NSW Premier: "We're Dancing on Our Graves"

If these words came from an environmentalist, they would not be particularly unusual.What is significant is that they were written by a prominent conservative politician, and they were read by millions of people on the front page of Sydney's major daily newspaper.  Bob Carr has been a disappointment to environmentalists who had high hopes for him when he first became premier of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state. The following article shows his green leanings remain -- even if he doesn't always lean far enough when it really matters.

Below you will find:

* a reporter's account of the premier's article  ( "We're dancing on our graves, Bob Carr warns"),
* followed by the article itself ("The doomsday millennium")
* and a transcript of a television program examining reactions to the premier's essay ("Mixed reaction to Premier's green concerns").

We're dancing on our graves, Bob Carr warns

While millennium celebrations echoed around the globe last weekend, Bob Carr was thinking about a very different world - one racked by overcrowding, global warming and environmental degradation.

The future is bleak, says the Premier, and no amount of fireworks and television footage of people dancing in the streets can change that.

"These benign images are about as truthful as a floorshow at a Hilton hotel in an African capital, a few miles from children with bloated bellies and stick-like limbs in once-fertile country now a dust bowl," he writes in today's Herald .

"The TV hype we saw on January 1 was a folkloric gloss on a very scary moment in human history."

Mr Carr said yesterday that he was prompted to write not only by the pictures he saw on television at his Maroubra home but his growing concerns about the scale of the global problems.

His main argument is that much of the damage has been caused by overcrowding and that this is the biggest threat to the future.

The exploding world population - doubling since 1960 - had increased the impact of emerging problems such as destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and global warming.

"Over the next 100 years the planet will become for a packed-tight humanity even more crowded and degraded," Mr Carr writes. "There will certainly be a whole lot less nature around at the turn of the next century - a huge loss of plant and animal life ..."

Mr Carr admitted yesterday that his comments were designed as a wake-up call to people cruising into the new century.

They had been formed from his own research and discussions with experts including the head of the Australian Museum, Professor Mike Archer, who said yesterday that he supported Mr Carr's conclusions.

"All the reasons for us to be concerned about the well-being of the planet because of human populations are absolutely true," Professor Archer said. "The prescription is that we have a disaster on our hands."

The two men are also working on solutions and have discussed the museum's project, involving other government agencies, to investigate sustainable alternatives to land management in Australia.

Mr Carr said he believed Australia had an opportunity to lead the world in the protection of its environment and should become the leading green voice at international forums.

"Australians can take from the world predicament an inspiration to save more of our land because it will be increasingly precious to the world over the next 100 years. I think we will be seen as a very precious place in the hot, crowded, degraded planet if we act wisely."

The doomsday millennium

by Bob Carr, Premier of NSW

ON THE first day of 2000 was celebrated with TV beaming pictures of jubilant global citizens: tribal peoples with clay face-paint, dancing islanders, monks at temple worship, African schoolkids with huge smiles. A happy planet, it all suggested - lucky people, to be alive at this millennial moment.

These benign images are about as truthful as the floor show at a Hilton hotel in an African capital, a few kilometres from children with bloated bellies and stick-like limbs in once-fertile country now a dust bowl. The TV hype we saw on January 1 was a folkloric gloss on a very scary moment in human history

The most salient change over the last 1,000 or 100 years is simple: the explosion in human numbers. In 1900 the world population was 1.6 billion. Three months ago it reached 6 billion. It took only 12 years to add the last billion. Or, put another way, the world population has doubled since 1960.

The last millennium has one great theme: the exponential increase in the impact of the human enterprise. There is a recent decline in fertility rates, and it will no doubt be seized on by people who want to brand me alarmist. But the least threatening UN projection still has the population rising to 7.3 billion by 2050. The direst projection is 10.7 billion. The most likely is 8.9 billion. Humankind, however, has already overshot the mark.

Only 30 years ago we had no idea how quickly rainforests would be bulldozed and no notion that CFCs destroyed the ozone layer. Acid rain was unknown. Global warming was considered a possibility for late in the 21st century. We did not dream it was already melting the Arctic.

It is the galloping increase in numbers that has multiplied all these impacts. Over the next 100 years the planet will become for a packed-tight humanity even more crowded and degraded. It is likely to be hotter as well, with much more desert and less arable land. There will certainly be a whole lot less nature around at the turn of the next century - a huge loss of plant and animal life, biodiversity, as the scientists call it.

On a visit to North-East Asia I saw this future. The landscape was simple. There were clusters of shoebox-style tower blocks. They were linked by clogged expressways in a flattened, cleared landscape. It was so bleak, so denatured, it could have been a place rebuilt after a nuclear blast. The air was heavy with smog. Acid rain fell from the nation across the ocean. This will be how more people will live in 100 years.

The populationists - that's my term for those who continue to be cheerful in the face of these trends - argue that family size comes down with affluence and the education that comes with affluence. Wealth winds back population growth. In an age of economics, it is not surprising people will see economics as the solution. I as much as anyone want to believe this. But this optimism does not stand up.

