Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Really Inconvenient Truth

I was reading through wikipedia the other day, as I love to do. I somehow started reading the article 'what wikipedia is not' for some reason or another. That got me onto something else, which got me onto something else, etc etc, which got me onto the articles about Malthusian theory and the Malthusian catastrophe. Of course these sorts of theories have been around for a while and can't be claimed to be the thoughts of a single person, but they serve as a nice succinct theory to refer to here.

In a nutshell, these theories predict that when unchecked population growth outgrows our agricultural capabilities, a number of inevitable processes will work to reduce the population in various horrible ways, not the least of which is famine on apocalyptic levels. It makes sense -- reports have found that the population of the world will likely exceed our abilities to feed by 2030. That's 18 years, not meaning to be sensationalistic about it.

Now think about it in a different way. Running out of food in 2030 relies on levels of famine and poverty remaining what they are today or increasing proportionally. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in. If we were to attempt to give ever undernourished person in the world a typical day's food intake of a modern western urban family, as is the ideal scenario, we would likely already be past our ability to supply the world with food. Right now there are more overweight people in the world than there are undernourished -- with both groups likely now at or above 1,000,000,000 people -- so there is some slack that we can take away from Western cultures to feed the poor. And if we somehow reduce the immense amounts of waste in the world then we could survive a few more years of continued growth. But the truth of the matter, the hard cold inevitable truth is that the world, as it is, relies on a seventh of the world's population going hungry. Is the malthusian crisis something that will happen in 2030, or are we simply in its birthing throes now?

So, assuming that we are utterly unsuccessful in solving the poverty crisis, and assuming that population growth doesn't increase any more, we have 18 years before we can't feed ourselves. 18 years to before you, reader, having a good meal might mean that my family doesn't eat tonight. Given enough nights of that, I might think about taking some of your food no matter what it takes. And that will play out on a global scale as major food producers such as the United States and Australia will seek to reduce exports to improve standard of living. Other countries will flex their muscle because food is a basic human necessity that, when it's in short supply, is more valuable than anything else that can be traded, and so other exports are worth nothing. And thus we will find ourselves stuck in a Malthusian catastrophe, where through famine or plague or war, our population will reduce back to the point where we can feed ourselves. It is not something that is immoral, or unethical, it is simply something that will happen.

Unless something changes. And that, my friends, will be the subject of a post hopefully in the next few days. Or I might make a series of posts about this whole issue, because I have a few things to say about it. We'll see.

Stay Circular,

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