Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Can we Trust Australia's Greens on Population?

An important article by Michael Lardelli has appeared on Online Opinion:

Can we trust the Greens on population?

It's a huge irony of this election that our best chance of progress on population --- granted that the Stable Population Party just missed out on being registered --- is a Senate or even a House of Reps where the Greens hold the balance.

Not that we can simply trust the Greens. Their population policy is -- at least for a supposedly environmental party -- almost as bad as the Lib/Lab options. And where the Libs are at least prepared to say they would limit net migration to 170,000 a year, the Greens' population policy contains no figures at all, and expresses no clear view as to how high Australia's population might go, or indeed whether population growth should not continue for the indefinite present.

Bob Brown appeared to take some heart from Dick Smith's documentary, and said some strong things in the following Q&A program, about population size being crucial for environmental sustainability; but if one listened closely, he always seemed to be talking about population in general, or global population, rather than specifically about Australia's population. As Lardelli shows, the Greens' population policy has the same cop out. The bizarre assumption that no country has the right -- or at least that Australia does not have the right -- to be less overpopulated than anywhere else, is repeatedly implied. Thus the policy makes any commitment to an ecologically sustainable population subject to "global social justice" -- as if it was through our injustice that the Indians, for instance, continue to increase their population and exceed their land's carrying capacity.

My best guess is that if the Greens hold the balance of power they will exert a gentle, but only a rather gentle downward force upon migration numbers and upon the baby bonus.

I have an article, with conclusions similar to Michael's, in the offing, but I chose not to publish it till after the election, since this might seem like a member of the Stable Population Party attempting to sabotage what ought to be a fraternal party.

Now that the Greens look like gaining the balance of power, the job of keeping them honest will begin.

Here's the opening of Michael Lardelli's article:
The Australian Green Party presents itself as the leading advocate of environmental issues, so you would expect it to have a strong policy on stopping population growth. When even the Liberals say net migration should be reduced to about half what the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded last year, one would expect the Greens to demand at least as big a cut, as well as the abolition of Costello’s baby bonus.

That they do not is odd. After all, population growth undermines environmental sustainability. Growing populations ultimately overwhelm any efforts to reduce our use of resources. More people need more food, housing, water and energy. As Sir David Attenborough put it, “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more. … I wish the environmental NGOs would … spell out this central problem loud and clear.”

Some years ago when I was a member of the Greens I raised the issue of population on an online forum and was strongly condemned. Years later, the “terms of dismissal” that were hurled at me (“eco-fascist” was an interesting one) still resound in my memory. But the spirit of the times is changing and the societal taboo against discussing population issues has broken down. Nowadays (and very belatedly) even the Greens seem to be talking about population. So I was curious to see what their policy on population has become.

The Greens’ policy on population can be found online. But it is disappointing and reads more like an apology for daring to have a policy at all. Below, I have copied their population policy (in bold italics) and inserted my critique.

The rest of Michael Lardelli's article can be found at

Mark O'Connor

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