S&L – Issue 8
Salt and Light
Five Leaf Church Greening Initiative Newsletter
“We believe that Creation Care is a core Christian responsibility”
The aim of this Newsletter is to provide a supportive and informative link between individuals and groups that share a care and Christian responsibility for our environment. You are on this newsletter list because you have expressed an interest in the Five Leaf Eco-Awards program or have communicated with the National Coordinator – Jessica Morthorpe.
l Letter from the Editor
l Church Greening News
l An Exploration of an Issue: Overpopulation
l Monthly Action Tip
l Book Review
l Discussion Question
l Quotes of the month
l Recent highlights from the Crown of Thorns Blog
l Websites to visit
Letter from the Editor:
Hi everyone, I hope you have all had a great holiday period and that you are excited about moving forward with the greening of your church this year. Welcome to this first edition of Salt and Light for 2010, our eighth edition of the newsletter which will focus on the issue of overpopulation and population growth. A member of this mailing list challenged me to cover this issue last year.
I had planned to tackle it after my planned issue on endangered ecological communities, but there has been some discussion of Australia’s future population in the media lately, so I decided to change this issue of Salt and Light to that topic. I confess that initially I was hesitant to tackle overpopulation. This is a complicated issue, and one where it is easy to step on toes; however, I decided that if Salt and Light is to be a valuable resource for the church community, we must not be afraid to tackle the hard issues. I hope you find this issue interesting and thought provoking.
Please note that if you have a topic you would like to see covered in this newsletter I am happy to incorporate suggestions. Please email me.
News wrap up: Disappointment for shark conservationists this month with the government doing a backflip on protecting the longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle shark species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The scheduled listing would have prevented these species being fished in Victorian waters, but Environment Minister Peter Garrett caved under pressure from recreational fishers and charter boat operators who lobbied for a reverse on the ban which they say will destroy a local industry worth $150 million a year. They argue there is abundant supply of the sharks and thus the fishing bans are not needed. Environmentalists are furious and the World Wildlife Fund has slammed the decision, saying it would allow threatened sharks to be caught and killed and ignores our international obligations. The species have been listed internationally as globally vulnerable on the IUCN red list and under the Convention for Conservation of Migratory Species. They are concerned the changes to the EPBC Act could weaken the protection for other migratory species that pass through our territory and are calling for a halt to the hunting until at least a complete review of their status in Australian waters. For more information see http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/article/2010/02/01/142215_news.html
A new road proposed near Canberra will destroy critically endangered woodland and grassland habitats http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/nsw-road-to-destroy-critical-bushland/1738075.aspx
In better news, Ian Thomson, a Queensland sailor, has decided to circumnavigate Australia to raise awareness of the damage done to our environment and marine creatures by plastic bags, Disgusted by seeing the impact first hand, Ian was inspired by Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan. He plans to leave in late April then campaign to governments for a plastic bag tax like Irelan’s which resulted in a 90% reduction in the number of bags used. For the story see www.sosoceanracing.com and http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/disgusted-yachtie-launches-sea-quest-over-tsunami-of-plastic-20100131-n63e.html
Many people have been disappointed by the failure of Copenhagen, so it is important to remember that our faith gives us hope in the face of difficulty. I have written several entries concerning finding hope through faith in the fight against Climate Change, you can see them at www.aclimateforchange
In more good news, a historic meeting between 13 countries in Asia and Russia has vowed to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, protect their habitats and crack down on the poaching that has devastated their numbers. In recent decades poaching and the loss of greater than ninety percent of their habitat has caused tiger numbers to plummet from an estimated 100,000 to less than 3,500 since the beginning of the 20th century. The declaration will be considered by the heads of state before another meeting in September. The agreement is weakened by no commitment on funding, and China’s removal of language calling for a permanent ban on the tiger trade (China has banned the trade since 1993 but they have lobbied to reopen it at some point). Full story at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/13-countries-agree-on-plan-to-save-wild-tigers-20100130-n4tp.html
Church Greening News
7:30pm Wednesday 10th February
Havelock House, 85 Northbourne Avenue, Turner
The ACT Branch of Sustainable Population Australia has much pleasure in inviting you to an evening with Kelvin Thomson MP, the most ardent and eloquent speaker on the subject of overpopulation in Australia today.
Mr Thomson will speak on his 14-point plan to stabilise Australia’s population at 26 million. Bring your friends – anyone who’s interested in our future should attend!
