Another day, another doomsday prediction. Having said that, the Mayan end-of-the-world thing in 2012 seems to have gone quiet. Almost like people realised that all that 2012-bruhaha was rubbish (the movie and the predictions). But this doomsday scenario is less about that guy from Hi-Fidelity and CGI and more about overpopulation. According to the UK’s Mail Online:
“Rising populations are driving Earth towards a 'tipping point' where species we depend on die out, says a committee of 22 scientists - hitting industries such as fishing, agriculture, forestry and water. Some areas of the planet may already be so overpopulated as to be beyond hope - and once the planet is more than 50% under tarmac and agriculture, the results could be global disaster.”
Apparently small-scale ecosystems have shown that once 50-90% has been altered, the entire ecosystem tips irreversibly “into a state far different from the original, in terms of the mix of plant and animal species and their interactions and usually resulting in species extinctions and a loss of biodiversity.”
Now, extrapolating that out to the global level, these 22 scientists (not named in the article – I bet you they teleconference but speak from the shadows so you never get to see their faces, just their pale, pale hands folded neatly on a rich mahogany desk...) are saying that if 50% of the Earth’s surface is converted to agriculture and urban use, then we could face “most unpleasant surprises”.
Now, the newspaper article is a bit unclear. Does the world’s surface include the oceans? If so, are we anywhere near 50% under agriculture or urban use? Secondly, the small-scale studies talk about 50-90% as the range. That is a fairly large spread to say anything meaningful about I would have thought? Finally, these small scale studies also mention that 50-90% of the ecosystem has to be “altered”, not converted to agriculture or urban use. I would have thought that we had already “changed” pretty much the entire face of the planet, right?
However, some of the scientists’ suggestions are very useful:
“They urge global cooperation to reduce population growth and per-capita resource use, to replace fossil fuels with sustainable sources, develop more efficient food production and distribution, and management of land and oceans not already dominated by humans as reservoirs of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
I don’t think that many would argue against more efficient food production and distribution. As we have argued before, the problem of feeding people in the world is not one of production mainly, but of distribution and wastage. The “global cooperation” to reduce population growth is a little scary however. What does this mean? Well, actually it doesn’t mean countries working together – it means countries being led:
“In places where governments are lacking basic infrastructure, people fend for themselves, and biodiversity suffers. We desperately need global leadership for planet Earth.”
I’m not sure why lacking basic infrastructure led to suffering biodiversity – I thought that too much tarmac was the problem? But aside from that, global leadership really does make one uneasy. From where is this to come? From the UN? From these 22 scientists? And what is to happen if people are not keen to reduce the number of children that they have? What will the global leadership do then? Put contraceptives in the water supply?
Luckily for all of us, some of the required global leadership is being provided by the Gates Foundation which has organised a summit in London in July:
“…that aims to pour money into family planning in the developing world after almost two decades of neglect…” (mainly because of the Bush administration’s concerns that the funding was eing used to support forced abortions).
Now this is not about coercion: apparently family planning has been tainted with the association to “population control” and coercion. Apparently there are 215 million women around the world who would like to have access to “modern family panning” methods and are unable to. Melinda Gates, who runs the Gates Foundation, is described in the article as a Catholic who disagrees with the Church’s opposition to contraception. Later on in the article, the director of the family health division of the Gates Foundation cites the fact that it can work with different partners including the Catholic Church, because “even the Catholic Church supports natural family planning”. Now, if the Gates Foundation is promoting NFP as a “modern family planning” method then I’m sure that the Catholic Church would be very happy. I somehow doubt that that is the case however. Therefore, to suggest that there is some equivalence between contraception and NFP is to show a lack of understanding of the Church’s position. I suggest that Melinda and the director in question read Humanae Vitae and some good commentary on it, and then have a re-think. But to use your Catholic faith and the Church’s position on NFP to try and lend some legitimacy to your contraception pushing in the third world is just wrong.
Finally, one last thing from this Guardian article was this quotation from the same director:
“Family planning could revolutionise families, he said, citing countries such as South Korea and Thailand, where they promoted family planning and then family size shrunk and they were able to put money into their children's education.”
Really? South Korea is your example huh? The country that has only just turned around a horrendous Sex Ratio at Birth from 114 in the early 1990s and had the lowest birth rate in the world in 2009 and is now the most quickly ageing nation in the world? Yes, family planning and a shrunken family size has really worked out well for them. Even the best educated child will not be able to support 2 parents and four grandparents alone. Especially if he can’t find a wife and get married and rear future workforce participants.
PS Go and read Richard McLeod’s article on the front page. Richard is a very good immigration/refugee lawyer who also (from his article) seems to be very good at writing about overweening governments and population/demography. My position on this blog is suddenly looking less secure!
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