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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

May 14, 2011

Dear Malthus

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.

Kind regards,

CB.

Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit essay.

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I have friends who admitted that confessing you’re gay is a thing you better don’t do. The ‘otherwise’ part I missed, but as it concerned friends from a very christian village near my hometown, I could only guess it had something to do with ‘not-done’.

For a very long time I wondered why some people are gay and why other are not. I already figured out that gay people are not well accepted in most cultures, because 1) men are supposed to sleep with women and produce offspring 2) gay men are not exactly masculine and 3) people find it repulsive only to think of two men kissing and/or having sex.

Let me start with the third point. Why would you find it repulsive that two other people than yourself have a good time together? You are not forced to look, you are not even forced to think about it. It is only your upbringing that somehow emphasized that men are attracted to women and vice versa.

Then the second point. No, gay men are not masculine, but they can be strong and they look like men. They only, somehow, do not act like a straight man. Gay men usually fulfill the more (very girly) feminine occupations, related to styling, fashion and design… Scientific research concluded that brains of gay men are more suited for working with art, design and other area`s that require creativity and eye for details. Though lots of gay men have an office job or a job in engineering.

The first point, and especially the part about producing offspring, is for me, an environmentalist, the most important one. In nearly all cultures gay people are not accepted for a whole range of reasons, that are based upon prejudices and opinion-based cultural values. I think the existence of gay people serves a very noble goal: it is a natural solution to overpopulation. Imagine that around 5-10% of a population does not breed because it does not feel attracted to individuals of the opposite sex. This would seriously reduce the amount of children and will prevent that the human population will expand excessively.

So, what I wanted to say was that we (all people on this globe) should not hate gay people just because they do not act masculine, or are more sensitive than straight guys, or scream like a girl in stead of roaring like a tough guy. Gay people are very nice to talk to – especially when you’re a girl (like me) and finally find a guy who understands you! – they will not hit on man`s wife, they will not fancy a girl when she is not interested, they do not contribute to overpopulation.

Actually, you could say gay people are totally harmless and do not deserve the hatred that they receive. Of course, there are criminal gay people, but there are also straight criminal people. And I have very rarely heard of gay people beating up straight people (which is also a crime, of course).

In short, confessing you’re gay should not be a torture. In stead, we should welcome gay people who step out of their closet.

NOTE: Click here for a short article about what the Bible says about gay marriage/same sex marriage that inspired me to write this post. I do not contradict the article, because I also do not see why people who can’t have childeren should raise children, but I want to add that what the Bible says is not doubtless true (as the Bible has been written by humans, and before these stories and ‘wisdoms’ have been written down, a lot of oral story telling has probably ruined the original story line (which does not exclude there is some true in Biblical stories) and people of a few centuries ago did not know as much about nature and biological process as we do now) and christians (and also muslims, jews, hindu’s etc.) should stop hating their fellow men because the authors of religious books judged in stead of looked at facts.

NOTE II: Click here for an article by Soulforce, an organization resisting political and religious oppression of gay/lesbian in a relentless, non violent way. Especially pay attention to the interpretation of Biblical texts that provide ways to be none-straight and still be a good, religious person. But above all, consider this:

Most people who are certain they know what the Bible says about homosexuality don’t know where the verses that reference same-sex behavior can be found. They haven’t read them, let alone studied them carefully. They don’t know the original meaning of the words in Hebrew or Greek. And they haven’t tried to understand the historical context in which those words were written.

Very interesting article, a real recommendation!

NOTE III: ‘People who can’t have children should not raise children’ I’ll bring about in a future post about in vitro fertilization (IVF).

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source: www.cartoonstock.com

I know we can’t repeal the laws of nature, but I don’t see why we can’t amend them a little. It seems mankind has forgotten their place and is ruining the earth to make money. Wealth is only seen in the light of human’s own life span. But what about next generations? What about species becoming extinct, about ecosystems being teared down? Is it that difficult to see we humans use the earth’s resources to create our wealth? And once these resources become depleted, nothing will remain? The West even decided to enhance the poor countries, but in a way that has nothing to do with offering help.

Previous year, on June 10th 2010, was election day in the Netherlands. My first task today was voting for the political party that warrants a green, sustainable development of our society. My second task was finishing an exam about ecology. One week later the Dutch political parties seemed to have problems formating a government. It took them nearly four months to agree on several heavily debated issues: retirement age, health care, migration policy, education and most of all, cutting down the expenses. None of the heavily debated issues involved environmental problems like the acification of the Netherlands, the expansion of the Ecological Main Structure (Ecologische Hoofdstructuur, EHS) and the decrease in biodiversity. No, the new government decided agriculture was more important than natural areas in stead, though Dutch agricultural yields already increased every year due to new technologies and by no means there was any food shortage. Moreover, a lot of the yields were exported and the majority of Dutch food is imported from other European countries.

