Letter of introduction by Dick Smith

2 by Dick

Until about five years ago, I had never thought about the population issue. It simply wasn’t in my realm of thinking. However, one thing which gives me a little bit of solace is that most of my friends were the same.

In September 2009, my youngest daughter, Jenny, phoned me and said, “dad, they are all talking about human induced climate change, and they’re all going off to Copenhagen. Why don’t they talk about the ‘elephant in the room’”. I said, “Jenny, what’s that?”. She said, “population!”.

The instant she said the word, it was almost as if a light was turned on in my head. Within seconds I realised how stupid I had been. Here we were talking about problems which are facing our planet, but people weren’t talking about the most obvious problem – too many people. I knew that we had something like 6.7 billion people in the world, and this was predicted to go to over 9 billion by 2050. But I’d never actually linked that with a great many of the problems we have in our world.

Yes, I knew that our oceans were being over-fished and stocks were reducing. I knew that our Federal Government was paying tens of millions of dollars to our farmers in the Murray Valley to stop farming and to bulldoze their crops because of a lack of water. But for some reason I’d never linked the two together – population and environmental degradation.

From that day on, I’ve spent my life getting as much information as I can about population and population growth. Yes, I’ve learned a lot. I have read over a dozen books on the issue – some claiming that the global warming / climate change story is all a giant hoax instigated by scientists who want more and more “gravy train” money from the government, others claiming that the world’s energy is a bottomless well and there will always be huge surpluses of energy available, and still others which say that there will be extraordinary problems in the future with our environment and quality of life as a result of unsustainable population growth.

However, a most important point is left out. Even though we may be able to grow to 100 million people in Australia – what would be the advantage in doing this? The question is why? Of course, to wealthy people, population growth will generally increase their prosperity and wealth. I know this, because I have made more money out of owning industrial and commercial buildings in Sydney over the last twenty-five years than I did in owning Dick Smith Electronics and Australian Geographic. So the wealthy will get more. But what about the average wage and salary earner and retiree? Possibly over 80% of our population?

I have a feeling it’s all “down hill” from now for most Australians as the population increases. I can’t think of any of our present problems in this world which are alleviated by more people. In fact, quite the opposite. I think unrestrained population growth will make virtually every problem more difficult.

Yes, we are told that efficiencies of scale will give us greater benefits. However, let’s look at our country compared with the USA. The USA has fifteen times our population, ie. fifteen times the efficiency of scale in a roughly similar land mass. Do the Americans have a higher standard of living? I don’t think so. Do they have better medical care? I don’t think so. Do they have better roads? Well, they certainly have more freeways, but their roads seem more gridlocked than ours. Do they have a better education system? There’s no evidence to suggest that they do.

I believe we in Australia are currently at a very “efficient” number of 22 million. Our Prime Minister said that he welcomed a “big Australia” of 36 million and at a later date said he didn’t really have a view on population numbers – that it was just going to happen.

But typical Australian families do have a view on population numbers. Believe it or not, an Australian family could have between fifteen and twenty children during their lifetime – few rarely do. Most Aussie families decide on an optimum number, whether it’s two, four or even more – the number that they know they can properly raise.

Seeing that Aussie families have a plan for population which isn’t the maximum, why doesn’t the same apply to Australia?

I believe it’s exactly the same with the population of a country. With 22 million, we have the potential to share in the wealth of this country. Increase the population to 44 million, and each person has the potential to share in half as much.

Now, by going to 44 million are we actually going to produce more? I doubt it. We are not a country who makes small gadgets in factories where you need lots of workers. We are, in fact, a country that earns most of its money from exporting minerals and from farming. Neither of these is labour intensive industries. I understand the total percentage of our workforce employed in mining in Australia is approximately 1.5%. Also, more people just means we can dig up our minerals and ship them off to other countries even faster, meaning less for future generations of Australians.

It’s the same with farming. Farming is highly efficient in Australia because of the broad acres, machinery and a small amount of labour. In fact, that’s the only way we can compete.

The big decision about a population increase is, “what’s in it for most Australians?”. I believe the answer is “less and less”. We would do better to try and curtail our population increase, and then concentrate on being truly sustainable – moving away from fossil fuels which are most likely polluting our environment into energy that is coming every day from the sun and other sustainable sources.

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