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Apr 1, 2010

Dick Smith: the people have spoken, halt population growth

For the past three months Dick Smith has been travelling the country talking to people about plans to rapidly increase Australia's population. Nine out of 10 oppose the idea, he says.


For the past three months I’ve been travelling all over the country talking to people about plans to rapidly increase our population. Nine out of 10 people I talk to oppose the idea.

The ones in favour are property developers and the people who work for them, including most of our politicians. Little wonder. I’ve made more money out of Sydney real estate in the past 20 years than I ever did from electronics and publishing. Why grow a real business that employs people when you can sit back and let population growth make profits for you? We’ve become addicted to this simplistic formula, but I fear we are going to pay a terrible price.

The government claims to be concerned about housing affordability, climate change, congestion and the preservation of our environment, yet it welcomes massive population growth knowing full well it makes all those other problems far worse. It seems to be able to put all the challenges into separate boxes without ever admitting that they are, in fact, all related.

Let’s get real about the scale of what we are dealing with here. Last year we grew our population by almost 500,000 — the equivalent of the entire state of Tasmania. Think of the infrastructure in Tassie: three major hospitals, a multi-campus university, 200 schools, 200,000 homes and thousands of police, medical staff and teachers. That’s the scale of investment we need every 12 months just to prevent our standard of living falling backwards, yet as we all know nothing of this scale of infrastructure building took place.

Our cities are clogged, our public transport is failing and our hospitals are stressed. Soil degradation is costing us billions each year and our long-term agricultural security is threatened. None of the major issue we face is made any easier by vastly increasing our population, yet we are the international gold medallists of growth.

I ask a simple question: why? What good does it do us and why are we taking such risks? I fail to get a coherent answer from anyone promoting the idea. They argue we have an ageing population, yet in reality we have one of the youngest populations of any advanced nation. In any case, the advice from the Productivity Commission in 2005 was very clear: “Increased migration cannot do much to avoid population ageing.”

Those favouring massive immigration argue that we have mysterious “skills shortages”, yet more than 100,000 young Australians left the workforce last year, while we continue to throw our most experienced workers over 55 on the scrap heap.

Meanwhile, we have corrupted our higher education system, turning it into a crude factory for permanent visas, while we plunder poor nations of their best and brightest doctors, engineers and others they can sorely afford to lose. In terms of foreign aid, we give very little in return. And what do we think will be more welcomed by developing nations: an Australia that takes a tiny fraction of the world’s rapidly growing population, or one that continues to be a major contributor to global food supplies? It is clear we cannot be both.

It’s not people that we lack — it’s a people policy. When it comes to population, Kevin Rudd drifts from welcoming “Big Australia” to having “no opinion on that” — the biggest issue facing our country. This doesn’t sound like leadership to me. It’s more akin to what ALP backbencher Kelvin Thomson calls “sleepwalking to disaster”.

In aviation we plan for worst-case scenarios, insisting on rigorous safety analysis and design and building aircraft that are planned to last for decades. Yet when it comes to population, Australia has no risk assessment and no plan. Given the implications this has for all Australians, it beggars belief.

We need a national inquiry into Australia’s carrying capacity, a commitment to implement its recommendations and a ministry for population that will embrace not just immigration, but a realistic assessment of its true costs. And I and others might just have to get used to not making any more easy capital gains out of the property business.


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72 thoughts on “Dick Smith: the people have spoken, halt population growth

  1. Michael

    Can someone please take Dick around the back and shoot him?

    What part of “no one cares what you think Dick cause you’re OK mate!” doesn’t he get?

  2. Meski

    “Increased migration cannot do much to avoid population ageing.” – but to be accurate, doing nothing will not avoid it either.

  3. Jenny

    Finally – some sense!

  4. Greg Angelo

    It is quite obvious to anybody with half a brain that exponential population growth cannot be maintained. Suggestions have been made by politicians that the population of Bangladesh is sustainable therefore we have nothing to worry about. Australia’s standard of living is a function of the population levels relative to the resources available in the environment. This includes clean air, water, and open space.

    Melbourne has already outgrown its environment. We cannot survive on the available water within the Melbourne catchment area without significantly degrading the environment. Accordingly we have a totally amoral and hypocritical government turning highly polluting brown coal for both a desalination plant (which we wouldn’t need if we are constrained our population), and aluminium smelter (fed by under priced electricity) which we don’t need except to feed a few union subscriptions into the ALP coffers.

    Unfortunately and we also have an unholy alliance between building unions, ALP factions, property speculators and land developers, and of course ordinary householders whose property values are steadily rising as a consequence of property scarcity. All of these players have their snouts in the trough while the environment is being trashed.

    At the federal level we have a lunatic running the asylum where we have a 300,000 new immigrants per annum placing additional pressure on the environment and our living standards.

  5. pixillated

    I’m with you Jenny. Finally someone making sense! The trouble is we measure the economy with tools that don’t count ‘externalities’ such as environmental degredation or even feeling stressed and squashed!

    Lets stop measuring the economy with the same tools that got us into this mess as if they are the only ones that count, and start looking at and measuring by ‘society’ and ‘environment’ so we can see what is really happening!

