Population And Misanthropy

“I have no doubt that the present uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have unsustainable population levels as their root cause,” wrote Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson to his constituents earlier this year.
Not tyranny. For Thomson, the important thing to note about the crowds at Tahrir Square was not that people were angry, but that the square was very crowded.
Is there anything that so neatly encapsulates the misanthropy of much population scepticism?
His is an attitude which can marvel at nothing but the size of the teeming masses in the Arab world. No wonder at the historical nature of their revolt against dictatorship. Or speculation about the individual courage it must require. The Arab Spring is just another data point to support a belief that the world has too many people.
Thomson, with Dick Smith, is one of the few mainstream faces of the sustainable population movement. They blame an extraordinary array of problems on population growth – not just revolution against tyranny (which, Thomson perhaps unintentionally implied, is a bad thing) but war, famine, terrorism, over-consumption, climate change, price inflation, and the high cost of housing.
It’s very meta – a thread that ties together almost every single problem, real or perceived, facing the world today. Dick Smith writes in his new book:
Surely it is obvious that just about every problem we have is made worse by more people.
Not poverty, for one. The world has never been richer, and never had more people. Nor life expectancy, which has also been increasing along with population. Yes, food prices have increased modestly in recent years, but there’s little reason to believe they won’t continue their historical downwards trajectory.
The picture painted by the population sceptics is of a world of unmitigated catastrophe. The reality is far from that. On nearly every metric the world is getting better.
Even war is on a long-term decline – both in the number of conflicts and their relative deadliness.
As for the claims that we’re running out of resources? Fewer resources, prices for those resources go up. And as prices go up, replacements are found. Of course there is a physical limit to coal or oil. But we’ll never reach it.
Fear of overpopulation is just as misplaced now as it was for Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich. Yet the fear sticks – the fear that this is somehow the end of the road for mankind, and the choice we now face is either to plateau or suffer.
So the question isn’t whether Smith and Thomson are wrong. It’s why they are.
Part of the explanation has to be just how deeply personal population scepticism is. Not for nothing is Smith’s book titled Dick Smith’s Population Crisis. It features photographs of his family, his childhood, and his favourite place in Australia – the tranquil, rarely-visited Coopers Creek.
Like his documentary Population Puzzle, the book is part argument, part lament for an Australia which has disappeared, or seems likely to. That Australia had big backyards and vegie patches and open spaces. The modern Australia, Smith claims, is at risk of becoming like Bangladesh – poor, overcrowded and environmentally degraded.
Of course there is no neat relationship between density and poverty. There are dense poor countries and dense rich ones. If Australia became as dense as Bangladesh we would remain rich. If Bangladesh somehow reduced its density it would likely remain poor.
But there is a clear relationship between population growth and the growth in living standards. Urban Bangladesh is busy because that’s where the employment opportunities are – people have left the sparse rural environment and deliberately chosen the intensity of city existence.
Why describe population scepticism as misanthropic?
Well, how else to describe those who agitate for millions of potential individuals not to exist at all – and regret the existence of millions of those who already do? Who see nothing but problems in future people?
The great economist Julian Simon once wrote: “What business do I have trying to help arrange it that fewer human beings will be born, each one of whom might be a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein – or simply a joy to his or her family and community, and a person who will enjoy life?”
As it is 2011, the population debate is inevitably wrapped up in the debate about climate change policy.
It will take all of the intellectual and technological ingenuity of future generations to adapt to the consequences of climate change, regardless of whether that change is caused by human activity or otherwise. Trying to reduce or stabilise population in response to climate change would be entirely counterproductive. More people have more ideas. The Thomas Edison of climate change adaptation may not have been born yet. If the sustainable population crowd have their way, he may never be born.
In the New York Times last week, Thomas Friedman wondered how humanity will cope with crossing the “growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once”.
The same way we’ve always done – through human creativity.

Backwoods Policy Making

Released on the Friday after the federal budget, the Government’s Sustainable Population Strategy is for the most part just 88 pages of promotional guff and colour photos.

But it isn’t entirely meaningless.

Seemingly minor policies in the population strategy suggest a larger plan by federal and state governments to shift population growth and employment away from cities and to the regions.

You’ve probably heard about the migration changes already. As Julia Gillard said, “I don’t want the first port of call for migrants to our country to always be the growing suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne”. That’s the payoff of the 2010 election’s small Australia rhetoric. Skilled immigrants will be directed towards regions rather than urban areas.

But it’s not only about migrants – governments want existing urban residents to move to the regions too. The Promoting Regional Living Program funds rural areas to promote themselves to city dwellers.

