer in determining the ecological carrying capacity of our rapidly changing environment.

Procreation is an extremely sensitive issue related to personal liberty. This is why it’s not on the climate change agenda. But liberty is a matter of degree. It may be that in this crisis there is no right to a liberty that affects the future of the entire community. There is a similar conflict with the right not to vaccinate. Indeed personal liberty embraces the entire climate change debate whether the issue is the choice to drive a four wheel drive or buy an energy guzzling plasma TV. Perhaps the ultimate deterrent to procreation is whether you want to create offspring to compete for space on the shores of the tropical Arctic Ocean (as predicted by James Lovelock) or Antarctica in our case, when everywhere else is uninhabitable.

If you want to make the ultimate sacrifice to the cause, then remember that a non-existent person has no environmental footprint and if you decide to drop dead, emission saving is instant and not a John Howard aspirational target. However don’t spoil the show by adding to emissions with cremation in a hardwood coffin. Set an example in a cardboard coffin buried under a native tree that will regenerate even if there is a bush fire — and don’t risk this form of burial in Tasmania or you may end up as wood chips.

The views expressed in this article are personal
David Shearman

For more articles on population go to Sustainable Population Australia