  6. Brett Forge

    Beautifully articulated Mr Smith!

    I would have thought these comments was totally obvious to anyone with the slightest intelligence. I too have never heard a coherent rebuttal of this argument, and yet one almost never sees it stated or published.

    I suspect it is to do with mainstream economic teachings. These are addicted to growth because of its obvious short term benefits and without ever looking at the larger picture, that is short term rewards and pleasure for long term disaster and annihilation. Our economic and finance writers therefore worship the growth religion as do the politicians.

    Like preventative health, education and most other important things the benefits are not accrued within the usual electoral cycle so our politicians will not pursue it.

    I would think the only system of governance that would embrace non growth economics would be a benign dictatorship or a democracy with elections every 20 years.

  7. Meski

    Greg, who was suggesting that exponential growth could be maintained? Or are you just setting up a convenient straw man to shoot down?

  8. Scott

    Why is the answer always more government? A ministry of population? Surely “Silly Walks” must be next. If Dick is so concerned about this issue, let him start a private think tank. Maybe the “Smith Institute of Population research” or SIPR?. He has the dosh.

  9. Tim Malone

    Dear Dick,
    I am 55. I understand that in the year I turned 40 there were twice as many people alive on earth and in the year I was born. Where the hell do you think they are all going to live if some of them don’t come here?
    Why do you think that this is not an issue on which government should lead puiblic thinking rather than following public opinion?

  10. Michael

    Jenny, Pixie & Brett

    What a trio!
    Hey geniuses – why not ask the bespectacled one what he thought about large population catchment areas when he was a retailer.
    Yes, you know, before he got his greasy hands on that $150M 15 years ago.
    Yes thats right, the money that buys him all his toys.
    How easy it is for him to now say – “look do as I say – it might take some sacrifice but you know what? I’m all right jack”

  11. stephen

    well Meski I thing unlimited growth even if not stated is absolutely implied by most of the pro expanding population supporters. And Michael@1:54 that’s a disgusting comment!

  12. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    “We need a national inquiry into Australia’s carrying capacity, a commitment to implement its recommendations and a ministry for population that will embrace not just immigration, but a realistic assessment of its true costs.”

    Utterly true, and what’s more: let’s have one where the terms of inquiry is as broad as possible. Nothing should be left off the table. Nothing.

    For example, some people talk about building up regional cities. But where are they going to be placed? Northern Queensland? Very humid in the summer, and then hard to cool off in the ocean because of the box jellyfish. Western Queensland? Places like Charleville are losing population. Southwestern Australia? They’ve got a big problem with soil salinity. The Kimberleys? They’ve got water, but also the most unpleasant climate in the country.

  13. Tom McLoughlin

    Very true article. Also I would advocate quadrupling refugee intake (with due checks) while halving economic related immigration. This is not as charitable as it sounds.

    The refugees are the most determined, courageous, smartest, freedom loving of the intake. In one or two generations they will be the highly skilled. So take the cream, on humanitarian grounds and reduce overall increase.

  14. Michael

    Stephen I can do better than that.

  15. baal

    If Dick Smith had landed anywhere he’s flown and had a good look around he’d know that by comparison with the world out there (apart from the Russian Far East) Australia’s cities are by no means ‘clogged’ and all our services failing. That’s the world Dick and that’s why a lot of its people want to come here. Maybe we should be using our imagination and skills to work out ways of absorbing a larger population rather than exaggerating our predicament in order to keep people out. Mr Smith’s economic nationalism has never given us anything but sentimental attachments to inferior food products.

  16. stephen

    True Tim Malone @2.08, we need to share and your point is well made. However I suspect such altruism is not at the heart of this debate. It’s more likely about exploitation and opportunism, resulting in a less than ideal outcome. Government leadership vs’s public opinion flip flops in everyones mind depending on the issue. I’m sure you’d be the same..

  17. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    Suggestions have been made by politicians that the population of Bangladesh is sustainable therefore we have nothing to worry about.

    Greg: any politician who makes that suggestion is a boofhead. The country deals with chronic malnutrition, and groundwater contaminated with faecal matter and Arsenic. Such conditions can be sustained, but they don’t really match with most people’s definition of “sustainability”.

  18. Meski

    @Stephen: look at the exponential graph here for what the word really means.


    Noone would seriously advocate that.

  19. John Carusi

    This is a valuable debate, speaking of matters that have for too long been kept under the rug and reliant on tacit manoeuvres by those in power and for whom economic growth is the mantra they hide behind.

    However, as much as it would be refreshing to have fearless and frank discourse based on facts in this rather controversial topic, I am somewhat unsure how to engage the public, without allowing the issue to be hijacked by the types who will engage in dogwhistling of the nefarious kind.

    The last thing that we really want is that for this debate to be driven by ignorance: it is bad enough that one has to endure the sight of “F*** Off, We’re Full” stickers that some Aussie Pride types have emblazoned on their rear car windows. Do we really want these types to dictate the terms of debate?

