Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Population: not a climate movement issue

There has been a flurry of comment about population growth and immigration. This last Friday I heard ALP MP Kelvin Thompson advocating immigration cuts on the radio. That same afternoon I came across a street plastered with stickers on every pole reading "save water - end immigration" from the organisation "Nationalist Alternative" - who appear to be a group of racists trying to infiltrate their ideas into the mainstream. Their website says "Our vision of Australia is one of an organic nation, founded upon Western/European ideals, and created by it’s descendants primarily the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic ethnicity as well as fellow Europeans from northern,central, southern and eastern Europe." (Slackbastard posted about them, too. The populationist website candobetter approvingly posted Thompson's speech... and far right website Stormfront approvingly posted a link to candobetter!).

But racist boneheads are an aside. Now Ross Gittins has chimed in in the Sydney Morning Herald. This population argument is gathering support.

I think the call to limit immigration on environmental grounds is a bit hypocritical. Australia is the driest continent but has some of the most wasteful water management. We have now become the world's worst carbon polluters. Why don't we actually address those issues? Immigration may add incrementally to those problems, but cutting immigration actually won't fix them. Immigration is a distraction from the real issue here.

Reducing world population to stop climate change is equally off the mark. If we had time to take a generation - or, more realistically, several - it might work. But climate change has to be addressed urgently. Right now.

I'm all in favour of providing education and contraception to people in developing countries, along with all sorts of other aid. It should be noted that a lot of what passes for "development" in these countries is not uniformly welcomed - dams in India, for example, usually destroy the livelihoods of the people they displace. But once again, limiting population growth where it is the fastest (in the poorest countries) blames the wrong people. It is the already-affluent first-world nations that have produced the vast majority of the world's pollution (and are generally continuing to do so). If Australia's per capita emissions and renewable energy industry were anything like China's we might have some useful advice to give, but until then I don't think so.

Whatever your views on sustainable population (hopefully informed by science, not "White Nationalism") it's a dangerous diversion for the climate movement.


  1. Agreed. Just on numbers the idea that immigration has much effect is sheer bollocks. Especially compared to the effects of, say John Howard's lecture to Year 12 girls about going out and having babies for their country (if any of them took that seriously). Population might be an issue in the long term as measured on a generational timescale, but even there it's our initial population breeding that creates the most numerical change. Certainly in the short term it's just more smoke and mirrors.

  2. I received an additional point by email: "The only point I would have added is that population should never be the reason why we support reproductive rights, universal education and tackling inequality."

  3. If china had not create the one child policy then it would have had to feed 400 million more people. This is fact.
    As for skilled immigration, it represents over 60% of new people in Australia whilst refugees account for less than 5%.
    Your views support the Business Council of Australia which guide immigration policy to create GDP growth.

    Victoria’s State of the environment Report 2008
    Key findings under key drivers
    • Climate change, population growth and settlements, and consumption associated with economic growth are the over arching forces of environmental degradation.
    • Victoria’s continuing population growth will increase demand for land, energy and other resources, as well as housing and transport services, potentially leading to more waste and pollution….

  4. Mark's comment assumes that as population grows the "average impact" of each person will stay the same, i.e. he apparently thinks it is easier to restrict population than to actually win any campaigns for a more sustainable society.

  5. AssemblyLineHumanOctober 22, 2011 10:30 AM

    Howards baby bonus did indeed raise the fertility rate, but it raised to to a level still BELOW the replacement rate of just over 2. That is, despite the Liberals efforts, population growth in Australia due to births is below the death rate. The growth has come through immigration. 40% of the increase was natural, 60% through immigration.

    Fortunately, Big Business can always rely on Socialists like yourself to echo their demands for high population growth through bringing in employment ready consumers. I'm sure the real estate industry, which openly admits that high immigration helps keep prices where they want them also wants you to keep fighting the "racists".


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