28 09 2018

Ian Lowe

Professor Ian Lowe

August 9, 2018

“If we go on increasing the population at the current rate, we’ll go on damaging our environment at an ever increasing rate…”

Back in March, Dr Jonathan Sobels – a senior research fellow at the University of South Australia and the author of a key 2010 report prepared for the Department of Immigration entitled Long-term physical implications of net overseas migration: Australia in 2050 – (356 pages) gave a brilliant incisive interview on ABC’s Radio National warning of a huge reduction in Australian living standards if the federal government continues with its mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy:

“You end up with, in absolute terms, more pollution. You end up with more impacts on people’s personal time spent commuting, for example. You end up with less choice in even simple things…

And we are coming up towards physical limitations within our physical, built and natural environments that will lead to compromises in the quality of our life…
Not only are the dams not filling, but the ground water supplies are not filling. The only option you have open to you is water efficiency use and whacking up desal plants. But if your population keeps increasing at the rates we have seen in recent times, you won’t be able to afford putting up billion dollar desal plants, which also have their environmental impacts…

I think we have a problem with this notion of growth being the panacea to all our policy problems. Ultimately, growth in a finite environment becomes impossible. It’s a lazy policy prescription that says ‘oh, let’s have more people’ to drive the economy because essentially the growth in productivity over the last 30 years is a product of increasing population.

Our productivity per se hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere in the last 20 years despite technological development. We need to consider how we can actually structure our economy so that growth is not the aim. But in fact creating living spaces and economies that people can sustain over a longer period…

I believe that [the number for net migration] is the place where we should begin. All our issues to do with infrastructure stem from the number of people we have. If we are going to have a discussion about infrastructure, we first need to discuss how many people but also, most importantly, where they are located before we start planning what we want to do in terms of infrastructure…

I’m baffled on why we don’t have politicians with either the information or the political capital to talk about how many people can live in certain places. 80% of the immigration into Australia post WW2 has been into 20% of the local government areas, principally Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Those are the places where the Commonwealth needs to be active in terms of ‘can we sustain the continuation of that intake’. Or, is there a way that we can ameliorate the pressure on these major cities in terms of where we encourage people to live…

I’m a little bit skeptical and sanguine about the political will of the Government and either side to actually engage people into what are difficult and contentious discussions. And it’s really quite a shame that we don’t see leadership in terms of establishing the vision of what Australia could be and then working back from that vision in terms of setting policy”.

This was an excellent interview from a genuine expert that clearly understands the key issues surrounding the immigration debate.

Dr Sobels’ 2010 report is also well worth reading and covers the above issues in much


Dr Jonathon Sobels

greater detail. One can only wonder why this report was completely ignored by the Immigration Department and federal government.

On Tuesday, Professor Ian Lowe – emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), and author of the excellent book Bigger or Better?: Australia’s Population Debate – also gave an incisive interview on ABC Radio warning of the deleterious impacts of Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy on Australia’s environment and living standards:

“The population in the last decade increased much faster than the most alarming of the ABS projections… Our population is increasing by one million every two-and-a-half years, and that’s causing the pressures people are seeing in the large cities…

No species can increase without limit in a closed system… My view is that we should have a coherent policy that aims to stabilise it [population] at a level that we can sustainably support, rather than have it increase until we see significant problems…
The more rapidly the population increases, the harder it is to provide the services that people expect. And I think the problem that the governments are facing is that people in particularly Sydney and Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Brisbane and Perth, quite accurately see that their quality of life is going backwards because the infrastructure hasn’t been expanded at the same rate as the population, so the roads are more crowded, the public transport is less adequate, it’s harder to get the recreational services that people want…

The population increase is putting the demands on infrastructure that we just don’t have the resources to provide. So a rational government would not simply say “bigger is better”, assuming the population growth is an unmitigated benefit. They should be reflecting on the fact that people don’t just judge their quality of life by how much money is in their pocket. They also judge it by how clean the air is, how easy they can get around, how easy their kids can get into school, and so on…

[15 million people] is about the level that could be sustainably supported at our current lifestyle. There’s no doubt that you can cram more people in, except that they will have to accept a lower standard of living and lower level of services.

The first national report on the State of the Environment more than 20 years ago said that we are not living sustainably, that we had 5 serious problems. And they are all more or less proportional to how many of us there are, and the material standard in which we live. And since then, every year the population has got larger. And every year on average our consumption per person has increased. So we are putting compounding pressure on natural systems. And we are seeing it in losing our biodiversity, the pressures on the coastal zone, rapidly increasing climate change, and so on. If we go on increasing the population at the current rate, we’ll go on damaging our environment at an ever increasing rate…

A population policy would have two components. One would be that we’d set the migration level based on the principle that we want to stabilise the population at a level that would be sustainably supported. And that wouldn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge, but it would mean lower levels of migration than we have at the moment”.

It’s a crying shame that environmental experts like Dr Sobels and Dr Lowe are completely ignored in the population debate in favour of paid shills from the ‘growth lobby’.



7 responses

29 09 2018

When we had the plebiscite about exactly this (called “Ecopop”) they denounced the pro side as … yes, you guessed it, eugenics promoting something-something 30ies of the last century.
Around 20% voted yes, despite the cries before. It later came out that only half of those voted yes because of being against migrations by any means necessary and 10% actually looked at the proposal and the reasons thereof in a political way. The rest was (being) persuaded that this amendment kills our country.
Small islands and big islands and islands of different kinds make processes visible. Great Britain, Australia and Switzerland all make different parts of the machines visible.

29 09 2018

Ian Lowe is a great science communicator, one of my favourites.

