Is more people better?

New Zealand, like the world, seems to be on a growth treadmill. Is continued population growth really a good thing?

A thought provoking post by Bunji at The Standard who suggests This is not the growth you’re looking for.

There are different views on The Standard about growth and whether we really need it.  I’m all for environmentally-, socially-sustainable growth, and I’m a programmer, so I’m in a fairly “weightless” part of the economy.

But here’s one bit of growth that really seems pointless to me: that achieved only by increasing the number of people.

While there should be better ways of measuring our economy and success than anything GDP-based (Robert Kennedy: “it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”), it seems a simple fix to at least make it GDP-per-capita, while we’re working out the complexities of those other measurements.

Because if we’re only increasing GDP by increasing the number of people, as we are currently, we’re loading up the environment and we’re not even individually getting any richer for it.  Thanks National.

If you look at 64,000 immigration last year – 1.5% of the population(!) you’ve got to wonder whether it’s socially sustainable as well.  I love the super-diversity of Auckland, but that’s a lot to swallow in a year.  With about 40,000 of that immigration being to Auckland – a city that’s already got a massive house shortage and struggles creating enough infrastructure – you’ve got to wonder: what’s the point?

While it’s a much bigger problem for Auckland it’s also something New Zealand as a whole should be asking.

The human population can’t keep growing forever. We can’t keep transforming the earth we live on indefinitely.

Should we strive for bigger, more because we don’t want to be left behind the rest of the world?

And leave it to future generations to worry about more overcrowding and the depletion of resources?

Where’s the government’s plan?  We all know they haven’t got one.  Laissez-faire, set the conditions “right” and it’ll all come good apparently.

Grow and hope?

Or think seriously about humankind’s future, and do something about unsustainable growth before we self destruct, or condemn the world’s children to an insurmountable problem?

Most Chinese, Indian migrants go to Auckland

There are now more migrants coming to New Zealand from both China and India than there are from the UK. And most of the Asian immigrants settle in Auckland.

Migration to regional parts of New Zealand hasn’t gone down much, but Asian migration to Auckland has gone up substantially.

This means that more than ever Auckland is demographically quite different to much of the rest of the country.

NZ Herald: The Big Read: Why are migrants snubbing NZ’s regions?

That headline is misleading, it is mainly Asian migrants ‘snubbing’ the regions – and it’s simply because they prefer to settle in Auckland.

New settlers from Asia are giving the regions a wide berth, with migrants from the two main source countries preferring to set up home in Auckland.

Measures aimed at improving the spread of migrants across New Zealand were introduced last November, but new data reveals that seven in 10 migrants from China – the country’s largest source of permanent migrants – are not opting to live anywhere else but Auckland.

AUT University Professor of Population Geography Richard Bedford said New Zealand’s largest city is the preferred choice for migrants from China, India and other Asian countries.

“They concentrate on Auckland because of the sorts of work they want, the concentrations of their co-ethnics and, for Indians and Chinese, this is New Zealand’s only sizeable city,” Professor Bedford said.

Auckland is sizeable compared to the rest of New Zealand but is still quite small compared to major cities around the world.

  • Auckland 1.5 million
  • Sydney 5 million
  • Melbourne 4.4 million
  • Brisbane 2.3 million (South East Queensland 3.4 million)
  • Beijing metropolitan 25 million
  • Shanghai 24.2 million
  • Delhi 16.7 million
  • Mumbai 12.5 million
  • Shenzen 10.5 million

– approximate and depends on how a city area is defined

In List of cities proper by population (Wikipedia) it lists 90 cities of over 3 million population, with 27 being in China and 10 in India.

“The migrants from Western countries tend to be attracted to the same things as New Zealanders, after all, they are not just coming to NZ to work in Auckland,” said Professor Bedford.

But with China now displacing the UK as the main source country for migrants, and more migrants coming from Asia, Auckland will become more cosmopolitan and diverse, while the regions remain largely “white”.

“The smaller towns and rural parts of the country will have populations that are closer to the national average in terms of diversity, and some places will be very heavily dominated by people of European and Maori ethnicities,” Professor Bedford added.

So you choose much more ethnic diversity and much higher property prices in Auckland or go live somewhere else in New Zealand.

Time to act on water quality

Problems with water availability and quantity are of increasing concern in New Zealand.

Today’s NZ Herald editorial: Urgent need to act on our water supply

Trucks are delivering water to parched vineyards in Marlborough. As river levels dip in the hottest months, water quality falls. Warning signs beside freshwater lagoons at Piha, Karekare and Bethells because of overloaded septic tanks are a familiar summer sight.

Toxic algae has been detected at 15 freshwater sites in Canterbury. North of Christchurch, people who draw water from rural supplies with shallow intakes must permanently boil water used for drinking, oral hygiene and food preparation.

The signs are not positive.

Six years ago, the Government asked the Land and Water Forum to create a plan for freshwater management. The forum, which draws together 67 organisations and is meant to work collaboratively, has made dozens of recommendations in a series of reports on how best to manage water.

In its fourth and latest document, issued in November, the forum pleaded for action, warning that without some concrete steps water quality would continue to deteriorate, and the country would further squander what the forum rightly calls a national treasure and strategic asset.

Forum chairman Alastair Bisley delivered a blunt message to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, reminding them that most of the previous 153 recommendations continued to gather dust.

