50 million environmental madness (NOV)

7 November 2002

Media Releases 2002

Despite claims in the CSIRO Report ‘Future Dilemmas’ that Australia can technically support 50 million people, it would put unbearable strains on the environment, according to Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).

‘Future Dilemmas’ is being launched in Sydney today by the Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock. It looks at three population scenarios for 2050: low, medium and high, and the impact that each will have on the environment, the economy, national infrastructure and quality of life.

Australia’s current population trajectory is between the medium and high with 27 million people expected to be the population in mid-century.

SPA National President, Dr Harry Cohen, said today that economists who have responded to the report so far have overemphasised the alleged economic downside of a stable or declining population and ignored the primacy of environment.

“Society and the economy are mere subsets of the environment, so if the environment deteriorates markedly then so must the economy and society as a whole,” says Dr Cohen.

“We are already seeing this in Western Australia where farmers are being driven off the wheat-belt because of dryland salinity and a 26 year drought that is partly a function of long-term climate change.”

Dr Cohen says that the economic arguments against the low population scenario are largely related to ageing, yet most commentators agree that immigration has only a marginal effect on ageing.

“Future labour force problems associated with ageing can be addressed by greater productivity and participation, including participation by those in the 55 to 70 age range,” he says.

Dr Cohen says the report fails to appreciate the magnitude of the coming oil crisis, with many commentators saying oil supplies will peak within the decade.

“When demand for oil starts to exceed supply, the price will rise with huge implications for industrial agriculture which is so dependent on it for running machinery and the production of fertiliser. With global climate change, dryland salinity, acidification and erosion of soils already threatening agricultural production, we may not even be able to feed 20 million by mid-century.

“If we lose our agricultural exports, the effect on our balance of payments will be extreme. It will be made worse if we have to import food for millions more people.

“It is time economists accepted the limits of our natural resources,” Dr Cohen concluded.

Further information:

Dr Harry Cohen, Ph (w): 08 9381 9729 Ph (m): 0407 426 987 E:president@population.org.au

Jenny Goldie (SPA National Director) Ph: 02 6235 5488 E: info@population.org.au


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