You are here

The Wal-Mart Syndrome and Climate Change

An old mate of mine and his son are doing their bit to promote awareness of climate change. Good on them. They arranged a presentation and invited an audience of around 100 people. The focus was on what WE could each do to reduce emissions. The direct link between population growth and climate change was not identified as a key issue.

Examples of storm impacts in the Philippines and acidification of the sea had been provided to explain the impacts of climate change and carbon dioxide. I provided the following supportive comments afterwards:

"I learnt a few things. The 4 million left homeless in the Philippines would have been 2.7 million if their population hadn't grown 50% in the previous 20 years.

The sea has already lost 90% of its fish, and that is caused by the same force as climate change. Acidification and over fishing are caused by population growth. All new oil and gas projects have design lives of 30 to 70 years. It's unlikely they will be abandoned before those lives end. But the number built to meet expanding demand can be immediately be impacted by family planning.

Can't overcome the sense of absurdity associated with deconstructing the environmental argument in this way. The population issue is no more challenging than emissions. It's just a different part of the same problem.

Seems to me that if you go to the effort of creating awareness of sustainability in the form of climate, why wouldn't you also mention the driving force behind both GDP growth and environmental destruction? The US economy has been driven by population growth for over 100 years. In 1962 there was one Wal-Mart. Now there are 8500 of them all selling fish. There are no cod left off Newfoundland.

As I have always sincerely believed; half an argument is like no argument because the big picture problem can't be solved with half a solution!"

As an ironic footnote to this story, the Wal-Mart Syndrome is my definition of what happens when economic growth driven by population growth goes to ridiculous extremes. As Russell Brand has explained, the six Wal-Mart heirs have wealth equal to the total wealth of the US's 185 million poorest citizens. Population growth was a driving force behind the creation of that massive inequity.

As I sat listening to the climate change presentation I was aware that many of the baby boomers in the audience were multi-millionaires who were born at the right time in the right place. These days you only need to have bought 4 houses with borrowed money 30 years ago to be worth more than $10 million.

So these fortunate wealthy epitomise the Wal-Mart Syndrome. The population growth that drove their relatively easy path to wealth has actually dispossessed future generations of similar opportunities. In the context of the climate change debate I am more convinced than ever that those who choose to disconnect the climate change (emissions management) debate from its Siamese twin population growth are living in exactly the state of denial that climate change activists think exists amongst those they are trying to enlist to their cause.

"half an argument is like no argument".......and that is why nothing is happening. WE can do nothing if we deny the most important half of the scientific reality; Exponential Population Growth and Australia's leading role in this debacle.

Image icon busy-flood2.jpg51.35 KB
Image icon busy-flood2-tiny.jpg7.48 KB


The point that it is futile looking only at one cause when there are dual or multi intertwined causes is well made in this case re climate change.
I do question , however the reference to multi- millionaire Baby Boomers who borrowed to buy multi properties a few decades ago. The author is writing from a perspective of 20:20 hindsight and I'm not sure that ordinary rank and file Baby Boomers back in the 80s were aware that they could make a killing by availing themselves of this option in life. Unless they were in the business I don't know that the BBs could see that this route for money making was a cert. Unless you are driving the prices e.g. by being part of the growth lobby or consciously helping them in some way then you are taking a punt with a housing investment. At one point, at least over the last few decades housing prices actually dropped - in the early 90s (about when immigration dropped, surprise surprise!) But how many Baby Boomers then aged 25 to 45 would have been aware of this? I could have bought C.S.L. shares when they first floated and made a killing especially if bought lots but I didn't because I didn't know the price would go up. I could have put $10,000 on the winner of the 3rd race at the last race meeting at Flemington and my finances would now be very different but I didn’t because I didn’t know it was going to win. We all have the chance to buy Medibank Private shares now but we don't know what's going to happen. I think the author is giving Baby Boomers credit for clairvoyance that most did not have . There are plenty of homeless Baby Boomers. The house prices of 2 and 3 decades ago look cheap now but they were only cheap if you could afford them. More people could afford a first home then than now but remember, salaries were lower and interest rates were often higher than now. It was an extra stretch to buy a second or 3rd real estate investment. It must also be remembered that ordinary people were not thinking about this all the time and many would not make it their life’s work Repeating Baby Boomer myths and characterising them as undeservedly rich perpetuates generational envy and friction which I'm sure the growth lobby, our enemies would just love. If you are the child of a Baby Boomer, your parents' foresight in buying a house when, as young people, they could have blown their money on overseas travel, the home they bought will be to your utter advantage.

