Why Poverty is Not History
'Save the People'
updated April 2006
For Tables and Grafs: Download PDF
The world cannot support its present population at a reasonabl standard of living for all.
If there are no humane solutions now, future solutions will not be
A tremendous disaster like the tsunami is a warning to all of us, to prevent such tragedies again by every means we can.
What drives populàtion gròth is not so much the question, but what keeps it down. There have always been so meny things to keep it down - famin, disease, wors. drouts, etc - that màting cupls are programd to have a fair number of children to keep the spèsies gòing. Then Nàtùre dus her bit to trim the number down. But when hùmans respond bi remùving the trimming factors, there is nothing to stop acseleràting populaàtion increase exept hùman's deliberat efforts at family planning, abortion, infantiside,or other expèdients. The West has a lot of these means to keep thair numbers down, but other plases do not ùse these means.
And pressùres to have mor children than u mìt want inclùde relijus, political out-breeding tactics,factory or military fodder, more litl consùmers needed, pàtriarcal and màtriarcal cultùres which valù and count children as some other cultùres valù and count mony . .
Nov 5 2004
A vaccine against malaria would be another win by humans against Nature's old inhumane ways of limiting population increase. However, to prevent continuing tragedy, saving lives must be balanced by extending humane ways of family planning, or still-growing populations will continue to outstrip and destroy resources. Western countries destroy resources for the future by economic systems dependant on constant quantitative growth that increases pollution, greenhouse gases and loss of countryside, even if populations age. The economic development of poorer countries cannot keep up with their population growth. And so deserts and slums grow, wildlife and fisheries disappear, and shortages of clean water may become more serious than grabs for oil.
'Save the People' needs more than medicine, more than charity and more than westernising the whole world.
Sometimes Western aid does not consider possible consequences
sufficiently. For example, the wells in Bangladesh which turned out
to have arsenic, wells elsewhere which exhaust groundwater that is
not replenished, and goats in areas which are turned to semi-arid or
desert as they eat everything that grows, an historic problem in the
Middle East and northern Africa.Charities probably cannot at present touch the issue of
family-planning, yet it is a key to prevent increased desertification
and increase in economic refugees. Aid organizations should be
getting together to stand up to the politics, economics and religious
blinkers which are fostering unsustainable population increase where
it is causing great suffering for women and children, and spelling
the end for other creatures.
Villages that used to be set with forest
backgrounds are now surrounded by desert. Elephants that used to live
in jungles now roam up to
'The poor have too many children' in part because they have no other joys; as well as in part because they do not know how to prevent it. Aid organizations need to join in tackling both problems - otherwise all the other problems can only get worse.
In election years we have a job to encourage our politicians to determine their policies by the urgent needs of the people and not by politics, - and to dare to see how the people respond to leadership, not blatant manoeuvring. Our greatest election issue must be how the country can survive even into the next decades. The spectre of desert overwhelms even health, education and jobs as these issues are currently perceived. This spectre is global.The greatest problem today is to find humane solutions to ghastly problems. The greatest problem for which humane solutions are most urgent and most difficult is that of population growth not just outstripping the earth's resources but devastating them.Yet when problems are too great, humans scuttle around like creatures disturbed when a stone is lifted.The common response is denial. News about vast population pressures, desertification and loss of food resources may be on page 8, while page 1 is on sport and scandal. Yet list the countries of the world, and see which of the following problems apply - which escape? Advancing deserts, droughts, dust-storms, famines, wars over short resources, loss of scarce agricultural land to cities, desperate pollution and waste problems, growing shanty towns, megalopolises and homeless millions, parents with insufficient livelihood to care for children, inhumane and even dangerous food-production methods argued as essential to feed mass populations. These are documented, but are still denied.What can be done?Temporary measures must be taken although they will not be sufficient without preventing the continuing growth of the major problem.
