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Living Lightly column

The population problem

By Alan Hewett

In 1968 Paul and Anne Erlich published a book called ‘The Population Bomb.’ It predicted that over- population would place huge stresses on the environment and cause mass starvation. They based their beliefs on the theory that population growth would overtake agricultural production. Although their claims and solutions to the problems were ridiculed it is estimated that presently 8,500 children die from malnutrition each day and that population growth is a significant factor in the increase of Co2 emissions from fossil fuels. Agriculture is also a major source of greenhouse gasses and as the world’s population grows the demand for food increases and reducing emissions becomes more difficult.

The world’s population reached 8 billion people in 2022, the UN estimates by 2050 it will reach 9.8 billion. The current population of Australia is over 26 million and expected to reach 39 million by 2060. The question arises is this sustainable?

More than 90% of Australians live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Everyone is aware of the lack of housing and infrastructure but as the population expands environmental problems multiply. Urban expansion into previously rural areas has seen the loss of native habitat, biodiversity and prime agricultural land. There is an increased danger of bush fire and will there be an adequate water supply for everyone to access?

While we are trying to reduce our emissions, an expanding population undermines these efforts increasing the risks of climate change. Any sensible discussion on population control in Australia is often hi-jacked by groups pushing extreme ideology in regard to migrants. So, should there be a limit placed on our population and how would it be achieved?

The Australian Academy of Science has recommended a limit of 23 million for Australia. Sustainable Population Australia argues that lowering the annual migration rate to an average of 60,000 to 80,000 per year. This would enable a more stable population. Australia’s ecological footprint puts us in the top five consuming countries in the world. This is reflected in our consumption of energy and animal products. Combined with environmental pressures an increased population will eventually make this lifestyle unsustainable. If population grows to the extent that what we produce and consume exceeds our environmental and agricultural capacity, we may be heading towards the disaster Paul Erlich predicted.