Disk Smith jumped in to the great population debate with a show on television and a Web site. He admits to
suddenly discovering our overpopulation problem only a few months ago. Where was he more than 20 years ago when the problem was well known and advanced? Why is he now proclaiming his views despite his missing critical issues?
You may have already read How many people can live in Australia?. Australia ran out of drinking water five years ago. We now steal water from our farmers and they can no longer produce our food. We have import food. Two years ago our population went past the point where we could steal enough water. Now we have to burn up our energy supplies manufacturing water.
The water limitation problem was predicted back in the 1970s then ignored because we had a few years of unusually high rainfall. Those peak years of record rain were used to set the
normal water allocations for irrigation of farms. After those few brief years, farmers never again received 100 percent of their allocation because rainfall went back to normal levels. We use that record rainfall to plan our future but it is a once in every 100 years level.
Dick Smith made no mention of water in any of his articles or interviews, at least not in any that I found. He seems to just skim over the surface of an important issue.
Dick Smith Wilberforce prize
Dick Smith is offering a cash prize to anyone who can produce a solution to our growing population. Oh, sorry, that is not anyone, the prize is only open to people young enough to be exploitable but not old enough to have experience of the problems. He is excluding all the people who are currently and have, for years, researched the problems and developed solutions. The dividing line is 30. As soon as you turn 30, you are officially useless.
Sustainable consumption of energy and resources
To get the Dick Smith Wilberforce prize, you have to believe
we can have a viable and strong world economy that is no longer obsessed with growth for its own sake, but instead encourages both a stable population and sustainable consumption of energy and resources. That kills off the current retirement plans for everyone in Australia and every other country where they use similar pension plans. Our pension system is based on accumulating capital that grows through investment. When you stop growth, our pension plans will not grow and we will never have enough money to retire. Our retirement plans will have to completely change or we work until the day we die. Does the Wilberforce prize require the winner to include a replacement for our current retirement plans?
There is no mention of the time frame for sustainability. When you build a dam for hydroelectric power generation, there is a bit waste of energy when you build the dam then you save a lot of energy for a long time from the hydroelectric generation. Building dams is sustainable for our generation but not forever. Dams wear out and they fill up with silt. You need to set time frames. Dick Smith does not mention any.
If I was under 30 and allowed to make suggestions, I would suggest the grandchildren lifetime target. You really cannot plan further than the lives of the children born during your lifetime. The world and technology changes too fast for planning longer term. You can make longer term plans for some things and they need to be refined by each generation to use new knowledge. There were irrigation systems developed over a thousand years ago that have modern equivalents built with different materials and better knowledge of how to use water efficiently. The overall plan stays the same and the details improve to increase food production from the same area of land.
To win the Dick Smith Wilberforce prize, you have to generate your own publicity in the media. You do not have to prove your suggestions will work, you just have to make people believe they could work and swing the public around to supporting your idea. Your idea could be one of those short term changes that is absolutely disastrous in the long term but Dick Smith does not care, you just have to make the public believe.
Cigarette manufacturers once had the public, including doctors, believing that cigarettes reduced the incidence of asthma. We now know cigarette smoking increases the incidence of asthma and has only a minor side effect of temporarily suppressing some symptoms. The cigarette-asthma and a million other examples show you can easily make people believe anything and it is really hard to stop people believing when the truth is revealed.
Dick Smith compares his Wilberforce prize to the Nobel prize. The Nobel prize is presented every year and people work for years to win it. The Dick Smith Wilberforce prize is one off and will not develop long term research or build long term solutions.
Perhaps Dick Smith has a plan to get people to donate money for future awards. At current interest rates, a donation of 16 million dollars would finance an annual award.
Perhaps he will make enough money from related materials and television shows to finance an ongoing award. The award page tells you to buy a DVD from Dick Smith before entering the competition. That could help finance an ongoing award.
An annual award would encourage long term research of the type conducted at universities. Universities see the winning of a Nobel prize as positive publicity for their university. The Nobel prize influences research over the long term. If the Dick Smith prize was around forever, research would change direction toward the prize.
The Nobel prize is many separate prizes. The peace prize is the big one. There are also Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and economic science. The cash value of the prizes are not big enough to reward people for their work. The prestige is the driving force. What the prize often does is to finance a time away from work to promote the results of research, to help people apply the ideas across the world.
The Dick Smith prize could be more useful by having categories for sustainability.
The publicity is good
Dick Smith creates some good publicity for the problem. This will create opportunities for debate.
Fifteen years ago Pauline Hanson started an Australian political party named One Nation and started a big debate about population growth. The population growth debate was turned into a debate about race because Pauline Hanson talked only about population growth from immigration. Everyone became tired of the shallow reporting in the media and the debate ended.
A few years later, after people forgot about Pauline Hanson, politicians from the Australian Labour Party start the same debate. It was the same suggestion of reducing population growth by reducing immigration. Because the suggestions came from a major political party that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, the media did not label the new debate as racist. Instead the media ignored the subject because, at that time, nobody in the ALP had enough personality to make the debate interesting or enough knowledge to make the debate relevant.
We then had a five year drought that forced people to start talking. Australia is mostly desert but is not called a desert because most of the desert has a rainfall slightly above some technical definition of a desert. What is not considered is the fact that the rain falls on sand and disappears without producing food for humans. We cannot live there. Tiny numbers of hunters can live on a few animals that follow the once-in-every-ten-years rain in some areas. Around the edges of the country, sea breezes bring enough rain in most years to feed 20 million people. The five year drought reminded us that those sea breezes are temporary and unreliable. The debate on a sustainable population began again. Dick Smith is cashing in and expanding the coverage of the debate.
Unfortunately most of the Australian media is owned by people who own television stations. All the media is used to promote television shows. Media representation of debate on important issues often just showing off the opinions of the personalities hired to present on whatever television shows appear on the station owned by whoever owns the media. The only stations not driven by personality gossip are the ABC and SBS. Few people watch SBS. The ABC does a good job and is increasingly dependent on people, such as Dick Smith, to pay for the production of shows. Dick Smith contributed AU$50000 toward the AU$500000 required to produce the documentary promoting Dick Smith's version of the problem. The ABC adds a debate segment paid for by the ABC.
The one off Dick Smith Wilberforce prize will not help long term and may distract people from what is really needed. A Nobel prize for Sustainability would be a better idea. While the publicity generated by Dick Smith will create some debate, we will have to work hard to stop the debate from degenerating into celebrity opinion poll.