And on top of these federal initiatives are the existing state incentives for people to move away from the big smoke. A number of states – Victoria and Queensland, for example – boost their first home owners grant if purchasers buy away from urban areas.

You can understand why governments want to take pressure off city growth. Trains and trams seem packed. Infrastructure has not kept up with demand – or, if it has, no voters seem to believe it.

Yet policy makers shouldn’t forget the basic reasons many people want to live and work in dense urban areas when they haven’t been induced to do otherwise.

The Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has described the city as humanity’s “greatest invention”. Policies which try to divert growth away from cities – shift activity and population away from where they would otherwise prefer to go – could create more problems than they solve.

After all, an urban population is a richer population. In his new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Glaeser describes the “near-perfect correlation” between urbanisation and prosperity.

City dwellers aren’t only richer – they’re happier too. The more urban a nation, the higher that nation’s reported happiness, even after you factor in the happiness-boosting effect of income and education.

Successful cities, Glaeser uncontroversially says, are those which attract smart and creative people, and allow those people to interact in close proximity to each other.

That interaction sparks aggregate economic growth and individual economic opportunity for creative and non-creative alike.

And, of course, cities have amenities. It’s easier to provide services to dense communities, and provide a greater array of those services.

None of these benefits of city living are novel to anyone, of course. They’re why cities exist in the first place.

Tree and sea changes may be appealing, but regional and remote areas offer fewer ways to earn money – and fewer ways to spend it. A report in the Sunday Age in 2009 found a substantial proportion of people moving to quieter parts of the country regretted it – 90 per cent planned to leave within the next five years.

As one academic said at the time, “People bought the dream about the idealistic country life, then they moved there and were confronted by the reality: poor health care, poor road quality, fewer work opportunities, expensive food, lack of entertainment, obesity, lack of ethnic diversity, difficulty making friends, conservatism and narrow-mindedness. They expected to find an enjoyable life with less work and less traffic. But they found a lack of stability, lower pay and longer commutes.”

We’re all familiar with the cliché that small towns have a sense of community. But cities have networks of communities. Not only are there are more people in a city with whom relationships can be formed, but the greater diversity of interests allows niche communities to develop.

Each to their own, obviously.

But the well-known advantages of urban living should make you wonder about the wisdom of deliberately encouraging people to move away.

Do we really want migrants to settle outside the capital cities, where formal and informal support networks are smaller or absent? Migrants choose cities for the same reason everybody else does – services, employment, and social opportunity.

And do we really want to be subsidising first home buyers – people early in their career and family life – to move to areas with more limited prospects for personal and job development?

Sure, if people choose to move away from cities and to regional areas, that’s their business. But it’s a problem if government policy deliberately induces people to do so – to buy houses and find their feet in areas which, all else being equal, have fewer opportunities, fewer essential services and offer a potentially lower standard of living.

Public policy should not favour cities, certainly. But neither should it encourage people to leave them.

