tip off

Curbing population to cut emissions lazy and damaging

Curbing population growth will reduce Australia’s greenhouse emissions but at a profound economic cost — and it won’t decarbonise our emissions-intensive economy. There’s a more viable solution.

Advocates of curbing population growth as a means of reining in Australia’s greenhouse emissions ought to be careful what they wish for. They might indeed reduce our emissions, but at significant economic cost, when Australia has already embarked on a process to reduce emissions growth in a way that will have minimal impact on economic growth.

First, yes, our relatively high population growth, both by birth and immigration, is a key driver of Australian emissions growth. And as anti-migration pundit Bob Birrell argued in 2009, high population growth cancels out the ongoing emissions-reduction benefits of energy efficiency. Moreover, immigration to Australia is a net addition to global emissions. Outside oil sheikdoms, Australia has more or less the highest emissions per capita in the world. Anyone who migrates here, unless they’re coming from the US or Canada, is likely to significantly lift their net emissions, especially if they came from a less developed country. The more people who become Australians, the higher global emissions, all things being equal.

So, cut population growth, cut emissions, right?

If climate change were mostly a positive, we wouldn’t be too fussed about curbing emissions. But climate change is already inflicting significant economic damage, and its damage will grow, probably more rapidly than we expect, as the century progresses. Cutting emissions is a tool for managing both our own and coming generations’ economic welfare.

An effective carbon pricing model will deliver significant (80%, compared with 2000 levels) cuts in emissions with minimal economic impact — Treasury estimates the Clean Energy Future package will produce a gross domestic product 2.8% lower in 2050 than business as usual (that is, GDP of $3.56 trillion, not $3.66 trillion), with no impact on employment and annual household consumption growth at 1.1% rather than 1.2%. Moreover, it can relatively easily be scaled up to meet more ambitious reduction targets.

That’s all based on a 2050 population of 36 million.

What are the costs of slamming the brakes on population growth instead? Because of our ageing population, Australia already faces a decline in its annual real GDP growth over the next 40 years from 3.3%, the annual average since 1970, to 2.7%. Again, that’s based on a population of 36 million people. With a smaller population, the decline in real GDP growth will be more rapid as the workforce ages and shrinks and participation falls more rapidly. The tax base will also shrink more quickly with fewer workers, while there’s proportionally greater expenditure per worker in areas like health. It might seem good for those who remain in the workforce, as employers bid for a diminishing pool of labour and drive up wages, but this will in turn feed into costs and drive up inflation.

Low population Australia will thus be grey, low-growth and expensive.

But easier to get to work, right? Curbing population growth will ease pressure on infrastructure in our big cities, yes? In fact, with less tax, and pressure to spend more on health, governments might not even be able to keep current levels of infrastructure investment and might settle for maintaining existing infrastructure over building expensive new networks or expansions of existing ones, particularly given the cost of labour. In fact, the conviction that Australia’s transport infrastructure groans under the weight of too many people is primarily the perspective residents of the east coast capitals. Many regional communities and cities in the smaller states are crying out for more people, not whingeing about how long it takes to get to work.

Reducing population growth to reduce emissions will work, but at a significant and long-lasting — indeed, effectively permanent, given our lifespans — cost to Australia. It would be a variant on the current European approach to curbing emissions — plunging the economy into a depression — only it would take longer to reverse. And unlike a carbon price, cutting population growth would be a blunt tool, with changes in immigration levels harder to scale up to meet more ambitious emissions reduction targets.

More to the point, it wouldn’t curb emissions for the right reasons. It would remove the need to undertake the necessary decarbonisation of the Australian economy, to bring us back to per capita carbon emissions levels comparable with other industrial countries, rather than being the world leader we are. Australia would remain a high-emissions economy hiding behind slower population growth. It’s the lazy option.

A strong immigration program has been a key part of Australia’s economic, civil and social success. In September, it’s likely that for the second election in a row, two immigrants will vie for the prime ministership. Strong immigration has helped deliver us one of the strongest economies in the world, and provided a home for millions of people from around the world who have sought a better life. It can continue to do that into a low-carbon future.

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  • 1
    Mark out West
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    HI Bernard

    Let’ Think out the square, how about the underemployed?

    How about mandatory car pooling, pulling two thirds of the cars off the road and no need for those expensive upgrades. Truckies happy and people will have on average $5,000 dollars extra to spend. A spend boost for the economy.
    Pollies would now have to spend money on education and infrastructure to boost productivity.

    Maybe even a GREAT public transport system so even more people won’t need a car and the poor won’t be disadvantage due to their no so horrendous social isolation at the edges of the city fringe.

