May 14, 2011
Yeah, but if I’m hungry
You were right: the world population expands faster than food production. Although Western population growth has slowed down because we have a higher prosperity level, theThird Worldsuffers from an unrestrained increase in population amounts. For decades, farming land and cattle ranching have been taking over nature landscape. To supply six billion people with food, everything is produced at large extent, with monoculture, aided with fertilizer and factory farms. Still people are starving while, according to recent figures, food production is high enough to supply twelve billion people.
I guess you did already know that poverty in developing countries maintains the people surplus and food shortage. It is probably new to you that food-scarcity is a matter of equal sharing. In theThird Worldthey lack everything: job opportunities, food, a solid position in world economy, money. Here in the West we have plenty of everything and I think that we can feed the one hundred thousand people dying of hunger every day with all the food we throw away.
Beside that, since your time income differences between the West and theThird Worldhave increased and several economic activities maintain these differences. Here in the West governments subsidize farmers because they are going through economically uncertain times. The production surplus that originates from the subsidizing is sold – for usurious prices – in African countries, which economically harms the farmers there.
Yet the local farmers try to survive and this causes the unsustainably use of water and soil in developing countries: each year tropical rain forest areas as large asEnglandare cleared for agriculture. Production per hectare is enlarged by not leaving any land as fallows and increasing cattle density on meadows.
Half way the previous century, Garret Hardin noticed that biodiversity, water quality, soil fertility, production per hectare and ecosystem value drastically decline because of humans collectively using these natural resources too intensively; current environmentalists say exactly the same. What can we do? Nature is so valuable, we cannot just mess her up. Did you know that biodiversity in tropical rain forests is so huge that every step you take you can encounter a new species? Still the rain forest in South-America disappears to give place to soy, which is used to feed the European cattle. (And processed in countless food and care products.) Mangrove forests are cleared because of the high instrumental value of the timber and the areas themselves are tainted due to shrimp farms, while the forests as an ecosystem are much more valuable. Hoe can we prevent the species richness of thousands of years of development to be spoiled?
At this very moment multiple Western organizations are struggling against poverty and for sustainable technologies. I think education is a good way of giving help. We can provide sexual education to put a brake on the geometrical population growth and teach locals how to use water and soil sustainably. It is a bit like raising appreciation for nature.
Okay, I can hear your thinking: how sustainably would we live if we were hungry? A rhetorical question. Malthus, they die because we flourish. Here in the West we spend a lot of attention to sustainable technologies, nature conservation and even nature development, because we are rich enough to spend our money on that. People and nature in developing countries are the victims of the neoliberal character of our global economy. Poverty does not lead to nature degradation, as long as people live harmonically. The world-wide market is just so non-transparent that we in the West are simply not aware that our consumption pattern is destroying nature in developing countries. We do not see who or what is paying for our prosperity. It is just hypocrisy that we spend so much money on developing projects while we are indirectly responsible for the damage.
I write to you because I cannot solve this problem on my own. At least, I only know some useless suggestions. Perhaps we should discard capitalism and become communists. Then there won’t be any distinctions between poor and rich and will farmers in contemporary developing countries no longer be forced to destroy nature in order to maintain their families. Or perhaps we can use gene technology to turn off the gene that determines our avarice. Then we can be satisfied with all that nature offers without trespassing her carrying capacity.
Malthus, I write especially to you because I think you made a step towards the right direction. In your essay from 1798 you used insights from economy and biology to describe why the human population crosses the carrying capacity of nature. This problem has become a global issue now and has led to a poor state of nature preservation in developing countries.
I think it is time to build bridges between different scientific disciplines to solve this kind of social problems. We have to share knowledge with each other, because in this complex world, solo insights are not sufficient anymore. By hearing a word such as ‘free market mechanism’, biologists stay awfully quiet, and when economists are confronted with the nutrient cycles, at night they are having troubles falling asleep.
Malthus, I would like to ask you if you would like to employ your multiple disciplinary qualities in an interdisciplinary research team to come up with solutions for sustainable solutions to nature conservation in the Third World. Within this collaboration the theme ‘Yeah, but if I’m hungry’ will take a central stage, by which focus will be on both food scarcity in developing countries and Western consumption appetite. Maybe you can get in touch with Garrett Hardin, or Arjun Appadurai? Can I count on you? Because it would be a dreadful thing if our exquisite nature will be lost.
Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit essay.