Charade Must End, And Both Sides Of Politics Know It

Perhaps now Labor and the Coalition could come clean with voters. Both sides of politics intend to grow Australia with immigration – to continue the 200-year project of population expansion. This project is as important today as it was during the Victorian gold rush. They just don’t want to admit it.
Treasurer Wayne Swan announced in last week’s budget an increase in immigration of 16,000 people; three-quarters of those will be skilled migrants sent to regional areas.
That’s on top of the government’s new Enterprise Migration Agreements. The agreements allow large mining and infrastructure firms to negotiate tailored guest worker schemes for foreign labour, as long as they implement training programs for local workers too.
Sure, in the scheme of things, these changes will only modestly increase immigration levels.
But they’ve been announced by a government that spent the 2010 election talking about how they planned to slow population growth, blamed skilled migrants for undercutting wages, and promised to “take a breather” on immigration.
The increases have been embraced by an opposition that ran even harder against population during the campaign. Supporting the government’s migration increase last week, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said it was necessary if we were to avoid inflation.
Last year Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott fell over each other trying to appeal to voters convinced that traffic jams and refugee boats were two sides of the same problem.
Labor announced an inquiry into sustainable population, plainly hoping it would calm those who hated Kevin Rudd’s ”Big Australia”.
The “stable population” types welcomed the opportunity to present their misanthropic views on closed borders and reduced birth rates. Green groups proposed population limits too, prioritising the Australian environment above the well-being of potential migrants.
But the government must have known that business lobbyists would call for higher migration during the inquiry. The likely final result would be an expansion, not a reduction, of foreign skilled migration.
The government released the inquiry’s report on Friday. It simply says that skilled migrants should be sent to targeted industries and regions, and that governments should plan better.
The ”small Australia” rhetoric of the 2010 election was just for show. So let’s give up the charade. Australia needs more migrants; our economy is begging for them.
The enormous mineral projects in Western Australia and the North need mass labour if we’re going to continue to rely on the resources boom to underpin growth. The Chinese demand, which Treasury hopes will save the federal budget, will only be met with new workers.
The National Farmers Federation reckons agriculture needs at least 100,000 more workers now that the drought has lifted.
Booming global demand for resources, and booming global demand for food – a government that did not make policy changes to meet those demands would be negligent.
Could we try to fill all these positions with existing Australian residents? Well, the unemployment rate is in the fours. There aren’t many Australians available.
But the more troubling answer to that question comes from another proposal in this budget – the $1700 bonus for apprentices if they complete their training. That seems perverse. Do we really have to bribe people to qualify for jobs that offer high wages?
There is, of course, a powerful moral argument for accepting more immigrants. Migrants do more than just help our economy. They travel here for work to support themselves and their families. That’s the moral dimension – people should be free to build a better life, as long as they don’t harm others in the process.
Migrants do not steal jobs from locals who want to work. The economic literature on that question is unambiguous.
Nor is infrastructure the problem immigration sceptics claim. Migrants pay taxes. Competent governments should be able to deploy those taxes for transport and services. When incompetent ones – read New South Wales – do not, that’s not immigrants’ fault.
All these points are as true for unskilled migrants as much as skilled ones. A far-sighted government would look at expand-ing the unskilled cohort. The economy could easily use them.
Immigration is overwhelmingly more effective than foreign aid at boosting development in the Third World. Migrants send money back home. Globally, the amount of cash remitted to the developing countries is more than total global spending on foreign aid. And it goes directly to those who need it.
So for Bob Brown to describe economic migrants this week as “queue jumpers” is obscene. The Greens’ support for humanitarian programs is laudable; their opposition to immigration in general is not.
Throughout Australian history, the “population problem” has been about how we will people the continent, not whether we should. And despite the aberration that was the 2010 election, it still is.

Greens’ population policy no better than the others

Bob Brown didn’t manage to get in the leaders’ debate, to the annoyance of his supporters. In a way, that’s a shame.
Sure, the Greens treat human society as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment. But they do try to present clear policy where Labor and the Coalition just waffle.
They’re definitely against the internet filter (although admittedly they chose the person responsible for the filter, Clive Hamilton, to run as a candidate). They’re definitely for climate change policy (although admittedly they voted with the Coalition against the emissions trading scheme).
A fourth body on the stage could have made the debate a little less of a sixty minute slogan slog.
Nevertheless, on the big issue of the campaign so far – immigration and population growth – Bob Brown offers nothing but equivocation and confused messages.
First: equivocation.
In response to the intergenerational report last year which famously projected Australia would have nearly 15 million more people in 2050, Brown called for … wait for it … an inquiry. A review. Another report.
Speaking in March, Brown asked, “How they think we’re going to handle 35 million, I don’t know, but if they think we can, let’s see the plan. It’s just really saying let us have the knowledge base that responsible policy making should come out of.”
The Greens are obviously learning the politics of policy from the big kids. Kevin Rudd would be proud.
Then confusion. In her Twitter feed on Sunday night, Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens senator from South Australia, tried to claim “Compassion is key to any discussion of population growth”.
Certainly, the party’s approach to asylum seekers is clear cut.
The Greens want to increase Australia’s refugee intake, which is good. Their asylum seekers policy is one carefully refined after years of activism and involvement with refugee protests, and driven by dissatisfaction on the left with the major parties.
Yet the party is as rife with contradiction as any of the majors they despise: the Greens also want to cut back other immigration.
And they’re clearer than the ALP or Coalition about who the bad guys are in the population debate – skilled migrants.
Oh well, the Greens were never going to get much of the business vote.
Hanson-Young has argued the skilled migration program could have some “fat” trimmed from it. (Masterchef has made food metaphors cool.)
Indeed, the best comment this week came from a regular Masterchef guest, Neil Perry, responding on Twitter to the opposition’s similar promise to cut migration: “great can’t get enough people to work now!! Guess I should think about closing restaurants not opening them!”
Perry’s comment applies as readily to the Greens’ proposed immigration cut as it does to the Coalition’s.
Our current immigration program only partly alleviates business needs.
There is a genuine demand in the Australian economy for skilled and semi-skilled workers right now. No amount of high-handed rhetoric about the need to train local workers will change that fact.
And the lucky migrants who get into Australia benefit from our high living standards, stable rule of law, and liberal democracy.
So how is stopping people finding a new life in Australia, as the Greens would like to do, in any way compassionate?
Let’s be clear. If you are a refugee fleeing persecution, then a Green government will embrace you. But if you are fleeing something as banal and commonplace as poverty, economic hardship, low wages, a lack of opportunity or jobs, or if you’re just looking for a better life for you and your family – then the door to Australia is closed.
The Greens are torn. On the one side, they have supporters who value Australia’s role accepting more refugees and providing opportunity for migrants.
But on the other side, they have supporters who see people as the ultimate environmental problem. Each Australian has a relatively high carbon footprint. So, for some environmentalists, the goal should be to make sure there are as few Australians as possible.
That means keeping foreigners out. Poor people are better for the environment. They can’t afford gas guzzling cars, or always-on-standby plasma televisions, or gaudy McMansions with heating and cooling systems.
Anyway, that’s the theory. Many people holding this view say we should increase foreign aid, but they are convinced the effective path out of poverty – immigration – should be blocked.
Bob Brown has to negotiate the terrain between these two views. It’s clearly uncomfortable. (Refugees settling in Australia have growing carbon footprints as well, but that’s best not spoken about.)
Brown’s hedging means the Greens are no better on population than the Coalition and the ALP. No party wants to embrace the high immigration which has been the fuel of the Australian economy for two centuries.