All welcome. Admission free, but donations to help defray costs will be appreciated
Further information: Tom Gosling 0418 294 342 or Giff Jones 0402 103 842
Dick Smith launches update onAustralia’s population.
If you are in or near Sydney, and interested in population, you would be most welcome at the following event.
You are invited to the launch of Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population (2nd edition), by Mark O‚Connor and William Lines.
Venue: Dymocks City Store, 424 George Street, Sydney.
Time: 11.00am Monday 1 February 2010.
Exploring the Issues: Overpopulation
Tasks – look up policies on contraception, origins of populate or perish? Ask cath what the uniting church’s policy is. Look for a source for 350million ppl
Issues: contraception, consumption, refugees, climate displaced people, immigration, skilled migrants, sustainability, water, agriculture, aging population.
There is an old axiom that claims countries must “populate or perish” which is still popular with many world leaders today, including, it would seem, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd . On the other hand, many environmentalists fear that population is only a route to extinction. The release of new population projections by the Commonwealth Treasury last October with conservative forecasts of a population increase to 36 million people by 2050 has reopened the debate in Australia. This population growth would also turn Melbourne and Sydney into 10 million resident mega-cities. Kevin Rudd is happy with the figures, saying he “supports a ‘big Australia’”, a comment that has caused unease in some circles.
The Australian debate is relevant to all Christians interested in the future of our continent, but the wider debate may also be of interest due to links with issues of birth control and poverty. In environmental circles I have sometimes received glares for being a Christian, and therefore my assumed support and involvement in preventing the use of birth control as a solution to overpopulation in developing countries.
This is a complicated and contested issue. Some would like to simplify it by claiming only the number of people is important, or only the resource consumption level of the people present. In truth, the impact of population cannot be separated from both.
Australia is currently experiencing its biggest ever population boom, with a faster growth rate than even many developing countries .
Some, including Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison are calling for a debate on, and establishment of, a consistent population policy (in the past population policy has been largely incoherent). For example, the ACF has criticised the use of the Baby Bonus as a misguided policy, saying some retailers call in the “new plasma screen bonus” . Mr Berger from the ACF says ““We need a long-term population policy aimed at stabilising our population and consumption at sustainable levels and helping other countries to do the same.
“ACF agrees with Federal MP Kelvin Thompson that reduction in migration to more sensible levels is needed to prevent a planning and environmental disaster for our major cities.”  “There is a clear link between population growth and environmental damage.” 
One part of the debate centres on the high numbers of skilled immigrants entering the country. This has been criticised by Senator Brown, who said: “You can buy your way into this country if you’re rich or you’re highly skilled.”  Others have questioned whether industry’s claims of ‘skills shortages’ are in fact code for ‘lower wages’, providing a short term crutch for the economy . Others argue that unemployment in young people suggests that there are not really shortages. The less politically correct might say that immigrants are stealing our jobs. My observations indicate this is not true.
New immigrants have fewer choices of employment than young Australians, and often take the jobs we are not willing to do because the pay is too low, or the work too demeaning, thus maintaining services in these areas. Part of the appeal of young skilled migrants for politicians is the lure of more taxpayers to support the aging population .
Senator Brown is also concerned about population growth making it harder for Australia to move towards sustainability and fighting climate change.  A rapidly growing population is predicted to slow the transition to lower footprints. A CSIRO report published in 2002 found that a 28% increase in population by 2050 would increase energy use and greenhouse pollution by 20%, increase urban water use by 25% and increase the need for imported foods .
Harry Triguboff, managing director of Meriton apartments and one of Australia’s richest men, would like to see 100 million people by 2050. He believes that without population growth the economy will stall like it did in Japan. He envisages the future development of “huge” agriculture, desalinisation and rivers “must flow the right way”. Some business people have even suggested Australia could sustain a population of 350 million people based on our size and the density of people achieved in some other nations. Someone may wish to show them the geography books at some stage and point out that most people will not want to live in our many harsh desert areas with their soaring temperatures, lack of water and inability to support agriculture.
In contrast, the Optimum Population Trust – a UK environmental organisation concerned with population growth and its impact on the environment, has determined that at the current standard of living, Australia’s optimum population is 10 million people (less than half our current population of 20.4 million). 
