It must take a rather active imagination to look at a map of Australia and think that it is too full.
Last week Sandra Kanck, the national president of the environmental group Sustainable Population Australia, urged the country to cut down its population from 21 million souls to just 7 million. To do so, she recommended we adopt a one-child policy, completely eliminating middle-child syndrome and saving the planet in the process. China’s one-child policy appears to have gone from a massive human rights violation that is universally condemned to “Hey, now that’s an idea”.
One article on the Sustainable Population Australia website berates Nadya Suleman for being a “criminal” and a “murderer”. Best known as “Octomum”, the Californian Suleman famously gave birth to eight children earlier this year. And she is – at least according to Sustainable Population’s site – “killing all of us”.
Fair enough: someone needs to stand up to those murderous breeders. No opportunity to inform them about their criminal behaviour can be wasted; the environment demands it. For example, transport regulations may require you give up your seat to a pregnant woman, but once the mother-to-be has sat down, you have a good opportunity to berate her for destroying the planet.
Certainly, Sustainable Population Australia is just a fringe environment group, and criticising them for their warped moral compass is like criticising the Citizens Electoral Council for their bad economics. But the idea that we desperately need to shut down breeding for a while in order to save the planet is surprisingly widespread.
In Britain, one of Gordon Brown’s environmental advisers has been urging the Prime Minister to support the halving of Britain’s population to just 30 million. And the president of the Sea Shepherd Society – an organisation regularly praised for stalking Japanese whalers – wants to reduce the global population to less than a billion. Yet, the population of the world continues to grow, not least in the developing world.
But if you believe that population growth will eventually lead to the collapse of our civilisation and planet, then the last millennium of human history must be very confusing. Over and over, we have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to innovate our way out of any theoretical “limit to growth”.
So it takes a strange sort of intellectual hubris to imagine that the exact moment you are alive just happens to be the exact moment in human history that we cross the “too many people” line. In the 1970s, zero population growth advocates were pretty sure the end was nigh, but humanity has managed to barrel on for a few more decades. Anyway, few species have found flirting with extinction a particularly effective survival strategy.
But we could spend all day debating the impact of population on the environment. I’m more concerned about another thing: can you imagine how excruciatingly boring Australia would be with only 7 million people?
Last week’s Sunday Age reported that a large proportion of “tree-changers” regretted their decision to move from the suburbs to the quieter countryside. Shockingly, in remote and regional Victoria there are fewer and less varied jobs available, fewer services and less commercial activity than in the cities.
An Australia with just 7 million people would be like a mandatory tree-change for everybody, with those who survived the great population decline skulking about the ruins of this once-busy nation.
Australia already suffers because of its small population. We have a small audience for culture. We have a small market for goods and services, and a small base to produce them from. If it weren’t for the fact that we can trade stuff with other countries, it would hardly be worth having an Australia at all.
Pretty much everything interesting and exciting about the world is the direct result of human action. Fewer people would mean fewer people doing cool stuff. How would life be without basil pesto, the British version of The Office, single malt whisky, SuperTed or Facebook? Nasty and brutish, sure, but agonisingly long.
And let’s face it – whatever meaning has been imposed on the environment has been imposed by people. So when deep greens exalt nature as morally superior to humanity, it comes across as just a little bit stupid. When the chips are down, surely our loyalty lies with the human race.