Labor MP: It’s Hard To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When You’re Adding More Feet


Outgoing member for the Victorian seat of Wills, Kelvin Thomson MP argues discussions around climate change need to incorporate a conversation about population growth. Thom Mitchell reports.

Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson has called for more discussion of Australia’s booming population and the role it plays in fuelling greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of United Nations climate talks in Paris on November 29.

“I do think that population plays a critical role in global warming,” he said. “We’ve got one earth, one atmosphere, and every carbon dioxide molecule we release into it contributes to global warming.

“The more of us there are, the more carbon dioxide is released, and I think that is kind of simple physics: The expression I’ve used over the years to try and get this message across is it’s pretty hard to reduce your carbon footprint when you keep adding more feet.

“Of course, we passed 7 billion as a global population, and we’re tracking for 9 or even 10 billion by mid-century, and whereas in the past demographers would say global population will level out somewhere at that point they are no longer saying that.

“All the predictions are that we just keep on growing. As I say, if you’re going to cut your carbon emissions by 60 per cent or 80 per cent, or even decarbonise completely, how you accomplish that at the same time as your global population is increasing by 60 per cent, I think that is a major challenge.”

The long-serving member for the Victorian seat of Wills spoke to New Matilda this week shortly after announcing he would not stand for re-election, and he said he had been pushing for years for more drastic action on climate change.

“One of the things I said to the caucus when I was announcing my retirement this week was that I wanted to emphasise the word stewardship, and the concept of stewardship,” he said.

“We hold the world in trust for future generations and we have an obligation to hand on to our children and their children a world in as good condition as the one that our parents and grandparents gave to us.”

Retiring Labor MP, Kelvin Thomson, pictured far left. (IMAGE: Takver, Flickr)
Retiring Labor MP, Kelvin Thomson, pictured far left. (IMAGE: Takver, Flickr)

Thomson has been a steward of the federal seat of Wills since 1996, but was in Victoria’s state Parliament when the Hawke government endorsed, with caveats, a call for a 20 per cent reduction on 1988 level emissions by 2005.

He said he hopes Labor’s 2015 targets, which the party has indicated will be announced before the next election, are aggressive and “evidence-based”.

“I don’t speak for the Labor opposition…[but]going back prior to 2010 I put forward a proposal that Australia seek to stabilise its emissions by 2010 and then cut them by 2 per cent a year – that is, 20 per cent every decade after that,” he said.

“… On the basis of a 20 per cent cut every decade after 2010 we’d be completely decarbonised by 2060, and I thought that was a way of burden sharing between the generations which was realistic, but at the same time ambitious and would change things.

“[But] if we’re having a serious discussion about climate change, then population growth has to be part of that discussion,” Thomson said. He has long argued that the way to stabilise Australia’s growing populous is to pare back the skilled migration program.

“Although we do have births exceeding deaths by a bit over 100,000 every year, the principle driver of our population growth has been a ratcheting up of the migration program which has occurred in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

“You’ve got 200,000 net migration and around 130,000 natural increase, so that’s 330,000, and in three years that’ll give you population growth of a million.”

He also touched on an issue Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles has raised recently in relation to Pacific Islands facing inundation, arguing that large scale movements in the global population as a result of climate change is an “urgent and pressing” problem.

However he envisages Australia helping “thousands” of climate refugees from the Pacific, not the millions that will be displaced even if the Paris climate talks succeed in developing a global climate treaty to limit the rise in average global temperatures to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“If people say that there are a hundred million people in Bangladesh living in low lying areas who are going to be displaced in decades to come, well I don’t see how Australia or any country for that matter can cope with a problem in that magnitude,” Thomson said.

“That simply underscores the fact that we have to have serious collective global action to tackle the problem.”

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.