  20. nicolino

    Our fragile environment simply won’t keep on giving. Every time we have a dust storm most of our precious top soil ends up in New Zealand and our ability to feed ourselves diminishes. Koalas in Queensland are losing out to humans so we must prepare to see our wild life take a fatal battering.
    Cities are suffering traffic gridlock and public transport is not coping with the numbers we have. Without the imagination and minds to plan ahead, having more people just does not add up.
    Whoever said Bangladesh is self sustaining has had their head up their proverbial.

  21. stephen

    Sorry Meski I never said “exponential” ( I know what it means;) ), I said unlimited because the pro-growth lobby avoids the topic of limits.

  22. Scott Grant

    Exponential is the correct description of what is happening. Whenever someone says “grows by x% per year” that is a precise description of an exponential function. Unrestrained exponential growth is also called an explosion.

    I agree, Meski, no one who understands what exponential growth means (and is concerned for the future) would advocate it. Yet that is exactly what politicians and economists and “pro-growth” advocates ARE advocating.

  23. Scott Grant

    I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who once pointed out that most processes in nature are exponential (or a sum of multiple exponential factors). He postulated that this is one reason why most people are so bad at predicting the future. We think in linear terms. Exponential processes almost always catch us by surprise.

  24. Christopher Bearman

    I am one of the 9/10.

  25. John Bennetts

    I agree with Dick’s definition of the problem. Let’s consider a few more variables before we react.

    One strong factor in favour of reducing fecundity and thus reducing the rate of population growth is education of the whole population – especially women. I do not see the need for mass immigration, but there are other ways to counter this apart from just building fences.

    Imagine if the whole world’s population increase for one year was to arrive in Australia – an extra 100 million or so. We cannot even start to address the world’s overpopulation population problem by opening the floodgates.

    So, we need to help to reduce the global population. I have identified education as a step in the right direction. Dick needs to add many more suggestions to his arsenal if he is to be successful.

    A Department of Procreation is not the solution.

  26. Thomas King

    I firmly believe Australia handle a much denser population. When a city like New York can support 8.3 Million or London 7.6 Million, I find the idea that Australia can’t support more people laughable. What Australia can’t support is the continued belief that we can choose not to drink recycled water, that we need a car for each person, that we need a quarter acre block and the list can go on. Change those idea and all of a sudden Australia can support a larger/denser population ….

  27. Stuart Wright

    Dick Smith, I like what you say.
    More and more I’m dismayed by those who haven’t the brain wherewithall to fully be cognisant with the problems of loading this country up with too much population.
    There are too many people in the WORLD, let alone this country.
    Run for public office again and I’ll be right behind you, but I s’pose that you’ve had enough of that already, and as well, you’d then be a ‘politician’.
    Cheers, Stu.

  28. baal

    ‘Too many people in the world’. And who exactly might they be? Not your good self I’ll bet.

  29. Greg Angelo

    The Prime Minister’s big Australia of 36 million is a compound annual growth rate of 1.25% which means in simple terms so for every two Australians today there will be three and a bit by 2050. Based on the current requirement not to exceed 155 L per person per day the average Melbourne resident will be rationed to 100 L per day using the current capture system. One would assume that by 2050 desalination will be an unobtainable commodity because of greenhouse emission controls.

    At some stage growth will have to be curtailed. At current growth rates, in 250 years it will only be one square metre per person on the earth’s surface. I for one would rather control the population and keep my quarter acre block. Having seen London and New York, I know where I would prefer to live.

    Unfortunately our community is “hooked” on growth and like heroin addicts we can’t stop. Corrupt politicians are the equivalent of drug traffickers marketing grows as a panacea rather than a destructive force. In a community preoccupied with sport , celebrities and capital appreciation of real estate it will be difficult at the community to face up to these issues.

  30. Greg Angelo

    The Prime Minister’s big Australia of 36 million is a compound annual growth rate of 1.25% which means in simple terms so for every two Australians today there will be three and a bit by 2050. Based on the current requirement not to exceed 155 L per person per day the average Melbourne resident will be rationed to 100 L per day using the current water capture system. One would assume that by 2050 desalination will be an unobtainable commodity because of greenhouse emission controls.

    At some stage growth will have to be curtailed. At current growth rates, in 250 years ithere will only be one square metre per person on the earth’s surface. I for one would rather control the population and keep my quarter acre block. Having seen London and New York, I know where I would prefer to live.

    Unfortunately our community is “hooked” on growth and like heroin addicts we can’t stop. Corrupt politicians are the equivalent of drug traffickers marketing growth as a panacea rather than a destructive force. In a community preoccupied with sport , celebrities and capital appreciation of real estate it will be difficult at the community to face up to these issues.

  31. Greg Angelo

    The Prime Minister’s big Australia of 36 million is a compound annual growth rate of 1.25% which means in simple terms so for every two Australians today there will be three and a bit by 2050. Based on the current requirement not to exceed 155 L per person per day the average Melbourne resident will be rationed to 100 L per day using the current water capture system. One would assume that by 2050 desalination will be an unobtainable commodity because of greenhouse emission controls.

    At some stage growth will have to be curtailed. At current growth rates, in 250 years ithere will only be one square metre per person on the earth’s surface. I for one would rather control the population and keep my quarter acre block. Having seen London and New York, I know where I would prefer to live.

