Sunday 16 January 2011

10 challenges that face Australia (and the world) - but what about the elephant in the room?

An interesting article in the SMH by Kevin Rudd (our ex-PM) lists what he considers to be the ten great global shifts and challenges facing Australia. Aside from being a bit too self-congratulatory about what a 'you beaut' job the Australian Labor party is doing at running the country, I think the big problem with this article is that is totally ignores the underlying problem that has created most of these issues - global overpopulation.

There was a brief flurry of attention in the 1960s when the 'club of rome' came out with the "Limits to Growth", but the ZPG movement didn't really go anywhere, except in the case of China's draconian one-child policy. In the 80s and 90s constantly dropping commodity prices seemed to contradict the view that there were any limits to growth, but this century it appears that rising commodity prices, peak oil, water shortages, rising food prices and the increasing impacts of natural disasters (due to more people living in affected areas) have confirmed that there are limits to sustainable growth, and we are rapidly reaching them (or have passed them in some aspects eg. rate of carbon dioxide production). Yet there is little attention paid to reducing rates of population growth (eg. India, South American, Africa) in regions that would benefit from having less people to support - instead more attention is being directed to perceived problems of aging populations in the parts of the developed world that have achieved ZPG (or NPG). There was a brief public discussion of what population limits Australia should aim for over the coming decades (stimulated by recent upward adjustment in population projections out to 2050), but that too has gone very quiet recently - with politicians realising that it would be much more challenging to maintain economic growth without the automatic stimulus of a constantly growing population.

Surely restricting population growth by taking active measures to encourage a maximum of two children per couple globally is the most cost-effective, painless means to solve many of the challenges facing the world?

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mOOm said...

India's has taken a lot of action to try to slow population growth though not as drastic as China and population growth rates are falling in Latin America and even in Africa (due to AIDS). World population is expected to stabilize. So I think people think that though this makes a lot of our other problems worse it is under some control and faster action just seems so hard to achieve and still respect what are seen as human rights to have children. But it is true, I think we'd be better off with say 2-3 billion people than 7 currently to 9 maybe in mid century.

Anonymous said...

highest population growth is in poor countries, but poor people don't consume much, so their impact on the environment (and commodity prices) is negligible compared to ageing retirees in developed countries. developing countries benefit from high population growth to boost economic growth as it provides more labour input into production. said...

While poor people in developing countries consume less per capita than the population in developed countries, their impact on the environment and commodity prices is not negligible. Relying on high population growth to boost economic growth is a recipe for disaster. Just imagine the environmental and resource pressures that would result if the world population increased by the same percentage over the next century as it has over the past 100 years.

Also, bear in mind that in terms of the benefits of economic growth, what matters most is economic growth PER CAPITA, not absolute measures of economic growth per se. That is, it does no general good for the economy to double if the population doubles in the same period - there has been no economic growth per capita, so no increase in living standard. In fact, due to traditional economic measures ignoring most environmental costs (such as increases pollution, consumption of finite resources, etc), an expanding economy with no per capita growth produces reduced living standards over time.

Real per capita economic growth, and boosts to living conditions, is achieved by improved productivity, not simplistic economic growth resulting for an ever-swelling global population.