    Population growth and the housing industry are the lazy mans answer to everything, was the article sponsored by the ANZ, CBA, or Jennings??

  • 2
    prembrowne
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, it looks like you’ve done your homework and I’m sure you’re right in many ways, but… where will population growth end? I understand you’re only looking at Australia, but from a global perspective, surely there must be a threshold for how many people the planet can sustain comfortably. You’re talking about gross domestic product and employment rates in 2050 - I’m talking about 100, 200, 500 years in the future. As a global community, shouldn’t population growth - and resource consumption - be something we are talking about more, and planning for?

  • 3
    Matt Moran
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Actually Bernard, stable populations have a far better track record for a balanced economy with better population to resource ratios and better worker to dependency ratio. I wonder what audience you’re writing this for? Our GDP may be increasing (because we have a warped system which rolls up the costs of population growth into it - want to grow your GDP, just keep populating - private contracts funded by the taxpayer will make it all look rosy).

    I wonder how much longer do you think we can continue with an infrastructure bill of anywhere between 75 and 150 billion a year which we are primarily paying for by selling off our finite assets including our prime farmland.

    What about future generations? What resources will we leave them with? Why must our wildlife be forever shoved aside to blindly follow an uneconomic policy which is failing drastically.

    If you actually properly costed population growth, you’d actually realise how silly your article is.

    All you’re doing is fueling ruin for Australia and it’s people by allowing continued manipulation of the labor market and ensuring development and mining continue to run our “economy” into the ground. But what’s happening should be of interest to you - it’s not working any more. Your workers are also your customers - if you’re driving up the cost of living through population growth - they have less disposable income as wages never keep pace. If you’re driving up the unemployment queue faster than you’re creating real jobs, you’re driving up your costs.

    Here’s a note that makes your argument even further nonsensical. Japan pushed their population up aggressively from 60 million to over 130 million. They crammed their people into trains like sardines (as we are doing) and increasingly are struggling to meet resource needs. Japan invaded China for resources and tensions remain high - not good. They built Nuclear power plants in the wake of Tsunamis - the costs are still being counted. But they have at last turned the corner on population growth. And look what’s happening. No need for costly infrastructure expansions. More affordable housing. A better worker to dependency ratio. More participation in the workforce. Above all, they are happier.

    So my dear Bernard. Endless population growth has no future, none. It makes people miserable, it wipes out wildlife, poisons the environment, spreads resources ever more thinly. My question for you is, what do you have against people being happier, protecting wildlife and the environment?

    In relation to aging, are you aware that we are spending 30 times more in growing our population to offset the fact that we’re happily living longer than the ageing demographic is costing? Further, what about our young? Where are their opportunities? Aren’t they after all our true dependents. Yet we are decreasingly unable to provide opportunities for them. They are increasingly in competition for low-skilled jobs where they get a foothold into he workforce.

    Time to get a grip Bernard.

  • 4
    wilful
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    This is incredibly lazy thinking. It boils down to an argument that we must keep on growing, forever. There’s no suggestion in teh article that we get to stop growing at 36M, because the arguments that Keane applies at 23M still apply then.

    I don’t know why so many otherwise sensible people can’t get this simple fact. Kenneth Boulding’s quote, anyone that believes in infinite growth in a finite world is a madman or an economist, remains apposite.

  • 5
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Yes Matt, both you and Bernard have some intersting and emotive points.But the political impracticality of selling a bedroom tax is obvious, in a democracy. The murdoch redtops and broadshits would have a field day with salacious headlines and leaders.
    Perhaps we would have to introdusce a ‘cap and trade’ market mechanism into our sexual activities.
    The mind bogles, as to how the tax departmrent might enforce a Wickenby style enforcement regime, or the tax consultants plans for its’ evasion.
    The story is a furphy. Our immediate and forthcoming problem is the redistribution of populations around the globe, created by the impacts of Climate Change.

  • 6
    Microseris
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I expected Crikey to consider both sides to an issue, but instead we get MSM fluff. Growth, both population and economic is a ponzi scheme which is going to end in tears.

    Aside from increasing carbon emissions, not a single mention of other environmental costs of our third world level population growth. Deteriorating environment, mass extinction of our fauna, urban sprawl, more competitive for scarce water resources, future agricultural production with climate change and peak oil starting to bite, etc.

    The following is a world comparison in terms of growth:

    World 2008–09 1.6%
    Least developed countries 2008–09 1.8%
    Most developed countries 2008–09 0.4%
    Europe and the New Independent States 2008–09 0.3%
    North America 2008–09 0.9%
    ESCAP region* 2008–09 1.0%
    Indonesia 2008–09 1.1%
    Australia 2008–09 2.1%

    Anyone who pumps up the tyres of population growth without consideration of the carrying capacity of the land not just now but into the future is a fool. It is this fluff coverage which is lazy and damaging.

