This is not a debate on refugees and population

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There was an article published on “Overpopulation drives boats” (26th July 2013) which I would like to respond to, as I was asked by Peter Strachan to comment on it.

Firstly, I am not going to talk about numbers and stats, because this is considering peoples’ lives and human dignity. There is underlying ethics of care, or any other ethics, which do not permit me to do so.  The very fact that we talk about numbers and quotas and so on, when a human life is on the line reminds me too much of the times when the Russian Government dealt with the Moscow theatre hostage crisis on 23rd October 2002, when the Government counted casualties in percentages and although the number of victims was in hundreds it was declared a successful operation.

Secondly, can we, please, stop talking about population just at this very moment and if those who are from the sustainable and stable population parties have anything to say, at least hold off a few days after mourning for those ”boat people”. Amen!

If Australia gets flooded with refugees, which seems to be the main worry of the authors, then let it sink – at least I’ll die knowing that we’ve done the right thing. And if Australians are so much in favour of refusing refugees (judging on the big number of support expressed in the comment section of that article) an entry to Australia, then I am seriously re-thinking my commitment to this country. I am a global citizen, as a lot of other young people, and those who are left in Australia, can have a happy and “rich” life with their resources. But I don’t want to be part of it.

The Greens and their supporters have some morals and ethics, which obviously do not allow them to stand behind a self-centred, unreasonable and sickening debate. The streets of Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and the other capital cities already saw a number of rallies of people to express their views, of which I am proudly part of.

It is now a long time overdue to talk about the contribution that recent migrants and refugees make to the Australian economy, society and environment, rather than the dangers they pose. It is now time to talk about the quality, rather than the quality. The type of game, which Australian long and short-term residents are in, is a different from the game, that they are used to play 50 or 100 years ago. When are we going to finally recognise that the Australian continent is not any more the isolated place (nor it will be) that was in the last century, but a vibrantly connected socially, culturally, economically and environmentally to the rest of the world?

And what does Australia, and its people have to loose from that recognition? We can only benefit. Australia does have a “population policy”: it is called migration policy; simply because over half (and 60% in WA) of the population is made of overseas arrivals in 2012 (ABS 2012). Fact.

The alternative is too scary and gloomy to even consider – the most isolated continental city over a million on the world becomes the most isolated city, both culturally and economically. It is a recipe for a disaster – and I refuse to be part of it. However, we are not going to solve the global environmental problems this way.

Meanwhile– the North Pole just melted on the 22nd July 2013. Are we still thinking that we live in isolated, fragmented, disconnected parts of the world? When are we going to recognise that we live on the same planet as everyone else? Population debate, if it happens, needs to happen on a global level, and not on small corners of the wealthiest places on the planets in small rooms with people with limited exposure to the rest of the world. It is beyond me to see the link between “the populations”, i.e. migration policies in Australia and “the population debate” in the rest of the world as it is not communicated through any of the population parties.

There is something deeply embedded in me called humanity which does not allow me to align to any of the views of the population parties.

Members of the Stable Population party believe that sustainable development is an oxymoron, meaning that all of our efforts for a better future are doomed by presumption. I choose to believe that there the better future lies NOT in stopping the boats, but in getting along with each-other, which is at the heart of sustainability (Vertovec 2001). Until we do this, we cannot move forward.

Managing environmental resources, including renewable energy, freshwater, clean air, are the responsibility of all us, global environmental citizens. Migrants and refugees are just as much part of this responsibility, as everyone else. The depletion of environmental resources is not the fault of migrants and refugees, but our responsibility. Investing in renewable energy, less consumerism, green economies, including recycling and safe disposal of waste, together with creating vibrant cultural communities are some of the keys for solving the environmental crisis, we live in.

Summary:

  • A debate on population and refugees is highly unethical (especially in the current sensitive political climate and loss of human lives).
  • Population debate in Australia cannot in any way solve the global population problem (which is the stable population’s party main concern)
  • Getting along with each-other is at the heart of sustainability; this is the premises for  green economy, for a different mindset that accepts that renewable energy future is possible, with no nuclear waste and clean air and freshwater resources.

