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Population growth, consumers and our ecological ruin

By Tim Murray - posted Tuesday, 26 May 2009

That the home building industry is the prime mover and catalyst of our ecological ruin was never more clearly illustrated than by statements recently made by University of West Florida economist Rick Harper, director of the UWF’s Haas Centre for Business Research. Harper argued that the real estate market would never recover from the current recession until population growth soaks up existing housing inventory and prices consequently begin to appreciate.

“If we don’t stimulate population growth … we are going to take 10 years or more to recover from this recession”, he said, “we’ve had a huge overbuilding of the housing sector, there was just too much investment in residential structures.” He therefore advocates an easing of immigration standards to allow more people of higher education and net worth into the country.

The former Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, once offered Australia a choice. It could sustain jobs and economic security by using its brains, by being a smart economy, by adding value to the products it produces and by transforming manufacturing; or, it could continue to be a “lazy Australia” that depends on job growth simply by driving up population numbers and, depending on the growth you get, by building homes and shopping malls. And that is indeed what is it has done, adding a third to its population in less than three decades.


The Bush administration followed a similar course. By outsourcing decent working class jobs and tolerating the blatant mass employment of millions of low wage “undocumented” service sector workers they not only relegated 5 million Americans from the middle class but eviscerated what was left of the manufacturing sector. Land speculation and homebuilding assumed a greater importance in this new economy with a hollow core. Like a drug addict who has forsaken proper nutrition for energy, the new economy of real estate growthism relies on an immigration fix (and birth incentives to a lesser degree) for energy.

But each succeeding fix requires greater injections to achieve the same jump start, and the cycle of boom and bust plays out with greater and greater consequences. More severe labour shortages, that call for more foreign injections; and the devastating ecological results, largely unsung, manifested in massive losses in prime farmland at a frightening pace and a cost in wildlife habitat that lies at the perimeter of expanding urban boundaries. Not to mention the greater energy consumption, waste disposal and pollution involved with never-ending urbanisation. North American studies reveal that rational land use planning could only mitigate half of these problems at most. The other half are the inevitable consequence of largely immigrant-driven population growth.

But real estate development itself requires fuel. It requires a favourable interest rate climate, and local governments bought and paid for together with their planning departments, staffed with growth managers who can converse in “greenspeak” and greenwash to assuage anxieties about their development plans. And of course it requires home buyers. People. The more the merrier. And where do people come from? Through the airport or the maternity ward: and the federal government is the gatekeeper at the first and most important port of entry, and quite influential in manipulating the volume at the other port too.

Home buyers, in turn, have a requirement too. Financing. This holds the key, at least in Canada, to the demographic pyramid scam of the immigrant-propelled economy. For the big Canadian banks and credit institutions are not only the essential lubricants of home purchase and land development, but potent immigration lobbyists and influence peddlers as well.

In fact the president and CEO of Canada’s dominant Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in 2008 reiterated the position taken by an October 2005 RBC report that the government should hike up its annual immigration intake from its present of approximately 240,000 to some 400,000. No doubt he would be speaking on behalf of his competitors in that ambition. What is most impressive about Mr Gordon Nixon’s political strategy is that is conducted on a broad front. RBC realises that the federal government may be the gatekeeper, but the environmental movement is the barking dog which must be silenced if the gate is to be left open wide for the avalanche of consumers that it wants.

So RBC laid out a Machiavellian plan. To cover their quest to underwrite the conversion of Canada’s best farmland to sprawling subdivisions and hundreds upon hundreds of species at risk to extinction in the process, they concocted an “Environmental Blueprint” that would signal to the environmental movement that “(RBC) support(s) environmental sustainability”. They declared that would not, for example, “engage in new financing activities with corporations operating unsustainably in tropical rainforests or High Conservation Forests”. But the trees of urban Canada were presumably fair game, as are the rich fields of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley and the Class 1 farmland of Ontario that is being developed at a pace of perhaps 60,000 acres per year.


One might think that this kind of ecological damage, not to mention this threat to our national food security, would meet with the outrage of our environmental NGOs. Apparently RBC thought so too. That is why they bought their silence.

To prove their determination to “direct a significant portion of our philanthropic efforts to environmental causes”, they arranged to steer money to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) for each client who switched to electronic bank statements. A cute deal for both parties. NCC, always thirsty for dough, got a corporate bag man, and RBC got to wear a green cloak over its mercenary endeavours. It was not done for the environment, it was a strictly commercial transaction, ecological dispensation for suburban sprawl in return for cash and acquiescence.

Many of us have been dumbfounded by the failure of flagship environmental NGOs like the Sierra Club of Canada or the David Suzuki Foundation to publicly contest the federal government’s mass immigration policy. NCC not surprisingly has been silent too, even though population growth is an obvious culprit in habitat loss.

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About the Author

Tim Murray blogs at (We) Can Do Better. He is Director of Immigration Watch Canada, and Vice President Biodiversity First Canada which he co-founded. Tim is a member of Sustainable Population Australia, the Population Institute of Canada and Optimum Population Trust UK. His personal blog is at

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