  • 7
    Tabitha
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Matt Moran for PM!

  • 8
    Tabitha
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    And by the way Bernard, you need to read ‘Overloading Australia’ by Mark O’Connor and William Lines.

  • 9
    Achmed
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Abbott is all for increasing immigration. His comment that the number of 457 visas should be increased because most become citizens,

  • 10
    Stephen
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Bernard’s got the perfect answer for indefinite growth on an Australian continent with infinite resources in habitat and biodiversity.

    Unfortunately, Bernard, the continent we’ve got is the driest, has the worst soils, is past its carrying capacity, has an appalling extinction record, and has iconic species on the managed extinction track right now.

    This article is essentially running the magic-pudding argument that endless economic growth will generate bigger and better opportunities for greenhouse abatement.

    Agree with Tabitha, read O’Connor and Lines, and have another go when you have some faint idea what you’re talking about. The Treasury forecasts in the Clean Energy package are just a fairy story for the young at heart.

  • 11
    P Cook
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    It may have helped if this article had at least given a nod to the possibility that, just maybe, there are significant benefits to a stable rather than growing population — instead of just focusing on the putative costs of stabilizing population.

    Mainstream economic analysts seem to have mixed opinions about whether there are net benefits in population growth. Growing populations do not necessarily have increasing wealth per capita — quite the opposite. And that is just when taking into account the usual dollar-based GDP criteria — in other words ignoring ‘intangible’ things like loss of amenity, congestion, loss of biodiversity, the paving of scarce agricultural land etc. Incidentally, Bernard, short of blatant coercion, I doubt you will get many migrants moving outback to the regions that are crying out for people, which you allude to.

    Then there is the very real economic cost of continually having to invest more to build more infrastructure for the growing population — or face the alternative of increasing congestion and faster degradation of infrastructure than would otherwise be the case. It is a perpetual game of catch-up, in which we are increasingly falling behind.

    There are benefits of stable population for reducing overall carbon emissions and much more besides. It is also possible to adopt a ‘both and’ approach to emissions reduction — reduce population AND reduce carbon intensity. Lord knows, with our dependence on carbon-based fuels, we are going to need both approaches.

    Ian Lowe’s book ‘Bigger or Better’ is a balanced and lucid presentation of many of these issues.

    For an excellent and rigorous discussion of how crucial population growth is to the global climate change issue (and the way it has been studiously ignored in the policy debate) see Philip Cafaro, ‘Climate Ethics and Population Policy’.
    http://tinyurl.com/ck5qnk5

    Cafaro also has a useful blog at http://www.philipcafaro.com

  • 12
    Liamj
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Give Bernard a break folks, you can’t run this real estate ponzi scheme without fresh fools daily. And where would our two major parties be without property developers eh?! No no, its growth forever till we bust, submit your hardearned cash into mortgage & superannuation shredder as usual.

  • 13
    Renee Myles
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Bernard seems to have some gaping loopholes in his fantasy land concoction, the most obvious being that even immigrants age…all you end up with is an ever greater number of elderly people that supposedly require an even greater number of youth to support them…surely Bernard doesn’t think that can continue to infinity…does he? What is the number of people this country’s resources can sustainably support? What will it mean for us all when we surpass that number (if we haven’t already?) Lowering greenhouse gas emissions will be the least of our worries if Bernard believes this country can support an infinite number of people…and if he doesn’t believe we can support an infinite population, then he must concede that at some point population must stabilise. So if it has to happen at some point, what is wrong with discussing that point being some time soon, before pressure on the environment, resources, infrastructure and services are at breaking point.

  • 14
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Since cities are responsible for 80% of greenhouse emissions and the Banking/Housing cartel insists on jailing their mortgage slaves into the metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne, then getting said slaves out of the unsustainable ponzi schemes of the major capital cities and out to the country will solve both problems,
    The polluting populations of the cities will drop and the escapee populations will be forced to abide a less polluting and more sustainable lifestyle.
    That is why a vote for Abbott and the pulling of the austerity trigger (come on, the fool won’t be able to contain himself) for the Trillion dollar Howard private mortgage debt time bomb, will bring on the recession we had to have and finally, after six tears of waiting, the visitation of the GFC upon the Australian major cities.
    To imagine what this will be like, consider that populations will depart the cities as if they were going on their summer holidays and then just will not be coming back.
    The reality is that the holiday destinations obviously already have all the infrastructure to support their increased seasonal populations.
    Certainly there will be less money to go around, but barefoot on the beaches in singlets and shorts is not such a big ask?
    And all those billion dollars school halls make great community support centres for the distribution of emergency food supplies.
    It has to get worse before it gets better and Tony is just the man to make it all worse.
    For those who can’t leave the cities, just remember what it is like when all the turkeys piss-off for the summer holidays.
    A win-win situation for everyone.
    Bring in the GFC we have to have and eveyone can abandon their unsustainable, debt-enabled, middlecass snobbery come Christmas 2013 and just stay on holiday.
    Tony is the man to bring back the long lost weekender culture of 1950’s Australia, permanently.
    Come on no-one wanted to go home after those holidays and with the inevitable Abbott Recession they won’t have to.
    All that consequetive, “gang-bang”, negative polling of the Gillard Government will make it so, thanks MSM for saving your nation from life as usual.