    Unfortunately our community is “hooked” on growth and like heroin addicts we can’t stop. Corrupt politicians are the equivalent of drug traffickers marketing growth as a panacea rather than a destructive force. In a community preoccupied with sport , celebrities and capital appreciation of real estate it will be difficult for the community to face up to these issues.

  32. Matt Longworth

    Don’t worry Dick, a man with your talents will still be making easy capital gains.

  33. davidk

    If you thought convincing people to reduce global emissions would be easy, try telling them they must stop having children. Good article Dick. There does seem to be a general consensus that there is such a concept as too many people, though judging from the above there are some who would dispute that.

  34. baal

    Just asking, which part of Too Many is Dick and DavidK

  35. Stuart Wright

    I guess I’m closer to ‘my time ‘ coming than you are. I OK with that.
    Only a fool would comment as you have.
    Maybe you should be on the first ‘ship’.

  36. zut alors

    Fascinated to know which politician suggested the population of Bangladesh is sustainable.

    It sounds sufficiently extraordinary to be the work of Jethro Joyce himself…but we haven’t yet had the benefit of his opinion on population growth. He’ll find the Bangladesh comment hard to top.

  37. pixillated

    John Carusi 1 April 2010 at 6:19 pm and John Bennetts 1 April 2010 at 7:45 pm are on the right track.
    The difficulty with expressing the problem as an “Australian” problem is it leaves the proponent open to accusations of 1 Racism or 2 Nimbyism (if that is a word). The population problem is actually one of the size of world population and what we must do globally to reduce it before we reduce the quality of life for all of us, along with leaving so few resources that any intention we have to lift the rest of the world from poverty becomes a pipe dream.

    There is a class of problems that I now think of as “negative commons”, issues that we share world wide and that we don’t get a choice about buying into. This is unlike the “positive commons” of economic theory, where you individually choose to graze your sheep on the commons in the first place, and after they have done their damage, you can take them off somewhere else private.

    We don’t have a choice about participating in “negative commons” and they are made up of the sort of problem that stuffs things up for all of us and doesn’t leave somewhere else to go. They include global threats such as terrorism, pandemics, global warming, the financial crisis, and – you guessed it – overpopulation. Each of these has negative global effects from which it is difficult if not impossible to escape and in which we did not individually choose to be.

    What makes them horribly complex, however is though they are much more uniformly spread than we would like as a problem, the solutions are variable and differentiated depending on where you are located. For instance we (Australians) are limited by our sphere of control. We can try to control population at a global level, but because we have more power within Australia we are sensible to begin there and put our biggest efforts there.
    As well as differential control we also suffer differentiated consequent problems from overpopulation than those of others. Respondents to this blog have outlined above the problems for countries like Bangladesh which arise from overpopulation. They are clearly different from ours.

    Ours largely stem from our particularly fragile physical environment. Our top-soils are likely to take off at the slightest whiff of wind, and are naturally low in nutrients; our seasons are more unstable from year to year than any other country. We are currently the biggest extinction rate country in the world, having lost some 10% per decade of species over the last 30 years. And so on. Ours is a very fragile continent.
    Obviously we, as Australians, have to take a particularistic and context driven approach to answers to overpopulation, and equally obviously we cannot do it without the rest of the world. (The “negative commons” paradox if you like)

    So we need to find a way to simultaneously address world population (education of women, less precarious existence etc) as well as addressing the particular problems of Australia. We cannot live with the population density of Europe or America – we do not have the climate, we do not have the water and we have a peculiarly sensitive natural environment to protect and with which to sustain ourselves.

    It is not a matter of racism, of nimbyism or of “Australian exceptionalism”. It is a matter of working out how we are best placed to be part of the solution. Damaging our own environment in order to temporarily save others from their environment, wrecked by overpopulation and its attendant pollutions, is not the solution.

  38. Norman Hanscombe

    Little is ever said about underlying problems for which, regrettably, there’s no obvious solution. There are people who are fully aware of the insanity of simply watching our population soar.

    One group is politicians who also realise that it’s political suicide for them to be too frank with voters.

    A second group is business proprietors who realise shareholders will turn on anyone who takes steps which may be good for longer term prospects, but in a world where competitors (for a variety of reasons) aren’t worrying about such factors, it will mean that current dividends won’t be as high.

    Large numbers of people ‘believe’ that something has to be done. The problem is that when it comes to actually doing it, most are convinced — genuinely, I’m sure — that it’s others whose turn it is to make the necessary sacrifices.

  39. Stuart Wright

    GA to Pix’ and Norman.
    Why were we all critical of the Chinese Gov’t and the ‘one offspring’ policy?
    Like my Chinese friend said to me ” We have always been the world leaders in Public Policy”.
    I’m beginning to think they knew more than we, in a multiplicity of realms.

  40. Norman Hanscombe

    We weren’t “all” critical, Styart. As for China being a policy ‘leader’ doesn’t it help to be decisive when they don’t have to worry about voters? In any case, Mao initially dismissed the question of over-population in one of his many inane pronouncements when he told us that over-population problems were a problem only of capitalist systems, and Chinese ‘socialism’ would not need to worry.

    Fortunately for the planet, the Chinese Govt eventually realised this belief was a tad optimistic.

  41. John Bennetts

    @ Norman Hanscombe:

    Norman agrees with the majority of us and with Dick Smith that continual increases in our population is a problem. So, the problem is agreed, but where lies the solutions? Ever-higher walls and bigger navies will eventually be inadequate.

    Norman, do you agree with the proposition that real management of global population increase lies in cultural change and that essential precursors of these changes include improvement in education and security of the poorest and fastest growing populations on our planet? Is there reason to expect that the remainder of the world will follow European and Japanese population trajectories?

    I feel sure that once people are physically secure, well fed and reasonably well educated (especially womenfolk), they will try to maintain what they have, including by not feeling the need to value large families as a form of labour in their mid-years and as providers for them in their old age. But is this a pipe dream?

    Agreement re solutions are what is needed, followed by effective action on a large scale.

  42. Norman Hanscombe

    No John, I don’t accept your simple solution will work; but having seen your approach to discussing an extremely easy concept elsewhere, shan’t attempt to explain why.

  43. John Bennetts

    I will make one observation, and that is that I believe that neither Dick nor others, yourself included, have suggested partial solutions, only identified problems.

  44. Norman Hanscombe

    John, some realise there IS a problem. A second problem, however, is that the answers are far more complex and painful than people want to hear. But at least though, on THIS topic, you’ve made a reasonable observation. That’s a start.

  45. Liz45

    Could make having sex without protection a crime? Get rid of those on the planet who annoy us or have an ugly/undesirable/disabled first child?

    Who of the above are going to remove themselves from the planet? Whose kids should be dispensed with? Round and round in circles but nobody would entertain the idea that they should make space for someone else? So, what’s the solution? Any ideas?

    Hand out magic pills when your/our 60th birthday approaches?

  46. Stuart Wright

    Could make the Darwin Awards a reality TV show.

  47. Norman Hanscombe

    Don’t joke, liz45 [assuming you were joking?] When the crunch does eventually come, it’s unlikely that it will be a warm and gentle fuzzy ‘final solution’.

  48. John Carusi

    To quote TISM (and believe me, they be quoted for just about any situation):

    “Smash a Pumpkin, Kill a Heidi
    Celebrity’s worth a fiver
    Kill anyone on Reality TV—
    Call it ‘Non-Survivor'”

    (From “Ten Points for A Razor Scooter”, on the album De RigueurMortis)

    There you go: after all, spokesbalaclava Humprey B. Flaubert did claim that TISM had indeed invented Reality TV; they were dismayed that it had lost the “snuff” element that they had built into it.

    As most of us who watch TV and read Crikey! would freely acknowledge, that televisual genre has well and truly worn out its welcome mat. Maybe there’s a pitch worth exploring and maybe TISM’s idea’s time has come. But I’m not sure if the commercials would dare go there, even by their base standards!

    Aaahh, but think of the ratings! And that warm inner glow from contributing to your bit to helping the planet! Would Planet Janet get on board? This’d appeal to all those Darwinian Fundamentalists out there…would they make the ultimate sacrifice, just to to get their fifteen minutes of fame?

    You never know.

  49. John Carusi

    Just going of on a macabre tangent. But jokes aside, it is a very contentious issue. And with so many vested interests at stake, you wonder how to go about it, short of some cataclysmic event, be it natural, anthropogenic or a direct human action. But all the while, we are blithely going about things, BAU, just hoping to handball it someone else, their problem, more of them to spare, relieve them of their miserable existences: all of those less-than-charitable thoughts.

    But even if you’re more charitable, like I’d hope to think that I am, I sometimes wonder how I can assist, short of snuffing myself out (of which I’ve no intention of doing anytime soon!). And the idea—a quite condescending one—races through the brain, wondering how to have those who are thoughtful enough to act in the best interests for as many people as possible, be able to be progenitors for such a society to live within their means, rather than those who live in ignorance, be it either blissful or wilful, reproducing in greater number, without becoming some horrid eugenicist. This is an existential dilemma of giga proportions.

    There are several ways that are perfectly humane to keep a lid on rampant procreation, such as perhaps working a lot harder towards the UN Millennium Development Goals: when you have stability and adequate provision of welfare in society, there’s really no need to have more than replacement numbers of offspring to ensure security in your dotage. But then again, we’d need another three planet Earth’s worth of resources if the current 6.7 billion souls were all to live like the mean Australian.

    Either we give up some of our accoutrements of the suburban life, or some of us have to go. Not a happy choice whichever way—even some grey shades between each of those extremes—one goes. Yet it is a question we can ill-afford to dither on, but should we make a bad decision, the consequences will be as dire as merely hoping that the problem will just disappear by being ostriches.

  50. John Carusi

    TYPO: Oops. That was meant to be “Going OFF on a macabre tangent”, rather than “Going OF…”

  51. Stuart Wright

    Could set the hangman back some if we can get folk to just consume less. Talking our affluent society, that is.
    I propose we educate everyone to begin in their own backyard first.
    Then ‘practice what you preach’ might be a good doctrine.