The issue with the Baby Boomer generation, is that they were lucky. Born just after a major conflict, during a time when money was put into manufacturing, into improving the standard of life, and in some ways, the Cold War forced governments to prove that Capitalism worked better than Communism, by offering a better quality of life. There was credit expansion and major investment and development projects. It was perhaps the height of Western Civilisation and the best standard of living experience by humanity, ever, anywhere.

Most probably wouldn't have guessed that house prices would escalate. I certainly wouldn't have back them.

There are many of that generation who are concerned about the future. Just go to any Vic First meeting.

But, in general, the lack of concern about the future perplexes me. There are exceptions, but by and large the apathy and indifference infuriates me. That is not to say that young people today are different. They aren't and may even be worse, as young people tend to focus on "fad" issues, which give one cred with peers, but ultimately, aren't critical to the future.

I don't believe that a generation was just "born bad". They are the same as any other generation. Genetics didn't change, but environment did, and that environment was one where quality of life was generally improving, where efforts were rewarded (I don't doubt they worked hard, but they got results for hard work, unlike today) and where there were major changes, both socially and technologically, to improve things.

My view is that the BB generation are decadent, not deliberately so, but because they won many of their battles, they got their payments and lived through the best living standards that have existed on this planet.

I note the stark difference in attitude between my parents generation and grandparents generation. One went through temporary high interest rates, the other lived through firebombings. One had easy access to education, jobs and housing, the other was booted out of their home permanently by an invading army.

Lack of adversity, lack of struggle leads to complacency and a loss of proportion.

The Western world is in my opinion, decadent, weak and downwards looking. We are "packing up" civilisation, as if somehow we are done with it, and putting it out for sale in the driveway to spend the last pennies in some comfortable twilight. You can LITERALLY see the "For Sale" signs around Melbourne and the Docklands.

While I think we are in some ways, at war with China (wars always start long before shooting begins), I have to admire the fact that Chinese are setting themselves up for the future (albeit in an unsustainable and deeply flawed way), for the Chinese people. China simply does not care, at all, what the impact of their investment is doing to people here, because they are doing this for themselves.

Where is the drive here? How many politicians are far sighted? Now many in our establishment care about the security and future of next generations? This isn't just a feel good thing, these sentiments are critical to social health. Society has to have a vision for itself, where it considers itself worthy of continuation and propagation. This doesn't exist today. In fact, many celebrate the demise of their own people and eventual decline.

This is perhaps my favourite proverb.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -Greek Proverb

I would agree that Baby Boomers (those born from 1945 to 1965) in Australia experienced an economy and environment far better than now as judged by quality of life in all respects (although there was not equal pay for women until the early 70s) I would like to point out re standard of living in Australia , that it was much lower key and not as high tech in the 1960s as it is now. For most middle class people it was comfortable, adequate but not in any way jaw dropping. One of the wonderful things was that actual sunlight came through the windows whereas now it could just be 10 minutes per day as dwellings are now too close to one another and too high .