Chasing the xenophobic vote

Tony Abbott must be feeling a little like Victorian opposition leader Ted Baillieu this week.

For the last 12 months, Baillieu has been trying to identify issues where the Coalition can make headway against John Brumby’s government. More cops, abolishing suspended sentences, an anti-corruption commission – those sorts of things.

The Victorian government has responded by ostentatiously adopting those policies as its own.

Tony Abbott made population a key plank of the Liberal Party Federal Council this weekend, claiming an Abbott government would link population growth to infrastructure investment, and saying he would make sure “immigration does not out-strip environmental and economic sustainability.” (It’s in his “Action Contract”, just above his signature, so you know he means it.)

So Julia Gillard’s announcement that “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population” may have taken a little wind out of Abbott’s sails.

Like many other things in Australian politics these days, one reason we are now debating population is because Kevin Rudd got overexcited. For many people, Rudd’s noble but politically inept claim last October that he believed in big Australia and “makes no apology for that” was a helpful reminder that Australia’s politicians rarely take the train to work.

With his October speech, Rudd managed to take personal responsibility for decades of state government failure to invest in transport infrastructure, and personal responsibility for the refusal of those governments to release more land for housing.

Remember when Rudd was described as a political genius?

Abbott capitalised on this when he won the Liberal Party leadership. Rudd had to back away from defending population growth.

But now the primary reason the two parties are talking population is because of asylum seekers. Under Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party was losing votes on all sides.

On the left, Rudd’s ban on refugee claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka was pushing voters to the Greens. On the right, the ALP was losing votes every time a new boat full of refugees arrived.

Getting tough on “population” pleases both these camps.

Green voters seem to love the word “sustainable”. It’s like tomato sauce: everything tastes better with sustainable on it.

Having a sustainable population implies asylum seekers can come to Australia, but no-one else. You may flee your third world country to Australia if there’s a war on, but not if you’re starving. That, after all, would be bad for the environment.

Yet on Twitter yesterday, the now Minister for Sustainable Population Tony Burke said “This is the first time I’ve heard any commentators describe talking about environmental sustainability as a ‘lurch to the right’.” He is being stunningly disingenuous.

A quarter of Australians think asylum seekers make up 25 per cent or more of Australia’s total migration intake, according to an Essential Report poll earlier this month. The real figure is less than one per cent.

Those Australians must believe every new boat person is another seat on the train they miss out on. Or another bidder at suburban house auctions. Refugees apparently have deep pockets.

But the Labor government has been losing votes to the Greens, so directly going after asylum seekers, Liberal-style, would only add to the government’s electoral problems.

So population has to be the proxy. Just because it’s badged as “sustainable” population, doesn’t mean the government is only thinking about plants and water and clean air and koalas. Gillard isn’t talking about salinity levels in the Murray Darling Basin when she talks about making sure Australia gets the “right kind of migrants”.

Of course, the Coalition lacks even that subtlety.

In his Federal Council speech on Sunday, Tony Abbott claimed population growth should be tamed because it is putting pressure on infrastructure. But at the same time, he claims his paid parental leave scheme will be “good for our economy because it will increase population.”

In other words: grow local.