Mr Bisley pointedly noted that the forum’s very first recommendation in its new report was to implement all the others “and do that as soon as possible”.

All New Zealanders expect reliable access to clean water. The economy rests on its assured supply. As many as 200,000 jobs – in dairying, horticulture and tourism – directly depend on water.

The Government has been handed all it needs to make their livelihoods secure and protect a renewable asset. It ought to act soon.

From the Land and Water Forum:

In February 2015 Ministers for the Environment and Primary Industries asked the Forum to assist the Government with further development and delivery of water policy reform.

On 27 November 2015 the Forum released the Fourth Report of the Land and Water Forum (pdf, 2.5MB) on how to maximise the economic benefits of freshwater while managing within water quality and quantity limits that are set consistent with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM). It also recommends exclusion of livestock from waterways on plains and lowland hills, addresses a number of urban issues and suggests tools and approaches to assist the Crown’s exploration of rights and interests with iwi.

From the Fourth report:

Fresh water is however a resource that has come under increasing pressure over the last 20 years. In our first report, we noted that although it is still good overall and rates well internationally, both its quality and its availability have been declining, especially in lowland areas, as land use has intensified and our population has grown.

We have made significant progress in dealing with point source discharges, but diffuse discharges remain an issue, and some urban and pastoral waterways remain highly polluted.

Many catchments are overallocated with contaminants.

Lags mean that impacts of present and past practices may not reveal themselves for some time, while. Climate change will increase our difficulties.

Poorer water quality adversely affects biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems, invasive species and in-stream uses,. impacting our health and our amenities.

The report makes a number of recommendations, starting with:

Recommendation 1: The government should complete implementing the Forum’s recommendations from its three previous reports as soon as possible. Unless otherwise explicitly stated in this report, those earlier recommendations remain unchanged.

Increasing land production and population will keep putting more pressure on water resources. This may be accentuated by affects of climate change.

Water availability and quality are fundamental requirements. Government should be doing whatever it can to provide these.

Earth overshoots available resources for the year

According to how much resources the Global Footprint Network calculates are available for us to use on Earth each year to ensure sustainablility we are in the red already, and eveything used now makes it hardert for us to continue to survive.

Christian Science Monitor reports in Resource overdraft: Planet Earth crosses into ecological red:

Thursday marked Earth Overshoot Day – the day when the world’s population officially exhausts all the natural resources the Earth can generate in a single year, as defined by the sustainability think tank, Global Footprint Network.

Overshoot depletes the Earth of its natural capital and catalyzes a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, environmentalists say.

That buildup drastically harms the environment through deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss, according to GFN.

All of these degenerative conditions lead to excessive ecological spending, and Overshoot Day serves as a reminder that the global population needs to implement greener solutions before natural resources drop to dangerous levels.

The UN provided the first reliable statistics on the matter in 1961. Since then, humanity’s demand for resources has quickly exceeded the amount nature could provide, with the planet reaching global overshoot in the early 1970s.

In 2000, Earth Overshoot Day landed in October. It’s occurrence in August this year reflects the rapidly expanding demands placed on the planet’s natural resources.

Of course you can argue about the calculations. But it’s harder to argue about the likelihood that humans use more resources than we generate or that Earth can replace naturally.

We continue to consume more per capita and that looks like getting worse as third world countries improve standfards of living. This cetiry there have been and will continue to be big changes in consumptiom i heavily populated countries like China and India.

And the world population continues to grow. Currently a world population calculator is at 7,360,175,026.

Population milestones:

  • 1 billion: 1804
  • 2 billion: 1927
  • 3 billion: 1960
  • 4 billion: 1974
  • 5 billion: 1987
  • 6 billion: 1999
  • 7 billion: 2012
  • 8 billion: 2024 (predicted)

So the population has more than doubled in my lifetime. While the rate of growth is predicted to slow down it is still increasing substantially. More graphically:


Source: Worldometers

So it is quite feasible that we are using more than we or Earth can produce, and we are polluting more than we can clean up.

And the overshooting ill effects are accumulative.

According to people like the Greens as a world we are already stuffed unless we take drastic action immediately.

That may or may or may not be a reaslitc assessment.

But there should be no doubt that humankind faces huge challenges, now and in the future. It may not get too bad in the rest of my lifetime, or for a few generations.

But at some stage it’s certain that Earth and it’s human population will suffer badly.

It might be a gradual deterioration.

Or it could be a sudden impact. An asteroid collision is claimed to have ended the age of dinosaurs, so something similar for humans can’t be ruled out.

More likely is a major volcanic eruption – a sudden reduction in sunlight and food production for a year or two could easily precipitate drastic widespread hardship.

The risks per lifetime probably aren’t high. But the risks are significantly invcreased of we are already accumulatively overshooting Earth’s resources.

What are we going to do about it? Most people will probably ignore it and hope that it won’t happen or will go away or that someone will invent something that will fix everything.

But what if someone invents something that doubles human lifespans?

Homosexuality, abortion, birth control and population

Fifty years ago (1964) the world population was about 3.2 billion people.

Since then acceptance of homosexual relationships, same sex marriage, oral contraception, male and female sterilisation and safe abortions have increased substantially.

The world population this year will be about 7.2 billion people. It is projected to be over 10 billion in another fifty years.