But if it were true as claimed that fairly pleasant, not overly stressful living conditions have made people decadent and lacking a sense of proportion then we should be glad on that account that now our economy is teetering on a Ponzi pinnacle, that middle class people worry about putting food on the table (on tonight's ABC news) and that foreign investment means that our country is really for others , not for us any more. That should eradicate decadence and complacency, (undesirable attributes ) shouldn't it?
No, seriously what this means is that people will have no idea in a decade or 2 how things should or could be unless they travel to a nice small city e.g. Geneva or Vienna. But because many Baby Boomers do have some idea you will find them in organizations like Victoria First (whose concerns include rapid population growth, over-development, traffic congestion, and the protection of Victoria's unique birds, animals and plants,) Sustainable Population Australia, and at environmental rallies especially those focused on local issues. I find your claim that Baby Boomers are complacent contradicts your observation, that they are spending their time and energy trying to salvage what they can of the wreckage being wrought on us.
As with all “generations” you will find some complacent people and some highly concerned and political
It must be pointed out that the oldest cohort of Gen X is now pushing 50 years old and must bear some responsibility for the way things are panning out currently.
I think it is invalid to generalize about people’s attitudes by comparing one’s own grandparents with one’s parents as that is a sample comparison of 1 only. Generalizations about Baby Boomers or any generation, or nationality are dangerously divisive when we need some solidarity in our fragmenting society.

I note that there are exceptions, but I don't find it useful to concentrate on individual examples. Note, I'm not blaming "boomers", just pointing out trends. These are trends and generalisations, and while unfair to those who don't fit the trends and generalisations, they are nevertheless useful to figure out where we are going. I use my personal examples, because they fit the trends from others I've spoken to.

I completely expect my daughters generation to blame mine for the lack of privacy, all encompassing surveillance, and for perhaps many of the other issues I'm vocal against. That is completely fair, because if it happened, it happened on my watch, not hers. It happened because others I spoke to got irritated that I brought it up, and not kept discussion the "fun" stuff like sports or Game of Thrones, or some totes awesome new dumplings place in the city.

But I don't go about writing that 'generations' are to blame, and you won't see this in any of my articles. But I do acknowledge that there are tendencies in generations, which are a result of environment and social upbringing. For example mine, (Gen X or Y, depending on who defines it), has a tendency to mature later, value "Social Justice Issues" and be sceptical of authority. These tendencies will no doubt shape the future, and will be blamed later for problems the next generation will face. "Why did you protest for Gay Marriage all the time, but not against selling our sovereignty?" they might ask.. They may very will blame us for migration problems, and could have a 'counter culture' revolution, rejecting our cosmopolitanism, and considering our virtues of 'diversity' as old fashioned, ignorant and outdated. They won't understand why we protested many of the things we did, but wonder why we didn't protest other things which affect them.
I think this is starting already in Europe. The ideals we hold as supreme will pass.

Few today can see these tendencies exist, and how they shape societies development. Perhaps one has to stand outside to see it, where those who stand within the generation can't see it at all. Perhaps why there is intergenerational conflict, they see things in each other that they can't see themselves. This is useful.

My point was that the Post WWII Generation/Generations inherited much, gained much, and I note a tendency to believe that this is somehow normal, that progress just happens, is good, and will continue. Yes, some have after many years of observation, have realised that what is occurring today, is not what was occurring during their time. But I don't think it is as simple as a bad planning minister, a few dodgy developers and some migration policy. The cause I think runs deeper. These problems are symptoms of a general malaise, which is not only in Australia, but throughout the West. Please note that I'm not suggesting that this is particular to that generation, it exists among the 30 some-things today, but that these people lived through a type of apex.

Generalisations are lazy and can be dangerous. They represent lazy thinking , which seems to be that “my experience and resentments can be used to scapegoat an entire generation”. Dennis K , the “trends” you are “pointing out “ are no more than generalisations. Furthermore they attribute far more materialism to a particular period than I think existed. Of course that in itself is sort of a generalisation, although not a dangerous one.

Just because you say your own examples fit ”trends “ does not make it so. You will not be disappointed, I’m sure, that I am not convinced by this.