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9 thoughts on “This is not a debate on refugees and population

  1. Sadly, this blog mixes up the issue of the >40 million people who are tragically seeking refuge from strife globally with the overriding environmental issue of damage being done to the troposphere by human overpopulation. I am drawn to a quote made by Isaac Asimov which goes :
    “Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters”

    Ever since the first humans wandered out of Africa ~70,000 years ago in search of better hunting grounds, scarcity has driven people to move in search of opportunity. Now the planet faces extreme stress from the impact of human overpopulation. As Silvia says, even the ice at the north pole is melting as a result of human induced climate change. Refugees are born out of such scarcity as tribes and communities come into conflict over access to water, energy, grazing land ultimately food. The conflicts may manifest as religious or ethnic, but close examination will show that they have their origin in a struggle for basic resources.

    Silvia’s novel solution seems to be to flood the nation and sink with the ship. Now I am not a lemming so I may not have the same logical thought processes on this idea, but I will wager that this sort of mutually assured destruction went out of fashion with the Jones Town massacre and you may find difficulty signing up a large percentage of sane people to this line of dealing an issue of overpopulation and scarcity that is driving people from overpopulated parts of the planet.

    This is indeed a global issue, but action must begin somewhere and surely should be taken in each and every local community so that it extends globally. There will not be a starters gun for action to begin, saying OK, time to act globally everyone. Its the old saying think globally but act locally. if each of us gets our house in order, soon the whole house will be in good condition. It will be those who lead by example and offer support to others that will encourage others to be bold and take action in their own communities.

    We all have a responsibility to our children and their children to leave the planet in at least as good a condition as it was when we arrived. We owe it to future generations, not to destroy Australia’s fragile ecosystem by packing in 40 million or more. This strategy would only serve to destroy its arable land, cut down its forests so as to leave less room for other animals, while sucking all the rivers dry to grow food for such a heavy population burden. I was distressed to hear that Silvia would consider packing the nation to the gunnels with additional people and then if she was not happy with the situation she would leave us to our fate. How lucky she is to be able to make such a decision as many will not be so fortunate. I wonder where she would chose to go?

    As Silvia reminds us, Australia has a rich cultural diversity. It is the most multicultural nation on the planet with about 50% of its population either born overseas or having a parent who was born overseas. My wife for one was born in Singapore, so we fit this statistic. However, stabilising the population will not alter this diversity, which is now embedded in the community, nor will it isolate Australia or Perth from the global community.

    Kenneth Boulding is famous for his quote that “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist’, so it is that sustainable development in the conventional sense, is an oxymoron. We are constantly told that economic expansion at 3% pa is healthy, but your doctor will not tell you that the cancer eating away you liver is growing at a healthy or even sustainable rate of 3%! In common parlance, sustainable development means ‘we can continue raping and pillaging the planet until we can no longer do it’! If development means a growth of tolerance or understand or love and knowledge in the community, then that is the only growth or development that is ultimately sustainable. Economic growth is a modern phenomenon. Prior to the Industrial revolution, economic growth was almost too slow to measure and happened is fits and starts. Our impact on the planet is now nearly 60 times the impact that around 1 billion people made just 200 years ago and we have moved into ecological overshoot, passed the point where the planet can provide for human needs without destroying/eating capital.

    When we take a pound of copper or iron out of the ground, it does not regenerate. In order to build a renewable future, we will need to carefully marshal all the energy and scarce mineral sources that go into making an electric engine, a battery, a photo-voltaic cell or a wind turbine, because these are finite, non-renewable resources. As the population expands, the ‘wealth’ of natural resources, be they water, arable land or minerals, is spread among ever more hungry mouths making us less wealthy. At present on this spaceship earth, there are 1.2 billion of us who are starving and a further 1 billion who live on next to nothing. Encouraging more people into this mix is not a logical solution.

