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Much-needed storms of our granddaughters

by 3 Jul 2011Moratorium on population0 comments

Dick Smith and daughter

Was Blind But Now I See: Dick Smith’s daughter awoke her father to the ‘elephant in the room’ of climate talks: Overpopulation. Leaving nothing to chance, the entrepreneur and philanthropist hired ‘more blondes than Branson’ to help launch his AU$1 million Wilberforce Award. photographer Eva Rinaldi

Dick Smith writes entirely eloquently. Which should mean that Dick Smith’s Population Crisis gets to be read by a usefully broad audience. It also helps that his just-published book, at 198 pages, is not too dauntingly lengthy, given the inherently daunting subject.

The self-titled title will raise a few hackles, but Dick Smith didn’t get where his is today by not understanding branding.

But where Dick Smith is today will surprise even those familiar with his recent causes, which include bailing out Bob Brown when the Green senator risked bankruptcy and the loss of his seat after losing a legal stoush with state-owned Forestry Tasmania. While Dick Smith would have every justification to enjoy an opulent retirement, adoring grandchildren and his mana as one of Australia’s most recognised individuals, he instead has grasped the population nettle. His eyes were opened by his daughter, pointing out that population was the elephant in the Copenhagen climate conference room. Thus began a quest to find answers as to why the principal driver of global warming was seldom discussed:

These answers have surprised, even shocked me, and they have inspired me to spend the rest of my life doing something about it. I hope it will be the most important thing I ever do.

Many see averting the worst of the escalating human misery that global warming is causing as comparable to the mission to outlaw slavery. But it is population growth, as the driver of warming, that Dick Smith targets with his AU$1‍ ‍million Wilberforce Award:

…to go to a young person under 30 who can impress me by becoming famous through his or her ability to show leadership in communicating an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy. I will be looking for candidates whose actions over the next year show that they have what it takes to be among the next generation of leaders our incredible planet so badly needs.

Cannily, there is no application process—the applicant has to generate sufficient fame to ‘impress’ the philanthropist. The award was launched with the aid of what his book captions:

…a bevy of ‘Branson-type beauties’ and $1‍ ‍000‍ ‍000 in a suitcase.

Busy one-upping Richard Hansen, the old publicity don presumably wasn’t envisaging a latter-day Lysistrata—an Australian Lady Gaga who would stop at nothing to rally her peers to put the breaks on breeding long enough to reverse the trend that will otherwise see another billion souls added in less than 14 years. Or closer to home, Jessica Watson—should the record-breaking solo sailor make the connection between population growth and her United Nations child hunger role.

Jessica Watson sets sail

Potential Candidate: Jessica Watson, having circumnavigated the globe at 16 and been declared young Australian of the year, is now fighting child hunger with the United Nations World Food Programme. Perhaps Dick Smith sees her as a potential Wilberforce Award winner. image unidentified

Perhaps Jessica Watson is already firmly in the solo aviator’s sights. Regardless, the original time limit for the Wilberforce Award of August 2011 has been removed and it is promised that the AU$1‍ ‍million prize is nicely accruing interest.

In many people’s eyes, the serial adventurer’s fossil-fuel-guzzling solo aerial circumnavigations might disqualify him from commenting on energy overuse. In the words of William Garden (1918–2011) when contemplating provision to carry a float plane aboard a small private ship he’d designed:

The plane enthusiasm passed, but with such a setup a coastline and adjacent lakes and territory could be explored in one summer in detail that would take me a lifetime with my little 70-year-old launch Merlin, but what an arrogant use it would be of the poor old earth’s evaporating pot of oil!

And that was in the 1970s. But the aviator’s low-level flights—three kilometres altitude is the limit without oxygen—have made Smith intensely aware of how vulnerably skinny the Earth’s atmosphere is. It is not a perspective shared by his wealthy friends, who he says:

…besiege me with emails and links to so-called scientific papers that purport to deny that global warming is a problem or, most importantly, that humans have anything to do with it.

Like Dr James Hansen, Dick Smith speaks out lest his grandchildren later wonder why he failed to use his status as a person of influence to help avert the growing unspeakable misery in store for particularly the planet’s two billion (and rapidly growing) poor.

And while he is unlikely to waver in his self-imposed rest-of-life mission, the task will likely take a singular young woman harnessing the celebrity mill to convince billions of her sisters that it is simply too dangerous to wait for the old growth-based dogmas to play out.

Granddaughters are uniquely empowered to create the much-needed storm.