  • 15
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    The GFC is coming and it won’t be all that bad for Aussies to abandon their unsustainable mortgage debt traps and go on a permanent summer holiday this Christmas.

  • 16
    PCook
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Mainstream economists seem to have mixed opinions about whether there are net benefits in population growth. Growing populations do not necessarily have increasing wealth per capita — quite the opposite. And that is just when taking into account the usual dollar-based GDP criteria — in other words ignoring ‘intangible’ things like loss of amenity, congestion, loss of biodiversity, the paving of scarce agricultural land etc. Incidentally, Bernard, short of blatant coercion, I doubt you will get many migrants moving outback to the regions that are crying out for people, which you allude to.
    Then there is the very real economic cost of continually having to invest more to build more infrastructure for the growing population — or face the alternative of increasing congestion and faster degradation of infrastructure than would otherwise be the case. It is a perpetual game of catch-up, in which we are increasingly falling behind.
    There are benefits of stable population for reducing overall carbon emissions and much more besides. It is also possible to adopt a ‘both and’ approach to emissions reduction — reduce population AND reduce carbon intensity. Lord knows, with our dependence on carbon-based fuels, we are going to need both approaches.
    Ian Lowe’s book ‘Bigger or Better’ is a balanced and lucid presentation of many of these issues.
    For an excellent and rigorous discussion of how crucial population growth is to the global climate change issue (and the way it has been studiously ignored in the policy debate) see Philip Cafaro, ‘Climate Ethics and Population Policy’.
    http://tinyurl.com/ck5qnk5

  • 17
    Matt Moran
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Mike Flanagan, thankyou for your feedback, but there is a big difference between Bernard’s Cornucopian fantasy based on wishful thinking and my rebuttal based on evidence.

    Insofar as climate change is concerned, the literature I’ve read suggests that Australia will be one of the worst affected countries and yet we’re growing our population at over a million every three years - not by accident, but deliberately. And far from actually doing anything significant on a global scale, we’re making it much worse by sitting back and waiting for things to escalate out of control.

    In relation to your other comment on relocating populations, there are strategies in tackling the major cause of climate change - desertification - check out Allan Savaroy, but in itself this is not enough, and while we are obsessed with growing our population as aggressively as we are, being pushed in a direction no-one really wants to head by people who should know better (including Bernard), we simply will not act in the way we should be.

    What we need is to repurpose the political will in doing the following:
    a) balance immigration with emigration
    b) limit the baby bonus to two children
    c) work in partnership with overpopulated countries to lift the standard of living and give a choice on access to family planning, raise dialogue between spouses (you might like to see the film Mother - caring for 7 billion).
    d) Work to stall and reverse ecological destruction and desertification. Mining of course is a big contributor as is clearing huge tracts of rainforest. But also, poor land management practices including removing the predator - herd arrangement which serves to keep land fertile.
    e) Develop strategies for reducing populations in the most extreme situations if needed - but most people would generally prefer to remain in their homes. We should be doing what we can to accommodate that where possible.

    In the event that climate change does start to ramp up, it is likely there will be predominantly movement to the cooler more stable climates - for instance the UK. But with serious mobilisation by all countries, it is possible we can avoid the worst.

    Australia is in a position where we can actually demonstrate true leadership in this respect, but we are currently beholden to a business as usual which isn’t working but has a lot of momentum behind it.

    For what it’s worth, there is a party which has the primary core values in place of a,b and c above. You might like to check them out, they are called the Stable Population Party.

  • 18
    Roy Inglis
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Caught on the horns of a ponzy scheme?

  • 19
    PCook
    Posted Friday, 26 April 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Dear Moderator
    I notice that my post has not been published. In order to help me learn for the future, can you advise if there is some ettiquette I have not followed, or is it simply the quality of the post is not up to scratch?

    Many thanks
    Peter

  • 20
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    The Inn Is Full - who wants the short straw … anyone? Na didn’t think so.