First, the theory that affluence leads to smaller families has not been properly tested. It may cause an initial fall, only to climb again. There seems some evidence of this from China. Second, much of the Third World is not on a trajectory of economic growth anyway. Many African countries have falling - not rising - GDPs. Third, even if rising affluence did rein in population growth, the damage has already been set in train - irreversibly. 

Brazil is an example. If (miraculously) it stabilised its population at today's 166 million, it's too late to win back the fifth of the Amazon that has been destroyed, or stop further clearing as peasant settlers are relocated to relieve pressure for land reform elsewhere. All this is happening to accommodate the existing population of Brazil.  Imagine the rate of destruction if, as the UN predicts, Brazil's population climbs over the next 50 years to 240 million.

In any case, it is impossible to lift the living standards of all the world's people to anything like that of the West. It is not an option. If 6 billion people were to live at current European (not American) standards it would require a 140-fold increase in world steel production. The pollution would choke the planet. To feed 6 billion on the diet enjoyed by Americans would require all the world's current oil production. In any case we now have more arable land being withdrawn from production - because of erosion and salinisation - than being added.

Economics to the rescue just in time to save the planet? Nice idea. But look at India with, according to the World Bank, one of the world's best performing economies. The country's family planning program, the first in the world, is now counted a total failure. India has reached 1 billion population and, getting to 1.5 billion by 2050, will pull ahead of China as the world's most populous nation. In-built momentum means it could not stabilise its numbers for at least 40 years, some say 100. And look at the social conditions these additional 540 million Indians will be born into. When I found the data it was even grimmer than I expected. India has an infant mortality rate of 75 per 1,000, worse than China's, Egypt's, Indonesia's. Infant malnutrition is worse than sub-Saharan Africa. Only 52 per cent of the population is literate, compared with a world rate of 76 per cent.

Rapid population growth robs developing countries of prosperity. Think of the Philippines. It has 73 million, expected to rise to 130 million by 2050. Yet according to the World Bank, half the women giving birth now are anaemic or malnourished. And 57 children in every 1,000 die before they are five. Thirty per cent of children are malnourished. And the number of rural poor increased between 1991 and 1997 by 2.4 million. Imagine, for a moment, if the Philippines had stabilised its population at, say, 30 million. It would be a prosperous regional power, its people living off exports of metals, electronics, copra and rice. 

Ninety-eight per cent of population growth will take place in developing nations but, by one key test, the developed world is also overpopulated. With 250 million people and profligate use of resources, the United States - in terms of impact on Earth's fragile environment - could be seen as the world's most overpopulated nation. An American - I guess Australian too - inflicts 70 times as much environmental damage as a Laotian. What moral right have we to tell China it cannot proceed with its planned sixfold increase in energy over the next 30 years? Incidentally, two-thirds of this will come from coal. That means massive new amounts of carbon dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere.

On December 3, The Times in London reported new data that shows a dramatic acceleration in the rate at which the ice of the Arctic is melting. Yes, an area of Arctic sea ice the size of Wales melting every year. According to scientists, there exists only one chance in 100 that this is caused by natural climate change and not global warming. Warnings like this pile up - spring comes a week earlier in the Northern Hemisphere than 30 years ago; in the last 10 years 40 per cent of frogs on the planet have disappeared ...

Population growth, of course, is the factor that drives or multiplies or accelerates global warming. And deforestation and loss of groundwater and every other indicator of environmental damage. In November, on a beautiful day, I flew at 500 feet along the South Coast. I saw coastal lakes, a forest-clad mountain range and that wonderful undeveloped jewel, Jervis Bay. Forty per cent of the State's coastline south of Nowra is national park, as is about 36 per cent of the whole south-eastern bioregion.  

One source of my love for Australia is that nature still lives over much of it. With all our problems, there is still space here, and old growth forests, and, yes, backyards. And the day will too soon come when our land is a wonder of the world: wildflowers on coastal heath, a swamp with wildfowl, rainforest that meets water's edge. Over the next 100 years treasures like these will be erased from the planet, outside a few struggling game parks or tourist-trampled reserves. Forests torn out, grasslands ploughed under, to meet the demand of this vastly expanded human presence.  From Easter Island to Mesopotamia, the world has seen civilisations collapse because even in ancient times the birthrate outstripped the capacity of the land to sustain it.

Now, in an age of globalisation, we are doing to the whole planet what the Sumerians did to one little corner of it in 5,000 BC. In the view of many scientists the millennium sees us embarked on the riskiest experiment since our species emerged blinking from the primeval forest.

Yes, bring on the choirs in national costume. Summon the mariachi bands. Welcome the millennium.

- Bob Carr is the Premier of New South Wales

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, January 6



Mixed reaction to Premier's green concerns

MAXINE McKEW: While the turn of the century attracted a fair share of doomsday predictions, fears about the Y2K bug and other potential catastrophes were swept away in the euphoric celebrations.

But while Australians partied, New South Wales Premier Bob Carr had more sobering thoughts on his mind.  Instead of a world embracing a new century with optimism, Mr Carr sees a planet in denial about impending environmental disaster.

The Premier's lead role in a new debate on population control and global warming has been praised by some as courageous and forward-thinking.