    The issue of refugees is totally separate. Up until recently, Australia’s humanitarian intake has represented less than 5% of total population growth. Australia has a proud tradition of resettling refugees, having accommodated more than 700,000 since the 1940’s. In my experience, most people do not want to leave the country of their birth. The more logical way to assist people is to address the issues they face in their own region. Funds directed towards Australia’s existing humanitarian resettlement programme should be applied to assist people where they live. This would have a much larger impact, helping thousands for every one who comes into Australia’s domestic programme. From a purely environmental view, people who resettle in Australia and quickly adopt a high energy, high consumption lifestyle that is common in Australia, will unfortunately add greatly to global emissions, compared with the impact they might have made in most of the host countries from which they have come.

    I completely agree that it is intolerable to see the suffering of so many people on your TV screen, but there is and always has been suffering, most of it well away from your TV screen. The Stable Population Party aims to be part of the solution to this issue and not become part of the problem.

  2. Clearly, there is a small but passionate minority of people who, having read the work of Dr O’Sullivan with William Bourke and the ensuing conversation between Silvia and myself, believe it is odd that a political movement should have begun, with the expressed aim of establishing public policy that will stabilise Australia’s population. In my experience, as soon as the word population is mentioned in almost any context, this small minority of people quickly label such a movement as stemming only from racist ideologies.

    In order to broaden the conversation, a quote from the concluding words from the Aboriginal Deaths In Custody Watch Committee (1994, when Australia’s population was 5.3 million fewer than today) seems in order. This may highlight the problems that Australia has managing its own backyard, in particular its original peoples and what population increase means from another perspective:

    “Since 1978 the non-aboriginal powers within our lands have taken it upon themselves to increase the population by many millions, meanwhile our population became near to extinction…Australia’s population is bearable at this point in time but further ecocide of this country will leave nothing for no one… ecologically our land is on its knees: with help it can survive and resuscitate itself, but with any major increase in population this land will die, and we will die with it”

  3. Actually, the party supports our generous humanitarian intake. What you need to consider Sylvia is how we pay for our population growth in selling off our fossil fuels e.g. dirty coal. The primary driver of our population growth are big business including developers.
    If instead Australia allows its population to stabilize, that single act does far more good than anything force growing our population might.
    This concept is perhaps unfamiliar to you, but please give it more consideration. Currently, we are sitting back waiting for country after country to overpopulate into chaos, what if instead of blowing all of our wealth to keep fueling the profits of big business, we top this ponzi scheme and start handling this intelligently by using known means to improve the situations in these countries?
    We cannot both grow our population here at such an aggressive rate and make a meaningful difference overseas – that is where your thinking is misguided. Instead we must think more cleverly and making the best use of the resources we have through ausaid. If focused as the party suggests, we can help countless more than we can ever hope to resettle here and give Australian children a future.
    What you are suggesting unfortunately won’t make any meaningful difference. It will wipe out the 23 million who live here, all the wildlife and the migrants that you are suggesting we flood the country with while not addressing the root cause. The party is not spinning the Howard-esque stop the boats rhetoric, they trying to enlighten on why people are fleeing their homes and present a more globally sensitive and responsible solution.
    Regards

    Matt

  4. A tricky issue. As peter says – there are two separate debates going on here. one about population and one about obligations to people seeking refuge.

    Interestingly, Peter seems to think all 40 million global refugees are heading for Australia. I suggest most of these are heading for Europe, moving around Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Be interesting to see how significant the impact of 5000 or so people arriving by boat per year have on the nation’s resources. Compare this to the number arriving by aircraft and who over stay their visas etc… far outweighs the “boat people” in terms of numbers. Where is the hysterical debate about those people?