Calculations based on Australia’s large amounts of ‘unused’ land and low population density do not make sense for long. Despite their arguments, Australia’s population density, while not high, is twice that of Mongolia, four times that of Western Sahara and seventy times that of Greenland – yet no one is encouraging these countries to increase their population  Our lack of productivity within the 10% of the country’s land that is arable  is also worth note – the same area of wheat planted in Australia will produce four times less than the same in France, and half what the area would produce in Canada. It is estimated that we lose six tonnes of soil for every tonne of wheat produced, indicating the current production of wheat in Australia is not sustainable.  It is not feasible to consider population growth for economic or social reasons without considering the limitations of the environment’s carrying capacity. As Edward Abbey has said, “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell”, or a virus if you like the Matrix.
Many, including former NSW premier Bob Carr, are concerned about what a “big Australia” will mean for the country. “A biggerAustraliadoesn’t mean deeper soils, it doesn’t mean larger river flows, it doesn’t mean more rainfall. We’re only bigger in one sense: the increase in the total number of humans crammed into the narrow coastal strip” He says. He has likened allowing the new projected levels of population growth without an environmental impact assessment to playing “Russian roulette with water security””.
As Bernard Salt points out: “If we don’t get this right, then we don’t have enough tax to fund the retirement of the baby boomers and all hell breaks loose, or our cities break down, there’s not enough water, there’s not enough power.”
Some have looked to immigration for a solution to the aging of Australia’s population and its predicted future impacts, however Bob Carr says “You would have to run massive immigration for decades before you have the slightest impact on the ageing of the population. Let’s face it: the population is ageing. We’ve gotta get people to stay in the workforce longer, to work more productively for longer.”
According to an Age/Nielsen poll taken earlier this year, 70% of people do not think that a projected population increase from 28.5 million in 2047 to over 35million by 2049 is acceptable. The growth of opposition has forced Mr Rudd to back up a bit, presenting population as something outside government control and claiming he doesn’t have a view on the forecast figures . I don’t buy that this is outside government control when the majority of immigration is skilled migrants at levels they set. We are not talking about the fertility rate.
So what is Australia’s ideal population? As with many things, it is a balancing act, probably somewhere in the middle and depends on the criteria you are using. However it is important that the church doesn’t stick its head in the sand about the hard issues like this, but joins others in trying to find solutions. After all, with our strong focus on both social and environmental justice, we are in a good position to contribute to meaningful debate. We can also use our influence to educate others about the issue and how to act on it. Also, our important roles in overseas aid make it vital that we have informed policies and practices of education for women to reduce the number of children they will have, and their access to other population-reducing facilities where our theology allows.
Monthly Action Tip
What do you think would be the best policy to help Australia achieve a sustainable level of population? How big do you think this would be and why?
Quotes of the month
Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases (which) we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are it victims. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr
…democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters.
— Isaac Asimov
We must alert and organise the world’s people to pressure world leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our environmental crises – exploding population growth and wasteful consumption of irreplaceable resources. Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.
— Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Either a species learns to control its own population, or something like disease, famine, war, will take care of the issue.”
— Chuck Palahniuk
“Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth.”
–World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, signed by 1600 senior scientists from 70 countries, including 102 Nobel Prize laureates
Let’s start with a population growing exponentially. No species can expand its population indefinitely in a closed system. If we don’t stabilise our numbers by socially acceptable means, they will be limited in time by starvation, disease and fighting among ourselves.
We have a beautiful and unique environment and many aspects of it are in good condition by international standards. But several national reports have documented the scale and seriousness of environmental problems: loss of biological diversity, degradation of inland waterways and destruction of the productive capacity of rural land. These problems are getting worse, because the pressures on natural systems are still increasing. Each year the Australian population grows by about a quarter of a million – and the Treasurer is using public funds and deceptive slogans to encourage women to have more children. Future generations will pay a high price for these irresponsible policies. Our material expectations are also increasing. Each year we use more energy, travel further in larger and less efficient cars, live in larger houses, consume more resources and produce more waste.
The compounding effect of more people, each on average demanding more, is putting ever greater pressure on natural systems. The decline is confirmed by Australian Bureau of Statistics reports on measures of Australia’s progress. Since 1990, all of the usual economic indicators show positive trends. The social indicators are mixed and almost all the environmental indicators are getting worse: more land being cleared, more species threatened, declining river health, more degraded land and rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The increasing economic production from the natural systems of Australia is coming at an environmental cost. We are funding unsustainable levels of material consumption by running down our natural capital. Or, to put it in economic terms, we are operating our ecological accounts at a heavy deficit for which our children will pay. In Tony Blair’s terms, do we really want them to blame us when they inherit degraded landscapes, or can only read about the species they will have lost?
Recent highlights from the Crown of Thorns blog
Christian Living Series
The Green Bible Challenge
Building for the future
Websites to Visit:
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