Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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,


Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit essay.

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Imagine: a fully loaded 200 passenger jet airplane

  • 44 of them crashing with no survivors each day of the year equals the amount of people that dies every year of pneumonia and flu
  • 74 of them crashing with no survivors each day of the year equals the amount of people that dies every year of tobacco
  • 150 of them crashing with no survivors each day of the year equals the amount of people that dies every year of poverty and malnutrition.

(Data from World Health Organization)


  • Pneumonia and flu cause deaths partly because of lack of good medication against viruses, and partly because most victims of these diseases have a bad health.
  • Governments tolerate tobacco.
  • We produce enough to provide food for the entire human population: food shortages and non-variated food is a distribution problem. About 50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten in the country where it is grown.

Just for consideration. Poverty still is the worst pollution, and by chosing a lifestyle one could also chose a cause of death…

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Lately, the world seems to screw up. The economy is dropping like an airplane without engines, poverty is spreading like a contagious disease, wars keep demanding the lives of young men and in my country, the Netherlands, health service is robbing old people, the education system fails to teach and the bureaucracy will eventually kill an innocent civilian because the thousand rules in our legislation contradict, are ambiguous and partly useless…

For days I’ve been wondering why and how civilization ignites so much misery. First, I concluded we, humans, animals, plants, fungi and prokaryots are all the result of years and years of evolution. We are the remnants of huge cycles of elements, the interaction between atmosphere – ocean, sediments and biosphere. We are nothing more than an enourmous collection of molecules that is working together for one aim: storing energie of the sun in organic matter (plants), releasing this energy by way of dissimilation (animals) and decomposing the “machines” (plants and animals) to nutriënts (fungi). It is a very obvious cycle, but yet so complicated no one could ever think up such a thing…

Secondly, through history mankind developed into a high intelligent organism that creates, changes and destroyes. We, humans, have the power to make our world. And we do. But we cannot forget, though, that if we have the knowledge to do so, we are responsible for the consequences. Yet, we aren’t able to control the tectonic activity of the earth, nor the impact of meteorites from outer space, we are responsible for the increased level of CO2 in our atmosphere. No doubt that the raising is due to human activity. We helped the dodo to extinct. Nitrogen compounds cause acid rain and turn the soil sour, what influences the plant diversity. Thanks to our highways thousand of animals die every year when they cross the tar and meet our four-wheeled vehicles…

Besides the fact we are not taking good care of nature, we are not even taking good care for people.  There still exists a boundary between the government and the average civilian. Though our prime minister acts like a friendly family man, he even though has to reign the country. And reigning a country is different from playing computer games or a very realistic simulation: when you fail, people suffer for real. The government is screwing up. The men in charge are making mistakes they cannot afford to make. We need order in the chaos, clear agreements, preferable in understandable language. But the world has grown big; we know nearly everything about anything on earth and still there’s neither enough food and medical care nor the peaceful world all holy books propose…

So what to do? When? And how much is this gonna coast? It is no good to push the problems away, they have to be solved before our whole world cannot be saved anymore. I’m not saying this is gonna be easy: I only think we need to cooperate and forget about quasi solutions that didn’t work out well in early days.

The only sure thing is that on a certain day in the future the earth`s core has cooled down so far the tectonic activity will come to a halt. This is no guarantee life won’t be possible anymore. Research demonstrate the sun`s activity is increasing and so the energie we receive from the sun will expand and warm earth`s surface. However, there may be a tipping point at which the earth`s core is too cold or the sun`s activity is too low and the other factor is not capable of compensating: this tipping point will mark the end.Though we cannot predict how many generations seperate us from Judgement Day; we only know that once it will be our time.

Fortunately, I think by then the scientists (a few of my current friends) have certainly developed a space ship like in the movie Wall-E. Untill then, we are stuck on earth, what, in my opinion, isn’t such a bad place, if you take a moment to look around…

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