If all existing resources are shared fairly, if there is no more waste, if the West, particularly America, cuts its consumption to only double that of the poor instead of ten or twenty times - there would be enough to go round temporarily with present population numbers. And for a little longer if science manages to wrest more food from the earth without managing to inflict more side effects as well . .We should be going hell-for-leather and heaven-for-food for all these humane solutions, including measures which will affect each of us personally - identifying and reining in our own wastefulness, which is so great that without even thinking we buy new dusters and resent progressive income taxes.We should be countering ageism in all its forms - not just fear of having more older people and fewer children to support, but also the ageism that will not learn from the past - which had its Dark Ages and hubristic Towers of Babel and civilisations that destroyed themselves in similar waste and environmental destruction. "Whom the gods destroy they first make mad" was an ancient Greek observation of history to date.We - this article is oriented to solutions and we have to start with ourselves - we must recognise and try to counter all those who make profits from incipient disasters to our environment and quality of life - from land developers, mass-marketeers, snake-heads and the arms industries to religions and politics with interests in more followers or war-fodder.There are also inadequate solutions:
The anthropoid ape overshoot crisis
What "humane" technical methods can reduce the ape population to back within carrying-capacity?The 3Es are energy, evolution, ecology.The numbers show us that we have "overshot" the carrying capacity of our planet. Overshoot is always followed by die-off because that the way overshoot is defined. Currently more than 3 billion humans are malnourished worldwide -- the largest number and proportion ever. An estimated 40,000 children die each day due to malnutrition and other diseases.  Yet the looming "peak" in global oil production will cause global food production to drop to a fraction of today's numbers:"If the fertilizers, partial irrigation [in part provided by oil energy], and pesticides were withdrawn, corn yields, for example, would drop from 130 bushels per acre to about 30 bushels."  This is a drop to 23% of current values! Thus, massive die-off is inevitable.
I can foresee the possibility of at least two basic die-off scenarios:
A "fast die-off" could be completed in, say, five years after it is initiated. It would be a well-planned biological attack by the ruling elite with a well-designed, genetically-engineered organism. A "cure" would be available at some high price ($100k ???) which would eliminate all the "underachievers" and leave enough natural resources available to the rich for at least another 100 years. In other words, Social Darwinism to da max!
A "slow die-off" might take place over, say, the next 75 years (perhaps even less as integrated systems collapse). The inevitable global reduction of net energy -- and the inevitable collapse of the global economy -- will cause country after country to become "overpopulated" (here I mean insufficient resources for population)."Overpopulation" will cause a rise a nationalism and aggression as leaderstry to hold their countries together. Those countries that feel that they are able, will invent excuses to attack other countries and seize resources (Hitler did it for that reason)These large-country wars will continue for a number of years. As countries with nukes (starting with Pakistan, N Korea, India, Russia) collapse into rule by fundamentalists, nationalists, and anarchists,the temptation to launch a preemptive strike will prove irresistible. With the accuracy of our present strategic weapons we can incinerate our opponent's weapons in-place if we know where they are. We will have no choice but to launch on these "nuclear suicide bombers" before they approach us.At some point, existing countries will have insufficient resources to remain intact and must splinter into smaller political units. These smaller units that feel that they are able, will invent excuses to attack other small units and seize resources.
This process will continue but the ability to make war will decrease. As these large and small wars occur over the next 100 years, billions ofcivilians will be killed and displaced. The integrity of our global ecosystem will be destroyed as starving people kill and eat anything they can find (including each other); freezing people will burn everything they can find -- including plastics mined from dumps and ripped from buildings. These burning plastics will create a horrendous dioxin load on whatever's left alive! Virtually all standing forests will be cut for fuel (e.g., Haiti), and virtually all wild animals will be killed and eaten (e.g., Zimbabwe).All waste dumps (e.g., PCBs, heavy metals) will be abandoned, leak into groundwater, and eventually leak into the sea probably exterminating all marine mammals. Abandoned nuclear plants and nuclear waste sites (e.g., Hanford) will experience chemical explosions (hydrogen explosions?), and some operating plants will probably meltdown (e.g., Chernobyl, TMI) as operators struggle to keep the lights on while maintenance is universally forgotten.Seventy five years of slow die-off may well leave the planet so poisoned and irradiated that it can no longer support any higher forms of life. Unfortunately, I believe that both foregoing scenarios are consistent with thermodynamics, evolution theory, and history.
