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The endless growth paradigm

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Australia's population is growing by almost half a million people each year (Image by Dan Jensen)

Keeping up with Australia's surging population growth has meant that important issues have been pushed aside, writes Michael Bayliss and Mark Allen.

THESE DAYS, city living feels much more difficult than it used to be. It seems everyone has a “town planning” issue or gripe.

With millions of dollars being thrown at road widening and the construction of new railway lines, people are still finding it harder to get from A to B.

Some are shocked by the amount of good houses on their street that are being demolished and replaced with buildings that are lower in standard and out of place. Or all the new suburbs that are being built on land once remembered as bush or farmland.

If you are one of the lucky ones that are still in the market to buy a new home, it's possible that your choices are becoming more and more limited. Perhaps you might be concerned about poor design and safety issues in the new housing that is available, or looking at the sprawl and wondering if it will ever stop.

Do you ask yourself why we keep growing like this?

With Australia's population growing annually by over 400,000 people, we are adding the equivalent of a new Canberra each year. Australia’s population is now more than 25 million and at current rates of growth it may double by 2066.

This rate of population growth is propping up a listing economy, even though – on a per capita basis – we are individually no better off. Like an addiction, the more reliant we become on population growth, the harder it is to break from it.

If we leave the growth lobby and their economists in charge, our neighbourhoods will never be dense enough, our cities will never stop sprawling and we will never catch up with the infrastructure backlog.

Despite the size of our island nation, we live around the edges because it’s only there that we find the soil and water to sustain us. Government plans to move people to country towns are poorly thought out and create their own problems. If Victoria's main regional towns were to absorb just six years of Melbourne's growth, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong would each double in size. Look at the service and infrastructure problems this would create. It is neither possible nor desirable. Yet our current population trajectory demands doubling in size again.

There is a myth that neverending population growth is a necessary means of offsetting an ageing population. Yet a majority of our retirees are healthy and live independently. Fuelled by their efforts, the volunteer sector is a significant yet unacknowledged partner in our economy. We also have chronic underemployment in Australia. All developed nations have an ageing population — it’s a sign of good healthcare and high levels of education. In fact, for any population to stabilise, it is essential that it adjusts to a gradually ageing population as part of the process.

If we weren’t so fixated on economic growth we could work on real solutions. Nations need to work co-operatively to solve growing crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and destruction of nature. Australia must work with our global partners by sharing our knowledge and technology in order to create innovative and resilient low-carbon communities.

Part of this approach should include sharing knowledge about family planning and providing universal access to contraception, healthcare and education. Lifting people out of poverty creates political stability and reduces the incentive for large numbers of people to emigrate.

In combination with this global approach, Australia must develop an economy that doesn't require endless growth, whether that be in population or per capita consumption. We need to move away from an economic model that requires pouring an endless amount of carbon intensive concrete into an endless number of new buildings. Models, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI, as an alternative to GDP already exist. Our politicians and decision-makers need to remove their blindfolds.

By taking a global approach to population stability and by creating societies that are not addicted to property development, we can help forge an approach to population that does not shut the door to migrants, but in which economic migration is not used as a lever for short-term business interests. Indeed, there is capacity for Australia’s population to stabilise long term while honouring our international obligations in accepting refugees and allowing a generous humanitarian intake

Only by moving away from an economic model based on unlimited growth in population and consumption can we wisely conserve the natural resources we have left and care for our ancient continent. The system we have created cannot go on indefinitely. Morally, we must not sit back and expect future generations to pick up the pieces. We must urgently proceed to new ways of thinking and living.

Michael Bayliss is communications manager for Sustainable Population Australia and Co-founder of Population, Permaculture and Planning. You can follow him on Twitter @Miketbay83 and Sustainable Population Australia HERE.

Mark Allen has a professional background in town planning sustainability. He co-founded Population, Permaculture and Planning in 2015, with a focus on bringing town planning principles into environmental regeneration and activism.

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