In conversation with Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough shares his thoughts on Australia, population growth and the state of the natural world ahead of his national tour in June.
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One of the world’s leading naturalists, Sir David Attenborough, has cautioned Australia against pursuing further population growth, labelling an unlimited expansion a kind of madness.
Speaking to Fairfax Media ahead of a national tour of Australia in June, Attenborough questioned why the country still debated whether it needed to grow its population.
”Why would you want to do that? I don’t understand that,” he said ”The notion that you could continue to expand and increase and grow in an infinite way on a planet which is finite, is a kind of lunacy. You can see how mad that is by the expression that you can’t believe that you can grow infinitely in a finite place – unless of course you’re an economist.”
Illustration: Matt Golding.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates Australia’s population will grow to between 30.9 million and 42.5 million people by 2056.
The first Sustainable Australia report released earlier this month said the nation’s population was growing at 1.7 per cent, one of the fastest in the developed world, but still well behind the more than four per cent growth rates of many African nations. The report lists environmental degradation as one of the bigger challenges facing development of regional parts of the country.
In 2009, former prime minister Kevin Rudd sparked a national debate about population growth when he stated his belief in a ”big Australia”.
Sir David Attenborough. Photo: Corbis
Since then the government’s stance on population growth has cooled significantly, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard rejecting that notion and calling instead for sustainable growth.
In 2011, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke released a population strategy that was criticised for not setting a population target, instead focussing on a more nuanced approach to growth in regions needing skilled workers.
”If we are to adapt to change and build sustainable communities, we need to integrate environmental, social and economic factors to provide current and future generations with the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives,” Mr Burke said.
Attenborough said his tour next month was to discuss highlights of his six decades of nature filmmaking, not to speak out on environmental issues. But he felt his global audience did place responsibilities on him.
”I’m not on a proselytising tour. On occasions I speak on these issues where it’s appropriate and where the subject has come up,” he said.
Attenborough said while he did not believe bureaucrats and governments should meddle in a family’s right to have children, had China not introduced its one-child policy in 1979 the consequences for the planet would have been catastrophic.
”One thing you can say is that in places where women are in charge of their bodies, where they have the vote, where they are allowed to dictate what they do and what they want, whether it’s proper medical facilities for birth control, the birth rate falls,” he said.