  52. pixillated

    Suggestions that we bump ourselves off are just plain silliness unless the people making them have not yet noticed they are not immortal? Living is a self-correcting problem.

    The suggestion that we can increase population and compensate by consuming less is also, though well intentioned, equally unrealistic. If the argument about exponential increase in population above is correct, (and there is no reason to believe on past history that we will not increase population by a steady x% per year) then every man, woman and child will have to consequently exponentially decrease consumption. Can you see that happening? To what point of reduction?

    The best thing we can do is breed less ourselves, and use that extra bit of time saved from not killing ourselves early to put some thought to turning around the engines of increase – or as someone once said, ‘the biggest obstacle to change is the way things already are’.

    You and I could for instance write to politicians to let them know that the issue of population increase is on the radar and a vote changer. We could make sure it was on the agenda for disussion in all sorts of public fora, including ones like this.
    We could support research into what is necessarily going to be nuanced change to lifestyle and expectations, depending on where people live and whether their bit of the population is in deep difficulty. The suggestion above for a think tank is not a bad one.

    A big step change could be made by reconsidering how we measure success as a nation. At the moment the emphasis on national GDP ignores even simple measures such as GDP per head. In an scenario of increased population GDP will rise but share of it per person could easily collapse. However the biggest blind spot is in “quality”. Using measures of money (or more correctly transactions) as a substitute for investigating quality (of life, of society, of environment) was always going to lead us down this path. Unless you know what you are losing in some degree of detail, it is always going to be easy for those who wish to argue we are not losing it

    The “solution” I think begins with two steps. Firstly making the issue central to public and political debate, and secondly engaging in some rigourous research for policy development so we do not go down the “silver bullet” (sic) path.

    Killing yourself is not the answer. It renders you politically inactive.

  53. Norman Hanscombe

    Congrats, Pixi, on at least acknowledging that your suggestion is merely a “solution” and not a solution.

  54. pixillated

    So Norman, what’s your “solution” or can you come up with a solution?

  55. Greg Angelo

    If one could somehow dispense with slavish adherence to religious mantra there is a very simple solution which could be implemented relatively simply and without much pain. China had led the way with a one child policy, and if such a program was implemented and rigourously enforced world population will drop to about 1 billion in about 250 years.

    However such a policy would have a disastrous impact on property and resource speculation which appears to be a key economic driver and the world at present. Unfortunately the human species is is too narrowminded and too self-interested to seriously contemplate such a proposal which even the Chinese have failed to fully implement.

  56. Stuart Wright

    [i]”Unfortunately the human species is is too narrowminded and too self-interested to seriously contemplate such a proposal which even the Chinese have failed to fully implement.”[/i]

    You’re right, there.
    It’s the result of poor ‘toilet training’. “Give me a child ’till he is seven” etc.
    We now have three generations of inhabitants who have no parenting skills. I’d like to think that there will be some happening which will reverse the trend, but I can’t clearly see one. I guess when enough of them get ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired’ we may witness something.

    I didn’t see anywhere the suggestion that we rush Lemming-like to an early, inappropriate demise.
    For myself, and mine, I long for the chance to show that the planet really needs looking after better than we’ve been doing so. Oh, I know “everyone’s” saying this and that, but very few are really getting off their collective arses and DOING something.
    Some are being embarrassed into doing, but that’s not the spirit we need. Others are driven by the pecuniary returns, then stand on their roofs and crow about it. WRONG!

    I don’t see China as having failed at their chosen policy. Both China and the rest of the world, and US ( that’s us, we) as an ‘open space’ nation would have much greater problems if they hadn’t done anything.
    Witness the awakening giant now, as they aspire to the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.
    I see them doing their very best to control it. Look at the world petro-chem industry for a start, and China’s new involvement in it. I think we’re dammned lucky for the circumstance of them having waited ’till we-all started screaming about looking after the planet, so that their consumption is a little stayed. And they see the $ in the new green tech.
    It’s a very complex matter, and hats off to guys like Dick for opening debate more publicly.
    As the wiseman said, “clean up your own backyard first”.

  57. baal

    Oh dear, not drunk? Must be mad then

  58. Stuart Wright

    Another,bar-stool expert.

  59. pixillated

    Tony Burke has just been appointed Minister for Population. Unfortunately I think he sees himself as Minister FOR population

  60. Norman Hanscombe

    I hate to have to point out to you, Angelo, that your ” very simple solution” is certainly a simple notion, BUT, finding a way to actually implement it isn’t quite so simple — and it’s the practical implementation, not the ‘noble notion’, that the planet needs.

    Look at the the posts (well-meaning as they may be) on topics suvh as this one or Bob Carr’s recent Crikey observations on a related issue, and you’ll begin to have some idea of just how enormous a hurdle it is to even have people discussing it without the usual quagmire of all sides being convinced absolutely that their side is ‘noble’ the other side(s) is clearly ‘evil’.