    How many times does it have to be said - World Population will peak within three decades - and then decline. Slowly at first and then rapidly.

    Fertility rates are plummeting in almost every single country. Most of Europe, Japan, Russia and China are all below replacement levels.

  • 21
    john grieve
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Your article seems to assume that Australia and indeed the world has an unlimited resource of water and food. It does not. Also you fail to mention the economic cost of most of Sydney’s suburbs turning into Asian slums. Eastwood, burwood, Ashfield, just to name a few,

  • 22
    JennyG
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Bernard Keane is wrong and Matt Moran is right. We live on a continent with finite resources and we cannot grow forever. Given that most of environmental indicators are going down, something has to change, be it population, consumption or technology - perhaps all three. Our carrying capacity is limited anyway by our natural resources - poor soils, variable climate and general aridity - but the situation will only get worse once climate change delivers more extreme weather events and long-term changes in rainfall and temperature. Add to that looming resources scarcity and the need to keep four-fifths of our fossil fuels in the ground if we are to keep to two degrees warming. We are all going to have do with less energy and resources. It’s time to implement the precautionary principle and stabilise our population as soon as possible.

  • 23
    tabck
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Japan, Singapore, Asian slums, yellow perils.

  • 24
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Matt Moran.
    There was an effort at irony and sarcasm in my earlier post.
    As Simon Mansfield points out, UN and other reports predict the exponential global population growth will peak at 9B and then revert to a more stable pattern of reproduction of 5B, all within the next 100 years.
    There does seem to be a fallacy lurking in the above arguments,though. We are comparing a set of data from population studies to projections of GDP growth and arriving at many conclusions.
    While population growth is driven by our urges to procreate, maintain and develope the species, the GDP figures are the measure of economic activity with a flawed perception and belief that resouurces are endlessly available and we can trash the oceans, lands and bioshere without consequences.
    GDP projections must also taken into account our revolution in knowledge, data collection and analysis and unknown technologies that will become available, as well as identify the costs to the communities’ common .
    Not only do I find the argument flawed, but it is superficial journalism, when we consider the challenges we have to contenplate and endeavour to resolve in the immediate future.
    The number of academic, industry, and institutional reports I witness being ignored by many in australian journalism, never ceases to amaze me.

  • 25
    Sam White
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I think opponents of overpopulation are already pretty clued into the fact that it’s going to be an adjustment economically. They don’t think our economic system is sustainable in any case. That old bogey about the aged isn’t scary anymore, nor does it make the slightest lick of sense as the next generation will age as well. Acting as a pressure release for overpopulation in other countries does not help those countries work toward more sustainable options, nor does it help when we frequently take their most highly educated. I don’t think this article will be changing any opinions but why do you need to when there are so many wealthy vested interests in keeping the status quo and denying pollution, loss of natural spaces and farmland, endangered species and Climate Change. If we are only keeping our heads above water economically because we’re importing so many people, growing the service industries while shrinking in just about every other area well that’s obviously going to lead to a recession in any case, one which leaves us with a greater population out of work and arguably more chance of civil unrest.

  • 26
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Has mother superior of the holy order of moderators gone to sleep on Abbott’s shoulder, in the confessional??

  • 27
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Crikey, 1984 is well and truly here:

    Birth Control

    Water Usage

    Get Buses

    Don’t pollute (Strange? EVERYTHING pollutes)

    Just live your life as I tell you!

    They have let out the wrong people from the asylum Scotty beam me up!

  • 28
    PCook
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Mainstream economists seem to have mixed opinions about whether there are net benefits in population growth. Growing populations do not necessarily have increasing wealth per capita — quite the opposite. And that is just when taking into account the usual dollar-based GDP criteria — in other words ignoring ‘intangible’ things like loss of amenity, congestion, loss of biodiversity, the paving of scarce agricultural land etc.

    Incidentally, Bernard, short of blatant coercion, I doubt you will get many migrants moving outback to the regions that are crying out for people, which you allude to.

    Then there is the very real economic cost of continually having to invest more to build more infrastructure for the growing population — or face the alternative of increasing congestion and faster degradation of infrastructure than would otherwise be the case. It is a perpetual game of catch-up, in which we are increasingly falling behind.

    There are benefits of stable population for reducing overall carbon emissions and much more besides. It is possible to adopt a ‘both and’ approach to emissions reduction — reduce population AND reduce carbon intensity. Lord knows, with our dependence on carbon-based fuels, we are going to need both approaches.

    Ian Lowe’s book ‘Bigger or Better’ is a balanced and lucid presentation of many of these issues.

