When the USA became serious about WWII they brought about an amazing mobilisation of their entrepreneurial industrial potential. That is surely the way in which the fight against global warming will be conducted when we eventually wake up to the urgency. In the meantime most of the world’s leaders and most of the populace seems content enough to drift along ignoring that elephant in the room.
Part of that mobilisation will surely be the recognition that population growth is a major cause of ongoing warming. Halve the population and we roughly halve much of the pollution causing warming as well as other pollution such as plastics.
That brings us to what’s happening in Australia.
With an average of about 12.5 million people over the past 220 years we have degraded our major river systems, caused a terrible list of plant and animal extinctions, degraded our topsoils and more and are now busily overpopulating our major cities - with consequent physical and social consequences.
Our current annual rate of population growth of 1.7% will lead to doubling every 42.5 years. That means 50 million in 2061, 100 million in 2104 and 200 million in 2146 and so on.
You would think that those numbers would be enough to promote some discussion of where we are heading and where we want to head and how to go about it. But no, the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, along with our major environmental groups such as the ACF and NCC, all seem intent on ignoring the elephant and ensuring further degradation and destruction of the Australian natural world.
Why is this thus? We think there are a few reasons.
Firstly there is huge ignorance around the maths of exponential growth. It’s amazing to find so many educated, even scientifically educated, people who have not a clue about the consequences of 1.7% growth.
Secondly, the mainstream media and political world has insisted in conflating population growth with protecting the borders and racism. You talk about less population and so many assume that you are dog-whistling and really mean that we don’t want those refugees. The ABC has a terrible record in this regard.
Thirdly, the big end of town, those whose lobbyists haunt the corridors of our parliaments, cheque books in hand, has convinced many that without economic growth we shall all become destitute. That is simply self-serving rubbish that suits their economic interests. More people mean more housing, more furnishings, and more of most things. It’s not the environment they worry about – it’s their never-ending need for more economic activity and more profit.
Australia’s fertility is now about 1.83 which will eventually produce a declining population because it is below the replacement level of 2.1. In addition, some 50,000 people leave Australia permanently every year. This means that we can accept 70,000 immigrants per year and eventually stabilise our population. We should do so. There is plenty of room there for refugees.
STEP has never dog-whistled!
It’s hard, however, to know how we shall ever start to manage the situation so long as none of the elites are prepared to discuss it and so long as the environmental organisations don’t have the guts to confront it.
We have been writing about population for over thirty years and much more detail can be gleaned from our Position Paper on Population.
By John Burke, former president of STEP and chief author of STEP’s Position Paper on Population, has written this update on the population issue.
There has been much media interest in the report that Sydney's population has reached 5 million. What has also been reported is that Melbourne’s population is growing faster than Sydney’s and may soon exceed it.
The problem I have with this is that Sydney includes the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains, but not Wollongong. I don't advocate including Wollongong but leaving out the other two plus the Wollondilly Shire (Picton) we have 5.25 – 0.33 – 0.08 – 0.05 = 4.79 million. We could go further and leave out the farther reaches of Hornsby, Baulkham Hills and other local government areas.
Melbourne includes the Mornington Peninsular (0.16 million) which is debatable. Other areas should also be removed (allow 0.05 million). So, 4.67 – 0.16 – 0.05 = 4.46 million which is 93% of Sydney’s population.
Part of the problem for the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that the outer suburban local government areas cover large areas of peripheral rural land. The Sydney map at a guess is at least 75% rural and this leads to massive distortions when people try to compare densities.
This data below (from Population Australia) is rubbish. Population Australia is a website specialising in research for Australia population growth trends and estimation. It is not clear who is behind this group but the data seems to be coming from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
More on this some other time.
Jim Wells has been delving into published statistics that are more than meets to eye.
Our economy and society ultimately depend on natural resources: land, water, material (such as metals) and energy. But some scientists have recognised that there are hard limits to the amount of these resources we can use. It is our consumption of these resources that is behind environmental problems such as extinction, pollution and climate change.
Even supposedly 'green' technologies such as renewable energy require materials, land and solar exposure, and cannot grow indefinitely on this (or any) planet.
Most economic policy around the world is driven by the goal of maximising economic growth (or increase in gross domestic product – GDP). Economic growth usually means using more resources. So if we can’t keep using more and more resources, what does this mean for growth?
Most conventional economists and policymakers now endorse the idea that growth can be 'decoupled' from environmental impacts – that the economy can grow, without using more resources and exacerbating environmental problems.
Even the then US president, Barack Obama, in a recent piece in Science argued that the US economy could continue growing without increasing carbon emissions thanks to the rollout of renewable energy.
But there are many problems with this idea. In a recent conference of the Australia-New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics (ANZSEE), we looked at why decoupling may be a delusion.
