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The Wilberforce Award

August 23, 2010

There’s been an unexpected twist to the economic growth debate in the last couple of weeks, with the launch of the Wilberforce Award. Australian businessman Dick Smith has offered $1 million 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.”

The award will be announced in a year’s time, and there’s no need to apply. Smith will be watching the media to choose his winner, so the only way to win it is to get on with presenting the case for an end to economic growth, and a transition to a sustainable future. And lest anyone be tempted to pursue the award for the wrong reasons, the money will go towards the winner’s awareness raising work.

“It has become obvious to me,” he writes, “that my generation has over exploited our wonderful world – and it’s younger people who will pay the price. Like many people my age, I’ve benefited from a long period of constant economic and population growth – we are addicted to it. But sooner or later this consumption growth will have an end. We appear to be already bumping against the limits of what our planet can sustain and the evidence is everywhere to see.”

The name references William Wilberforce, who argued and won the case against slavery despite a popular perception that the economy could not function without slaves. Economic growth is similarly entrenched, and it will take a visionary of Wilberforce’s calibre to break its hold. That person, says Smith, “will need to have a firm belief that we can have a viable and strong world economy that is no longer obsessed with growth for its own sake, but instead encourages both a stable population and sustainable consumption of energy and resources. They must be able to communicate that we cannot continue to squander the resources that will be needed by future generations, and they must also be able to communicate a plan that offers an alternative to our growth addiction.”

Strangely enough, I’m writing this about 20 yards from the very spot where Wilberforce and his collaborators met. My work office is attached to Christchurch and Upton Chapel in London, and right out the window is the steeple that was donated by the family of Abraham Lincoln to thank the church for its role in ending slavery. It’s a rather humbling place to come to work.

Beyond Growth was devised to help mainstream the growth debate in some small way, and I’ve been watching developments over the last few months. Smith’s award is the most unexpected and interesting turn of events so far, and we shall see what he inspires with his generosity.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex permalink
    November 26, 2013 5:14 am

    Melbourne teen’s worldwide fight

    A Melbourne teenager wants worldwide support for a tax on industrialised nations to fund the development of the third world and control over population.

    14-year old Alex Rafail, is frustrated by the surging population numbers around the world and believes it can be tackled by education and health.

    She proposes a .2% tax on industrialised nations to build hospitals and schools in the third world.

    She says the hospitals and schools could promote family planning and other social options, to reduce the high numbers of children being born into struggling families and reduce the burden on our environment.

    “Burgeoning populations are overloading our eco-system with pollution, increased demand for limited water, land supplies and natural resources.

    “Niger has the world’s highest birth rate, averaging 7-children per woman. These women don’t know any other way of life, but education and family planning options could help change their lives and reduce the hideous risk of over-population around the world.

    “Many people think Generation Z doesn’t really care about others, but I’m passionate about the future and I know many of my friends feel the same way”, Alex said.

    Alex compiled a research project on world demographics as part of a year 8 Geography assignment. Her teacher was so impressed by the results that she urged her to consider the Dick Smith Wilberforce Award.

    The Award provides $1 million for a person under 30 who can show leadership in communicating an alternative message about population and what Mr Smith calls our ‘growth obsessed economy’.

    Alex has set up a petition and is asking others to join her in her crusade for worldwide attention on overpopulation!

    Go to

    Alex Rafail: 0466376340
    Claudia Rafail: 0410260541
    Petre Rafail: 0433988426
    Home: 03 95449721


  1. The Wilberforce Award: The population puzzle part 2 « Neuroanthropology

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