23 Sep. 2009

Environment, economics, migration

I'd file this Ross Gittins article under uncomfortable truths. It sheds light on no fewer than three worthwhile things: firstly that our leaders and we are in practice ignoring the urgency of the danger posed by climate change; secondly that GDP growth is being taken as more fundamental then environmental sustainability in our public discourse (a point I've up to now only heard made on the far left); thirdly that Australia is effectively addicted now to mass immigration.

Actually, Gittins doesn't make any of these points quite as I have, least of all the last point. What he says about immigration is simply that people by moving to Australia become greater burdens on the ecosphere. This is a correct argument as far as it goes. It does not have to be an anti-immigration argument. We can deal with this problem by reducing Australia's per capita unsustainability and wastefulness, and indeed should and must do so. Gittins of course is correctly cynical about the chances of this happening.

What he doesn't explore is how immigration ties to the obsession with GDP growth in a way that runs counter to a concern with the environment. Immigration is driven by economic imperatives: it's not popular, nor necessary to placate any external actor. Rather, it is urged on by the bourgeoisie that run Australia, and they want the labour – cheap labour, more to the point, labour which is notionally skilled but doesn't use its skills, which is non-unionised, non-English-speaking, marginalised. And the larger the population gets, the more of this they need (on average, notwithstanding effects of economic decline).