The case for limits to
growth of population in Australia
To many people, the vast continent of Australia seems underpopulated
with its current population of seventeen million people. But this
image is misleading: much of the continent is inhospitable to
humans, and the amount of agricultural land and available water
is small compared with the total land area. Moreover, according
to the population issues committee of the National Population
Council (NPC), "there is a serious mismatch between distributions
of available water supply and the population, water supply is
subject to high levels of seasonal and year to year variability,
the land is severely degraded, the soils thin and vulnerable to
depletion" (1992, p. 41). Additionally, many species in Australia
have become extinct or are threatened by the expansion of human
activities in their habitats.
Australia has a high population growth rate compared with other
high-income nations, mainly because of its high level of immigration.
Although birth rates are below replacement level, there is also
a natural increase in population levels. This is due to the lag
effect of increases in population a generation ago, which resulted
in increased numbers of women of child-bearing age. There is very
little agreement among scientists as to how many people Australia
can support, and even less about what environmental impact high
levels of population would have. Some biologists, geographers
and environmentalists argue that Australia already has more people
that the environment can cope with, and that a sustainable population
level would be more like ten million people.
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The case against limits
to growth of population in Australia
Land degradation has sometimes been attributed to population
levels. But the NPC's population issues committee argues that
Australian soils are in fact feeding more than fifty-six million
people (both within and outside Australia), and that they provide
wool and cotton for even more people. Moreover, it argues that
the damage done to the soils was done by very small populations:
the colonial settlers who cleared the land and the farmers (now
less than 5 per cent of the total population) who still clear
the land and sometimes cause further soil erosion. Similarly,
mining also provides the needs of a wider population. The committee
argues that the "environmental impact of any industry which exports
a very large proportion of its output is therefore weakly related
to domestic population needs and requirements" (pp. 41-2).
It has also been argued by Lyuba Zarsky, an economic consultant,
that even coastal tourist development is a result of economic
growth in the Asia&endash;Pacific region rather than pressures
from population in Australia. "While immigration can exacerbate
environmental problems, strong curbs on immigration by themselves
will do little to restore Australian farmland, improve forestry
practices, or conserve coastline" (1991, p. 125).
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Population biologists sometimes talk about the 'human carrying
capacity' of an area. This refers to the 'maximum rate of resource
consumption and waste discharge that can be sustained indefinitely
in a defined region without progressively impairing ecological
productivity and integrity' (French 1991, p. 123). Another term
used is 'cultural carrying capacity', which recognises that people
will not find it desirable to live at the limits of human carrying
capacity because the quality of life would be unacceptable. The
world could, as indicated above, support many more people living
a subsistence lifestyle&emdash;but is that what we want?
The impact that a population has on an area obviously depends
on their practices and culture, particularly on how many resources
they consume and the volume of wastes they discard. J. H. Cushman
and Andrew Beattie, population biologists, point out that the
Australian continent 'could support more Swedes (and far more
Ethiopians) than Americans' (1992) because of the differences
in the amounts people from these nations consume (assuming they
did not start consuming like Australians when they got here, since
Australians consume almost as much per person as North Americans).
Environmental degradation is a product of numbers of people,
consumption per person and the environmental impact of each unit
of consumption. Increasing numbers of people in Australia will
affect Australia's resource use unless the extra numbers can be
compensated for by lower consumption per person or increased resource&endash;use
efficiency. In a study for the NPC, G. McGlynn estimated that,
in order just to keep resource use constant while population and
incomes were increasing at current rates, a 3.11 per cent increase
in efficiency of resource use per year would be required. However,
another study cited by the NPC showed that increases in efficiency
have not exceeded 2.1 per cent since 1965. (Population Issues
Committee 1992, p. 44)
Source: Sharon Beder, The Nature of Sustainable Development,
2nd ed. Scribe, Newham, 1996, pp. 159-61.
A Danish translation of this page can be found at: https://www.dussk.co/translation/growth-population-australia/
An Indonesian translation of this page can be found at https://www.chameleonjohn.com/translations/population-Indonesian
A Portuguese translation of this page can be found at http://www.travel-ticker.com/translations/population
A Russian translation of this page can be found at http://www.opensourceinitiative.net/edu/sharonb
An Estonian translation of this page can be found at https://www.espertoautoricambi.it/science/2017/09/06/on-olemas-piirid-et-rahvastiku-kasvu-austraalias/
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