The Decoupling Delusion
Given that there are hard limits to the amount of resources we can use, genuine decoupling would be the only thing that could allow GDP to grow indefinitely.
Drawing on evidence from the 600-page Economic Report to the President, Obama referred to trends during the course of his presidency showing that the economy grew by more than 10% despite a 9.5% fall in carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector. In his words:
…this 'decoupling' of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combating climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living.
Others have pointed out similar trends, including the International Energy Agency which last year – albeit on the basis of just two years of data – argued that global carbon emissions have decoupled from economic growth.
But we would argue that what people are observing (and labelling) as decoupling is only partly due to genuine efficiency gains. The rest is a combination of three illusory effects: substitution, financialisation and cost-shifting.
Substituting the Problem
Here’s an example of substitution of energy resources. In the past, the world evidently decoupled GDP growth from buildup of horse manure in city streets, by substituting other forms of transport for horses. We’ve also decoupled our economy from whale oil, by substituting it with fossil fuels. And we can substitute fossil fuels with renewable energy.
These changes result in 'partial' decoupling – that is, decoupling from specific environmental impacts (manure, whales, carbon emissions). But substituting carbon-intensive energy with cleaner, or even carbon-neutral, energy does not free our economies of their dependence on finite resources.
Let’s get something straight: Obama’s efforts to support clean energy are commendable. We can – and must – envisage a future powered by 100% renewable energy, which may help break the link between economic activity and climate change. This is especially important now that President Donald Trump threatens to undo even some of these partial successes.
But if you think we have limitless solar energy to fuel limitless clean, green growth, think again. For GDP to keep growing we would need ever-increasing numbers of wind turbines, solar farms, geothermal wells, bioenergy plantations and so on – all requiring ever-increasing amounts of material and land.
Nor is efficiency (getting more economic activity out of each unit of energy and materials) the answer to endless growth. As some of us pointed out in a recent paper, efficiency gains could prolong economic growth and may even look like decoupling (for a while), but we will inevitably reach limits.
The economy can also appear to grow without using more resources, through growth in financial activities such as currency trading, credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities. Such activities don’t consume much in the way of resources, but make up an increasing fraction of GDP.
So if GDP is growing, but this growth is increasingly driven by a ballooning finance sector, that would give the appearance of decoupling.
Meanwhile most people aren’t actually getting any more bang for their buck, as most of the wealth remains in the hands of the few. It’s ephemeral growth at best: ready to burst at the next crisis.
Shifting the Cost onto Poorer Nations
The third way to create the illusion of decoupling is to move resource-intensive modes of production away from the point of consumption. For instance, many goods consumed in Western nations are made in developing nations.
Consuming those goods boosts GDP in the consuming country, but the environmental impact takes place elsewhere (often in a developing economy where it may not even be measured).
In their 2012 paper, Thomas Wiedmann and co-authors comprehensively analysed domestic and imported materials for 186 countries. They showed that rich nations have appeared to decouple their GDP from domestic raw material consumption, but as soon as imported materials are included they observe 'no improvements in resource productivity at all'. None at all.
From Treating Symptoms to Finding a Cure
One reason why decoupling GDP and its growth from environmental degradation may be harder than conventionally thought is that this development model (growth of GDP) associates value with systematic exploitation of natural systems and also society. As an example, felling and selling old-growth forests increases GDP far more than protecting or replanting them.
Defensive consumption – that is, buying goods and services (such as bottled water, security fences, or private insurance) to protect oneself against environmental degradation and social conflict – is also a crucial contributor to GDP.
Rather than fighting and exploiting the environment, we need to recognise alternative measures of progress. In reality, there is no conflict between human progress and environmental sustainability; well-being is directly and positively connected with a healthy environment.
Many other factors that are not captured by GDP affect well-being. These include the distribution of wealth and income, the health of the global and regional ecosystems (including the climate), the quality of trust and social interactions at multiple scales, the value of parenting, household work and volunteer work. We therefore need to measure human progress by indicators other than just GDP and its growth rate.
The decoupling delusion simply props up GDP growth as an outdated measure of well-being. Instead, we need to recouple the goals of human progress and a healthy environment for a sustainable future.
James Ward, Lecturer in Water & Environmental Engineering, University of South Australia; Keri Chiveralls, Discipine Leader Permaculture Design and Sustainability, CQUniversity Australia; Lorenzo Fioramonti, Full Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria; Paul Sutton, Professor Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver, and Robert Costanza, Professor and Chair in Public Policy at Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
It's important that as many people as possible comment on the Greater Sydney Strategy and the North District Plan by 31 March 2017.