    For an excellent and rigorous discussion of how crucial population growth is to the global climate change issue (and the way it has been studiously ignored in the policy debate) see Philip Cafaro, ‘Climate Ethics and Population Policy’.
    http://tinyurl.com/ck5qnk5

  • 29
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    THX 1138 - painted green to look friendly

  • 30
    luokehao
    Posted Sunday, 28 April 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    The issue of curbing population growth is a severely misunderstood one, simply because it is ignored how completely different Australia actually is from the other OECD nations, with which it ought never to be compared.

    In every other OECD nation, all or almost all soils were formed around 10,000 years ago after ice sheets melted or from erosion of mountains - a speck on the geological timescale - and have lost no essential phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, copper and molybdenum from their parent materials. These rich soils allowed Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand to support agriculture millennia before most of these elements were known to science.

    Australia is exactly the opposite. Almost all of Australia’s soils have had no renewal of parent material for 300,000,000 years - 30,000 times longer than the soils of other OECD nations. For another perspective, Australia’s soils are generally 80,000,000 years older than the earliest dinosaurs. Most of this weathering took place under much wetter climates than observed today, and Australian soils retain minerals from invasion by the ocean during long periods of high sea levels. Under Australia’s present arid climates its soils are devoid of soluble forms of phosphorus, sulfur, zinc and copper, and are often physically very challenging because of concentrated clay in subsoils. Invasion by the ocean has made Australian soils generally very high in salt and boron, both of which move to the surface upon clearing.

    Although many farming cultures would have seen Australia before European settlement, these peoples certainly recognised Australia’s soils as universally unsuitable for (low-input) agriculture. Only when phosphate and sulfur were discovered as essential plant nutrients could Australia be farmed - and even today with specialised plant breeding and irrigation its yields are only a quarter those of the Enriched World. All this whilst southwestern Australia is each year losing 1.1 percent of its rainfall to a Hadley circulation expanding twenty kilometres poleward, and the eastern wheat belt is not doing that much better. Dryland salinity is a uniquely Australian problem from the continent’s ancient pedology, and is further adding to the potential loss of 45 percent of our native flora from the desertification of even the wettest areas of the southwest.

    In this context, it can be argued “sustainable agriculture” in Australia is an oxymoron. If this be so in the Amazon or many parts of Africa, it certainly is in Australia, which has even poorer soils and a much smaller and more erratic water supply. Australia’s oceans, owing to the continent’s position at the centre of a vast anticyclonic gyre between Chile and Africa, are relatively speaking even less productive than its land - being in fact representative of the anoxic Mesozoic seas when there was no cold, nutrient-rich upwelling anywhere on Earth.

    It could be logically argued that the “sustainable population” of Australia amounts to what can be supported with high-cost ecotourism and related infrastructure, which even with considerable labour requirements for long-distance ecotours may be no more than 10 to 15 percent of our current population. This contrasts deeply with New Zealand or Canada, which are basically underpopulated given the fact that low density in these lands discourages energy efficiency, along with their fertile soils and abundant water.

    The basic issue is how to re-adjust living costs to encourage people to move to the cooler Enriched lands rather than to Australia. Australia’s living costs, based on Tom McMahon’s assessment of water storage costs in Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges (read here for details), are minimally ten times those of Eurasia or the Americas or New Zealand. In reality this difference may be much greater because of Australia’s greater economic opportunities.

    The logical way to deal with the problem would be for the Enriched World to reduce the size of its government and the amount of money it has in circulation. Because of the Enriched World’s paucity of land and inorganic natural resources, that is possible on paper and would reverse the gradient in cost of essential items to favour sustainability. The trouble is that a large proportion of the Enriched World’s electorate (especially vis-à-vis Australia’s or Africa’s) depends on welfare and would not tolerate large cuts even if they bring cheaper living and greater ecological sustainability.

  • 31
    Aidan Stanger
    Posted Sunday, 28 April 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Matt,we’re not paying for infrastructure by selling off our finite assets including prime farmland. The prime farmland isnt even in public ownership to begin with, and the farmers who are selling land aren’t the ones investing in public infrastructure.

  • 32
    Johbn tons
    Posted Sunday, 28 April 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Bernard the mistake that you make is common to much of this debate, focusing on one response and either claiming it as the silver bullet or debunking it. The earlier article argued that had we curbed population growth we would have achieved our targets without any cuts in emissions BUT that is hardly something to write home about. Our eco footprint is well above what is desirable. Like it or not we will need to do much, much more. Zero or negative population growth is but one part of the equation. Energy efficiency, reducing consumption are other equally important factors. Perhaps most significantly we need to realize that we are living well and truly beyond our means. This in turn means that adding more people to live in a country that is largely desert only makes that task nigh on impossible. Those who are hoping on some sort of fix where we can transition seamlessly into a zero carbon economy are likely to be disappointed. Those who believe that we can even approach that target whilst aiming for both economic and population growth are dangerously deluded.

