ACF responds on population

November 7, 2009

I was surprised by the letter from Dr Stuart Rosewarne and others ("Population is not to blame for climate change" GLW #814), accusing the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) of pandering to racism and urging us to demand government action to reduce carbon [dioxide] emissions.

The ACF has been campaigning for decades for serious action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and slow climate change, as I also have personally. Like your signatories, we have attacked over-allocation of river water, the amoral practice of mining and exporting uranium, dirty coal-fired power stations and over-consumption, which is at the heart of all these environmental challenges.

Our Consumption Atlas (archived by Internet Archive 12/11/2009) is an example of ACF's work in this area.

Our goal is to inspire Australians to work together for a sustainable future. A necessary condition is to stabilise our total demands at levels that preserve our natural systems. We need clean energy supply technologies, efficient resource use and such improved services as good public transport.

But we also need to stabilise our population or all those gains in demand per person will be futile.

Every serious environmental problem — including climate change — is worsened by population growth. Demographic studies show that net migration levels up to about 70,000 a year will enable us to stabilise our population.

Within that limit, we can increase our intakes of humanitarian and family migrants. Of course, that aspect of ACF's policy doesn't get much coverage in mainstream newspapers. We should be more generous to refugees than we are now. Our politicians are quibbling about 78 asylum seekers and total refugee numbers of a few thousand a year. Last year's total migrant intake was about 400,000.

Let's be clear: it is profit-driven business interests that have been pushing for much higher levels of "skilled" migration. The increased numbers hold down wages and drive up housing prices, putting double financial pressure on low-income households.

At the same time, the repeated mantra of "jobs, jobs, jobs" shows that we have trouble employing the people who are already here!

If there really is a skill shortage, surely we should be educating and improving skill levels of the existing workforce, rather than trying to poach skilled workers from other countries.

Some business interests don't care if our cities spread further into bushland, if increasing water use irreversibly damages our rivers and climate change spirals out of control. They are only interested in short-term profits. We are working toward a sustainable future.

A necessary condition for that goal is stabilisation of our numbers and our overall consumption. I am sure your readers see through the constant repetition of pro-growth attitudes in the commercial media and understand the logic of our position.

[Professor Ian Lowe is the president of the Australian Conservation Foundation

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