Monday, February 13, 2012

population myths

Our great universities search diligently for "the answer" to the problem of poverty and hunger. They look at everything except the cause - the powerful own the world's social wealth. As a major beneficiary, the capitalist class have much to gain by perpetuating the myths of overpopulation.

Population is projected to grow until about 2050. But before the end of the century, it may fall by nearly 20 percent. In 103 of 222 countries listed in the CIA World Factbook, total fertility rates are below replacement. In 37 more, they barely exceed it. Birth rates are falling in nearly all. It takes 2.1 live births per mother to keep a population stable. Here are the total fertility rates in the world's most populous countries: China (1.54); India (2.62); the United States (2.06); Indonesia (2.25) and Brazil (2.18). The average rate for European women (1.53) is well below replacement. Fertility rates are falling fast among Muslim states, too. (They remain high only in Yemen and Palestine.) Iran in 1979, the total fertility rate was 6.5. Now, it's 1.7.

European and North American fertility rates peaked in 1955, dropping steadily since. In Asia and Latin America, fertility has fallen steadily from about six in 1950 to below three in 1995. In Africa, fertility peaked at 6.75 in the early 1960s, dropping slowly through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1995 it stood at 5.7, about where South Asia and Latin America were twenty years earlier, and precisely the fertility level at which those regions then experienced accelerated fertility declines.

Belgium, a relatively rural country has a population density of about 345 people/ If the entire United States had the same population density, we could fit 3.3 billion people. If the entire world was modeled on Belgium, the 50% of the land that is considered "suitable" for human habitation now (that is, not desert, not high mountains, etc) would hold 22 billion people. And that's using Belgium as a model - if we used the densities of South Korea where the density is 487/sq. km, that same land would fit 31 billion. And of course, if we converted even half of the "unsuitable land" in the future, by converting deserts to grasslands (assuming cheap power and desalination plants, or other tech to increase water there) and learning to build small cities on the more accessible mountain ranges, that alone would put us to 46 billion or so. If the entire population of the planet (6.8 billion) lived at a population density of New York City we would all easily fit inside the state of Texas with room to spare.

South Korea has just under half the farmland per person found in Bangladesh, yet no one speaks of over-crowding causing hunger in South Korea. Costa Rica, with only half of its neighbour,Honduras' cropped acres per person, boasts a life expectancy - one indicator of nutrition - eleven years longer than that of Honduras and close to that of northern countries. Netherlands, where there is very little land per person has not prevented it from eliminating hunger and becoming a large net exporter of food

People are hungry because they cannot afford food, not because the population is growing so fast that food is becoming scarce. most hungry people live in countries that have food surpluses. Rather than growing food to meet the needs of local communities for a healthy, diverse diet, industrial agriculture produces crops to sell on world markets. While world crop production has trebled since the 1950s, more people go hungry now than 20 years ago.

One important aspect about the causes of hunger is often ignored and that is land ownership and who controls the land. In Latin America, 80 percent of agricultural land is in the hands of 20 percent of the farmers; the other 20 percent of the land is in the hands of the remaining 80 percent. In British history it is forgotten that through repeated acts of enclosure the peasants were pushed off the land so that the gentry could make money raising wool for the new and highly productive power looms. They could not do this if the peasants were to retain their historic entitlement to a share of production from the land. Massive starvation was the inevitable result of this expropriation. The learned circles reasoned that overpopulation was the cause of this poverty. This was the accepted because the intellectual elite were doing the rationalising and it was they who controlled the educational institutions which studied the problem so naturally the final conclusions absolved the wealthy of any responsibility for the plight of the poor.

Similar blinkered thinking failed to appreciate the connection between colonialisation and hunger. In the underdeveloped countries European colonizers understood well that ownership of land gave the owner control over what society produced. The powerful simply re-distributed the valuable land to themselves, eradicating millennia-old traditions of common use. Since custom is a form of ownership, the shared use of land could not be permitted. If ever re-established, this ancient practice would reduce the rights of these new owners. For this reason, much of the land went unused or underused until the owners could do so profitably. This is the pattern of land use that characterises most Third World countries today, and it is this that generates hunger in the world. These conquered people are kept in a state of relative impoverishment. Permitting them any substantial share of the wealth would negate the historic reason for conquest - namely plunder. The on-going role of Third World countries is to be the supplier of cheap and plentiful raw materials and agricultural products to the developed world. Nature's wealth was, and is, being controlled to fulfill the needs of the world's affluent people.

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