It was during these elections my attention was drawn towards the incredible interconnectedness of our trading system, especially with regard to food, clothes and luxury products (radio’s, computers, jewelry). I cannot tell where my jeans come from, but I do know it costs thousands of liters of water to cultivate the amount of cotton needed to manufacture my jeans, let alone the chance of child labor or sweat shops included in the process.  I am, moreover, terribly opposed to processing soy in all kinds of food products, but yet I have not spot much food products without soy. It is, like, everywhere, and it hurts me in the heart because I know the tropical rain forest in (for example) Brazil is cut rapidly to provide for soy plantations, though the tropical soil is not suited for plantations, because it is low in nutrients and fertilizer will wash out easily due to the loose soil structure.

Farming factories are like heaven to capitalism, but like hell to environmentalists and animal-lovers. Farming factories serve to serve the meat demand. But why do we have to eat so much meat? Can’t we just eat less? And is it so difficult to buy only biologically produced food? Unfortunately yes, it is, because the ‘good’ meat is more expensive than the ‘bad’ meat. And in this capitalist, free market ecnonomy our money is our most valuable possession, right?

In December, I watched a documantery about the gold mines in Guatemala. Canadian companies close deals with the government of Guatemala to extract gold ores from the land. All yields end up at the Canadian companies; all harm ends up at the indigenous people and the environment. The companies are using cyanide to mine the gold, a very venemous substantion causing sickness and death by living organisms, including humans. Though the companies state they do not use cyanide, or they state the cyanide is disposed off in an environmental friendly way, or they state the cyanide is used with care for the environment and human healt. Either way, it has been reported the cyanide disposals have been buried unsafely, meaning the cyanide will leak into the environment, enter the food chain end eventually kill.

One word: consumerism. People don’t see where products come from. Consumerism comes with a blind eye for the start of the products we consume; the global character of current production processes veils environmental desctruction, unhealthy labour conditions, corruption, monopoly and hypocrisy among the ‘civilized’ western organizations. Companies don’t mind telling the production and transportation chain of their products. Then it would become clear transportation costs cover a large part of products’ prices or would bad labour conditions become reveiled. Then it would become clear biologically produced food is doing bad on the market because non-biologically produced food is sponsored by government allowances. Une painful example I read in a Dutch newspaper lately: on one page there was an article about how some Dutch farmers wanted more allowances from the government to ensure a proper income; on the next page there was an article about an African farmer who opposed the allowances provided in western countries because these allowances caused an unfair playing field for upcoming agricultural companies and countries.

It was the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund forcing developing countries to implement the Structural Adjustment Programs which were aimed at enhancing economic growth by participating on the global market. But the global martket was an unlevel playing field with the developed countries laying way ahead of the newbies. Prices of industrally manufactured products were way lower than the more hand-make products of developing countries. Western countries dump the surplus of fruits and vegetables on the local markets of developing countries, causing food prices to drop and negatively affecting the income of local farmers. It was also the WB declaring mining activities are a good way to escape poverty.

Perhaps they still don’t see economic growth is no answer to alleviating poverty or enhancing underdeveloped countries. Why is that? One: economic growth, or a free market system, does harm to the environment. Because people do not know where products are coming from and whatresources it takes to produce them. Two: poverty mainly is caused by maldistribution. And maldistribution is caused by power inequality and corrpution. So it is not economic growth that should help people out of poverty, but a transparant functioning government and fair trade. Three: by focussing merely on economic growth there is no room for sustainable development. Quantity is useless if quality is poor. Four: in western countries economic growth only came after some (World) Wars, protests, revolutions, a strong operating government. But hey, history is forgotten easily. And why bother the hard approach if there is an approach that seems to work fine? But it only works fine for now and for us, and not for the next generation, for the quality of the environment and for the very survival of all species.

The world is a system with structures; nature is a system with structures. It is no use giving money to one of the employees in your company to save the whole business. It is no use replacing the tire of your car if the engine has broken down. It is no use giving money to a gambler and asking hiim to spend his money on charity. Making and keeping a better world asks for a more structural approach. Envirionmentalists can’t save the planet as long as not everyone is coorporating. Western organizations should not cover their practises by the empty words of profit, money-saving, free market, economic growth and progress. It is sustainability we need. And people, all people, need to know how the Earth works. No more: God created it and will save our asses. No more: it is not that big a deal if I give myself what I need and Garrett Hardin was wrong. No more: we should focus on lessen the poverty in this world without caring for the enormous amount of resources needed to provide all this people with the wealth of our current western society and forget about Thomas Robert Malthus. No more: what I do in my backyard won’t effect my neighbours and ignore the externalities of Pigou.

Do not turn our beloved and required clean, healthy environment into a parody. Realize there is only one Earth and if we kill it we cannot make a new one. We should remember our evolutionary place and  never forget we were here last.

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