I recently received a private email from a lady who had inspected this blog. The points she raised, while apparently critical, arise, I believe from a misunderstanding about what this blog is about. I am, in fact, broadly in sympathy with what she has said, but I can see that some clarification is in order, so that any future discussion is not sidetracked into mere statements of views, but hopefully, is directed into suggestions for improving the quality of data or for new avenues of research.. Here is the text of the message:
Indeed. What place would biodiversity have in your version of utopia? Do you see any need to preserve the environment in order to maintain a sustainable future for our children? I think I’d rather work on making existing townships – which have usually been established with some geographic logic – work rather than plonking new ones on what is left of our farmland, bushland, grasslands etc. The security implications of an overcrowded world are horrific to be sure. But my feeling is that strong defence policies combined with far better aid policies are a better way of dealing with this than importing more people. History shows that migration can lead to fifth columns: I think you allude to that too. Your message is a bit close to the old discredited “populate or perish” theory. These days, with the world bulging at the seams and the seas rising as a result of climate change the message should be “stabilise populations or perish.”
The misunderstanding I refer to arises, I think, from her view that the purpose of the blog is to calculate the absolute maximum population the Australian landmass can accommodate and then open the doors to migrants until that number is achieved. This is definitely not the case. In fact, all the blog does is to describe a tool for managing data from which policies can be developed. For a given target population, there will be one or more maps of land usage, which will answer two specific questions. The first is “what will be the cost of providing appropriate infrastructure and services ?”. The second is “For any land usages which are sub-optimal, what are the natural consequences we will have to accept ?”. These consequences may include loss of habitat for various species (particularly those which are under threat), impacts on indigenous practices and beliefs, loss of food production and so forth. The adoption of a particular land usage map and its attendant population is a policy matter which will be adopted by the governments of the day. There will be arguments for and against, depending upon the viewpoints of various interested parties, but hopefully, this model will provide real information which will support or undermine either the entire policy or only questionable parts thereof. The real gain will be if we can avoid arguments based only on beliefs or prejudices. One point I would like to make is that the small size of the grid elements relative to the size of the country is deliberate. Many significant features of the land which may have important impacts if changed are relatively small and if they constitute a larger fraction of a smaller land area, they have more chance of being identified and taken into account. This is why there is a need for very substantial data collection and computing resources with many organisations and individuals participating. As I suggested earlier, there are opportunities to involve schools, universities and special-interest groups of individuals such as “twitchers” (bird-watchers). While an important focus of the model is to identify unused or inappropriately used land for settlements and various agricultural or service activities, the model is also useful for analysing the consequences of expanding our current settlements. Already, there is significant overcrowding in Melbourne (for instance) and we hear strident arguments for and against the expansion of the its urban envelope, but these are couched in very general terms, mostly reflecting more a point of view than any reasoned position. If the optimal solution is to “plonk” new satellites at some remove from the CBD, but with decent public transport, services and communications, some fairly firm numbers can hopefully be generated from my model.