I wrote a blog piece once, looking at food in Britain, how much we could grow, and whether we were food dependent.
We were ok! We grow a lot, we could grow a lot more. We could also say Britain is food inter-dependent, as we trade a lot. Food in, food out, and as the planet’s 6th richest country, we can always buy ourselves out of trouble.
In other places, many people naturally want to escape famine, or drought, let alone war, or even just poverty in general. Not everyone does. Not everyone can.
The most interesting thing is that global food production has always outstripped population growth. So Malthus was onto a loser. However, humans have many more impacts. We may not be able to outrun the overall chaos we create – nuclear weapons, continuing major power wars, climate change, pollution – and most of these in pursuit of even greater inequality.
The saddest thing is that, with all our achievements, we think that’s acceptable, capitalism’s ‘collateral damage’. (Not necessarily picking on capitalism, just that we’re told it’s ‘won’ and it’s the ‘end of history’. I don’t think that’s true. It would be depressingly sad if humanity can’t come up with a better balance).
There are tragic consequences to accepting this. Indeed, some aren’t able to outrun these things as we speak – the 21,000 who starve to death a day, the 30,000 a day who die from simple diseases. A large number of them children.
And in the pursuit of profit, we miss out on all the other ‘life-game’ factors that humanity must consider: how should resources be used: limited fossil fuels, highly oil dependent agriculture and transport, potable water.
Then there’s the life-game factors we don’t consider: for many people it’s climate change, or the never-far prospects for nuclear war, or losing your job, or savings, or the next (predictable) economic downturn, let alone the sort of species die-off we’re seeing in the industrial age and the implications this has for us as we cut our own throats, oblivious.
Things we need to do well:
- Ensure the food safety of countries around the world. This is to our advantage. As Henry Ford might say, poorer countries can’t afford our stuff, but if they become a bit richer they can. We develop new markets.
- Eradicate simple diseases. All the medications are there. We can fund it internationally. Healthier, wealthier populations have fewer children (because their children live! They become adults with prospects)!
- Treaty for peace: draw down to extinction the world’s nuclear arsenals, diversify the companies involved, wind turbines, sea barrages, new safe energy.
- Replace the drive for profit with a drive for fair trade. Deal increasingly fairly with other/poorer countries, otherwise we just continue the negative spiral of exploitation and impoverishment.
None of this is beyond us! Even global population: we could fit the whole human world into Texas, with the density of New York. (But who’d want either the climate of Texas or the density of New York?)
Yet, intuitively we know it could be done, there’s no particular limit to how big a city can grow (though we probably ought to think of some!)
If we don’t being to think differently, we will simply hit multiple brick walls this century: fossil fuel depletion, species extinction, marine life collapse, industrial agriculture expense, climate effects – let alone things like the banking crisis, totally of our own making!
A friend of mine coined the term ‘overdeveloped’ countries back in the 90s.
The world is suffering most, not from war-torn countries or from refugees, but from the overdeveloped countries.