A Tale Of Two Nations


Two nations, Canada and Australia, are like siblings. Yet their very similarity only serves to highlight an important difference.

Since European settlement, Australia and Canada have shared a common self-image: that of a vast, empty and fertile land–begging to be filled with people. Politicians, land developers, corporations and– lately– ethnic lobbyists have all led the charge for growth. Ethnic groups, encouraged by multiculturalism to think potential immigrants have a right to go to the countries they choose and that those countries have an obligation to take them, have become even more aggressive. To some, immigration has become the national religion in both countries and, in the more sycophantic media, the foreign-born have achieved almost cult-status.

But this self-image, the image nurtured by economists and growth advocates, does not conform to the environmental reality of either country. 70% of Australias soils are degraded. They are a fossil resource millions of years old, the least fertile in the world. Australia is currently experiencing its seventh year of drought. If some Australians couldn't grasp the idea that a large land mass cannot necessarily support unlimited numbers of people, the country's water shortage is teaching them that lesson now. Similarly in Canada, as John Meyer of Zero Population Growth pointed out years ago, Canadas agricultural lands are only half as productive as Americas, and a third as productive as those of Britain and France. Only 7% of its land surface is suitable for agriculture but a significant part of Canada's best land has fallen prey–particularly recently– to an inflow of people.

But now comes the difference. In Australia, its most celebrated environmentalist, Dr. Tim Flannery, (climate guru, author of “The Weather Makers” and a recipient of the title “Australian of the Year”) was at one point bold enough to point out the reality that Australia has a limited carrying capacity. Australia, he said, should not see itself as the lucky country, but rather, the fragile country. He estimated that it could sustain only 6-12 million people and that substantial immigration cuts would have to be the way to reduce the population from its current size, now 21 million.

Like the canaries our forefathers used to detect toxic gases in coal mines, Flannery has become the canary not only for the entire country of Australia, but for all countries–especially those like Canada with naive and potentially suicidal self-images.

(According to a study presented in 1999 at the Australian Institute by H. Turton and C. Hamilton, a high immigration policy will result in Australia's energy-related emissions becoming 16% higher than they would be with zero net immigration. If the government were to restrict its immigration intake until 2012,it could reduce energy-related emissions by up to 6% of 1990 levels. They conclude, conversely, that even modest increases in immigration will require more severe and costly economic restrictions.)

Lately, Flannery has been eclipsed by Professor Ian Lowe (emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Brisbane) who has identified population growth in Australia, now at about a quarter million a year (and driven by immigration), as a key factor in land clearance, species endangerment, declining river health and more GHG emissions. Growing numbers and growing consumption work in tandem to degrade the environment.

What comments, then, do Canada's environmentalists have to make about immigration (and the immigration/environment connection)?

Apparently, Canada's most celebrated environmentalist, David Suzuki, has nothing to say. An April search of the Suzuki Foundation's website http://www.davidsuzuki.org/ reveals no pages referred to immigration. Cars were referred to 394 times; the term coal-fired: 70 ; urban sprawl: 120; population growth, ironically, 24. What about the extra million population growth (largely driven by immigration in Suzuki's “home living space” in the last 20 years? What about the added cars and the added urban sprawl? Why do he and his Foundation not make the connections?

When Dr. Suzuki was in Australia in October, 2006, he told The Canberra Times that a clear link existed between industrial activity and the countrys drought. In other words, add more carbons and weather patterns change. Rather typically, what he didnt say was that there was a clear link between population growth, fuelled by immigration, and industrial activity. Ironically, Australias population has grown 31% since 1990 and its GHG emissions have grown 30%. Neither Dr. Suzuki nor the environmental establishment has ever been able to acknowledge that correlation. One cannot separate climate change from the climate changers.

Now Flannery, Lowe and Suzuki are at the apex of the environmental pyramid in their countries. What about the base? It would be misleading to characterize the Australian environmental movement as substantially more enlightened than Canadas. But, nevertheless, they exhibit signs of superior insight. Although Canadian Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd Society (mostly U.S.-based) takes a strong stand against immigration-generated population growth, Canada's environmental organizations avoid the issue. Three of Australias political parties have adopted a population policy. In Canada, on the other hand, none have. Only two non-governmental organizations, The Population Institute of Canada and Immigration Watch Canada, have tried to persuade Ottawa to set up such a plan.

In Australia, the flagship environmental organization, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), argued in a 1992 policy statement to progressively reduce immigration so that the annual target for permanent immigration will be equal to the permanent emigration of the previous year. It calls for a government policy to stabilize Australian numbers at a level that is precautionary and ecologically sustainable (Policy Statement No.51)

What is the Population Policy of the Sierra Club of Canada, roughly Canada's equivalent to the Australian Conservation Foundation? Migration from developing countries to Canada should not be opposed on the grounds that the migrants ecological footprints will swell; rather, the ecological footprints of people in Canada should be reduced. The human rights of migrants should be respected. Translation: Lets cut our per capita energy consumption in half so that we can then double our population through mass immigration. Native-born Canadians have no human rights to uncrowded parks, neighbourhoods or roads, to clean air or undeveloped farmland. And the human rights of immigrants trump not only the human rights of native-born Canadians, but also all environmental considerations in Canada.

On May 17, 2006, Immigration Watch Canada subjected the David Suzuki Foundation and all other Canadian environmental organizations to The Litmus Test for all Environmental Organizations. The purpose of that test was to determine whether leaders of Canadian environmental organizations acknowledged immigration as a crucial factor in the environmental degradation of the areas they lived in. Well, they failed it then and they are still failing it now. They hack at the branches of evil but they will not strike at its root.

Not only will they—and Canadian politicians who have recently “got religion” and echo their statements–not challenge growth. They and many politicians seek to accommodate and manage it. Smart growth is the oxymoronic, “managing” palliative that runs through both of their pronouncements. “Smart growth” is the pat answer that both give to environmental degradation driven by population growth and immigration. Their mantra is: Its not whether we grow, but how we grow–a mantra that blatantly contradicts widely-professed statements that there are limits to growth. Rather than turn off the tap, they merely wish to re-direct the water.

Australia has shown us that Canada has a right to expect more from them.


Links for reference:

(1)Australian Conservation Federation: Population Policy for Australia: http://www.acfonline.org.au/uploads/res_population.pdf .

(2) Sustainable Population Australia (SPA): www.population.org.au/