    Evolution hasn’t been a resounding success — or, if you’re in the anti-evolution camp, on face value, there’s a case for arguing that God could have benefitted from a few helpful suggestions at the time of creation.

  61. Greg Angelo

    Mr Hanscombe” can I out that my given the name is actually Greg.

    I suggest also that you read the first words of my opening sentence which I am repeating for your information:

    “If one could somehow dispense with slavish adherence to religious mantra…

    I am only too aware that 95% of the human race works on autopilot as indoctrinated from birth and that this segment of the community has a “God-given right” to reproduce at will(various gods seem to bestow the same capacity).

    Accordingly in the absence of brute force the human species will continue to grow until it is it reaches the ultimate physical constraints such as lack of food and water, or alternately pollution and possibly the impact of global warming.

    At present we have massive vested interests hooked on growth as indicated in my earlier comment, and I doubt that the human species has the adaptive capacity to address these issues.

  62. baal

    I remember as a kid people banged on about ‘too many people’ but have to admit I can’t see what’s different in the arguments (unless you believe the Earth can’t support us) – but I wonder if there is a misanthropist urge behind the thinking. Those who breed most die most.

  63. Norman Hanscombe

    The “if” is noted, Mr Angelo; but a serious flaw remains with your notion that the problem arises from, “slavish adherence to religious mantra”. Our species displays this form of religious behaviour with both theistic AND non-theistic beliefs. We’re programmed to find security in adopting something (almost anything?) as a belief system. Because of this, the underlying problem lies not so much with a particular belief, per se, as our innate drive to hang on to something — anything — which helps us to feel we have “the answers”.

    That’s why there isn’t any “very simple solution which could be implemented relatively simply and without much pain.” Your ‘China solution’ hasn’t actually worked, especially when evaluated in terms of resource destruction, and would become even less useful as a planetary panacea. I don’t deny it would be wonderful if some of the more optimistic ‘plans’ could be effectively implemented, BUT a plan which can’t be implemented is a non-plan.
    You’re engaging in self-deception when you suggest the main problem is that “such a policy would have a disastrous impact on property and resource speculation which appears to be a key economic driver and (sic) the world at present.” It’s not all down to evil speculators, Mr Angelo. Most of the population would turn on any elected Government trying to make hard decisions, which is why even the Greens don’t come out strongly explaining precisely what our problems are, including the full costs to the present population, were we actually serious about tackling the problems.

    So concentrate on with your campaign to be addressed in a manner you approve. There’s at least some chance of that being successful.

    I can’t close, however, without mentioning Baal’s fascinating statement that, “Those who breed most die most.” Is this intended to be somehow re-assuring? If so, perhaps it should be sent on to the Farmers Federation, so they realise their worries about exploding rabbit populations are all in the mind?

  64. baal

    @NORMAN HANSCOMBE Another exquisite misrepresentation, which seems to be the habit of most opinionated bloggers. My assertion about breeding was based on the experience of people living in poverty. They tend to have more children and many of whom die. Nothing more or less. But at the bottom of all this is the unspoken issue: who has the decides who lives? Nobody here seems to be interested in either the question or the answer.

  65. Greg Angelo

    Mr. Hanscombe
    Normally I would not become involved in a recursive debate but it is probably necessary when dealing with you to use very explicit propositions.

    Proposition 1
    The vast majority of the community are totally self absorbed and self-interested and provided they are not facing an immediate threat take the line of least resistance.

    Proposition 2
    As social creatures we are indoctrinated from an early age by parents and the community. Social and religious belief including the presumption of unconstrained rights to procreation prevail in most communities and most of this stems from religious indoctrination(religious mantra).

    Proposition 3
    Well-meaning developments in health and agriculture are fuelling a population explosion which is essentially out of control

    Proposition 4
    The world population is outstripping the capacity of the environment to sustain the level of population that we have. This includes environmental degradation and pollution, destruction of natural habitat to the point where a large proportion of the world’s species are facing extinction.

    Proposition 5
    Politicians, even those in dictatorships, rely on the substantial compliance of the vast majority of the population either through force or appealing to short-term fundamental self interest.

    If you consider these five propositions jointly, you are drawn to the inescapable conclusion that the problem cannot be solved. Not because of a lack of technical and capability or understanding of problem, but wilful ignorance aided and abetted by superstitious belief structures and corrupt politicians works against any sensible population control proposition.

    Reportedly nearly half of America has such an ingrained belief in religious mantra that they believe the world less than 10,000 years old and man was created in the image of God. Even in Australia when faced with the propositions of decreasing water availability per capita and environmental degradation as a consequence of burning coal we are now constructing desalination plants to provide our community with water because we have outstripped the water supply, yet politicians such as Brumby and Rudd are arguing for a bigger Australia.

    If Australia one of the richest countries on earth in terms of resources per capita cannot implement sensible policy decisions to constrain our population within environmental constraints, and deal with the politics of overuse of water, what hope is there for the rest of the world?

    Whether we like it or a significant proportion of the community are all “evil property speculators” and the vast majority would not vote for a policy which reduced the value of the housing stock as a consequence of lower population. Politicians understand this. I also understand that sucking up to the building unions and the big end of town involved in property speculation is a powerful political imperative.

