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Environment, Government SA

Population growth is unsustainable regardless of action to reduce impact

Sustainable Population Australia 3 mins read

The SA/NT branch of Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) has welcomed the State of Environment 2023 (SoE) report for South Australia which states that human activities are the greatest driver of environmental change.

According to the report, unless we reduce our impacts, adapt to our environment and better appreciate that our health and wellbeing is intrinsically linked to the health of our environment, population growth is likely to be unsustainable.

SPA (SA/NT) President Dr Stephen Morris wishes that the report’s language were stronger, namely, that growth in the human population will definitely be unsustainable, not just likely to be so, even when action is taken to reduce our impacts.

“For too long, our state governments have pursued population growth as an intrinsic good, without taking into account its negative impact on the environment,” says Dr Morris.

“We need to keep reminding ourselves that we live in the driest state on the driest continent. Our environment is largely arid and thus fragile. If ever there were a place in Australia with limits to growth, this is it. 

“The report rightly notes that water security is critical, yet demands on our water supply for our communities and the environment is likely to increase with climate change and an expanding population.

“We saw this week on ABC-TV’s 7.30 program that the water in Quorn is undrinkable,  but desalination is unaffordable. Clearly, you cannot support large towns in the state’s mid-north to northern regions because one critical resource – water – is limited.”

The report also notes that with a growing population and in the face of climate change, we need to consider: 

  • food security and water availability, both for the community and the environment
  • impacts on green space, natural environments and primary production areas from urban infill and expansion
  • an expansion of transport needs and industry sectors required to support a growing population that will also increase our environmental footprint through increasing energy and resource demands 
  • more waste and wastewater that needs to be managed.

“150 years ago, ordinary South Australians learnt a hard-won lesson about the natural limits to growth,” says Dr Morris. “It’s called the Goyder Line. Today, the government and its key ‘stakeholders’ have no regard for any such limits.  Whatever the question, their answer is always endless growth.

“When it comes to population, we need to take a precautionary approach,” says Dr Morris.

“We can no longer seek population growth as an end in itself, rather, we have to determine what population this state can sustain, particularly in light of climate change, and set policy accordingly.”

Key Facts:

The SoE report for South Australia states that human activites are the greatest driver of environmental change. 

While the report claims that population growth is LIKELY to be unsustainable,  Sustainable Population Australia claims that this is DEFINITELY so.

Subsequent state governments have persued population growth on the driest state of the driest continent,  without accounting for the negative impacts on the natural environmnet.

Regional development is limited because drinking water is scarce and desalination is unaffordable.

Food security,  impacts on green space,  and the environmental impacts of waste management and transport needs are also impacted by population growth in South Australia.

South Australia must determine what population the state can sustain and set policy accordingly.


About us:


Sustainable Population Australia is an Australian, non-partisan, special advocacy group that seeks to establish an ecologically sustainable human population. It works on many fronts to encourage informed public debate about how Australia and the world can achieve an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable population. 

Contact details:

Stephen Morris  0418 178 260

President, South Australia/Northern Territory branch of SPA

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