  • 33
    GF50
    Posted Sunday, 28 April 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Bernard I read and re read have you had a brain snap! I think you are wrong. Resources are finite and no human ingenuity is not coming up with any solutions and I have a perfect example to add to the excellent posts above. Murray Darling.

  • 34
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Scotty, help! Are you still there Scotty. Im surrounded by the Animal Farm! Beam me up.

  • 35
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Yes Harry it is a bit farcical!
    I suspect Scotty is too busy for the moment, at CERN, working out why and which buttons to press.

  • 36
    JStephens
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    http://www.ecoearth.info/blog/2013/04/essay_freedom_isnt_free_terror.asp
    I think this says it all actually….
    Talk about cognitive dissonance BK!

  • 37
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    So who wants the short straw.

  • 38
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Simon; I think we might present that to Bernard.

  • 39
    MJPC
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Going by the feedback BK it looks like you are offering us a ‘poison chalice”. The whole world is overpopulated and the rapaciousness of capitalism, unless constrained, will offer no future for any populations, either in Australia or elsewhere. Look at how they have tried to impose CSG mining on the unsuspecting public, being just one example. Thankfully some are saying enough is enough.
    To suggest heaping more and more population into Australia is to invite nothing you proclaim. You only need to view the utter degradation of environments in China and India to see that overpopulatiuon does nothing to help the system that supports such populations, that being the environment.
    It’s a long way to the next planet so we better look after this one, not by filling it with one species who is intent on destroying itself with profligacy.

  • 40
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The ideology of the Green Left is truly scary stuff. Most of the comments in this thread are some of the most elitist NIMBY thinking I’ve ever seen.

    After half century of modernism we seem to be entering a new Dark Ages of regressive thinking - that this ideology is on the intellectual ascendency across vast sways of our society is a truly frightening thought.

    The very same people who worship at the alter of Climate Change and the notion that the science is settled are the very same people who reject vast slabs of the science and technology that is emerging all around us and which can so easily overcome our current problems.

    It is just bizarre that this Malthusian fear of the future is now so prevalent among a population that is so wealthy, and so well educated.

    Hopefully the rest of the “crowd” will ignore these fears and plunge fearlessly into the future with the same relish that got us out of the trees and caves eons ago.

  • 41
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Simon,

    A bit unkind to Malthus.

  • 42
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Yes - Mathus had the excuse of primitive science. This lot have no excuse.

  • 43
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Some years ago a Horticulture Australia article described a third generation South Australian vegetable farmer’s response to that state’s dire climate.
    Growing hydroponically under agricultural plastic.
    He declared, from experience, that any other method was imposssible.
    A proven, practical response, to the conditions described by luokehao, which may allow Orstray’ns to remain at home during climate change.
    Though some cyclone proof green houses may be needed.

  • 44
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Understanding based on our evolving knowledge Physics is not ideology but facts.
    To suggest otherwise is cant.

  • 45
    dropBear
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Simon, could actually address some of the points made by the “Green Left” that is so obviously out to get you?
    Dishing out mud with a broad brush is not an argument. At least not outside of a dark age.
    It really is a sign of a lack of arguments.
    Bit of a shame.
    I thought some of the points raised by the dreaded “Green Left” were quite cogent. It would be interesting to see them challenged.
    To the best of my knowledge, nobody has so far.

  • 46
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Simon,

    I wouldnt be too concerned . I see them as replicas of John Cleese from the “Life of Brian” complaining about the Romans…..the audience member raises his hand ..hmm The Aquaduct!

  • 47
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    When middle class white people say “The Inn Is Full” - there is no point in having a discussion. That so many Green voters from Marrickville and Fitzroy agree with the voters of Penrith and Dandenong is astounding.

  • 48
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Simon, I am probably part of the Green left you describe but not so Antediluvian to suggest that there are not world solutions to the environmental problems (some of which that rarely rate a mention in the mainstream media, such as toxicity in the food chain) that confront the whole of humanity.
    I cannot understand how flooding Australia with the world’s excess populations is any solution to the problems facing humanity, and it isn’t only climate change.
    I’m all for sharing the wealth, supporting aid for underdeveloped areas of the world and improving their lifestyle, longevity and prospects. I am not for flooding Australia beyond its sustainable limit. BK talks of enconomics, I speak of sustainability and until enconomists realise this is a finite world then over population is not a credo worthy of support, for any nation including our own.
    As for overcoming our current problems with climate change, just how would that happen? Seeding the oceans with iron oxide to promote algal growth, creating giant sails in space to cool the earth underneath, fire rockets into the atmosphere to explode and release dust to create a mini nuclear winter effect? I have read the proposals, but no one has suggested the effect of these changes to the environment, even if they could be achieved with existing technology. Why not give the world a change to repair itself.