Overshoot in a Nutshell
Suppose a person requires one quart of water per day to survive. Further suppose, an aquifer produces 10 quarts of water per day. A tribe of 10 people has drilled a well and live by consuming the water produced by the well. Now, suppose a tribe member gives birth, and the tribe starts pumping 11 quarts per day from the well. The tribe has exceeded the "carrying capacity" of it's territory. This means at least one person WILL die. (More likely more than one.)
 WILL LIMITS OF THE EARTH'S RESOURCES CONTROL HUMAN NUMBERS? David Pimentel, et al., College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, CORNELLUNIVERSITY, Ithaca, NY 14853-0901 February 25, 1999; http://www.dieoff.com/page174.htm
 THE POST-PETROLEUM PARADIGM -- AND POPULATION, by Walter Youngquist; Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies Volume20, Number 4, March 1999; http://www.dieoff.com/page171.htm
See tables for the West, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Oceania, 1950, 2000 and estimated for 2050.
Population growth rates explain why Poverty is unlikely to be past History, and why solutions are unlikely to be free trade in commodities, migrant workers in industrialised countries sending back income to their homelands, or even transmigrations, and why stabilisation of populations may come too late, as populations are already exhausting resources.
Tables are compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base. 4-26-2005
Further demographic data from the Data Base for each country include Births and deaths per 1,000 population, rate of natural increase (percent), annual rate of growth (percent), life expectancy at birth (years), infant deaths per 1,000 live births, total fertility rate per woman,
Population pyramids. The bulges in these pyramids for the youngest generations explain the explosive growth and why the population estimates for 2050 are often so high. However, the lack of adequate censuses means that many of the figures contain guesswork or are estimated from samples.
NOTES1. The x axes vary in size according to the population range in each graph, and so large increases can still appear minimal (eg the increases in Bangladesh and Pakistan are huge). 2.How little wars, famines, massacres and AIDS affect the growth in Africa and the Middle East &endash; they are mere blips. More important are the birth rate, family size, the rate of infant deaths, and the distance between generations &endash; teenage pregnancies shorten the generations so that population growth is higher.3. Note the countries where the growth rates have stabilised or even inverted, as in Russia. E&OE. In most of these countries, projected decrease is not below 1950 population sizes.4. These data depend upon the reliability of the data published by the US Census Bureau International Data Base. There must be instances where the estimates are more approximate than others.
The figures tie in closely with the data compiled by William Stanton (qv) except that he is pessimistic that the estimates for 2050 may be brought down by predictable Malthusian catastrophes
POPULATION DENSITIESPopulation densities are affected by deserts, mountains, barren soils and adverse climates. Australia and the Sahara for example, are mostly desert and semi-desert. Egypt is mostly uninhabitable, but huge populations crowd around the Nile River. High population densities are adding to environmental problems and reducing quality of life: in growing megacities, and are increasing socio-economic problems in countries such as the Gaza Strip (3204 persons per square km) Bangladesh (865), Nauru (525), and even the Netherlands (468), and England (382) where the traditional lush countryside and woodlands of Southern England are giving way to housing. Figures from Stanton, 2003. The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000:Histories, Consequences, Issues, Nation by Nation. NI: Multiscience Publishing Company Ltd.
See also The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000:Histories, Consequences, Issues, Nation by Nation. William Stanton (2003) NI: Multiscience Publishing Company Ltd
One warning is loud and surely clear from the world population dilemma.
So many of the world's billions live in areas that are dangerous or terribl to live in - too vulnerable to disasters of climat change, floods, droughts, desertification, too short of means of sustenance without outside aid, crammed into city slums because the countryside cannot support them.Their children are their greatest tresures, greatest plesures, their hope of future sustenance as supports in their old age, as expatriat workers sending back money, and as children, young workers. If they have few children, and those die - they are alone. And so every scene of refugees in desert camps shows the women carrying their young babies, and a desperat Ethiopian farmer cries out to the documentary maker, 'But I have thirteen children who are hungry!'
And all over the world, current food stocks are in surplus, enough to feed all if fairly distributed. But the future is grim, as soils deteriorate even in the bread-basket countries, fish stocks run short, pollution and devastation increases as developing countries seek the quality of life of the rich countries. Rich countries start to see their countryside becoming overcrowded. Wars fester over water, oil and fertile land.