Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population, by Mark O’Connor and William J. Lines

Recently I’d bitched about the quality of the Quarterly Essays. Well, here are two authors that would have written an excellent and punchy Quarterly Essay, if they’d been approached. Whether you agree or not with what the authors write, it’s terrific to read something written with such urgency and conviction. Here are two people who have thought long and hard on a topic and have much to say on it. Better still, the authors are devoid of your typical left / right wing political orthodoxies. Through much of this book they are devastatingly critical of the left and right when it comes to population policy.

The basic upshot of the book is: how are we going to provide for so many people, and isn’t it responsible to look at creating a sustainable population level? In the debate on the environment, we always look at how we can individually cut our emissions, but these gains are quickly eroded when more and more people are added to the planet.

To me this makes clear sense, and recently I’ve been pondering this question quite a bit as I read about water shortages, peak oil and see our roads get more and more congested with traffic. In the state I live in, Victoria, the government talks about adding more to the population, while at the same time we are running out of water. How can this all be sustained?

Indeed, just as I was finishing the book, there was an article in the Age about all the extra cars that are being constantly added to our roads, and how they are not coping. How will we deal with all of this?

One point that amazed me about this book was how the authors demonstrated that many eminent media commentators and politicians got the numbers so dramatically wrong on Australia’s population growth. The facts are that the population is increasing. Look at the ABS statistics. Australia’s population is not shrinking.

There is a bogey with population debate. Talk about immigration restriction (we’re not talking about refugees here; the authors say our humanitarian intake could easily be increased) instantly triggers talk of racism. Trying to discuss a population cap gets people instantly making links to China’s one child policy.

To me it seems we’re living in a fantasy world if we think the population can just grown indefinitely and the earth will ‘abideth forever’.

I heartily recommend you read Overloading Australia. This is a subject we hardly ever see discussed in the public domain. The book is written in a terse, punchy style that will get you thoroughly engaged in the subject.

The authors recommend the following websites:

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