I think also that the division of people into generations is a bit artificial. I say this because it is a continuum. Baby Boomers are still in action. They are all through the Federal Parliament , in the State Parliaments and all through business as well as being found in conservation groups and all kinds of activist circles. They are working simultaneously with Gen X and even Gen Y in all these arenas. One generation does not leave off as another gains its majority!

Age is (as is race ) a very visible characteristic, so making unpleasant generalisations about a particular group of people who are visible as that group is dangerous and reprehensible.

Regarding the question about why you or your generation stood up for gay marriage and not against selling our sovereignty, well that is no more the responsibility of Gen X than it is of Gen Y or the Baby Boomers, surely you must be aware that members of the adult population of Australia range from 18 to over 100. This issue is not particularly yours , it’s happening on OUR collective watch! The gay marriage issue is not seriously contentious as are matters touching Big Business. It is a convenient distraction from the issue of the theft of our wealth and heritage and destruction of our environment now well under way.

I think you are attributing comments to me that I didn't make. I don't recall saying that Boomers were solely at fault, in fact, I stated in no vague terms any criticism one may level at them, can be leveled at my gen, and the next one. I don't believe there is a definite line, where one joins one group, to another, it is a continuum.

I stick to generalisations, because they work for me. Provided they have predicting power and based on fact. Maybe you are thinking generalisation is the same as prejudice? I find I've been able to understand, and more importantly, predict trends, based on broad movements. As I said, it may not be fair, at least by prevailing post age of enlightenment thinking. I acknowlege that, but I'm far more interested in holding a working and usable model of the world. This I think is moSt important.

Take for example the financial crisis that countries like Greece, UK, US, Ireland, Iceland etc experienced. Some people I speak to go into minute detail, and say they are all separate, based on different problems. Greece was due to government spending, US was lack of confidence, etc. Some neglect the underlying commonality, rejecting it as simplistic and attribute it to the specific differences. But in general, each was a debt based problem. Too much debt. The same problem crushing us now. This is a generalisation, but this explains better the potential future movements and challenges. There is a trend in modern finance to rely on bringing spending forward to inflate wealth, which racks up debt. Our financial system encourages and propels this debt creation. This may manifest itself differently in different countries, whether it be a stock market crash, housing boom strangling the economy or the state just running out of money, but has root in a common flaw which is shared, debt based finance. Take the housing boom. Again, people will think that it is due to aussie exceptionalism, but they ignore all the other asset bubbles in the world. "It's different here".

Same with people, social conditions manifest behaviours and attitudes, which may vary between people (not all) and may appear varied, but stem from common conditions. These manifest differently between gens, due to communication (people tend to communicate and exchange ideas with their own age group), but are the result of environment, and I would say genetics as well, though this is not PC.

The problem is, people take this personally, as if I am talking about them as an individual. It's social phenomenon. It's culture and environment and external pressures and means of acquiring resources which can shape morals, attitudes and culture. Much of what we think and do, is not based on our will. It may be we have no free will at all, science is indicating it is less than we think, and many of our rational decisions are not ours at all.

What I am suggesting is that environment and economics and culture has had an underlying influence on the way people make decisions, formulate morality and behave, and that conditions which existed in the 20th century have influenced this course of action. It not peoples "fault" anymore than you can fault the plant growing towards the sun. It is necessary though to see it, and account for it and govern.

