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:
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.