Axel Wilke, transport planner – now walking fit again
What’s my outlook for the 2020s? I predict the overriding experience will be effects brought about by climate change. Will it get too hot for us? Nope. Will the weather get too wild? Maybe. What about wildfires? Maybe, but nothing at the scale that our Australian neighbours recently experienced. So what will the issue be?
I suggest that we will experience breakdown of some societal systems triggered by mass immigration. It’s other places that will experience direct climate change effects intensely. And some of those people might decide that they’d rather be where they can see a future. I see the world depopulating from the equator outwards, with a population shift towards the poles. And many of them will want to come to New Zealand. Who could blame them?
Australia’s population sits at about 20.5 million; some 570,000 of them were born in New Zealand. New Zealand currently experiences net migration; around 50,000 more people arrive per year than leave. About half of those moving to New Zealand come from Australia, and last year, 15,600 of them were New Zealand citizens returning home.  What would happen if instead of a business-as-usual net migration of 500,000 people per decade, we got 2 million people instead? Mostly from the Pacific Islands and Australia, say (where we can’t easily say “no, we don’t want you” because of long standing agreements)? That’s not an outlandish prediction; the World Bank predicts that globally 140 million people will be on the move by 2050 due to the climate and ecological crisis. Let’s look at the status quo first.
New Zealand’s population clock sits at 4,951,250 people as of 2 January 2020. Currently, we are increasing by one person every 7 minutes and 49 seconds (note those figures vary over time). There are three components to this: births, deaths, and net migration. The website gives figures for those (e.g. “one birth every 8 minutes and 47 seconds”); it results in an annual population increase of 67,200 people. So we’ll reach 5 million people sometime in September 2020. If the current rate stays steady, we’ll sit at 5.62 million in 2030.
With a net migration of 2 million instead of 0.5 million, we’d be at 7.12 million people by the end of the decade. That would put serious pressure on the housing market. Housing affordability is measured as median house price divided by median household income. It’s simple but the same measure is used world-wide. A score of 3.0 or less is regarded as affordable. Areas are classed as moderately unaffordable when the ratio is up to four, seriously unaffordable between four and five and severely unaffordable when the ratio is more than five times income.  New Zealand sits just over 6. The Auckland metro area sits at 9.3. Of 91 major housing markets measured by Demographia International, Auckland is the seventh-least affordable city. Given that we’re unlikely to build enough new homes in time, mass migration will increase pressure on the housing market, so it becomes even less affordable. It’ll be the lower income families that will suffer.
Adding to this situation will be internal migration, with people from lower lying areas having to move away from the coast or rivers. Not so much because of sea level rise but because insurance in those high-risk areas (South Dunedin, east Christchurch, Lower Hutt) will become unaffordable, or be withdrawn altogether. This process has already started and is driven by the reinsurance industry, not our local providers. Not everybody will be able to afford to move and once again, it’s the poor who will be left behind; they won’t be insured and will thus be vulnerable to natural disasters, losing their uninsured houses when disaster strikes.
When the poorer parts of society get displaced, we will all feel the effects. Nurses and teachers moving away from unaffordable areas. Homelessness. Children going hungry. More people with addiction issues. A deterioration in mental health. More beggars. Increasing crime. Poorer neighbourhoods turning into ghettos unsafe to enter after dark. An increased demand on social services while at the same time, an increasing number of people are not able to contribute greatly to the tax take. Racial hatred will be on the up and the political right will no doubt lobby hard to get even tougher on crime. How long will this have to go on for before society as we know it will break down?
And the really scary thing? I predict that we’ll be lucky to experience net-migration of only 2 million people over the next decade. It could be much higher than that.