An interview with Mark O'Connor.

Interview with Mark O’Connor author of Overloading Australia by Alicia Melville-Smith 6th March 2009 Email address.


Alicia: In the 1970’s people talked freely about population control, then it became a taboo subject. Even today it is not considered a respectable topic to debate. Why do you think this is?

Mark: Robyn Williams has asked me for two talks for Ockham's Razor on this very topic. Unfortunately they are not written yet. But briefly:
I would blame: natural human pro-natalist bias (which may be hard-wired in some people), plus relentless disinformation from business lobbies with vested interests in population growth (including media owners). And finally, spin-doctoring by Fraser and Hawke-Keating era politicians who sought 1. To present high immigration a symbol of their friendship towards ethnic communities whose votes they wanted (even though the evidence is that immigrant Australians in fact disapproved of high immigration), and conversely slurred critics of high immigration as being "anti-immigrant", and 2. their  McCarthy-style use of the racism slur (on which see chapter 17 of Overloading Australia). Luckily the three main throwers of the racism slur have now all been convicted of crimes that destroyed their credibility. See also the book's remarks about "the New Class".

Alicia: Why did you choose this time to write and release your book?

Mark: Because William Lines and I couldn't get it done sooner. It was meant to be an update of my earlier This Tired Brown Land (1998), but grew into something larger and more complete.

Alicia: Can you understand the mindset of people who say we must have more population growth or we won’t survive?

Mark: No. But I understand the fear that the economy will crash without a minimum of 3% annual economic growth, which is often thought to require a 1.5% annual increase in the labor force (or in consumers) plus a 1.5% increase in either productivity or per capita consumption.

Alicia: If Premier Rann walked up to you and said ‘Mark you are wrong, we need another half a million people or South Australia won’t survive’. What would you say to him?

Mark: I would say ‘Rubbish’. If by South Australia you mean the people of South Australia, then I would suggest that every extra person in S.A. adds to the problem of getting the population through the droughts, oil shortages, and perhaps famines that lie ahead. I would accept that some businesses might not survive or thrive so well without more consumers, but it should not normally be the function of government to encourage consumption for its own sake, or to prop up flawed business plans.

Alicia: With all the problems with over population, pollution of land sea and air with toxic waste, water scarcity, oil depletion, soil depletion, and of course we have thousands of nuclear war heads, chemical and biological weapons laying around. Do you believe humans are going to make it or will we go extinct like the dinosaurs?

Mark: I can't quite see anything short of a major nuclear war making humans extinct -- we are such resourceful and clever animals that you would think some human groups would always survive. But I suspect the end of the age of cheap oil and cheap fertilizers will lead to a population crash. I also fear that humans will destroy most other species and their habitats before they allow themselves to be wiped out --or even to be much inconvenienced.