03 April 2014

Melbourne on the path to ruin

Haven’t written for a while, though there have been quite a few articles on population issues; I feel disheartened that nothing ever seems to change regarding the problems faced, and that governments and business remain in denial of overpopulation’s negative effects.

Fast-growing Melbourne heading towards becoming Australia’s largest city”, H-S, 3/4. Dismaying news for my home city, and this will completely destroy its livability, despite the positive statement of the apparently-delusional Premier. At 4.35 million now, traffic on the roads virtually grinds to a halt at times every day, and public transport is beyond capacity. Victoria’s population has also been growing rapidly as a whole (from overseas and interstate), currently at 5,768,000, most of whom head to Melbourne. It has become too popular and this is ruining it. But all Premier Denis Napthine does is “welcome” the strong growth.

Mumbai: Bright lights, tight city”, The Age, 21/2: article from February on the extreme overcrowding in an Indian city. The situation is quite horrifying, and the people questioned are obviously unhappy about their situation – “We have already reached saturation point. We’ve got skin-to-skin contact on the trains. How much closer together can we live without going mad? There is nowhere to walk, nowhere to throw a ball or have a picnic”. It is obviously extremely unhealthy both mentally and physically. The proponents of high-density living in other countries (including those in Australia) should read this as a cautionary tale: an ultimate outcome of uncontrolled population growth and urbanization.

There has been a lot of recent attention on foreign buyers purchasing residential property in Australia – estimated at one-fifth of all buyers – particularly those from China. Our lax laws encourage this, and it is a major factor in driving up property prices to ridiculous levels, along with strong population growth. Canada recently (and sensibly) cancelled its own 28-year-old visa scheme designed to attract wealthy foreigners to the country, so Australia is now the next easy target for buyers. Of course such attention inevitably attracts criticism that such concern is “racist”, but a government’s priority should be toward its own citizens in providing essential services – shelter is a basic human right – and in this it is failing. The trend is also fuelling unwanted demolitions and inappropriate developments in once-pleasant suburbs, as a columnist laments.

Some collected letters:

29 November 2013

Collected letters

Some recent letters concerning population growth projections in Australia (see my previous entry):

Growing out of control

Australia’s rapid population growth has had some media attention again in the last couple of months. As reported in the Herald-Sun, 25/9, Melbourne is the fastest-growing capital city and the downside of this is all too apparent:

A boom town

MELBOURNE’S population is booming, with 1350 people moving in each week, a government report says.

Victoria is expected to boast 5.41 million people by 2031.

Migration is the main factor behind the increase, according to the Growth Areas Authority 2012-13 annual report, released this month.

The growth is higher than any other capital city.

Melbourne has had the highest growth rate for the past 11 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In 2011-12, after deaths and people leaving the state were accounted for, Melbourne’s population grew by 77,242.

Melbourne MP Kelvin Thomson is practically the only politician who is outspoken about population growth, and was reported to be launching an NGO concerned with the issue. He was also profiled in an The Age article. Comments from other politicians there, though, show how locked into the growth-is-good ideology they are.

As reported in The Age, a report released by the Productivity Commission last week projected Australia’s population to reach 42 million by 2060, with Melbourne and Sydney housing 7 million each. While modest by many countries’ standards, it is a lot for a relatively infertile and dry continent with a fragile environment that is still being degraded and damaged by human activity.

Another report for Victoria said that the state’s population is growing by 100,000 a year – most of whom end up in Melbourne, to its increasing detriment.

Unbelievably, the Working holiday visa scheme in Australia is to be expanded, despite there being a growing unemployment issue here. Many are from countries with high unemployment and are financially struggling. Australia is essentially being treated as a relief or escape valve for other countries’ problems – but it should not be our role to serve as this. It is another betrayal of citizens by the government here.

23 November 2013

One-child no longer

As part of a social reform initiative announced last week, China is to “relax” its one-child policy. There have been exceptions to it for years for certain groups, but this makes it officially-approved. Naturally my reaction was dismay (“the environment is now f*cked”). The policy has been criticized by some for being inhumane, but it somewhat it at least kept the country’s already-huge population from becoming even larger.

Someone on r/overpopulation did a rough projection of what population numbers might look like under a worldwide one-child policy. There is a decline to just over 6 billion by 2053, and 3.4 billion by this century’s end. As for a 2-child policy: “If 2 is input, the population would increase slowly until it peaks at 9 billion in 2063 before it slowly decreases, bottoming out at 5 billion in 2373”.

