Putting Australia’s population growth issues in a global context

It’s amazing to me how distorted the perspective of many Australians are with regard to a lot of global issues. This can be seen most recently with the debacle surrounding the quality of umpiring in the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa and the number of people putting the blame on the referees for the Socceroos’ (Australia’s football team) losses and early exit from the tournament. Likewise, a misinformed view about Australia’s population growth exists amongst much of the current population which was evident in the discussions and debates that followed former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s words in supporting a “Big Australia”.

I’ll let this wonderful article from Worldchanging about the phenomenal growth of China’s population and cities speak for itself. It makes the problems that Australians think that their own cities have rather laughable. (That isn’t to say that Australia doesn’t have any problems!)

To summarise the article and put things in perspective:

  • China is expected to add 350 million people to its cities over the next 20 years and have 220 cities with more than 1 million people. That’s Australia’s current population more than 15 times over, and Australia is expected to still have only 5 cities with over 1 million people in 2030. The expected increase of 13 million people in Australia to 2050 is barely a drop in the ocean in comparison.
  • China covers an area of 9.6 million sq km compared to Australia’s 7.7 million sq km. Yes, China may be a bit bigger but it also has about 60 times as many people as Australia. Large parts of China are also occupied by deserts as much of Australia is.
  • China not only has the water issues that Australia has but also major issues such as funding and building the required infrastructure (the transit systems, schools, hospitals, community centres, utilities), finding enough food sources, homes and energy for its growing cities.
  • On top of this, China has 16 of the 20 world’s polluted cities and has a lot of work in cleaning up while it grows. Desertification is occurring rapidly and some parts of the country are affected by acid rain.

Some may say the comparison isn’t a fair one but I believe it is. Ever heard someone say “It’s not about the amount of space, but the way you use it”? The same can be applied for population growth, and for the most part Australians are not very efficient in how they use their space and resources. Instead of sticking to the status quo and trying to imagine a future in which the way we live remains the same it is time for a serious rethink in how we live and how we structure our cities.

Australia doesn’t have enough water to support more people you say? There’s a large amount of water resources in the relatively underpopulated areas to the north of the continent, and there’s also ways of using what water we do have a lot better, water treatment and recycling being a great example that other nations with hardly any water such as Singapore have been investing in.

I’m not entirely sure why so many Australians tend to be so unworldly in their views. Maybe we really are more of an isolated island nation than we think! The issue of Australia’s population growth is more about how we plan to go about managing the growth, rather than the size of the growth itself.


Worldchanging – A Climate-Neutral China


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