    What I take issue with it the nature of the debate regarding people seeking refuge by boat in the Australian political sphere and the race to the bottom of the moral and ethical barrel by the major parties. Demonizing, false representation, policies that break international laws and shirking obligations toward refugees that Australia signed up for with the UN undermines any shred of credibility politics in this nation had. It is embarrassing to be an Australian in this regard.

  5. Dear Peter,

    Firstly, you personally asked to comment on the above article, to which I responded. I have no interest in what you or your party members think. But it seems that it is quite the opposite with you. I don’t suppose that you feel a sense of responsibility “to educate” the young women academics, who might need directions on what to think?

    Of course, a lot of the things I mentioned are metaphorical – neither is Australia going to “sink”, nor is going to get “flooded” by refugees. What you need to consider, Peter, is that we CAN change the way to live – something that you seem to completely forget – and to do so on the first place would involve recognizing that we are all on the same boat, and that we better find a solution, rather than squabble in useless debates.

    On a personal level, you are a free citizen and you are free to move anywhere else you like, as is everybody else. I don’t have a specific place in mind except a place far away from people who do not seem to have the ability to share and to claim to be experts in demography while trained in a completely different discipline. If you would like to go somewhere may I suggest the least populated place on the planet – I estimate to be somewhere in the center of the Pacific Ocean?

    Surely, if you argue that the planet is overpopulated – then Australia – could at least help to solve this problem by accommodating some of those people? Or, how about sending the parts of society who contribute the most to the population demographics in Australia – kiwis and Europeans back to their home countries?

    I have a fundamental problem with the hypocrisy that you and your party members’ exhibit: how is a population control of any kind in Australia going to do any difference on population in other parts of the world, and especially on the countries which are traditionally perceived as “producing” refugees?

    By the way – it is assumptive to think that everybody has a TV screen – I certainly don’t out of choice (as well as a lot of other people who are unable to purchase it).

    Have a good life,

    Silvia Lozeva

  6. Dear Peter,

    Firstly, nobody mentioned the phrase “racist ideologies” except you. I wonder why.

    Secondly, there is nothing that Aboriginals have to contribute to the population debate, in the way that you are imposing – this is deeply unethical since if we are to “unload” the Australian continent – perhaps the most efficient way to send back all kiwis and UK migrants (following your logic), or how about we base it on educational levels?

    Aboriginal communities are very diverse and each of them have their own opinion perhaps, but I wouldn’t be wrong to say that they “are probably the more welcoming ones” (Dudgeon 2013) than any others. Refugees are hardly from NZ or UK (if you are not aware).

    So, I would strongly advise you to refrain yourself from speaking on behalf of the Aboriginals, at least to save yourself a complete embarrassment.

    This statement does not “broaden” the conversation – but on the contrary it simply narrows it down suitably to narrow-minded people.

    And I completely agree with Mike, that it is embarrassing to live in Australia at times like this.

    This is my final comments on this debate.

    Notes:

    Pat Dudgeon at the Blue Stocking Week Forum “Holding the Line: Women Leading in the Public Eye”, the Willow room, WACA, Perth, 14th August 2013

  7. http://churchandstate.org.uk/2013/09/too-many-bodies-the-return-and-disavowal-of-the-population-question/

    “The best piece relative to the politics of population advocacy I have ever read. It is authored by Prof Diana Coole of Birkbeck University of London, who in this single academic work ably and informatively lays out the full ecosystem of systemic challenges many scholars face tactically, on a day to day basis, as they try to make contributions to steering the planet towards a more sustainable future.”

  8. “One manifestation of this ideal of refusing geopolitical borders in favour of older or no borders can be seen in Hogan’s repeated references to the idea of Pangaea, the theorized ‘original’ landmass that eventually broke apart into the continents… Through their reconnection with Native understandings of space and their successful creation of an effective coalition, Hogan’s characters claim citizenship as Native subjects who have a different but valid knowledge of the world and can forge the political power to help shape that world.” ~ Beadling, Laura; abstract for ‘Dreaming of Pangaea: Decolonizing Strategies in Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms’

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