Towards Our Greater Sydney 2056 is a 40 year vision that spells out the anticipated rate of growth and framework for employment and population distribution. How this is done will ultimately determine the long-term impacts on our natural areas, STEP’s chief focus.
For a city the size of Sydney, strategic planning over a 40 year period is important. However as outlined below there are matters of serious concern.
High Rate of Growth
On p8 there is this statement:
Greater Sydney is experiencing a step change in its growth with natural increases (that is an increase in the number of births) a major contributor. We need to recognise that the current and significant levels of growth, and the forecast higher rates of growth are the new norm rather than a one-off peak or boom.
Given the clear impacts of high growth rates on our urban amenity this statement needs closer scrutiny.
Refer to the table below for the projected growth rates and the figure below for the net overseas migration component.
|Region||Population 2011||Projected population|
|2036||Change 2011–36||% change 2011–36|
|Rest of NSW||2,932,200||3,503,600||571,400||19.5%|
From the figures the total projected increase in population in NSW from 2011–36 is around 2.7 million. Of this, for the same period, the total from net overseas migration is around 1.7 million, leaving the natural growth at around 1 million.
A recent report by the Planning Institute of Australia on population trends, Through the Lens: Megatrends Shaping our Future (p12) concluded:
Overseas migration continues to be the biggest contributor to population growth.
Net overseas migration for Australia since 1976 is shown in the lower figure. On p12 it says that:
Of the three basic factors determining population growth (fertility/births, mortality/deaths and migration) the net migration rate is most subject to policy intervention, and thus the most uncertain in future projections.
Since the net migration rate is the primary determinant of Australia’s population growth and is controlled by government policy, it is clearly possible to regulate the overall population growth rates of Australia to ensure they are at acceptable levels and anticipated benefits are broadly realised.
The regulation of inflation by the Reserve Bank has proved beneficial relative to an unregulated economy. Regulation of Australia’s overall population level and age structure through adjustment of net migration targets by a Federal government agency could prove beneficial to planning within Australia. This agency has to work in concert with state governments that bear the brunt of the implementation consequences.
High growth rates are resource intensive, difficult to manage and can lead to significant long-term environmental impacts. In the past these have included a higher proportion of defective buildings, lags in required new infrastructure with traffic congestion increasing and damage to bushland and watercourses from greater urban stormwater run-off.
The current proposed annual growth rates of around 1.6% are too high and need to be reduced to the more manageable levels in the previous three decades of around 1%. The Mercer World’s Most Liveable Cities ranking indicates that beyond a population of around 6 million liveability declines. Sydney has to recognise that growth cannot be infinite and ultimately must plan for a zero net growth future.
The Greater Sydney Commission may not have a say in the growth projections but we think people should be able to express their views through the current consultations process and local federal and state MPs.
On p8 it states that the shorter term need for additional new housing capacity is greatest in the North and Central Districts. While this will lead to more high-rise development along the railway line it is important that urban conservation corridors are retained.
For example it is possible to walk from Gordon, Killara and Roseville Stations through high quality urban conservation areas to the bushland that leads to Garigal National Park. The value of these conservation corridor links from railway stations to our national parks can only increase with time.
Medium Density Infill Development
On p9 it states:
Many parts of suburban Greater Sydney that are not within walking distance of regional transport (rail, light rail and regional bus routes) contain older housing stock. These areas present local opportunities to renew older housing with medium density housing. Medium density housing is ideally located in transition areas between urban renewal precincts and existing suburbs, particularly around local centres and within the 1 to 5 km catchment of regional transport.
A 1 to 5 km catchment from the railway stations and regional bus routes would include virtually all of the North Shore. Future medium density in these areas is likely to be fast-tracked by developers using the NSW government’s proposed Complying Medium Density Housing Code (CMDHC).
Provided prescribed standards are met this could allow building density increases by as much as a factor of two without the need for consent. Because of its indiscriminate nature, for those areas impacted by the code, it could lead to increases in dwelling numbers significantly in excess of those planned for.
The CMDHC is proposed in extensive single dwelling R2 zones for those councils where multi-dwelling housing or dual occupancy is permissible in this zone. If one council allows multiple dwellings it will flow through to all the original member councils when they amalgamate.
Examination of the relevant LEPs indicates all the amalgamated councils in the North District will be impacted with the exception of Hornsby–Ku-ring-gai. STEP strongly opposes application of CDMH in any residential zone other than the medium density R3 zone.
On p7 there is a focus on the economic growth from inbound tourism. This would be a serious concern if our bushland and national parks are treated as assets for commercialisation. Sensitive natural bushland areas can easily be damaged from overuse and need protection. Private leasehold of areas with existing bushland and clearance for accommodation should not be supported.
