The Center for Biological Diversity joins the effort to slow population growth
The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing 100,000 endangered species condoms in 50 states to highlight how unsustainable human population growth is driving species extinction at a cataclysmic rate. The species depicted on the condoms are the polar bear, the snail darter (fish), the spotted owl, the American burying beetle, the jaguar, and the coquí guajón rock frog. The condoms also have clever slogans (eg., Hump smarter, save the snail darter; Cover your tweedle, save the burying beetle; Wear a jimmy hat, save the big cat). You can learn more about the Center for Biological Diversity's efforts here < http://www.endangeredspeciescondoms.com/>.
Save the Children addresses population
The international charity Save the Children has issued a policy brief (six pages including endnotes) saying that population growth in the world's poorest countries is an obstacle to poverty reduction. It points out that most of the countries that are farthest from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have high rates of population growth. The policy brief also observes that the MDGs, which were agreed to in 2001, made no reference to population growth, and the Commission for Africa report, published in 2005, had almost nothing to say on the subject. The brief examines how population growth will preclude achieving some of the MDGs and also looks at the connection to political instability and climate change. The policy brief can be downloaded as a PDF from this site < http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/54_10773.htm> . [The newslrtter suggests that this is a breakthough as "as the population taboo has a strong hold on social justice organizations".]
The population issue seems to have hit the big time in Australia. Canada and Australia have certain similarities in that both are large countries with very small populations if you divide the population into the total surface area of the country. But in both countries only a small percentage of the total surface area is capable of supporting any significant number of people and both countries have only a limited amount of agricultural land. Australia's interior is arid and Canada's north is cold. In both countries, however, growth is being pursued by political and business leaders despite the total absence of evidence that growth benefits anyone but a small elite (for example, developers, banks that benefit from more mortgages, some businesses that benefit from cheap labour, politicians seeking business support and the vote of new immigrants).
Not so long ago, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared himself a "big Australia" man and spoke favourably of Australia's population, currently 22 million, reaching 35 million, which it would do by 2050 at current growth rates. Australia's growth rate of 2.1% in 2009 is well above the global average of 1.2%, and higher than that of many developing countries. The average growth rate of developed countries is 0.3%. Apparently, many Australians disagreed with their prime minister and enough of them made a big enough fuss to not only cause the PM to change his tune but to appoint Agriculture Minister Tony Burke as Australia's first Population Minister. A stalwart in the campaign to slow population growth in Australia is Labor MP Kelvin Thompson, who happens to belong to the same party as the prime minister. Thomson has been very active in looking at the stresses that population growth is putting on Australia's environment, infrastructure, and society. (This raises the question as to why Prime Minister Rudd did not appoint Thomson to be the population minister. The answer that comes to mind is that growth enthusiast Rudd probably wants someone who isn't quite so publicly committed to slowing growth.) Population activists in Australia have also pointed out its rapid population growth almost certainly precludes it from achieving any of its targets in reducing greenhouse gas production. Opposition leader Tony Abbot has also said that Australia needs a serious debate on population. Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr is also in favour of limiting population growth. A poll of 1000 people conducted in late February by Essential Research showed that three-quarters of the respondents did not think that Australia had the services or infrastructure to cope with more people, 60% wanted cutbacks in immigration and a majority thought the environment was too fragile to cope with more people and there was not enough space for them.
Like Canada and the US, growth in Australia is driven primarily by immigration. The annual growth rates of the two North American countries are both 1%. In Australia, the media are even beginning to cover the issue of population growth in a slightly more objective manner. Unfortunately, this is not often the case in Canada. The book Overloading Australia by Mark O'Connor and William Lines, published last year, seems to have had an impact Down Under. But according to O'Connor (as related to OPT member Brian McGavin and subsequently to Madeline), the tireless work of dozens of activists who wrote letters to the editor, the greater democracy afforded by the internet, the conversion of one high IQ MP (Kelvin Thomson) and of the philanthropist Dick Smith also played an important role. Getting an MP onside was very helpful in getting more media coverage of the issue.
"The century of famine," by Peter Goodchild; "Is population growth a Ponzi scheme?", by Joseph Chamie; "Climate sceptics are recycled critics of controls on tobacco and acid rain," by Jeffrey Sachs; "Wind turbines: eco-friendly but not to eagles," by Christopher Booker; "Twelve myths of growth," by Donella Meadows.
(These are not included, but can probably be googled. The last one is appended. -- MOC)
Donella Meadows' The Global Citizen, February 25, 1999
Urban Growth Means Lower Taxes -- and Other Myths
We need to bring in business to bring down taxes. This development will give us jobs. Environmental protection will hurt the economy. Growth is good for us.
If we've heard those arguments once, we've heard them a thousand times, stated with utmost certainty and without the slightest evidence. That's because there is no evidence. Or rather, there is plenty of evidence, most of which disproves these deeply held pro-growth beliefs.
Here is a short summary of some of the evidence. For more, see Eben Fodor's new book Better, Not Bigger, which lists and debunks the following "Twelve Big Myths of Growth."
Myth 1: Growth provides needed tax revenues. Check out the tax rates of cities larger than yours. There are a few exceptions but the general rule is: the larger the city, the higher the taxes. That's because development requires water, sewage treatment, road maintenance, police and fire protection, garbage pickup -- a host of public services. Almost never do the new taxes cover the new costs. Fodor says, "the bottom line on urban growth is that it rarely pays its own way."
Myth 2: We have to grow to provide jobs. But there's no guarantee that new jobs will go to local folks. In fact they rarely do. If you compare the 25 fastest growing cities in the U.S. to the 25 slowest growing, you find no significant difference in unemployment rates. Says Fodor: "Creating more local jobs ends up attracting more people, who require more jobs."
Myth 3: We must stimulate and subsidize business growth to have good jobs. A "good business climate" is one with little regulation, low business taxes, and various public subsidies to business. A study of areas with good and bad business climates (as ranked by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the business press) showed that states with the best business ratings actually have lower growth in per capita incomes than those with the worst. Fodor: "This surprising outcome may be due to the emphasis placed by good-business-climate states on investing resources in businesses rather than directly in people."
Myth 4: If we try to limit growth, housing prices will shoot up. Sounds logical, but it isn't so. A 1992 study of 14 California cities, half with strong growth controls, half with none, showed no difference in average housing prices. Some of the cities with strong growth controls had the most affordable housing, because they had active low-cost housing programs. Fodor says the important factor in housing affordability is not so much house cost as income level, so development that provides mainly low-paying retail jobs makes housing unaffordable.
Myth 5: Environmental protection hurts the economy. According to a Bank of America study the economies of states with high environmental standards grew consistently faster than those with weak regulations. The Institute of Southern Studies ranked all states according to 20 indicators of economic prosperity (gold) and environmental health (green) and found that they rise and fall together. Vermont ranked 3rd on the gold scale and first on the green, while Louisiana ranked 50th on both.
Myth 6: Growth is inevitable. There are constitutional limits to the ability of any community to put walls around itself. But dozens of municipalities have capped their population size or rate of growth by legal regulations based on real environmental limits and the real costs of growth to the community.
Myth 7: If you don't like growth, you're a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) or an ANTI (against everything) or a gangplank-puller (right after you get aboard). These accusations are meant more to shut people up than to examine their real motives. Says Fodor, "A NIMBY is more likely to be someone who cares enough about the future of his or her community to get out and protect it."
Myth 8: Most people don't support environmental protection. Polls and surveys have disproved this belief for decades; Fodor cites examples from Oregon, Los Angeles, Colorado, and the U.S. as a whole. The fraction of respondents who say environmental quality is more important than further economic growth almost always tops 70 percent.
Myth 9: We have to grow or die. This statement is tossed around lightly and often, but if you hold it still and look at it, you wonder what it means. Fodor points out, quoting several economic studies, that many kinds of growth cost more than the benefits they bring. So the more growth, the poorer we get. That kind of growth will kill us.
Myth 10: Vacant land is just going to waste. Studies from all over show that open land pays far more -- often twice as much -- in property taxes than it costs in services. Cows don't put their kids in school; trees don't put potholes in the roads. Open land absorbs floods, recharges aquifers, cleans the air, harbors wildlife, and measurably increases the value of property nearby. We should pay it for to be there.
Myth 11: Beauty is no basis for policy. One of the saddest things about municipal meetings is their tendency to trivialize people who complain that a proposed development will be ugly. Dollars are not necessarily more real or important than beauty. In fact beauty can translate directly into dollars. For starters, undeveloped surroundings can add $100,000 to the price of a home.
Myth 12: Environmentalists are just another special interest. A developer who will directly profit from a project is a special interest. A citizen with no financial stake is fighting for the public interest, the long term, the good of the whole community.
Maybe one reason these myths are proclaimed so often and loudly is that they are so obviously doubtful. The only reason to keep repeating something over and over is to keep others from thinking about it. You don't have to keep telling people that the sun rises in the east.
There are reasons why some of us want others of us to believe the myths of urban growth. More on that next time.