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It’s the Population, Stupid

May 30, 2011

It’s a relief when you see the message getting through. Today, at Dymocks George St, Sydney, Dick Smith launched Population Crisis, subtitled, “The dangers of unsustainable growth for Australia” (published by Allen & Unwin). It is an argument spun around this basic, undeniable fact of life: human numbers on the planet are growing hugely and this has got to be the starting point for every challenge humanity faces like climate change, hunger, civil wars, political unrest and, at least to some extent, religious extremism and national rivalries.

This year the world’s population has – will – hit seven billion. Writers on population each has a different way of dramatising this elemental fact of life. Dick’s is to say:

It staggers me to contemplate that in less than my life time the world’s population has tripled. There are more people alive today than have lived and died in all previous history. Such is the dangerous mathematics of exponential growth that, if I have an average lifespan, I will also see the arrival of the next one billion people some time in the 2020s. [My emphases]

This means, in turn, that humanity’s consumption of the planet’s resources, our ecological footprint, has doubled since 1966.

But Smith points out there’s another variable being forced here and that is, that at the same time, the variety of animals has declined by a third. This human plague, this explosion in human numbers – this truly crazy experiment – is elbowing other species out of existence.

These are my words, not Smith’s, but the destruction of animal habitats is the biggest cause of species elimination and it’s exploding human numbers that produces that human activity – the pressure for land clearing, the pressure for more cattle ranches and palm oil plantations in the place of rainforests, the growth of ruinous irrigation, the subsequent spread of deserts. It’s a massive dislocation of nature.

Dick Smith said he declined to join the climate change advertisement because he knew the Murdoch press would simply carve him up because he’s rich. See my comments on their treatment of Cate Blanchett below.

Interviewed by the media at the book launch I said the Murdoch papers should contemplate a different approach, one that is not just mischievous and negative. The News Limited papers support market-based action on climate change. They could sponsor their own conferences of economists and scientists to drive their own agenda for such a pricing mechanism. And then use their pages to sponsor it as their preferable alternative to what is emerging from the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee in Canberra.

In the meantime Dick Smith is talking, I believe, for the majority of Australians who know there’s something unsustainable in the madcap drive for an unceasing increase in the human numbers supported by this continent.

10 Comments
  1. Watson permalink
    May 30, 2011 2:07 pm

    I remember a time when propositions such as Smith’s would have been taken as self evident. But in the ‘Unenlightenment’ which is now upon us, it seems as notions such as these belong to a bizarre cult that still prays to the god of rationalism.
    For a growing majority – growing like the majority support for the Liberal-National Coalition, appeals to reason and that evil, self serving doctrine called science are treated with contempt and derision. It seems that if you throw enough rotten tomatoes at the truth it will dissolve away, revealing the golden calf beneath.

  2. Kevin Eade permalink
    May 30, 2011 2:53 pm

    Dear Bob,

    Having read your “Who Killed Kennedy” all was well until you mentioned two books – Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History and Gerald Posner’s Case Closed.

    I would urge you to read the following books on the JFK assassination if you have not done so.

    Rush to Judgment, by Mark Lane (1966)

    Accessories After the Fact, by Sylvia Meagher (1967)

    Presumed Guilty, by Howard Roffman (1975)

    Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers (1981)

    Spy Saga, by Philip Melanson (1990)

    The Last Investigation, by Gaeton Fonzi (1993)

    Let Justice Be Done, by Bill Davy (1999)

    The Assassinations, Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, Eds. (2003)

    Breach of Trust, by Gerald McKnight (2005)

    JFK and the Unspeakable, by James Douglass (2008)

    Or even an assessment on the work of Jim DiEugenio of Probe Magazine now at:

    http://www.ctka.net/home.html

    All the best.

    Kevin Eade

  3. May 30, 2011 4:20 pm

    Unless we commence lowering 300years of CO2 build up and restart the carbon cycle there will be mass environmental refugees looking for food and water and not arriving in small boats

    Industry cannot find clean energy in the short time so a tax is but a revenue raiser
    Under a well planned CO2 reduction programme income from carbon trading will create new jobs and research into clean energy without further ill founded impost on Australian people
    Robert Vincin

  4. Sara Huang permalink
    May 30, 2011 5:52 pm

    I’m glad more and more people start to speak up about this issue. While we promote human right and try to reduce poverty, this far greater challenge is upon us at ever increasing speed. How are about the right of all other living species on the planet? How should we measure the economic development when taking into account its destruction to the ecosystem? I believe at some point in the near future, a crisis point will be reached that all political, religious and economic forces will have to confront this issue rather than avoiding it like they do now.

  5. Frankie Vegas permalink
    May 30, 2011 5:57 pm

    Hi Mr Carr,
    I was following the debate in the comments of your Who Killed Kennedy blog and I am curious as to why they have been taken down?
    Thank you.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 30, 2011 6:30 pm

      No, I shifted my piece to the American section of the blog. Don’t know how to handle the comments.

      Give me till tomorrow to work out to display the comments on it.

      I am not remotely interested in censoring.

  6. May 30, 2011 6:13 pm

    Why were the comments section on the “Who killed Kennedy thread” removed?
    If this wasn’t a mistake, it is blatant censorship. I demand that readers be allowed to see the responses, which I and several others took a lot of time and careful writing to produce for everyone’s edification.
    Steve Duffy.

  7. May 30, 2011 7:55 pm

    Watson, in this country it is simply because of the self interest of the business elites that we have a population growth policy in this country, and also means that this issue is kept hidden and ‘off topic’ for the Australian public. The pathetic Bourke policy paper that was released a couple of weeks ago is a perfect illustration of this. The name of the game is to bury any discussion of the topic whilst keeping the policy levers in full growth mode.

    The business elites are reliant on a growing population for an easy and lazy route to market growth, and for a cheap source of trained up labour. They will fight tooth and nail for population growth in this country, as is evident whenever the topic is every discussed in the Murdoch press.

  8. Damien Hogan permalink
    May 30, 2011 8:32 pm

    John Dewey said a problem well put is half solved. Perhaps the population problem is the exception that proves the rule.

    The momentum of our global population is truly frightening – even if key control measures, (such as massive global birth control education) were implemented aggressively and successfully today the impact will still be slow to take effect.

    Other measures which all reasonable people support – increasing the health, wealth and lifespan of the emerging and developing nations – will only worsen the problem in the short to medium term.

    And as for the ability to sell reduced or static growth solutions. Well… the trouble selling the basic carbon control message (“still lots of growth, just ever so slightly slower”) gives and indication of just how hard, just how brave and just how clever any leader will be that can take a nation through a broader growth control process.

    (Full disclosure: I have 3 kids)

  9. May 30, 2011 9:57 pm

    It will take time for policy and legal changes to slow down human population growth. And we don’t have much time left.

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