I apologize then if I have attributed something to you that you did not write or mean. I got the impression from what you wrote that you were saying that although the people you saw at Victoria First meetings appeared to be of the Baby Boomer generation that your impression of those belonging to that generation was that they were characterized by a lack of concern, apathy and indifference. I thought when you wrote that the generation was not “born bad” the implication was that they are in fact “bad” and as a result of enjoying a good quality of life and being rewarded for their work (remember women got less until early 70s) this lack of struggle had led to complacency and loss or proportion. This I find a bit of an amusing role reversal of the proverbial older generation chiding the younger one for having it easy compared with them!
Of course you can’t look at every detail of life separately without making connections and putting events, and experiences into categories as you have done with the economic situation in Greece , US, UK Ireland . That’s how one comes to grips with what’s happening . One has to give it meaning by seeing similarities and giving groups of experiences and observations labels. If one did not do this one would keep eating something one is allergic to because it wasn’t quite the same as the one before ! If one can’t link things up and see commonalities it is really hard to understand the world we live in. But as the cataloguing librarian classifies books, (and other materials ) s/he must find exactly the right Dewey number for each book so it goes with books that are related in subject . But If you are the acquisitions librarian and need to choose material for the library and you have read 4 books with green covers and decide on that basis that you will avoid buying green books then you have misused the facility of categorizing and have generalised in a way that is not useful. If that example does not ring true, it could be that the librarian discards all books written by people born in 1956 on the basis of have found some unappealing, silly books written by authors born in that year, but then the next book written by Tim Flannery would not be acquired for the library despite its merit.
With question of the attitudes of Baby Boomers or any other generation, I would want to see a reliable scientific survey before making a pronouncement or judgement. It could well be that 70% of them are smug and uncaring, but the question to be asked is "Do they differ significantly in this respect from members of other age groups?" It could be that they do. I don't know until I see some hard evidence.

Interesting how so many younger people come to the same conclusion, no? Why so much boomer criticism here and abroad? Why is "F#*K you, I got mine" considered by many to be the boomers motto? Did this come from nowhere?

No, because I like so many are sick of seeing older people looking for an investment property at inspections for family homes. I live in a suburbs where half the street are retired, in large homes, and I'm working to give THEM money!. Unacceptable.

People are willingly pushing people out of the country, borrowing against their children, and then claiming that criticism isn't fair.

If there is a crisis, and we remain neutral, then this is an evil. Dante reserved the hottest parts of hell For such people. This has been part of western culture, a consideration of treason and neutrality in troubled times as an evil.

I wouldn't judge an individual for what they didn't do, but there is no doubt that the affordability crisis is met by neutrality all through the board. It is therefore reasonable for people to be critical, and people will be critical at those they identify as issues, groups and individuals alike.

I don't disagree with your comments that we shouldn't jump to conclusions, but it is not realistic in my opinion to expect a change. Boomers will be maligned and blamed, and they'll have to accept that. The worst is yet to come. Unfortunately, our economy, through debt has put future spending power in the hands of established people today, and there is no real sense of those who hold it, that they want this to change.

This has forced a generational conflict. But unless the issue is redressed, the conflict HAS to be fought.

This is what is missing, any serious effort to redress this issue. Maybe as wages and job opportunities stagnate or fall, young people will just leave.

The way in which Australia, and many other western nations are treating their own young people is a travesty. Allowing dirty money from corrupt China to outbid a born and bred Aussie just wanting a home near his/her work is national treason. But unless you are part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

This stuff about what 'all' or 'most' baby-boomers think and do is the same stuff the growth lobby put out in the mainstream media pretending it is a reflection of majority opinion.

I was on the Jon Faine Show conversation hour with Steve Bracks ( in 2010 and Jon and Steve both said to me something like, "But surely you can see that if population growth went down and house prices went down that would be a real problem." And I replied that they were out of touch: most people don't have two houses. Many people don't own houses and the majority of people would be really pleased if house prices and rents went down. The phones were ringing hot with people who agreed with me, but the desirability of increasing house prices has been normalised in media-land and media jocks just can't allow the real majority to capsize that carefully promoted myth.

My point is that the mainstream media is 'manufacturing consent'. It is telling us how it wants us to think we all feel. It manages thus to contrive an apparent climate of reduced criticism of greed. I think that the reality is that 'we' are not all investing in housing, many of us are disgusted by the land-speculation. A minority are able to speculate.

