Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another too many people scare story

“I don’t know how to save the world. I don’t have the answers or The Answer. I hold no secret knowledge as to how to fix the mistakes of generations past and present. I only know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants, none of us will survive -- nor will we deserve to.” - Leonard Peltier

The overpopulation myth threatens to overtake the human nature myth as the chief explanation for the evils of the modern world where  hunger, disease, the retarded development of backward countries, social unrest, political instability, urban sprawl, destruction of wildlife, city squalor, crowded mental hospitals, violence, all kinds of pollution and ecological upset, the shortage of housing and the desecration of the countryside are all confidently attributed to the problem of an excess of human beings. The readiness to accept the "overpopulation" argument arises from a lack of understanding of the way capitalism works.

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14% of all the people who ever existed were alive today and there may be 12 billion humans on Earth by 2100, latest projections suggest.  A worldwide one-child policy would mean the number of people in 2100 remained around current levels, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While the overall figures have been growing, the world's per-capita fertility has been declining for several decades. If China's much criticised one-child policy was implemented worldwide, the Earth's population in 2100 would still be between five and 10 billion, one of the latest studies says.

Even a catastrophic event that killed billions of people would have little effect on the overall impact, it said. They found that even an event that wiped out two billion people would still leave about eight and a half billion in 2100.

The team constructed nine different scenarios for population change up to the year 2100, using data from the World Health Organization, and the US Census Bureau's international database. They also used "catastrophe scenarios" to simulate the impacts of climate disruption, wars or global pandemics on population trends. According to the study, attempts to curb our population as a short-term fix will not work. The world should focus on curbing consumption and designing ways to conserve species and ecosystems.
"Society's efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation,"  said Prof Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide.

The catastrophes that the report describe as hypothetical are actually a reality and taking place today. Nine million of under-5 children die each year, which means that a child dies every 4 seconds (22,000 per day) in the world.  92 million children dying between 2000 and 2010 and that the silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this daily ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage even when movie stars such as Brad Pitt tells us: “Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right for life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”

The Socialist Party offers a solution and argues that the relentless quest for profit has distracted us. We urgently need to see the big picture, connected it in our minds and in our activism. We must never lose sight of how it all comes together. People procreate more when they expect more of their children to die. They produce fewer when their current children survive. Improving opportunity, education and family planning to girls will have some influence on the problem. Socialists are not opposed to birth control. On the contrary, we say that everyone should have free access to the most effective contraceptives which science can devise. However, birth control is really a red herring: it concentrates attention on the population rather than on food supplies and why they are not being increased at anything like the rate they could. What we do say is that talk of overpopulation misdirects attention from the real cause of the problems in question, and that birth control will not solve them.

We do have a finite planet but the carrying capacity is higher if resources were shared out rationally and equitably. Carrying capacity is not a fixed number. If everyone on the planet consumed only what he or she needed, 40 billion would be the feasible upper-limit number, it is estimated.

 It is true that the human population cannot grow without affecting the natural environment, sometimes with the risk of dangerous ecological chain-reactions. But the vast majority of pollution, from pesticides, herbicides, industrial waste and so forth, is quite unnecessary, and could easily be avoided upon the abolition of capitalism with its reckless race for profits. But basically, every additional mouth to feed is a pair of hands to work.  Where countries have  low life expectancies, such as Gambia at around 40, you are being deprived of the useful work, knowledge and skills of those people who are dying young.  Calls to cut the population are calls to make us all the poorer as a species.

There is no difficulty about producing enough food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem is, can politics and economics arrange that the food that is produced is dispersed and consumed in the countries that needed it? The Socialist Party holds that the only social system which will ensure this is one in which wealth is produced solely to meet human needs on the basis of the common ownership of the resources of the world by the whole of mankind. Today under capitalism, food is not produced to meet human needs and indeed could not be since the resources of the world do not belong to mankind but only to a privileged few. That food is not produced to meet human needs cannot be denied, otherwise there is no sensible reason why, with the possibility of adequately feeding everybody, millions starve and many millions are undernourished. Food is produced to be sold on the world market with a view to profit. The starving and undernourished millions of the world do not constitute a market as they cannot pay for the food they need. So they are left to starve. The stark fact is that capitalism is responsible for the starvation of millions of people.

Not only is capitalism in effect a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. The most obvious example is the huge amount of wealth used up in training and keeping armed forces and in developing the most destructive weapons of war. Capitalism also diverts the labour of millions into work that would be useless in a rationally-organised society, namely, those engaged in commerce and finance; the check-out cashiers,  the accountants, the sales-persons and  the bank clerks, the ticket collectors and the host of others working in activities concerned with buying and selling. Overpopulation is used to make those of us who possess a few elementary comforts, feel that we are on the brink of a vast pit of scarcity, and we ought to be thankful for what we have. Yet if we examine the potential for satisfying human needs which has been released by modern technology, we see that the opposite is the case. In order to survive, the capitalist system must continue to develop its potential for plenty, even plethora, but in order to preserve the poverty and scarcity which are its life-blood, capitalism must restrict, waste and destroy on a colossal scale.

The Socialist Party's case against this and other population scares is that the "overpopulation problem" is really a misuse of resources problem. Capitalism, as a system of rationing via the market, is justified in people's minds by a belief in scarcity. "There isn't enough to go round", so we must be restricted in what we are allowed to consume. It has become a cliché to speak of "this overcrowded planet” yet if, for example, the entire world's population were now placed in the United States, the population density in that country would still be little more than that of Holland. 


Mike Ballard said...