One of Australia’s most distinguished economists, dean of Melbourne Business School, Ian Harper recently got press saying that Hobart should aggressively target a doubling of its population adding 400,000 people by 2025 — a strategy that he said would inevitably boost jobs and development.

He didn’t mention anything about having to double nearly all infrastructure – water supply electricity supply, roading, hospitals, schools – and various negative consequences such as needing to import foods and much more oil and so forth.

Problem is I think his forecast growth may happen anyway, as a result of climate changes as people choose to live in a more liveable environment. The first few hundred thousand will be relatively wealthy people who will bring all their possessions and bank accounts and this will please economists like Mr Harper and money-oriented MPs no end. After that we’ll see many much less wanted people arriving – or wanting to come here – in the thousands. Desperate people who have lost their livelihoods. This will wipe the smile off their faces and will pose the same sort of huge social pressures that are being experienced in Europe as a result of migration.

Mr Harper and co may be able to count, but they have no idea what they are wishing for.

30 09 2018

Unfortunately, even the Greens don’t have a sustainable population policy for Australia, because they are so afraid of the ‘rascist ‘ and ‘xenophobic’ labels. With the type of leadership we’ve had, and with the continuing obsession about ‘growth’, I can’t see Australia being prepared to resist national and international pressures to continue our high immigration intake.
Especially in a world experiencing a net gain of about 83 million per year.
A very insightful article –

1 10 2018

Hi Margie, it’s not true to claim that they don’t have a population policy:
Their set of principles on population are headed by this:

“The current level of population, population growth and the way we produce and consume are outstripping environmental capacity. Australia must contribute to achieving a globally sustainable population and encourage and support other nations to do the same.”

They do later on, include a rider that: “Australia has an obligation to accept humanitarian migration, including that resulting from climate change.”

Their principles are concluded with: “The continuing rapid increase in the human population is drastically affecting national and international outcomes in environmental sustainability, human health and welfare, and other areas. Current rates of resource use are not sustainable and are compounded by inequitable distribution of wealth and power.”

The Greens are accused of not making enough of the population issue, but then again they are also accused of the same thing in relation to climate change. I think their problem is trying to be a comprehensive party that deals with all portfolios prevents them from just focussing enough on what are disparagingly labelled as ‘single issues’.

I don’t think any party or candidates has a neat recipe in place for drastically reducing population, because that is too ethically contentious, but every party should declare specific policies in relation to issues such as family planning and fiscal disincentives to have children.

2 10 2018

Thanks Chris for correcting me. I should have checked their website. It’s just that I never hear the Greens talking about reducing our immigration intake. On the contrary, Senator Hanson Young received very high exposure over the years continually protesting about the offshore detention of boat people. It seems to me that the Greens are now more of a social democratic party than an environmental party, which is what they originally stood for above anything else. (Not that I’m against social democracy, but my first political priority is the environment.)
Sure, in whatever immigration intake we have, we should have a humanitarian component, but let’s do it through the proper channels – the UNHCR refugee camps. I just don’t ‘get’ it that people can support just anyone jumping on a boat (or a plane) and arriving on our shores and expecting to stay here. Of course many of these people live desperate lives. They may be persecuted for their beliefs, but what about all the people in the world who go to bed hungry every night or who live lives of grinding poverty? And/or extremely low status (eg the untouchables in India). They are not covered by Refugee laws. There are millions and millions of people who’d like to live in Australia, and I’m very cognisant and appreciative of the fact that I won some kind of lottery when I was born here.
But the reality is that the world is grossly overpopulated and short of completely stuffing what’s left of Australia’s natural environment, our standards of social welfare, health care and industrial relations, and a certain standard of living that we want for our own children and grandchildren, we have to be careful about how many we take. Sounds tough but in the event of a virulent worldwide pandemic, you’d see massive barriers erected soon enough.
Ultimately I guess it depends on one’s priorities. I am a realist (and a pessimist) about the future of our planet’s environment, its animals and plants, it’s waters and soils. And, about humanity. There’s going to be a big die off. Anyone with any sense and foresight knows that. Unless there’s nuclear Armageddon, humans won’t go completely extinct, unlike many other species.
It really disturbs me when I hear an educated person, like the recent immigrant lawyer at our U3A discussion group say – what’s the point of having our great south west UNESCO designated wilderness in Tasmania, protected from human exploitation and that people should be able to ‘use’ it? That’s exactly what’s happening with the Amazon of course, the so called “lungs of the world” – in large part due to overpopulation. As you would know Chris, the felling of Tasmanian old growth forests to satisfy demands for timber (and wood chips!) for growing populations in the rest of Australia and overseas, was a principle reason for the growth of the environmental movement in Australia and the rise of the Greens. Given that single issue parties like hunters and shooters can now get Senate seats, I’d like to see a single issue Environment Party be created. Like Sustainable Australia, they’d get my vote. On the other hand – do Australians at large really care enough?

2 10 2018

Hi again Margie, just thanking you and affirming your comments.

5 10 2018

Depending on how a person views the environment etc it could be argued that Australia is already overpopulated.
However all parties in their own way sit on the “growth economy” bench. This is the only measure all economists use and pop growth is pushed by all supposed leaders from PM, banks, down to business and local councils.

Each state has ratios for hospitals, (beds, nurses, area/population covered) police, schools, water/sewage, courts, community facilities etc but none of them are meeting the targets they set themselves.

The fragility of our rainfall and the current drought is an issue economists ignore (apart from rural debt levels), build another 10,000 houses and then wonder why the dams are overused and drying up, and why the roads are constantly clogged.

We could support a population level the same as India or Bangladesh, but the standard of living will be nothing like we currently have.

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