As Kate implied, there is a whole sex maligned under guise of the spoilt baby-boomers who didn't earn equal salaries. If they had children that meant even less earning power and years in paid work. For those who did not have children, then they could not be said to have deprived their children of their inheritance. Look at all the women in the anti-growth movement! They deserve our recognition. Most of the real political activists are women - working outside the failed party system. Working for nothing. Doing what our paid politicians should be doing. Most of those women are baby boomers.

By the way, it is the Anglo system of inheritance (derived via the Normans in Britain) that gave us this system where it is so easy to disinherit children. In sensible countries with Roman law, your children have a right to inherit your property equally. Although you might sell it off before you die, it's not well thought of. (In some countries like Switzerland, it used to be required of a parent that they get the consent of their children, or that they give them first option to buy.) Furthermore, the Roman-law state is bound to see that every citizen has housing that they can afford, as well as right to work or be supported by the state.

Also, in Australia, the temptation to cash in on properties is probably one of the few ways of having a chance of avoiding destitution in old age these days. That again is the system and the growth lobby who market property as a commodity, rather than a place, a value, and a right of one's children and clan.

And what got us into this housing unaffordability?

1. population growth engineering
2. foreign ownership liberalisation
3. internet marketing internationally from late 1990s

We were never asked (as Mary Drost pointed out) whether we wanted a big population. As Bernard Salt (who writes like you about babyboomers and has a specialty in personifying age cohorts) says, "80 per cent of Australia doesn't want a big Australia."

We knew this would happen if Big Australia were forced on us. How do we deal with it? Surely not by pitting the generations against each other? We need to change those manufactured norms - by combatting the mainstream media propaganda - by writing for candobetter etc. Castigating the people who advocate commodification of the family home and sacrifice of children to debt for their education and housing in a hopeless job market from which for an increasing number the only way out is dealing drugs, stealing, prostitution, joining the armed forces or suicide.

It's late. Hope this makes some sense.

I think my reply got lost, and I can't remember what I typed.

I don't disagree with you, at all, that the growth lobby use this tactic.

Rather than attempt to re-submit what I thought I wrote, I'll link to this article which fortuitously appeared, as it makes the same point I tried to make.

In short, the issue isn't specifically boomers, but a political and financial system which is reliant on debt. Debt is essentially raising current consumption at the cost of reduced future consumption. Who gets the current consumption? Those alive and established economically today. Who suffers from the cost of reduced consumption? Those of the next generation. If we all didn't age, didn't have children, didn't die, this would be fair, but the "turnover" so to speak, of human beings in our society means that those who pay, aren't those who benefited. A temporal transfer of wealth from the future to today. This is why subdividing, units etc are popular. They guys about to retire get the cash, those just about to vote lose the space. The investor gets to play with the money, but its those in the future, who have to deal with the cost. If people who were yet to be born, could somehow vote, politics would be very, very different.

I would also like to point out, by no means has this stopped, if anything, it has accelerated. My generation will probably impoverish future generations even more so than the previous one, with continued stimulus, bail outs, low interest rates and printing of money, asset price inflation and other subsidies and perks.

We vote for politicians which keep up this facade, because WE can vote, but future generations can't. Those of the future don't have political or economic representation, not in our system.

Lastly, many people may be concerned, but they don't want real solutions. They prefer 'solutions' which don't fix the problem. For example, many people may be concerned that their children can't afford a home, but they want political solution which won't result in a fall in their house price. Hence why extra financial assistance, allowing people to use super to buy a house, loose lending practices, smaller and smaller houses are popular political "solutions". They allow those concerned that delusion that this can fix it, without actually making housing any cheaper.

So to get out of the current economic funk we must yank up government expenditures and finance the whole thing with debt created by our central banks. If the economy fails to respond, we should stimulate more... and more… until finally things get back to normal. We can then deal with the consequences once growth is normalized, irrespective of the debt levels at that stage.

But since there are no free lunches in economics (that we all must agree on), somebody has to pay for this. And it should be obvious by now who that will be: our children and grandchildren (and at this rate, probably their children and grandchildren too).