Mark O'Connor is a committed environmentalist and strongly supports Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) . His next book on population and environment named Overloading Australia is due out in late 2008. For further information see:
Overloading Australia - co-authored with William Lines, Overloading Australia makes glorious comedy with the pretentions and follies of boosters, business councils, politicians, and pseudo-greens. And shows how Australia might and must become smaller, greener, and happier - read more ...
This Tired Brown Land (Duffy and Snellgrove, 1998) is a study of the harm done to Australia by rampant population growth (which has now, in 2008, reached 1.6% per annum, a rate more typical of third world countries). NSW Premier Bob Carr (a noted bibliophile) described the book as "the most important Australian book of recent years" and "a robust demolition job on all the arguments for population growth." - Best Books of 1998, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1998 (now out of print).
Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) is the only Australian environmental group that concentrates primarily on population. It was formed in 1988 because none of the other environmental groups at the time seemed able to focus on this long-term but ultimately crucial issue. (Back then it was known as Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population.) Mark O'Connor served for eight years as its National Vice President (1989-1997), and was also the convenor of its writers support group.
The principle SPA applies to population is: "There are some practicable short-term ways for a nation to increase its population, but there are none to reduce it markedly. Like herpes, overpopulation is not necessarily unbearable; but there is no known cure for it. Hence the precautionary principle applies: unless we are extremely sure that we don't mind the condition (and its possible further consequences) we should try to avoid it.
Religious-minded people may translate this into the language of the (Anglican) Bishop of Ballarat's Planet Earth Stewardship Committee: "It is the plain duty of man to restrain his numbers and/or activities to a level commensurate with the ecological health of the planet Earth, in order to fulfill God's command to "replenish the earth.")
Another principle SPA applies to population issues is "Think globally but act locally". SPA advocates much better birth-control services and choice-based family planning ("Two will do"). It argues against mass immigration of non-refugees, and for keeping net immigration safely below the "infinity threshold". (The "infinity threshold" is that level of immigration above which the population would grow indefinitely, but below which the population---assuming current birth rates and life-expectancies---will eventually level off). However SPA argues for increased immigration of refugees.
SPA does not involve itself in cultural arguments, either for or against immigration. In its view the problem with Australia's having the world's second highest per capita immigration rate is not that migrants are different from native-born Australians but that in their material culture, that is, in their demands upon the environment and economy, they are very much the same. SPA accepts the principle established at the Cairo conference on population, that each nation must undertake to stabilise its own population (and not by palming it off on the neighbors). Acting locally, SPA concentrates mostly on Australia's population problems, yet "thinking globally", SPA lobbies the Federal government to: (i) increase foreign aid from its present 0.3% of GNP to the UN's recommended 0.7%, and to target most of the increase towards ecological sustainability or population programs (including female education) in more populous countries; (ii) direct our economic aid preferentially to those countries with responsible environmental and population policies; and (iii) publicize the fact that Australia is not an "empty country".
SPA's Writers Support Group did a huge job, raising scientific awareness and in many a media article. Yet perhaps their greatest contribution was simply their presence. Back in 1988 when SPA began, there seemed to be a novel variant of McCarthyism emerging in Australia. The vested interests of the population-growth lobby---which has billions of dollars invested in real estate and development projects---were a taboo subject for the media; yet anyone who argued against this lobby was liable to be accused of being part of (or a stooge for) some unspecified rightwing conspiracy!
Yet nearly 100 Australian writers had the courage to join WESP, including such notable humanitarians as Dorothy Green A.M., Judith Wright, and Anne Edgeworth (recently Canberra's Citizen of the year). Manning Clark, upon hearing of its existence, sent a sizable donation unasked. Another strong supporter was the late George Turner, winner of Hugo and Nebula awards and of the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award for his book The Sea and Summer (an insightful novel set in an overcrowded Melbourne early next century).
For further information on SPA see: