Population Australia's 'big threat'
January 24, 2009
PROMINENT Australians have thrown their support behind a controversial new book which argues that population growth is the biggest threat to environmental sustainability in this country.
In a provocative attack on water conservation schemes, such as Melbourne's Target 155, the book Overloading Australia urges Australians to ignore water conservation, forcing politicians to rethink population and immigration policy.
Focusing on perhaps the most taboo aspect of environmental debate, authors Mark O'Connor and William Lines have argued that pro-immigration and “baby bonus” policies are at odds with plans to reduce carbon emissions and secure water supplies.
“The task of simultaneously increasing population and achieving sustainability is impossible,” the book argues.
Predicting Australian cities will suffer more congestion, pollution, loss of biodiversity and diminished services, the authors argue there is no point conserving water “until we get restraint in population”.
O'Connor said his background was largely in poetry, yet despite his lack of conventional expertise in demography and population studies, his book has struck a chord with prominent Australians and increasingly echoes the views of leading environmentalists.
Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has agreed to launch the book next week, and has lauded O'Connor's previous books about the perils of unchecked population growth.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has also called for a “substantial reduction” in the nation's skilled migration program in this year's budget.
In its budget submission, the foundation said Australia's population needed to be stabilised at “an ecologically sustainable level”.
“Population increase makes it harder for Australia to reduce carbon pollution levels and is placing immense stress on state and regional planning, infrastructure and ecological systems.”
The comments will resonate with the Brumby Government, which has presided over an increase in total emissions in recent years, despite improvements in emissions on a per capita basis.
Monash University population expert Dr Bob Birrell, who has read Overloading Australia, said despite the global nature of the emissions problem, national borders still mattered because people tended to adopt the typical emissions profile of the nation they lived in.
“When you add an extra million in a society like ours you are imposing a very considerable additional burden, there is no way of escaping it, and that's the key to understanding why the population issue is so serious in Australia; we live very high on the hog,” he said.
Australia will welcome a maximum of 203,500 new migrants this financial year, with skilled migration accounting for 133,500 of those places, and refugees just 13,500.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Rudd Government had started developing a longer-term migration plan that would consider “net overseas migration rates and the impact of demographic changes”.
Victoria has swelled by about 1500 people a week in recent years, a rate that Premier John Brumby has described as “about as fast as we want to go”.