Sunday, July 22, 2012

A sensible population policy -- and a bad one.

A sensible population policy for Australia  - or anywhere?-- Contrasted with the current Policy of the Australian Greens party.

Attached is the population policy of the New South Wales Nature Conservation Council. It may be useful for other organisations seeking to evolve a population policy.

Note that its authors clearly understand that human population growth is destroying the habitat and survival of other species, and they intend to do something about it.  They want Australia's population stabilised and in time reduced.

As they sum it up:

Increasing population threatens not only the ecosystems (and ecosystem services) on which all species rely, but also our own well-being and quality of life. Increasing population also counteracts strategies to reach a truly ecologically sustainable future.

Another excellent population policy is, as might be expected, that of the Stable Population Party of Australia .

And the Australian Democrats' one is quite good.

By contrast, the population policy of the Australian Greens Party is as yet poor --especially considering that they present themselves as an environmental party.

The authors of the Greens policy clearly did not plan to do much to oppose the present rapid increase in Australia's human population, and they often seem to be looking about for excuses not to. Thus of the eight "Principles" they state about population, seven correspond to common excuses or  talking-points for not opposing Australia's population growth.

  These "principles", in the order they state them, amount to:

1. It's really a global problem.

2. It's not just the number of people, it's the way they behave.

3. The ecological footprint of a group of people is not determined by their number but by the way their society and production is organised.

4. It's all very complex and involves issues like women's rights, equal distribution, and excessive use of resources.

5. Ecological sustainability matters, but we must also be committed to "global social justice and equity" (= open borders?), and to "multiculturalism" (which may mean a constant large influx of new arrivals).

6. "Population policy should not be driven by economic goals."  (At last a genuine principle -- or at least a genuine difference from the Murdoch Press! Though in fact it's not quite defensible. The economic costs and benefits of a population policy are a legitimate concern, even if perhaps a more selfish one than some others. In fact the economic costs of population growth are a major reason why many nations strive to reduce population growth. These costs are also a major issue in Australia. See here for evidence.)

7. It's not how many people we have, it's where we put them.

8. We are obliged to accept humanitarian immigration, including that driven by climate change.

The Greens Policy then states Three Goals (none of which specifies restricting Australia's population growth).

Finally their Policy commits the party to various vague Actions ("measures") none of which includes stabilising Australia's population. For instance, the first "measure" is to:

support, through extensive community consultation, a population policy directed towards ecological sustainability in the context of global social justice.

 In other words, the Greens promise to enact a population policy for Australia that they can't yet state, but which will probably reject the notion of solving Australia's enviro-population problems in any way that offends any major pressure group or leaves us significantly less over-populated than elsewhere!

As Michael Lardelli remarks in his article Can we trust the Greens on population?,  "you have to wonder who wrote this stuff".

It's hard to believe it could have been anyone whose primary loyalty was to the environment.  Contrast Kelvin Thomson's well-thought-out and humane 14 Point Plan to limit Australia's population growth.

Not that we need to speculate on what the Greens would do about population if they were ever in a position where the government needed to listen to them!

For the past two years they have been in that position, and have remained silent while the government stayed basically on the Big Australia course --a course that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had promised voters she would abandon. As demographer Graeme Hugo points out, Australia's annual population growth is more than three times the average of industrialised nations, and there is little sign that the Greens object to that. They have talked endlessly about boat people, who are only about 2% of immigrants, but hardly at all about limiting the other 98%.

Indeed the Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne Cathy Okes recently rejected an interviewer's suggestion that "Melbourne in general is growing too quickly" and argued that "we can maintain population  growth". (Melbourne is currently adding more people per year than any city in the USA, even New York.)  

Now back to the Nature Conservation Council's policy. Here are some of its Principles, with some key phrases underlined (by me). These Principles seem to come out of a different universe -- the universe of "Let's do something".


1. Population growth is a key ethical issue. The NCC upholds the intrinsic value of nature. The natural world has a right to exist for itself, not just as something to be used by humans. We have an ethical and ecological responsibility to achieve and maintain ecologically sustainable ecosystems for all species on this planet into the future.

2. Nature needs adequate natural areas to survive. The whole world ethically
ought not to be purely for human use. Human population and consumption
must thus be kept within limits that allow natural ecosystems to flourish into
the future.
This is the basis of true ecological sustainability, where humans
and nature coexist sustainably.

3. The principle of inter-generational equity in Ecologically Sustainable
Development requires that we leave the Earth in as good or better condition
than we found it. To do this we need to reverse the current population and
consumption trend
, and reach an ecologically sustainable population as soon
as possible in ways that are both humane and minimise environmental

4. Humans are dependent on ecosystems to survive. Ecosystems provide our
food, timber, fibre, medicines, and clean our air and water.

5. There are limits to both population and consumption, beyond which the life
support systems of the Earth degrade, ecosystems collapse, species
extinction escalates and essential ecosystem services decline. These limits
are being exceeded globally and within Australia. If continued, it will lead to
major ecological collapse, with large social impacts. The solutions must
involve action to reverse both population and consumption

--and they go on to propose such actions, at both State and Federal level.  Well done Conservation Council!

If you are a member of the Greens, can I suggest that after reading this blog you direct other members to it, and also request an explanation from your Greens senators or candidates?