Friday, August 12, 2011

Level-headed and honest discussions about famine, climate change & overpopulation

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Within ten days, two separate radio programs addressed the controversy around overpopulation, and they did it exactly like it should be done:  in passing, dismissing it as a separate threat, and mentioning it only in the context of sociopolitical pressures and poverty.

These two shows?  Forum, with Michael Krasny, and Talk of the Nation Science Friday, with Ira Flatow.

In the Forum episode, an update on Somalia, Semhar Araia, the regional director for OxFam's work on the horn of Africa, addressed an email from a listener who railed about Somalia's inability to feed its too crowded landscape.  In perhaps two sentences, Mr. Araia stated clearly that Somalia has the ability to feed itself even under the current circumstances.  People were starving to death there because militia groups were preventing them from reaching food.

It is as simple and as horrifying as that.  Somalia doesn't suffer from brown and black people having too many babies, it suffers under the hands of vile militias.

And today on Science Friday, in an entire discussion (I think it was a half-hour) on food, its production, and climate change, only a few scant seconds were given to overpopulation as a problem in and of itself.  Ira Flatow started off with the fear-mongering threat we often hear - by 2050 there will be 9 billion people - and the respondent replied, to agreement with the other speakers, that:  first, we may not even reach 9 billion by 2050; second, we grow enough under current situations to feed all of us; third, the problems are an overpopulation of poverty and distribution - and more specifically, that when people get out of abject poverty, they will want to eat more and different foods; fourth, climate change is going to impact our yield, and so we need to study those impacts and do what we can to mitigate them. 

Again, that was it.  Overpopulation was not the problem.  (For the record, I think Mr. Flatow was lobbing a softball in his question on overpopulation.)

I hope to post a bit more on the Science Friday show, because there is so much in there to take apart related to ethics and the environment, but I wanted to make the overpopulation issue clear:  For most folks seriously working to improve food security, overpopulation isn't the problem. 


R. Gabe Davis said...

The question is what besides education can be done about overpopulation with out trampling human rights. I think that is why most people steer away from the conversation. not because they don't percieve the problem but because they fear the solutions. Your pal the Envirocapitalist. by the way I am back.

Josh said...

Hey, thanks for coming by!

I really don't think overpopulation is a problem - in a nutshell, I think it's a way to get around the real problems associated with food markets in oligopoly/oligopsony, and the intractable sociopolitical problems of the World.

The UN keeps changing their estimate for our peak population. Now it's estimated at 9 billion by 2050, then dropping off; however, the trend is probably lower. I will be surprised if we ever hit 9 billion people.

People are just having fewer babies, which is great for developing countries and womens' rights, but it is a problem for industrial countries with an aging population and few replacements.

Right now, we are able to grow enough food to feed 9 billion people. We just don't have a way to get the food to them.

I like your avatar - very cool!