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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2304

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) - I should like to read a contribution of a 14- year old child to a school magazine. It is headed 'Population' and it states:

The explosive growth of the human population is the most significant event of the past million millenia. Mankind itself may stand on the brink of extinction ... Dr Paul Ehrlich.

Wait . . . hold it . . . before you throw this away, think about it! . . . Man its pretty important. It's not just something you read on the back page of the Canberra Times. Its effecting and going to effect us, no, not our grandparents and probably not your parents but us! A population of 3.7 billion people is a lot of people, but numbers are pretty, hard to understand. What that really means is that we already have between 3 and 7 times more people on the face of our great spaceship earth than we can possibly support over the long term - which is only about 30 years, which leaves the oldest of us kids here only about 48 years old, or less.

The population at the present rate will double every 35 years which means around the turn of the century we should have well over 6 billion people on our spaceship, provided of course there haven't been any increases in the death rate. Every 3 years we have the population equivalent to the United States added to the world population. Some 10-20 million people are starving to death each year now . . . even in affluent countries like the USA.

The limits of human capacity to produce food by conventional means have very nearly been reached . . . in other words at this rate we are eating or wasting food and at the rate of use of present food production there just isn't going to be enough food.

So it continues. To me, the essential point in this matter is epitomised by a remark made by a young girl on a new television programme which, apparently, will appear on the Australian Broadcasting Commission channels, in which she says words to the effect: 'When the present generation stops fiddling around, I hope it leaves something for us'. Unfortunately, this problem is not our problem in the sense that it will affect us. I am sure that we will all live our lives without it having very much concern for or direct pressure on us. But the point is that it will affect our children and our grandchildren. I would hazard a guess that if we do not do something about it our children will not have grandchildren. That is how serious it is. Ehrlich commented:

It is a brutal irony that children must bear the brunt of the suffering caused by the population explosion. As Davis says, the old philosophy that their coming is a just and divine punishment for their parents' sexual indulgence, and therefore not to be mitigated by deliberate control is one of the cruelest doctrines ever devised by a species noted for its cruel and crazy, notions.

In trying to indicate the wastage of our resources and the fact that development is not necessarily all that it seems, he discusses the use of raw materials by the United States of America. He says:

Estimates of the total American utilisation of raw materials currently run as high as SO per cent of the world's consumption, with a projection of current trends to about 80 per cent around 1980. Probably 30 per cent and 50 per cent would be more realistic figures, but in any event our consumption is far beyond our 'share' on a basis of population. We number 'ess than 6 per cent of the world's people!

Yet, America is using probably 30 per cent of the world's resources. This is an impossible situation. He points out that to raise all of the 3.6 billion people of the world's population in 1970 to the American standard of living would require astronomical figures in terms of iron, copper, zinc, lead, tin and so on. The materials just are not available. In other words, what I am trying to get at in relation to the question of the environment is that it is not a matter of rubbish or garbage disposal; it is a matter of pollution by over-population. As the young writer of that article suggests, it even comes down to a question of food production and our survival on this planet. We seem to think, in our mad, heady enthusiasm for the advances of technology, that somehow science will solve the problems; that we can artificially create food. Ehrlich says:

All flesh is grass. This simple phrase summarises a basic principle of biology that is essential to an understanding of the world food problem. The basic source of food for all animal populations is green plants - 'grass'. Human beings and all other animals with which we share this planet obtain the energy and nutrients for growth, development, and sustenance by eating plants directly, by eating other animals that have eaten plants, or by eating animals that have eaten animals that have eaten plants, and so forth.

At one stage, someone suggested that this was all nonsense and the problem could be solved because we could create food from petrol. This person completely omitted to recognise, firstly, that the supply of petroleum products is limited; and, in any case, where do those products come from if not from vegetation grown many millenia ago? They have all come from plants.

Dr Mackay - Not petrol.

Dr CASS - Petrol comes from plants. I am sorry to disappoint the Minister.

Dr Mackay - It does not.

Dr CASS - Let us not argue about it. I suggest that the Minister look up his chemistry books. It comes from life, initial!!/ from plant life. That is the point. It did not grow on thin air. It grew from plankton, which grew from oxygen-consuming organisms in the sea, which in turn depended on the conversion of carbondioxide to oxygen and its own organic matter by photosynthesis from the sunlight. It does not change the fact, although the Minister might have a minor point about petroleum. Certainly, coal comes from plants. I will grant him that minor point. But the basic point remains that it all stems from plant life initially.

Mr Bury - So what?

Dr CASS - Thank you. That indicates the level of the honourable member's understanding of the problem. He is a bit beyond it. But I assure him that if he has any grandchildren or great-grandchildren they will understand what I am talking about. Erhlich claims:

Nevertheless, the absolute size of the human race is now so large that it is perhaps the single most important factor we have to consider in discussing man's future ... It is unmistakably clear that the lime has come for humanity to take a careful look at its resources, its ideals, and its numbers, and try to make some serious judgments about optimum population size, both for individual countries and for the world as a whole.

Coming to the position of Australia he says:

This does not mean that in certain ways some areas of the Earth may not still be underpopulated. For instance, if more people lived in Australia now, that country might be able to afford a better surface transport system and extend paved roads across the continent. Australians would also be in a better position to develop and utilise their mineral and energy resources.

I quite agree that this is an argument for our development. He goes on to say:

But, unhappily, even though a larger population could well live there, the 'frontier philosophy' is even more rampant in Australia than in the United States in terms of environmental deterioration and agricultural overexploitation. Thus Australia may be considered overpopulated already in relation to its long term ability to feed its people, even though the continent is too thinly, populated in terms of highway construction and economic development.

In other words, the reality is that we must be careful even in a country like Australia. Of course this will be vital not just for us but for the long term survival of the whole world. It is of no use for us to sit by imagining that we are secure because these sorts of life cycles we depend on do not just sit over Australia; they depend on cycles which act upon the rest of the world. It is in fact a closed system. We will recognise the problem if we talk about 3 men in a space ship. We will recognise the need to conserve energy and resources. This earth is no different from a space ship, lt is simply larger, but it still depends on the sun for its energy as a man-made space ship does, and the basic resource that it takes with it. It cannot get any more from anywhere else.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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