The population converstation

8 billion people

8 billion people

The following article has been submitted by President Jim McCredie based on his notes taken at a recent seminar:

On 10 July Council arranged a two hour meeting on population growth, with several speakers leading up to Council’s Environmental Director, Greg Woodhams, who provided future population milestones set by NSW Planning Department for Willoughby.

About 200 years ago, Rev Thomas Malthus predicted that population would growth would accelerate exponentially, while food production would increase at a constant rate. There would be other factors such as weather,  which would put limits to growth of agriculture and commodities. His pessimism was widely opposed, and proved inadequate by the opening of new crop lands in America, Australia and South Africa, and improvements in supply of fertiliser & water for many decades.

Improvements in production efficiency by a few inventors compounded with open markets to boost individual national wealth.  The industrial revolution and improved sanitation led to a drop in infant death rate while the birth rate remained at high pre-industrial levels. The population pressures in Europe caused dramatic population outflows into other continents.

World population is recorded on the website   World population  milestones already passed  are:  1billion 1804;  2 billion 1927;  3 billion 1960;.  7 billion 2011. Several developed countries have reduced their birth rates to below the stable rate of 2.1 children per woman.

Russian population 2009 142million; 2023 125 million;  2050 100 million.

Australia has one of the fastest population growth rates in the developed world, and will reach 35.9 million in 2050. Global population is forecast to peak and stabilise at 9.6 billion in2050.

How will this population be distributed geographically? About 80% will live in cities; Sydney and Melbourne will house about  six million each.

The introduction of computers permitted a few software writers to use models of dynamic systems to forecast future events. Using “Dynamo”  software, Jay Forrester developed “industrial dynamics”, then “urban dynamics”, and finally “World Dynamics”. Another group of scientists, meeting in Rome, were concerned that resource limits could lead to a dramatic crash of the world economy and population. They adapted the Dynamo program to later generation “Stella” software , and produced the “World 3” model.   Their report, “LIMITS TO GROWTH” by the “Club of Rome” helped trigger the environment debate, and raised the priority of resource management. In 2004,  the group produced another report, “Limits to Growth – the 30 year update”. They envisaged ten alternative scenarios, in which a variety of stabilising measures were adopted to end population growth, with varying success in maintaining human and economic welfare.

The Club of Rome helped publicise scenario planning as a way of thinking about the future. Scenarios are not predictions, but a speculation on what could happen. At the “Population Conversation”, Dr. Keith Suter presented TWO SCENARIOS  ON PEOPLE, PROSPERITY, AND PLANET EARTH.


No political action – Leave it to the market.

Resource scientists speculate about “Peak Oil”, “Peak Fish”, “Peak Water”, climate change, and the impact of the growing population. Bureaucrats talk of “Industrial Mobilisation”, but lack power.

Politicians fail to pass climate change legislation, think alarmists have proved wrong in the past.

In the USA, the Pentagon is preparing for civil order breakdown, while extreme fundamentalist religious groups await the Messiah’s arrival, and the end of the world. The general public is fatigued with bad news from shock jocks, and is only able to make individual responses.


Most of the earth’s surface is water, which receives and processes waste. Industrial opportunities exist in waste recycling, as satellite businesses around big  corporations.  Local economic changes don’t need tardy government authorisation and budget related timing of funding. The pricing system will be mobilised to end subsidies for harmful practices, substituting congestion pricing, rapid transport systems, and alternative energy sources.

The next speaker said Australia’s population was headed towards 40 million, and we were feeding about 70 million, mostly in the middle east.  He noted the thinness of Australian topsoils for long term sustainability, compared to the USA;  the long term “carrying capacity” of Australia’s soils was between six and twelve million. [I recall, back I the 1950’s Professor Baxter who set up the University of NSW talked of “lifeboat Australia”. Baxter said the optimum population for Australia was about 6 million; but he claimed it would take a population of 20 million to stop population growth!]

He noted a major planning failure, the allowing of alienation of prime agricultural land for housing along roads created and existing to service farms. He also opposed the habit of extending the suburban perimeter along dead end roads along bushland ridge crests, resulting in catastrophic bushfire risk. [ This is a typical pattern in West Ward.]

The final speaker was Greg Woodhams, Council’s Environment Services Director. He gave a Power Point presentation. This table showed the government objectives for Chatswood CBD at 20 year intervals, for population, dwellings, and jobs.

Year 1991 2011 2031
People 51,000 70,000 90,000
Dwellings 20,500 28,000 37,700
Jobs 50,000 64,000 80,000

1,000 additional residents per year

500 additional dwellings per year

800 additional jobs per year

The dwelling building requirement was being achieved by the residential towers in the CBD, but there was no comparable building of commercial office floor areas to meet the jobs target. There is a lack of suitable size blocks for new office buildings; and developers get a better return from residential towers rather than from offices.

Commuting is hampered by traffic delays, inadequate interchange bus bays, and narrow train platforms. Since about 80% of resident workers commute out of Chatswood, and about 80% of the workforce commutes in, and at least 45% of commuters use cars, new long stay off-street parking spaces for another 600 cars will have to be found each year! This makes no allowance for additional clients and customers of the additional workforce, of order 200 extra short-stay spaces every year.]

Willoughby local population pressures are explored in the long term Willoughby Strategy, developed from community participation.

  • State Government targets (above) to increase dwelling numbers
  • Compact city or urban sprawl at the metro edge
  • Transport to jobs, shopping, schools, leisure
  • Restoration of bushland and creek ecosystems
  • Demand for schools
  • Demand for recreation facilities
  • Household waste disposal
  • Multicultural diversity
  • More residents over 65 and under 10
  • Demand for energy and water
  • Maintaining our support infrastructure
  • Resistance to higher residential densities

What’s needed for our new population:

  • New High School, new Primary School
  • Less journey to work by car
  • Off-street car parking
  • Seniors housing
  • Child Care centres
  • Sporting facilities
  • Energy and water efficient buildings
  • Bushland and creeks protected
  • New Bus interchange/ additional bus services
  • Economic growth for jobs
  • Places for health and wellbeing
  • Affordable housing for essential workers.

The speakers did not address why Willoughby should have the specific targets given in Mr. Woodham’s power point, i.e. the distribution between  local government areas, and between suburbs within each local government area. They did not refer to work by consultants Arup (for NSW Planning) in 2012 on four alternative future scenarios for Sydney, with a diversity of population distributions and local high density peaks, distributed by suburb. Chatswood appears to have an exceptionally wide variation of development between these scenarios. It is probable that the Arup study underlies targets handed down through the Sydney Metro plan and imminent sub-regional plans.

Interesting references:

Limits to Growth – the30 year update, by Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers, 2004; Earthscan

Overloading Australia – How governments and media dither and deny on population, by Mark O’Connor and William Lines, 2008; envirobook

On Borrowed Time – Australia’s environmental crisis, by David Lindenmayer, 2007; CSIRO/Penguin



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