Friday, December 21, 2018

Numbers don't matter, the system matters 2

"Over-population, our Lords and Masters say, is another cause of our misery. They mean by this, that the resources of the country are inadequate to its population. We must prove the contrary, and during a holiday take a census of the people, and a measurement of the land, and see upon calculation, whether it be not an unequal distribution, and a bad management of the land, that make our Lords and Masters say, that there are too many of us." - WILLIAM BENBOW, 1832.

Once upon a time there lived a man called Malthus who looked around and noticed that many people live in poverty and did not have enough to eat. He concluded that there were too many people in the world. But the real problem was that a small minority wanted to organise things for their own benefit and for no one else’s. Another man thought that if people could decide what they produce, that the more they come together and pool their resources, the more they can produce and so there would be more than enough food for everybody and that man's name was Marx.  But even today there are those who believe Malthus and say that hunger and poverty is not the fault of the rich for deciding not to produce what people need, but the fault of the poor and hungry for being too many.

Arguing that the ecological crisis as a crisis of 'population numbers is a way of avoiding the issue altogether.  Those who have framed the debate in this manner can now escape from the responsibility of demanding the end of the capitalist economic system. Either you accept that climate change is an issue caused by too many people and admit that some form of eugenics policy is permissible, or you deny that it is. The case that the ecological crisis lies in population growth is in many ways most sinister.  The idea of overpopulation suggests that part of the people does not really deserve to be there, or that they should not exist. From there, it is only another step to feel justified in wiping part of the human race out by compulsory sterilisation). If people believe that each human being has a right to be there and enjoy life, there cannot be "overpopulation". For believers in "lifeboat ethics" survival is ensured only for those most capable of weathering the turbulence. Not surprisingly, this means that the developed countries survive at the expense of the underdeveloped, the working population at the expense of the unemployed, the rich at the expense of the poor. State control over birth and fertility rates means above all State control over women.

Juggling around superficial statistics and projections of a problem of secondary proportions at the present time is given primacy, obscures the fundamental reasons for the environmental crisis. True, in theory, if present economic, political and social conditions prevail, humanity will in the due course of time overpopulate the planet with sheer weight of numbers, however, abstract hypotheses do not match real-world practice.

High population density is not synonymous with a lack of food. Nor does the problem stem from a lack of food production. Food scarcity is not imposed by nature.  Hunger is not the result of overpopulation. There is scarcity but it is not a scarcity of food. The scarcity is of people who have neither access to the means to grow their own food or the money to buy it. 

At present, there are seven billion inhabitants on this planet. For the many hunger and malnutrition are the “normal” human condition. Even more people dwell perpetually on the margin of food insecurity. Yet because of modern preventive medicine, this population cannot but increase. Our reply that if every new birth brings an additional mouth to feed it also brings an additional pair of hands able to produce more than enough nourishment. The people of the world are entitled to, a decent standard of living not centuries from now but within the next few decades. 

The problem is not one of overpopulation. The Earth could sustain a far higher population that already exists.

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