  • 49
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    How many times does it has to be repeated. World Population will soon peak - after which it will decline. At about that time Australia’s population will also peak with it becoming much harder to attract large scale people movements to Australia.

    No one is suggesting that Australia’s population become 500 million. But 50 million would sure make the place a lot more interesting with a much stronger domestic economy that would support a more diversified society, culture and economy.

    My objection to this new Green Left mantra that “The Inn Is Full”, is that uses the idea of sustainability as a foil to cover up what is really going on - namely a very selfish white middle class doesn’t want to share Australia with anyone else. And instead of coming out and saying such - it uses the Dick Smith argument about carrying capacity - when that is clearly based on business as usual approach and completely ignores the vast array of simple improvements that can be made to increase agriculture yields and make better use of water. Even without using GM and desal.

    Fortress Australia is a very old idea - but for it to become a central plank of the Green Left is repugnant. Despite being dressed up with fancy words - it’s really the same mentality of the anti refugee voters of the western suburbs - Greenwash at its intellectual worse.

    Australia has large tracts of farm land that is currently used for low productivity farming activities like cattle and dairy. All along the East Coast there is under utilized farm land that could support a much higher level of food production.

    While much of Australia is a dry landscape there is plenty of rainfall along the East Coast that could be better utilized. On almost every measure simple productivity improvements could achieve much better outcomes. None of this is rocket science.

    Along with new energy sources - Climate Change - will require large scale tree planting (several times the size of Tasmania) and soil sequestration to get us back to 350 PPM - this is exactly what James Hansen recommends - along with the wide spread development of Thorium reactors. Again none of this is rocket science.

    As to the toxicity of the food chain - well I know that’s a favorite fear of the Green Left - but seriously now there is no substantial toxicity problem in Australia - other than in a few places like Newcastle. Of course if you are opposed to industrial farming - then you are going to be worried about toxicity as that is part and parcel of the whole anti modern farming movement of the 20th century in the post-war era.

    Compared to 1915, 1941, 1349 or any of the thousands of years before now - the world is a much better place. And humans are more than capable of dealing with the problems we have now and will face in the future.

    Capping Australia’s population at 23 million by stopping migration and limiting how many babies families have is the ultimate statement of a selfish and provincial culture that should be exposed for what it is and rejected for the cultural dead end it is.

  • 50
    luokehao
    Posted Wednesday, 1 May 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Simon,

    actually, for the reason of Australia’s very small government and apolitical working masses, it is very likely that world population will decline whilst Australia’s grows and grows. The masses are attracted towards the low living costs and quiet and peaceful culture of Australia - something offered in the northern and western hemispheres only by a few radically conservative sects like the Amish - which are obviously too strict for most Enriched World people.

    People are far more attracted to a gentle culture and low taxes than they are to pristine nature and clear air, full stop.

    The Enriched World would have to, as Hans Hoppe says they should, eliminate entirely its public sector and taxes to compete with Australia. However, as the crises in Greece, Spain and Portugal have shown, there is no way the large populations on welfare are going to agree to enormous cuts in their quality of life. These “welfare masses” demand a much higher quality of life than Australia’s families, hence demanding much higher levels of environmental and cultural (e.g. old buildings) protection - it is these things that make the enriched World so attractive, though paradoxically their age is only a tiny fraction that of Australian and Southern African ecosystems whose operation would teach them much more.

    Even should all its farmland and under 11˚ slope nature reserves be converted to housing, the Enriched World is too mountainous to equal the housing space Australia has. More than that, if the globe relied entirely on Australia and Southern Africa for food as the free market seemingly says it should, there would be ecological disaster and most of those regions’ inadequate protected land would be put to the plow in climates becoming less and less suitable due to their own greenhouse emissions.

    What is required is a completely different perspective on the source of the global environmental crisis - tracing it to settlement of Australia and Southern Africa with their extremely old soils, abundant flat land, and abundant coal-based energy. Whilst the opening of Australia was a critical component of the Industrial Revolution and improved living standards in the Enriched World, it is a much more critical component of the environmental problems faced by the planet today. This is not only because of how fragile Australia and Southern Africa are, it is also because of the political structures their abundant land and minerals creates.

    Ideally, ecologically accurate living costs would encourage emigration in Australia and immigration in lowest-low fertility areas of the Enriched World. Educating people about the need for this and achieving it are different matters, though

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