(Tony Burke might notice the opposition also uses the phrase “sustainable population”, although no doubt he would be comfortable casting the Coalition’s policy as right-leaning.)

Obviously, in population, Tony Abbott found a powerful message which resonates with voters the ALP would like to retain. Gillard used to work as John Brumby’s chief of staff. Like her former boss, she has no reluctance simply copying her opponent’s policies.

Abbott and Gillard can dress it up all they want. They can talk about infrastructure and the environment, about the hard decisions, about their deep personal desire for migrants to find new lives in Australia, and about how their own parents brought them to this country.

But it’s all pretty transparent. With population, both the Labor government and the opposition are now trying to chase the xenophobic vote.

Give Or Take A Million, There’s Nothing To Fear

The Australian population might reach 35 million in 2050, according to Treasury’s latest intergenerational report.
Seems like a lot? Relax. That would make us just slightly more populated than Canada. This horrible possibility (As many people as Canada. Canada! Can you imagine it?) has been greeted with some angst.
In a speech in October, the Treasury secretary, Ken Henry, asked what seems like an obvious question: where will these 13 million extra people live? Clearly we haven’t got around to building their houses yet.
Every time we talk about population growth, we seem to have this same fear: Australia doesn’t have the infrastructure. It doesn’t have enough roads, public transport, and council swimming pools to cope.
But from a historical perspective, these concerns are pretty silly. Infrastructure development doesn’t pre-empt population growth, it follows. People build stuff when they need it.
Sydney’s population jumped from about 40,000 in 1850 to having 482,000 inhabitants at Federation.
That’s a growth of more than 1000 per cent in 50 years. But you’d have looked pretty stupid raving about the desperate need to control Sydney’s growth back then.
By contrast, the Treasury secretary asked how Sydney will cope with just a 54 per cent increase in the next 40 years. And deeply serious commentators shook their heads and stroked their beards and pontificated on the “challenges” of the future. Where will the train networks go? What sort of jobs will these new folks want? (I suspect robot repair, flying car maintenance, singularity co-ordination; you know, things like that.)
It must seem hard to imagine how the human race will cope with the growth of the future. But anti-population activists have been preaching doom for two centuries. We’ve always done fine. If you think this time is different, you need to ask yourself one question: why has everybody in the past been wrong?
My point isn’t to play down the tasks which will have to be completed if Australia is going to service the needs of all these new people. Stuff will need to be built, and some of that stuff will need to be built by government.
So it’s good that there will be 13 million new taxpayers around.
But anti-development lobbyists and activists are a big problem. Urban growth boundaries have to be extended and restrictions on development in inner urban areas relaxed.
Population growth requires governments that are willing to build needed infrastructure – governments which are able to stand up to those who don’t want infrastructure built in their backyards, and to those who don’t want people to have backyards at all. Right now, it seems that state governments are leaning on population concerns to avoid taking the blame for failing to do their jobs.
Nevertheless, the anti-population crowd is a pretty diverse bunch. Maybe you shouldn’t be judged by the company you keep, but they’re not all very sensible.
A federal Labor backbencher, Kelvin Thomson, responded to the population projections by saying that growth would lead to “global warming, the food crisis, water shortages, housing [un]affordability, the fisheries collapse, species extinctions, increasing prices, waste and terrorism.”
But we’ve had war, inflation, busy cities and expensive houses for pretty much ever. Dare I say that, even if the global population “stabilises”, they won’t stop.
And Kevin Andrews took the opportunity to urge the Government to slash immigration for the sake of population. Still, Andrews also wants to raise Australia’s birthrate “back to replacement levels”, so his concerns may be less about sustainability, and more about foreigners.
Those who oppose population growth because of environmental concerns are the most radical. Earlier this year the head of Sustainable Population Australia said Australia should adopt a one-child policy – you know, one like they have in the People’s Republic of China.
Anti-population activists believe that we should get rid of things like the baby bonus, but also have the government actively discourage us – even force us – from making too many babies.
This view is anti-human in the most basic sense. One of our most basic instincts is breeding. Declaring you want to regulate this instinct away is declaring you are against the selfish gene: the basic foundation of life.
Should we have a “population policy” at all? The only people asking for one seem to be those who want to cut it back or slow it down. Those who believe that humanity should keep exploring, discovering, creating, inventing and expanding don’t really feel the need.
Kevin Rudd responded to the population projections by saying that he believes in a “big Australia”, and (of course) “makes no apology for that”. The Prime Minister is right. An Australia of 35 million people sounds like a lot. But it’s nothing to fear.

Depopulate And Die Of Boredom

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.