Population Case Study: Australia

Section
5. Reduce Population
Page
5.9

I am wary of saying more about my home country as I have vowed to try to be as global in outlook as possible, but I hope I can be forgiven in this instance because I think the information is good and the example is very relevant to much that is happening elsewhere in the world.

(Lambert, G. 1907. ‘Burke and Wills on Way to Mt Hopeless’. Despite the physical reality of so much of Australia, the colonising/populating dream for the country seems as strong as it ever was)

There is a very strong current within Australian culture that is pro-growth. We are a colonising country that has swept aside most of the original inhabitants, denied their and Nature’s prior presence as terra nullius (‘nobody’s land’) and embarked upon, since 1788, a quest to change, subdue, fill and create. Some of this ‘creation’ has indeed been good, but, sadly, it has often been in opposition (often antagonistic opposition) to what went before and our history and place names are littered with descriptions and titles of disappointment, anger and despair (see painting of explorers Burke and Wills and ‘Mt Hopeless’, above). What went before was frequently seen as ‘useless’, a ‘howling wilderness’, ‘empty’ or ‘primitive’, and into this void we poured, and are still pouring, ourselves and our New-World ways. (This said, it is important to not overstate this as universal. There always was another strand, a group, that was good-hearted and admiring of the Aborigines, and loved ‘the bush’ (see, for example, 1.7 ‘Paintings’ [1.7.7 and 1.7.8] and 1.9 ‘Poems’ [1.9.4]).

Despite a high rate of population growth (it has fluctuated around an approximate average of 1.5% for the last 20 years [Covid excepted]; National, state and territory population, June 2021 | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au) ; world average is ~ 1%), there is a strange insecurity in the land about what is perceived as a ‘small’ population and an ever-persistent dream from history about ‘opening up’ or ‘developing’ this very large continent, it being seen as almost embarrassing and inadequate that this country has ‘only’ 25 million people. Nevermind that the great majority of the country is hot, dry and infertile, this dream just won’t go away, from the early explorers dragging boats across the desert looking for ‘the inland sea’, to grand irrigation and other schemes, like the Ord River Scheme in the Kimberley.  I realise Australia is not alone here and that readers in America, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia, etc. and so forth will recognise much of this in their countries and wonder (admiringly or despairingly?) at the energy, agitation and zeal of humankind.

Poet Mark O’Connor and conservationist Bill Lines step bravely into this growth culture in Australia and try to understand what is going on. Their fine book, ‘Overloading Australia: How Goverments and Media Dither and Deny on Population’ argues that, as Mark O’Connor puts it as only a poet can: “Australians, like bulimics, have a kind of false body image about their country”. Do other countries suffer from this same ‘bulimia’?

Mark O’Connor’s website – Mark O’Connor – Australian Poet – Overloading Australia summarises the book thus:

“Greenhouse gases going up. Oil and gas depleting. House prices exploding. Overloading Australia explains why — and how to stop it.

The press of numbers on this continent affects us all – those living, as well as those yet to be born. To talk of saving the environment or of climate change is meaningless if we won’t address population – a subject some think too hot for public debate. In a score of punchy chapters, authors Mark O’Connor and William Lines challenge the myths, expose the facts, and dent the denial industry.

The authors blow the whistle on population-foolish policies that lead to clogged roads, water shortages, scarce food, and no place for refugees; then provide new and fair ways to think about the issues and to limit Australia’s future population-size.

This is a book that will revolutionize the green debate, and the political debate, on population.”

The website then follows with ‘Extracts from Overloading Australia’ that address five key points of debate:

Interested readers should follow the link on the page called ‘Overloading Updated’ which has more recent statistics and developments, as well as Mark O’Connor’s blog (2018 listed here) – Mark O’Connor – Australian Poet: 2018 (markoconnor-australianpoet.blogspot.com) . Unfortunately, here you will see further elaboration of the sorry situation at the ABC, our public broadcaster, alluded to in 5.8 (there is a quote saying that ABC News [on population] is dominated by “well-placed bigots”. Is this drift of the Left, away from genuine environmental concern, occurring in other countries? There certainly has been a change and hardening of stance against the environment by the New Right in the last 40 years or so; and is the Left following a similar trajectory, only later? I am not sure what is happening, other than an increasingly aggressive and isolationist humano-centrism from all sides, but will endeavour to examine the issue at a later date and in Section 6, ‘Media’.

To finish the case study, I have included an article2 by the ever-perceptive Michael Leunig (who, interestingly, like Mark O’Connor, is a ‘poet’ in his way). It was written about the capital city of my state, Melbourne, in 2010, after more than a decade of drought. Leunig can be relied upon to get to the core of what is going on, the deep psychological and cultural roots of our behaviour, and to remind us of what really matters. This article doesn’t let us down and I think it can be summed up in column two when he says: “Even though loveliness is the greatest possible achievement of human intelligence, it is the expansive imperial mentality that still prevails and drives the conflicted human predicament; a neurotic warlike condition now caught in a cul de sac; running out of material and frontier, and turning in on itself as it reaches the exhausted limits of its historical trajectory – and like a falling meteor, burning more fiercely as it disintegrates.”

 

 

 

1 Lines, W., O’Connor, M. 2008. Overloading Australia: How Governments and Media Dither and Deny on Population. Envirobook, Canterbury (NSW), Australia.

2 Leunig, M. 2010. The Emperor’s New City. The Age, May 8th

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5.1 Introduction

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In Section 2, ‘Consumption’, we displayed the global footprint of countries divided by population so as to concentrate upon consumption only. This was useful to highlight the predominance of consumption and overconsumption by the First World. But,...

5.3 Earth Overshoot Day, The Population Podcast, William Rees

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5.4 Scale

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5.5 Population Films and Documentaries

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5.6 Population Projections and Biocapacity

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5.7 A Possible Target

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5.8 The Ageing Population Bogeyman

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5.9 Population Case Study: Australia

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5.10 Solutions

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

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3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
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3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

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5. Reduce Population
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6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
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7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
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9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
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