Where are we going to put all the people?

There has been much talk recently about Australia’s rapid population explosion and our capacity to house the growing number of new residents.

And although immigration has slowed in recent times, the long term projections for population growth still have many concerned about where all of these new people will live and how our already strained infrastructure will cope.

Now take this local conundrum and multiply it by several billion. On a global scale, our issues appear pretty insignificant, when you consider that 220 children are born into the world every minute and looming on the horizon later this year is a population milestone for the world, with the birth of its 7 billionth citizen.

And just in case you’re one of those who is already concerned about the capacity for our world and our environment to prosper under the weight of all these people, think about this – according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald it is expected that by the year 2050, we will be closer to the ten billion mark.

There’s plenty of controversy already plaguing global population growth with talk of impending food shortages and natural resources such as water and oil diminishing at an increasing pace, with many asking how the planet can sustain more human life.

Then of course, there are the issues surrounding the aging population.

The fallout of past baby booms has been witnessed in Japan recently, where the number of retirees escalated beyond the number of working age citizens and had a notable impact on the local economy, and Australia is facing the same demographic threat as more of our baby boomers hit retirement age.

This is one of the reasons our government has no choice but to encourage immigration.

It needs to replace the retiring baby boomers in order to fill the increasingly wide gap in skilled labour that we are experiencing.

Director of Deloitte Access Economics, Chris Richardson, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying our politicians need to plan for a better Australia rather than simply a bigger Australia.

“If we are getting highly skilled adults from the rest of the world, particularly young adults, you get that combination where they will work for some years and, given their skills, will earn high incomes and pay more tax.”

So what does this global population boom mean for the Australian way of life when it comes to where and how we choose to live?

With vast areas of our planet being uninhabitable, the world only has so many places for people to settle in. Then there are the infrastructure constraints, with essential amenities and services, as well as employment opportunities often centralised around major cities.

This is as true for Australia as it is for the rest of the world and with more people looking for somewhere to call home, the obvious thing that has to change is where we choose to settle. Urban sprawl can only go so far given geographic and social constraints.

According to experts, more than half of the global population lives in an urban environment, with the number expected to rise to 75 per cent by the year 2050, with developing nations set to become home to more than half of the world’s 50 largest cities.

In Australia at present, 87 per cent of us live in urban areas, with an obviously emerging trend toward smaller dwellings and inner city lifestyles causing concern about the future of our food production.

In the same article in the Sydney Morning Herald, President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, Professor Robin Batterham, says although Australia now grows enough to feed 60 million people, with more and more of us seeking city living we will ultimately end up with a shortage of primary producers to keep our food supply at its current level.

His solution to this concerning issue, compounded by climate change and our increasingly erratic weather patterns, is for urban populations to start producing their own food.

“Ultimately, Australia will have to get even better at dry-land farming, with less fertiliser and with a zero carbon emissions input,” he says.

More controversially, Professor Roger Short from the medicine faculty at Melbourne University, encourages contraception and an immigration cap to contain population growth. He says that with each new citizen our already substantial amount of carbon dioxide emissions rise.

“Whatever way the Gillard government finds to try and contain our emissions, if the population is still increasing, no carbon tax is going to keep pace with population growth. That connection has not been made, and it certainly hasn’t been made politically,” he says.

The fact remains though, that as long as people keep having children and residents from other countries seek to settle on our shores, Australia will not be immune to the population pandemic that’s sweeping the world.

Rather than fight it, we need to embrace it in a positive and sustainable way and recognise the opportunity to boost our declining workforce and in turn, our country’s economic well being through revenue raised from income taxes, as well as new Australians buying goods and services. And yes, that includes property.

While some experts embroiled in the sustainability debate have criticised those in the real estate industry who welcome a bigger Australia policy due to the positive impact it will have on underpinning property values, they should realise that people can equal prosper.

The question is – how well will the powers that be manage our growth so that our country, our cities and the people who live in them prosper?


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Michael is a director of Metropole Property Strategists who help their clients grow, protect and pass on their wealth through independent, unbiased property advice and advocacy. He's once again been voted Australia's leading property investment adviser and his opinions are regularly featured in the media. Visit Metropole.com.au

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