Sunday, September 27, 2009

Population, the Environment and Socialism (again)

The latest New Scientist has a feature on population.

It confirms what we blogged about in June
: (female) education, gender equality and the eradication of poverty will play key roles in creating a stable world population. The Ehrlichs (famous for the Population Bomb) argue that point.

The articles also discuss other aspects of the population question. One of them, unintentionally, highlights a problem with the very framing of the issue - when is there a population problem? Well, when there are too few people about, for example! Reiner Klingholz argues that Europe is facing a problem of low fertility rate and ageing populace, which will trouble economies:

High population growth, such as that now taking place in many African countries, is not sustainable. But very low fertility rates are unsustainable too. It will be hard for countries with persistently low fertility to remain competitive, creative and wealthy enough to keep ahead of their country's environmental challenges....[I]t is important to focus less on human quantity and more on human capacity; not on how many people there are, but on how productively they live their lives. Working life must be extended and Europe must invest heavily in education, as fewer young brains will have to deliver increased creativity and productivity. (My emphasis.)

Note how the population issue gets a sort of nationalist slant to it and how it is directly linked to the interests of Capital.

The population question obviously cannot be divorced from other issues (which does happen) such as changes in technology and production, as shown in this interview with Jesse Ausubel. One such change could be the use of farming techniques that give higher yields whilst using less land. There is a whole vista of new possibilities which could be utilised to their full potential in a socialist society.

Possibly the hardest aspect is that of consumption. It is becoming obvious that a large meat diet is taking a toll on the environment. However, socialists don't tend to make lifestyles a central part of their argument. Who are we to tell others what they should or should not eat? Rather, we limit ourselves to arguments along the lines of getting rid of capitalism so that the, at present, billion malnourished people around the world can actually get the luxury of thinking about what to eat.

The population question is, in the final analysis, inextricably linked to how we live and how we could live. The editorial puts it thus: "Critically, it ... means basing success on stability - recognising that economic growth at all costs, not population growth, is the real root of all evil." Economic growth is, frankly, production for profit and Capital accumulation. New Scientist is not arguing for the abolition of capitalism, obviously; it is up to socialists to point out that capitalism cannot function without economic growth and, since that is the case, we need a different and sustainable mode of production.

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