01 September 2013

A sterilizing virus

I recently came across a link to a short story by Gregory Benford, A Desparate Calculus, about a group of scientists who create a contagious virus that has an unusual side effect: it renders its female victims infertile by triggering their ovaries to release all their eggs at once. The virus is generally not fatal (though vulnerable groups such as the elderly might die, as they can in ordinary flu outbreaks every year). The ultimate effect of this is that it will stop most of the next generation being born – though a few women will likely be resistant to its effects.

Given my outlook you can safely guess I didn’t see this scheme as a bad thing :-). I wonder if it would be do-able in reality; obviously it would have ethicists and the general public in hysterics should they find out, so it would need to be implemented surreptitiously. I feel the situation with the world’s rapidly growing population and ongoing biodiversity loss to be urgent enough to justify such a drastic course of action. It would not involve killing vast numbers of people already here, but would prevent (most) future people from being born.

I suppose that measures such as IVF from stored embryos, cloning and artificial wombs could be used to get around the virus, but the last two technologies are not developed and the first can be difficult to achieve.

There would also be issues of body autonomy; the few fertile women might become valued for their wombs, and lose reproductive rights such as access to contraception.

While there are some worthy efforts to give women access to family planning and education in countries that don’t have or allow these, these are just too slow – they may take decades to achieve, if ever. And even in developed countries, women’s access to contraception and abortion are at times under thread from conservative governments – some states in the USA have currently been trying to overturn laws allowing access to these.

Melbourne most livable (again)

Melbourne was voted most livable for this year again for health care, education and infrastructure. Which bemused many, including me, as there is much to be improved in all these areas. It is certainly a better place to live than many other cities, but far from perfect.

I dislike this sort of publicity as this makes people more inclined to want to move here when the city and suburbs are already bursting at the seams and struggling to cope. Another article came out this week saying Melbourne was undergoing rapid population growth, which is dismayingly obvious to anyone who has lived here for a while – infrastructure is not coping with the influx.

Melbourne’s population is swelling by 2 per cent a year, adding more than 900,000 people since this century began – and putting it on track to be a city of 8 million people by 2050.

The Bureau of Statistics estimates that in mid-2012, the city’s population was about to hit 4.25 million, after six boom years in which it grew by almost half a million.

Recent bureau figures imply that Melbourne today is home to 4.35 million people – and 27 per cent bigger than the city it was at the start of 2000.

With a rapidly growing population squeezing into road and rail systems that are barely growing at all, this would intensify the strain on the city’s infrastructure, leading to increased congestion on the roads and overcrowding on trains.

The figures will probably seem miniscule compared with many major cities – Wikipedia has a list of these, where population for the highest is into the tens of millions. High density living is promoted as desirable because amenities are close together, but there is a tradeoff in loss of open space, stress from overcrowding, noise and other pollution, and limited access to nature. A properly-planned city might alleviate some of these negative factors, but few if any urban centers are; they tend to grow haphazardly over decades as more people are crammed in.

11 August 2013

Oh, China, no!

China is considering allowing couples to have more than one child, due to demographic panic over an aging population and labor shortages – as well as wanting more consumers. This would result in 9.5 million additional births in an already very overpopulated
and polluted country. It will be an environmental disaster, considering that the country is already plundering other continents for resources (Australia and Africa being some).

As soon as a country’s birth rate goes into decline, its government seems to go into panic mode and do everything to encourage more births, no matter how this may negatively impact them in the future (see Iran). Those from a baby boom will one day be old too, and the cycle repeats itself.

Humanity as a species just can’t seem to commit to sustained long-term planning for the future – looking decades or even hundreds of years ahead. The type of society that is dominant now – a capitalist consumer economy – seems to preclude this. All that is heard as a policy in Australia’s upcoming Federal election is the mindless mantra of growth, growth and more growth. Any other way of thinking is heretical.

Embrace growth? No thanks!

