How to discuss population growth without racism

With Australia now returning to its pre-COVID population growth rate, more people than ever are wondering how much Australia’s population is expected to grow.

This can be a difficult conversation to have because the far right has a habit of using the population issue as an excuse to pursue its own xenophobic agenda.

However, it is counterproductive to use this as a reason not to discuss the issue at all. Otherwise, we will miss communicating vital information that can lead to a more progressive immigration/population policy.

Under the current Australian model, immigration policy consists of supporting the housing/development/real estate sector, reducing foreign aid, using refugees as scapegoats and forcing family members of existing migrants who currently live abroad have to wait decades until their visa applications can be processed.

So how can we have conversations about population that don’t lead to racism and instead lead to better outcomes for all people around the world and the global ecology? After a few years of discussing sustainable planning and its relationship to population policy, I have proposed some approaches.

Show from the start that you are taking a nuanced approach to the problem

I find it best to point out that population is only one issue among many and should not distract from the fact that per inhabitant consumption in the Global North is considerably higher than in the Global South. To paraphrase George Monbiot, any discussion around population should be part of the recognition “structural poverty”, “third world debt”, ‘tax evasion’ and “the extractive industries that drain the wealth of poor countries”.

This will help ensure the conversation doesn’t descend into a population vs. consumer debate by reassuring the listener that you’re taking a nuanced approach.

High fertility rates are a symptom of deeper issues that most people agree on

I find it useful to point out that high fertility rates are a symptom of deeper societal problems that lie in social inequality. If we address these underlying issues, fertility rates will start to drop anyway. For this reason, it is not necessary to agree on whether or not population is a problem in order to collaborate with people who are.

For communities to become strong and sustainable, we need empowered women who have the means to choose the number of children they wish to have. For example, women farmers are expected to play a crucial role in ending world hunger.

Universal access to education and family planning is not population control

Instead, denying access to these services is population control.

Some people say that environmentalists who call for universal access to health care and family planning demand population control. However, the opposite is true.

Fertility rates have fallen in all countries where near-universal access to these services has been provided. It’s because it’s something people all over the world want and demand.

Therefore, it is actually a barrier to accessing these services that is population control, which is why the pro-natal right has often cut funding for family planning services when it takes office. .

What the 2021 budget tells us about Australia's population directions

Adopt people’s desire to choose a certain number of children for a steady-state system

The same growthist ideology that advocates ever-increasing consumption does all it can to dissuade populations from potentially stabilizing/decreasing because there is a limit to how much per inhabitant consumption can grow, especially as debts increase and wages stagnate.

For this reason, many myths are perpetrated by neoliberal interests, and this is part of why the mainstream media often portrays declining birth rates as a bad thing.

It is often said, for example, that we must continue to grow in order to cope with the aging of the population. However, for a population to stabilize, it will need to have a large older cohort for some time. Otherwise, we end up with an even bigger aging population crisis down the line.

Societies can easily adapt to an aging population, as many older people make positive contributions to society well into old age. Additionally, many existing jobs in areas such as construction, real estate and child care can be channeled into the care sector.

By resisting political pressures to reverse the stabilization or decline of populations, we can starve the current unsustainable growth machine of much of its oxygen and better evolve into a stable life system.

ABUL RIZVI: Using immigration to manage Australia's aging population

Is the impact consumption times population?

Some people say the impact is population multiplied by consumption, so from that perspective it’s good to tackle both. This means that in some parts of the world, reducing fertility rates will be a higher priority than reducing consumption.

Again, it is important to emphasize that this should not distract from the enormous amount of work the Global North needs to do to reduce its emissions. It simply means that on a continent like Africa, which is currently on the verge of doubling its population in the next 40 or so years, the need for increased access to family planning may be more problematic than the reduction per inhabitant consumption.

If we want to see a fair redistribution of the world’s resources, it is likely that per inhabitant consumption will actually increase in Africa as consumption in the North declines. At the same time, the world must collectively reduce its exploitation of these resources.

The unsustainability of immigration under our current growth-based system

By understanding how immigration is currently used to increase GDP, we can develop a less racist and more inclusive approach in a steady state system. This way we can better develop approaches to population, immigration and housing that are not driven by growth/development interests.

Instead, we can focus on upgrading our existing built stock while regenerating brownfields for more homes and more nature. At the same time, we can work together with our overseas partners to ensure that communities around the world do the same. This, combined with universal access to health services, will lead to a broad stabilization of populations at all levels.

People should be an integrated component of a larger movement of movements

Whatever cause we champion, whether it’s population, clean energy, reduced meat consumption, or regenerative grazing, we can tackle it through collaboration. much more complex integrated solution that relies on systemic change.

In this way, we can develop an integrated network of movements and ideas, all working towards the systemic and behavioral change needed to adapt to a low-carbon world.

As long as this behavior change includes the desire to be compassionate, to embrace nuance, and to think critically, people can be part of the conversation.

Mark Allen is a Melbourne-based environmental activist who focuses on holistic activism, sustainable urbanism and food ethics.

Related Articles

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.