I think Mother Nature cannot sustain and ever growing population. Fish stocks are dwindling now. Rice plantations are pouring methane into the atmosphere and so is the expansion of animal husbandry. You could place the entire population of the planet in Australia as well and have the population density of Holland; but the lack of arable land would make it into a mass grave for all life on the continent. Your argument is wrong headed on this question. What you should be pushing for is a socialist society where the associated producers plan the production of goods and services as they plan their family sizes with regard to living in harmony with the Earth.

ajohnstone said...

You are perfectly right about the dwindling wild fish stocks but fish farming despite its progress is still in its infancy. One recent article i read was claiming mussels were the way to go for low-cost protein. And of course, living in the Far East i know the various insect and grub potential, as you do from the Australian Aboriginal diet. No reason why there shouldn't be the McDonalds beetle-burger !

As the article said, it was not against planned family sizes, but that it would not be a solution, which as actually verified by the report itself. You hit the nail on the head...what is needed is planned production and distribution of what we require and that is not going to be in the same status-acquiring conspicuous consumption levels of capitalism.

For sure the article did not include the caveat of deserts and swamps in its example but used only to highlight the fact that it isn't living space which is the issue , and the way things are going arable land is becoming even more scarce. Again it is reversible...under the correct rational system. We saw it during WW2 when food production in the UK was increased ten-fold by incorporating unused or under-used land. But today our inner-city allotments and urban small-holdings are more valuable to the property speculator for building office-space than agriculture. I can remember small dairy farms within the city limit when i was a kid providing local milk. Our main city-centre park was used for sheep grazing. These sort of things can be re-introduced and are being advocated. Also how much fertile land is used for cash-crops rather than provide sustenance.

There are whole schemes being tried out experimentally local food initiatives, urban faring, vertical farming. In isolation and without being integrated into rational planned system they won't succeed but inside a socialist society, priority isn't to make them profitable but part of a sustainable network satisfying needs.

These solutions won't come from blaming population growth for our woes and ignoring that the main reason for hunger and poverty and slum-dwelling is our system. No woman wants to become a baby-making factory, and when given a choice will self-regulate reproduction. Any attempt through social engineering such as the Chinese one child policy will have unintended consequences.

Socialists don't advocate an ever-growing population and endless economic growth and you are right to question the article if it gave that impression.

We seek a steady state zero-growth economy but there will be a temporary phase where we need to raise the living conditions and standards of billions and at that stage we will need to pay particular attention and care to the environmental impact.

hallblithe said...

...the claims about the need to double food production are unfounded. According to ActionAid’s report, “Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050,” the solutions lie not in the rush to increase industrial food production but in supporting sustainable and productive farming practices among small-scale farmers – particularly women – in developing countries while halting the diversion of food to biofuels and reducing the obscene levels of waste and spoilage that keep one-third of the world’s food from nourishing anyone...The hungry are not hungry because the world lacks food. We grow enough food right now to feed about 10 billion people, yet according to the U.N. nearly one billion of today’s seven billion people are chronically undernourished and well over one billion suffer from significant malnutrition, in a world of plenty:

Mike Ballard said...

An association of free producers is bound to have differences over these matters. My preference would be for a smaller population and social ownership with democratic control of the collective product of labour. I appreciate both your views; but would probably have differences on specifics. Fortunately, a socialist society is a classless democracy not, the dictatorship of a political party, as socialism is often pilloried. Suffice to say that I would have little problem accepting your views, if either won majority approval. As a vegetarian though, I should reject the beetle burgers outright! (grin)

ajohnstone said...

By coincidence the Guardian has an article today of insects for food.

At least 2 billion people worldwide eat insects and i wonder how many people don't shrink at slimy mucus type food of oysters and the such.

BTW, again locally in the 19th c my homecity had a local law forbidding employers to feed their servants too may oysters since they were cheap and available...oysters that is, not the servants, who were too, as well!

Some of the most heated arguments i have witnessed between socialists has been on the subject of vegetarianism and non-veg. I have suggested that it won't be resolved until consumers have to do their own animal rearing/trapping and their own slaughtering and butchery...then we will see a dramatic fall in meat-eating

Mike Ballard said...

How would consumers be required to raise their own meat in a democratic association of producers? Assuming all producers are consumers as well, this could only come about by the producers voting to eliminate animal husbandry as a socially necessary use of labour time.

I'd rather concentrate on planning parenthood to reach a lower total world population than resort to eating insects.

Still, both your ideas are worthy of contemplation. We shall see.

ajohnstone said...

I suppose convinced flesh-eaters will have their back-garden chicken coops and rabbit hutches for their individual diets, Maybe a pig or two.

I think you are right there will be social decisions made on food production and the resources devoted to it. More and more rearing animals for slaughter is revealed as wasteful direction of land and fodder. Even a vegetarian diet will be criticised by those who are vegans and point out the contradictions of dairy produce.

But we know from real life conditions that a predominantly veg diet is possible ...hundreds of millions of South Indians are vegetarian, and thousands of restaurant are described as pure veg, perhaps influenced by buddhism and jainism

Mike Ballard said...

You're right. Vegans do criticise me on moral grounds for being a vegetarian. So be it. I see no moral contradiction as I do not condemn Eskimos for their meat diet. I'm a vegetarian because I prefer not to eat meat, not because of my moral code or my desire for moral superiority. I'm not opposed to eating cheese or chicken eggs. But these are individual decisions, just as religion is or one's own, personal moral code is.

I'm okay with democratic decision making within the realm of goods and services produced socially. If the majority vote to make animal husbandry a necessity, some of us can devote our social time in common production to it. I wouldn't mind putting some of my socially necessary labour time into that sphere of production. Otherwise, it's in the private sphere of time and people can do what they want during those moments, including the care and feeding of the animals they wish to slaughter and consume.