Just a number?

The estimated population of New Zealand reached 4,444,444 on the 1st of November 2012. Nothing special other than a rare moment of symmetry in an otherwise random and chaotic world. Interestingly the number 4 is associated with death in Chinese, and this population occurred the day after Halloween.

No I’m not superstitious yet the relentless growth in New Zealand’s, and the World’s, population does have serious consequences for the future. New Zealand’s population has been growing at around 1 per-cent over the past few years and we have added around 400,000 to our population in the past decade. That is a city the size of Christchurch in just ten years.

A 1 per-cent growth rate equates to a doubling in population every 70 years, therefore at our current rate of growth our children or grandchildren could live to see New Zealand’s population reach 9 million. A recent New Zealand Herald opinion piece advocated increasing New Zealand’s population by 2.5 per-cent per annum in the coming years. A 2.5 per-cent growth rate equates to a doubling in population every 28 years which would result in a population of 25 million in 70 years time.

There are clearly some economic benefits from increased population growth, however, many of those benefits are completely outweighed by the associated environmental, social and economic costs. Maybe it is time that we stand back, count all the benefits that our small population and low population density affords us and decide whether we want future generations of New Zealanders to share in such benefits.

Instead of aiming for continued population growth, which must end sooner or later on a finite planet, why not aim for a stable population. If we can envision a world in which population growth has ended we may be happy to make the choices necessary to bring it into existence.

Imagine going fishing and knowing your grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same quality of fishing, or better, in the future due to not having to divide the resource with ever more people. Imagine not having to fight an endless succession of developers who want to destroy the places we hold sacred, such as those isolated pohutukawa lined beaches that seem in increasingly short supply. Imagine not having to deliberate whether or not to smother some of the most fertile farmland in the world with suburbia due to there being no need to do so. Imagine producing all our energy from renewable sources and then no longer needing to build new hydro-dams and wind farms in our beautiful landscape because demand has stopped growing.

And imagine no longer viewing one another as competitive consumers in a race for a piece of an ever shrinking pie, but as fellow citizens working together to build a truly sustainable future.

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