The population of the Sydney metropolitan area is estimated to grow by 1.6 million people by 2031. According to the NSW Government, Sydney will need 664,000 additional dwellings by 2031. This dramatic expansion is being driven by the Australian Government’s insane promotion of high immigration in pursuit of its unsustainable growth agenda. The NSW Government’s response is A Plan for Growing Sydney.
Media Release 17 September 2015, The Hon Kelvin Thomson, Federal Member for Wills.
Silly me; I thought world population now around 7 billion was going to stabilise at around 9 billion by 2050.
Not so according to the latest medium-variant projection by the United Nations . What they predict is that Africa’s population will continue to grow so that by century end the population will be nearly four times what it is now.
Well might you say that that would be impossible, the continent struggles to feed itself now. How could it possibly accommodate so many people? 
Population (in millions) according to the medium-variant projection
A famous population pessimist writing around 1800 was the Reverend Thomas Malthus. He got it wrong because he didn’t foresee the opening up of the New World and the dramatic reduction in transportation costs among other things. Nevertheless his basic thesis was right; population tends to grow faster than food production.
Of interest is that the population of Europe is expected to fall by 2050, continuing on to 2100. Asia falls after 2050.
It’s important that we look at this in terms of annual percentage changes. The table below is based on the above but with the first column showing the rate of change since 2000.
These numbers might look low but please remember that 2% pa means near 25% overall over 10 years. The African 1.1% over 50 years means a growth of 77%.
The countries with the highest rates of growth from 2000 to 2015 are (% pa):
And those with the lowest are:
Australia’s was 1.5% pa. This has been the subject of much debate. Do you remember Kevin Rudd’s famous Big Australia statement?
The countries with populations of at least 100 million in 2015 are:
Some near 100 million with high growth rates are Ethiopia (99.4 million), Egypt (91.5 million) and Vietnam (93.4 million). Joining all of these by 2100 will be (current population shown):
All these are in Africa except Iraq. Please don’t ask what the populations are likely to be in 2100, it’s too depressing, but to give you a teaser, Congo will be 389 million and Zambia 105 million.
To reflect on the issue of Africa, Rwanda’s population in 2100 is expected to be
25.7 million or 975 people per sq km. This is a country that has a very high proportion of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture. Ku-ring-gai’s density is not much above this at 1,278 people per sq km.
Japan will drop off the list.
One wonders just how accurate current counts are. Advanced countries use censuses where each household must complete a form every five or ten years.
What happens in third world countries with many villages often difficult to access and with literacy issues; think New Guinea? Presumably there is a lot of estimation.
The following table provides much available detail for selected countries. The first one is Australia. We should be familiar with our own country.
The next two are our near neighbours to the north. Neither has been a source of migration pressure on Australia. Indonesia has an enormous population; Papua New Guinea’s has grown rapidly.
China is extremely important. On 29 October China announced a further relaxation of its one child policy, it will now be a two child policy. China has been a major source of migrants to Australia and that is likely to continue.
Uganda is included as a representative African country. One was tempted to say typical but there is enormous variation across the continent. Russia is interesting because of projected population falls.
The first observation is to reflect on just how small Australia’s population is compared to the other countries. As of 2015 it is less than 10% of Indonesia’s and less than 2% of China’s.
The next part of the table shows annual percentage change, firstly for 2000–15, and then for the remainder of the century. The latter is very much an average so also shown is the end position, i.e. the change in the last year of the century.
Australia grew at 1.5% to 2015 but by 2099–2100 this will be down to 0.3%. Is this believable?
All the other countries in the list will also have much lower rates of population growth by then, except Russia which is already in decline. This is caused by birth rates being less than death rates and net migration.
To maintain population, births per woman, needs to be above two. It’s not now in Australia which is what gave rise to Peter Costello’s baby bonus.
Look at the frightening figure for Uganda for 2010–15 – nearly six. The rate for China is expected to increase.
Life expectancy is high for Australia and is expected to increase, as will be the case for all the other countries shown. The Russian figures are low for what is essentially a European country.
This increase will be accompanied by significant increases in the aged population; in Australia’s case the 80+ rises from 4% of the total now to 14% in 2100. Hopefully there will be improvements in medicine, in particular a treatment for dementia, so that people in this age bracket will have some quality of life.
 World Population Prospects: Key Findings and Advance Tables (2015 revision) Working Paper ESA/P/WP.241, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division
STEP member, Jim Wells, has provided this article on the outlook for future world population numbers.
The release of the 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) by the Treasurer Joe Hockey brings nothing new to raise hopes that the government is realistically managing the long-term future of our country. It is very odd that one of the major variables in the report’s forecasts is presented with no discussion or justification. This is the expected level for annual net overseas migration (NOM).