But others see Premier Carr's views as unduly pessimistic. 

Sean Murphy reports.

BOB CARR, NSW PREMIER: If we've got this wrong, then nothing else we do as a nation, as a people, as a society is going to count two hoots.

If the polar ice caps are melting, if population pressures are confirming that we've failed as a world to reign in global warming, then nothing else counts.

PROFESSOR MIKE ARCHER, AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM: I think he's dead right.  We are in trouble.  The signs have been there for some considerable time. 

PROFESSOR GLENN WITHERS, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: I think Bob, given his gloomy view on this, should be pleased to learn that he's wrong.

BOB CARR: From 1960 till 1999, we doubled the world's population.

twice as many people. 

SEAN MURPHY: If nothing else, Bob Carr's foray into big-picture politics has sparked a healthy debate about the health of planet earth and according to the NSW Premier, population growth is leading the world to disaster.

BOB CARR: Population growth is the driver, it is the multiplier, it is the accelerator.

The world population has doubled since 1960. 

If we'd stabilised at the 3 billion people we had at 1960, I doubt there'd be the same urgency about greenhouse, about polar ice caps, about species' loss, about soil erosion, salinisation, about what's happening to the coral reefs -- they're turning brittle because of the heat going into the ocean.

Population growth is really, in the developed and undeveloped world, the driver of all these factors. 

SEAN MURPHY: As the world marvelled at new year's celebrations Bob Carr was planning a reality check as sobering as any millennium hangover -- a wake-up call predicting a world in dire straits unless action is taken to curb population growth. 

He believes future aid to developing countries should be linked to programs that help birth control and promote education -- a recipe for disaster according to the world's leading authorities on population growth.

PROFESSOR JACK CALDWELL, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Many parts of it were misinformed and I thought it was a surprising statement for a Lab It seemed to me to be saying that we'd all be better off if the Third World didn't raise its living standards and didn't industrialise.

SEAN MURPHY: Emeritus Professor Jack Caldwell claims family planning projects have been curbing population growth for 30 years.

PROFESSOR JACK CALDWELL: Since then, fertility has been falling almost everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa. 

National family planning programs have been shown to work.  Now, for the first time, we're in a position of saying the world may not increase by more than about another 50 per cent in terms of population.

SEAN MURPHY: Professor Caldwell is optimistic about the human condition and believes solutions will be found for the world's environmental problems, but elsewhere Premier Carr's gloomy predictions have won solid support.

PROFESSOR MIKE ARCHER: We're headed for a very early crash, much earlier than any other species of our kind has ever had happen to them before.

I think this is exactly the time when we should be thinking about it.

The new millennium is the time for new thinking.

It's vital.

SEAN MURPHY: Australian Museum boss, Professor Mike Archer believes there's time to turn back the tide of devastation, and recognising the problem is first step to a solution.

PROFESSOR MIKE ARCHER: If we just left the current generation with gloom and doom we would deserve to be hog-tied, drawn and chucked out.

Now I think the very important thing is to recognise that we're convinced we can turn this around. 

SEAN MURPHY: Solving world environmental problems will have to begin at home.

But Australia's record as a global polluter is poor. 

At the World Environment Summit at Kyoto, Japan in 1998 Australia negotiated an 8 per cent increase on greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels.

Australia's position at the Kyoto's protocols, was it a source of embarrassment to you?

BOB CARR: Yes, and distress by the fact the world is falling short.

There's no urgency anywhere about this.

Yet, what was a debated proposition 10 years ago -- namely that human intervention was heating up the planet -- is now agreed.

SEAN MURPHY: Jeff Angel from the NSW Total Environment Centre has welcomed the Premier's words, but now expects them to be matched by deeds.

JEFF ANGEL, TOTAL ENVIRONMENT CENTRE: What's really missing -- and I think Bob Carr has to devote himself to this -- is getting the Government system to a critical mass, where environmentally damaging projects don't see the light of day.

Because at the moment, if someone comes along with, say, a new silicon smelter that will involve the burning of rare native forest to reduce the charcoal input, the system stands to attention and says, "How can we help you?"

SEAN MURPHY: While global population growth may be Premier Carr's focus, critics say he's failed to address Australia's population outlook, a charge he rejects.

BOB CARR: It would be good if we went into the next century with a smaller population than we have now.

SEAN MURPHY: But with an aging population, some believe Premier Carr would have been better served leading a debate on Australia's future immigration levels.

On current trends, fewer taxpayers will support more older Australians.

By 2030, the number of workers for every aged Australians will fall from 6:1 to just 3:1. 

PROFESSOR GLENN WITHERS: If people are funding themselves, that's no problem.  We all love the idea of living longer -- that's a wonderful thing.

But there's a question of taxpayers and the working base to fund that, if we're going to continue to fund it out of general taxation revenue.

SEAN MURPHY: But Premier Carr says that's a debate for another time.

BOB CARR: This is a global challenge. 

Even the most benign projections have us adding a billion people to the world's population by the middle of the century, by 2050, when in terms of the degradation we've wrought already we've overshot the mark.

Source: ABC TV's 7.30 Report Transcript 07/01/2000