State government minister says Victoria should embrace growth”, Herald-Sun, 2/8. I read the statements by a Victorian State Government minister in this article with stunned disbelief. Despite all the problems population growth is causing Melbourne – which are acknowledged in the article – we should “welcome” it because it is supposedly economically and socially beneficial. Probably the only people benefiting from growth are parasitical property developers, as is mentioned near the end, as it means more homes being built (never mind the environmental damage from more land being built over). This is a prime example of a self-perpetuating problem: continually encouraging growth means that infrastructure and services are forever struggling to keep up, and never quite manage to. People are increasingly stressed from competing for dwindling resources, living space and jobs, which does nothing for the supposed “diversity” championed in the article – it’s more likely to lead to social disintegration.

03 May 2013

23 million and counting

Australia’s population officially reached 23 million on 23 April; a milestone that was generally reported positively. The population is small compared to many other countries (as is pointed out with tedious regularity), but Australia does not have a great amount of habitable land, so most of the population tends to live along the coastline, and much of that is clumped into the major cities.

Melbourne is, unfortunately, leading the nation’s population growth, and the negative effects of this are ever increasing: chronic traffic congestion (is it a coincidence that road rage is on the increase?), increased housing prices, inappropriate high-density developments in suburbs, pressure on health care, public transport and other services … the list goes on. Little if anything about this manic growth is for the better. From my perspective – I live in a suburb of Melbourne – quality of life is definitely deteriorating and the stress from this is continual. The State Government makes nebulous promises about improving infrastructure, but at the same time they cut funding.

Much of that infrastructure seems to only involve building more environmentally-destructive roads – an example being this brief report from my local newspaper (also online):

Plants face chop

ENDANGERED vegetation will be removed to make way for the new Dingley bypass, despite objections from green groups.

Greater Dandenong Council has given VicRoads the go-ahead to rip out a large old tree and vegetation, classified as “of very high conservation significance”, from the 0.19ha swampy woodland in the Westall Rd reserve.

Four environmental groups have slammed the unadvertised proposal. They say an overpass should be built to protect them.

Engineering services director Bruce Rendall said the proposal was not advertised because no third party would suffer.

It is similar to the Westerfield heritage woodlands being bulldozed through in 2010 (see 10/7/2010, 24/10/2010 entries) for the Frankston bypass. Native bushland continues to be razed for so-called “progress” and one feels so powerless and frustrated that it can’t be stopped. The Australian Aborigines lived here for 40,000 years or more, but in all that vast span of time they never did as much damage as did the arrival of European settlers in the last 200 years. The estimated population of Aborigines before settlement/invasion was around a million or so – something the fragile landscape here could cope with.

Some recent letters:

18 March 2013

Developers’ paradise

If there is one thing I dislike about the subreddit r/Australia (and perhaps Reddit in general!) it is that it seems to be dominated by patronizingly smug young urban males. The main topic that incites this irritation is anything to do with urban planning . The prevailing opinion there is – to use one direct quote“Taller buildings means higher density, less sprawl, less traffic, more efficient, better for environment.” Anyone who contradicts this view – such as suggesting that population growth should be restricted so that high density is not so necessary – is regarded with contempt (“NIMBYs!”) and downvoted.

This was in a thread about the latest ugly monstrosity for Melbourne predictably approved by Planning Minister Matthew Guy. Such extravagences are merely profit-making exercises for developers and mostly overseas investors, and do nothing to alleviate the housing crisis here or help the environment (as one commenter points out in the article comments: “Heating and cooling of common areas 24/7, running elevators 24/7. No access to air clothes drying – every apartment will be running a dryer. The energy consumption of apartments is higher than homes add to that they can not use green energy like solar, water catchment etc.”). I sincerely hope that the property market will collapse catastrophically, and an airplane fly into the building.

A Danish urban designer called Jan Gehl visited Melbourne last week and was critical of Docklands, and high-rise in general:

Professor Gehl is critical of high-rise towers as a planning solution. “The residential tower is the lazy architect’s answer to density,” he said. “My interest is ‘cities for people’ not ‘cities for developers’ and not ‘cities that make traffic happy’.”

Cities packed with tall glass-and-concrete towers are dreary, ugly and dehumanizing; the buildings are harsh and cold in aspect. Many of the ancient cities in Europe are pleasing to look at as their older apartment buildings are generally low-rise and made of stone, which gives them a warmer organic feel.

A recent article at io9 showed some designs of futuristic cities with a more organic look rather than the sterile glass-and-concrete metropolises usually favored by architects.

Some letters criticizing the development (and planning generally):