    Despite a bad press Malthus was correct. His detractors criticise him because he did not envisage technological advance to offset the effects of increasing population in terms of agricultural productivity. Accordingly technological advance has deferred the day of reckoning.

    It is an interesting but little understood fact that with exponential growth, if you have a doubling of population the resource consumption in the doubling period exceeds the total resource consumption from the beginning of the series. This is amply illustrated in the parable of the King and the chessboard where the king agreed to provide one grain of wheat for the first square two for the second and four for the third square and so on. The quantity of wheat for the last square exceeded the world’s total production

    Added to the exponential growth in world population, we have the double whammy of India and China attempting to emulate Western living standards in terms of resource consumption. China now produces more cars than America, and Australia has only been saved from the GFC recession by being the quarry of China.

    In summary therefore it can be clearly stated that the human population is on a collision course with its environmental constraints, and when such constraints really start to bite there will be substantial grief. Dick Smith is correct and if my five propositions are correct nothing will be done until we “hit the wall”.

  66. Norman Hanscombe

    1. Baal, full marks on your brevity. Clarity in your previous post, however, not as impressive, so it’s a tad harsh of you to accuse those who read it of ‘misrepresentation’

    2. Mr Angelo, brevity isn’t your strong point, but your final conclusion is something which struck me as seeming fairly obvious, even as a youngster. I recall being assured (just after Xmas 45) that I was worrying needlessly, because ‘solutions’ would be found. I wasn’t convinced then (and am even less so now) that this is true — but fortunately I’m more aware now than I was then about WHY people are prone to this sort of belief.

    Because of this, I’m hardly going to quibble with your final conclusion, am I? On the other hand, I’d still suggest that you do seem to rely on dubious premisses, not to mention a few un-stated premisses, some of which don’t strike me as being in line with how a careful observer would see the world around us.

    Not least among what I’d suggest weakens your ‘argument’ is your obsession with ascribing ‘bad’ motives to any actor whose actions you criticise. I’m far less ‘morally’ judgmental than you are on this aspect, being more than happy to accept that with statements where I believe you to be wrong, your position is in no way an indication of moral turpitude.

    I hope this helps make you feel happier?

  67. baal

    NORMAN HANSCOMBE – I take your point. There is a lot of, er, prolixity, on Crikey blogs so I may have erred. Your tone has a rather pedagogic ring – affectation or habit?

  68. Norman Hanscombe

    Baal, I’ve been told I write like I talk, like I think. As you’d realise from my comments, I’m from a distant past in which primary school teachers — not one of whom in my school had even a diploma, let alone a degree) were literate, and didn’t feel nervous about requiring standards even with a working class lad like myself from a single parent (disinterested) home. Thank God I’m not coming through now, or I’d probably be almost as hopelss as some of the lecturers I’ve come across in more recent times. On the other hand, I remember being aware (certainly by 48 but perhaps earlier) that standards had fallen already from what they’d been only a few years ahead of me.

    After primary, partly because I no longer had the close interest I’d grown to expect from Pop Welding, my 6th class teacher, my own schooling became a waste of time, ande I was bored out of my mind, attending sporadically to keep in touch with mates; but I’d argue the real disintegration of education standards didn’t begin until the late 60s / early 70s.

    So, apologies for my style. The best excuse I can come up with is, “My 6th class primary school teacher made me do it!”

    How’s that for a postmodernist style variation of the excuse that, “Nothing’s my fault”?

  69. baal

    @NORMAN HANSCOMBE – I too am from a distant past, but different from yours. More and more I find misuse and abuse of our language (as opposed to its progressive evolution) a pain, so I shouldn’t complain about people trying to maintain standards in a medium which tolerates rudeness, low grade insults and dumb irony, but that’s digital democracy for you (as far as it goes) in its early stages I hope. Perhaps we’re on the same mission.

  70. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Greg Angelo, a couple of your propositions don’t really impact on the equation – as I see it. You suggest (at Prop. 2) that the presumption of unconstrained rights to procreation automatically means that mankind will breed like rabbits. Yet developed countries like ours and the other OECDs have birth rates at or below replacement levels. Secondly, your observation about what Americans believe (<10,000 years old, made in the image of god) probably has absolutely no impact on the birthrate. Sprouting Darwinian evolution and non-Creationist geology might be an entertaining change for common or garden Americans (maybe) but it would not explain in any meaningful way why any society is the way it is. I doubt there is an autonomous intellectual connection between community development and birthrates.

  71. Simon Nasht

    Gee, it would be a nice change if most of the contributors here would actually be discussing the Dick Smith article instead of each other. I think Dick has made it clear in a number of recent commentaries and speeches that he backs Kelvin Thomson’s approach to solutions for Australia: i.e. immigration reduced to out historic average of around 70,000/year, greatly increased humanitarian intake, foreign aid increase targeted at educating women; and a more rational economic debate that measures true costs, not just the crude measure of GDP growth. As well as broad-ranging and effective national enquiry into sustainable population numbers.

  72. Meski

    Hugh, you are conveniently ignoring the position of the RC church with regard to contraception.

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