If we keep populating, we will perish

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That was the title of an “Intel­li­gence Squared” debate I took part in last month–on the affir­ma­tive side. It was broad­cast on ABC TV’s Big Ideas pro­gram last week. The title is a play on a favourite say­ing of Aus­tralian politi­cians back in the coun­try’s “White Aus­tralia” days, and the immi­gra­tion surge it caused iron­i­cal­ly led to Aus­tralia becom­ing one of the world’s most mul­ti-cul­tur­al nations. You can watch it on the Big Ideas Web­site:


Or on YouTube, below:

If you’d pre­fer to lis­ten rather than watch, here is the audio, down­loaded from the ABC Radio Pro­gram Big Ideas:

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast


My speech, which focus­es on the “Human Eco­log­i­cal Foot­print” mea­sure of the impact human­i­ty has on the bios­phere, starts at the 40:40 mark. Oth­er speak­ers are Aus­tralian busi­ness­man and phil­an­thropist Dick Smith and Aus­tralian Greens Sen­a­tor Laris­sa Waters (on the affir­ma­tive side), and ex ALP Pre­mier of Queens­land Wayne Goss, Jesuit Priest Father Frank Bren­nan, and psy­chi­a­trist and jour­nal­ist Dr Tan­veer Ahmed (on the oppo­si­tion). Geral­dine Doogue of the ABC chaired the debate.

Though I took a humor­ous approach to the top­ic, my talk was based on the con­cept of the Human Eco­log­i­cal Foot­print, which is a seri­ous mea­sure of human­i­ty’s impact on the planet–and it asserts that at present we’re using 150% of the bios­phere’s sus­tain­able capac­i­ty.

Aus­trali­a’s data is also intrigu­ing. As I note in my speech, Aus­tralia is one of just 3 devel­oped nations whose eco­log­i­cal foot­print is below its full capac­i­ty.

Like the oth­er two countries–Sweden and Canada–the foot­print per per­son has been rel­a­tive­ly con­stant since the 1960s–so the per per­son load on the bios­phere has not risen.

How­ev­er, unlike Swe­den, Aus­trali­a’s bio­ca­pac­i­ty is plung­ing rapid­ly, so that by 2025, its foot­print will exceed 100% of the con­ti­nen­t’s bio­ca­pac­i­ty. Swe­den, on the oth­er hand, has until 2300 before its foot­print per per­son will exceed its bio­ca­pac­i­ty. Aus­tralia and Swe­den began the post-WWII peri­od with very sim­i­lar populations–about 7 peo­ple each. Today, Swe­den has about 9 mil­lion while there are about 23 mil­lion Aus­tralians.

The rates of degra­da­tion of bioa­pac­i­ty have been rel­a­tive­ly con­stant in both coun­tries since 1960 (the ear­li­est date for which data is avail­able), so the dif­fer­ence between the two coun­tries can’t be explained by any more recent phe­nom­e­non, such as Aus­trali­a’s min­er­als boom. The strong impli­ca­tion is that our ris­ing pop­u­la­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to our declin­ing eco­log­i­cal capac­i­ty.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.