Friday, August 12, 2016

A Steady, Unstoppable Wave

It's the Unholy Trinity - climate change, over-consumption and overpopulation. Any of those three is capable of bringing human civilization crashing down. Together, they make it a certainty. We either succeed at solving them all or we must certainly fail at fixing any of them. Which brings me to an item from Foreign Policy on the crisis almost no one wants to address - overpopulation.

While countries across Europe and East Asia are grappling with declining birthrates and aging populations, societies across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are experiencing youth booms of staggering proportions: More than half of Egypt’s labor force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s population of 167 million isbetween the ages of 15 and 34. In Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25.

...Consider India. More than 300 million Indians are under the age of 15, making India home to more children than any country, at any time, in all of human history. To put the size of this generation’s numbers into perspective consider this: If these children formed a country, that country would be the fourth-largest in the world, still smaller than the United States but larger than Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan.

...And India is far from being the only country grappling with a booming youth population. Africa’s current population of 200 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 is set to double by 2045. In the Middle East, a region of some 400 million people, nearly 65 percent of the population is younger than age 30 — the highest proportion of youth to adults in the region’s history.

...Unfortunately, the countries that have most of the world’s young people are also the ones that are the most ill-equipped to grapple with their needs, ambitions, expectations, and inevitable frustrations — let alone capitalize on their potential. According to the United Nations, developing countries are home to 89 percent of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds; by 2020, they will be home to nine out of every 10 people globally. Like too many developing countries, countries like Chad and Niger rank high on lists of the world’s most fragile states. They also have populations in which half of their citizens are under the age of 16.

The author of the article, Kristen Lord, is the president and CEO of an international development and education NGO. She sees this reproductive bomb as an opportunity - for development and growth. She completely overlooks the impacts of both climate change (and other forms of environmental degradation) and our already massively excessive dependence on the Earth's resources, renewable and non. When we have already exceeded the planet's ecological carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7 and we're racing ever faster to deplete nature's reserves, another 2-billion + mouths to feed and clothe and employ can only worsen the situation in those nations already "most ill-equipped to grapple with their needs." The resources these next baby-boomers will need just to survive much less thrive are already over-subscribed. Where does she imagine more, much more, shall be found?


Toby said...

It looks to me like the people having the most children are those with limited or no rights for women.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's certainly part of it, Toby. Yet with so many reaching reproductive age so soon there's little chance of reforming that in time. These are countries that have so many cultural dispositions toward large families that it makes taming birth rates nearly impossible.

Lorne said...

Those are staggering numbers, Mound, and yet looking beyond them, we in the West have to bear a large responsibility, disproportionate to our size, for the use of earths's limited resources. With a culture that promotes rampant consumption as a cherished right and obligation, our impact is devastatingly huge.

The Mound of Sound said...

True enough, Lorne. What compounds it is that the West is relatively well off when it comes to resources yet our consumption levels require that we draw down on less advantaged region's resources also.

A course I did on food security explored a large British company's policy of "chasing the sun" in the production of strawberries for British supermarket shelves. The season began in Britain in the summer. Then production shifted to the company's farms in Spain. From there it shifted to Africa, north and south, for the balance of the year.

I examined photographs of really impressive farming operations in Kenya, growing strawberries for Brits to enjoy in the winter. That led me to check Kenya's food security and, of course, the country is unable to feed its own and must rely on foreign aid while some of its best farmland is diverted to growing unseasonal delights for Brits. It was the same story with other companies in other food insecure countries.

Yesterday I came across a report about artichoke production in Mexico to meet North American demand. Artichokes, it turns out, are very water intensive. Mexico is water stressed. Yet massive amounts of groundwater are used to grow artichokes for export, water that's badly needed for the domestic food supply. The industrial agriculture giants are indifferent to the problems they're creating. I've seen other water-intensive produce from Mexico - strawberries, even lettuce, on our supermarket shelves.

We chase their resources - crops, 'virtual water' etc. - because it's plentiful and, for us, really cheap. We don't face food insecurity but we get grumpy whenever there's a spike in prices. Ironically, those price spikes tend to reverberate through the Third World. There have been many accounts of ordinary Africans who see plenty of food on their shelves only at prices that place those products out of their reach. That must be as infuriating as it is frightful for people having to go without. It's not hard to imagine how they must see us.

Anonymous said...

Anyong said...In the meantime, such things as shipment of apples from Britain to New Zealand to be polished and shipped back for sale increases the cost of apples. There really is a practice of stupidity when it comes to food production and how it is handled. We need to hear more of "Buy Local" in our communities.

Anonymous said...

Make no mistake - the overpopulation agenda so omnipresent in late sixties and early seventies did not disappear on its own.
It was silenced in an orchestrated fashion.
Global mafia of big corporations decided that more consumers is the best way of growing their businesses.

Purple library guy said...

I'd say our overconsumption and their runaway population growth are interrelated. Other than India, nearly all the places with the really rapid population growth are places the West has drastically destabilized in the process of extracting their wealth for use by our consumers. And India isn't really so different--it's just that there, it hasn't been necessary to inflict civil wars on them to get them to hand over the loot, their narcissistic comprador class enthusiastically milks their poor for us.
Places with massive poverty, with no or destroyed infrastructure, with widespread violence and insecurity--that's where populations grow fast. And that's the kind of place we create in the process of robbing 'em blind so some plutocrats can add zeroes to their bank accounts.

The Mound of Sound said...

From what I've learned, PLG, they're intertwined just as they are unbalanced. The history of how we got to this point is fairly well understood, at least in some quarters. The urgent question is what we intend to do about it? As far as I can tell the answer is little or nothing. We may even be banking on some new eco-Black Death to resolve some of the overall problems without the advanced world having to entertain painful notions of equality and sacrifice. How many people do you know who would support a 30 or 40 per cent reduction in their standard of living? We don't want to share the lifeboat with newcomers. If they want a seat they may have to fight us for it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could supply them with birth control.