Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rich Academics Talk Bollex About Climate Change

Academics and wannabe academics have been beating on for decades about population growth being a threat to humanity. The main paradigm for development was, for many years, population control. Extremely well funded organisations from rich countries went around developing countries trying to persuade people to adopt various birth control techniques and technologies, whether they wanted to or not.

Most of these organisation in most of the countries where they worked were not very successful. In Kenya, when the British finally left, health, education, water and sanitation, infrastructure and other social services started to improve from the 1960s to the end of the 1970s. At around the same time, fertility also started to drop.

However, development came to mean economic development as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to, effectively, run most developing countries. All the things that had started to improve went into decline and are still declining today, nearly three decades later.

Also in the late 1970s and early 1980s, HIV started to spread rapidly. Once it was identified as a sexually transmitted virus, the same organisations that had been toting condoms and contraception as a panacea for development changed their tack and tried to promote the use of condoms to protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. These efforts have been even less successful than their earlier efforts.

Now, the 'Optimum Population Trust', run by a collection of academics and wannabe academics, is advocating the use of condoms to curb population growth as a means of reducing climate change due to over consumption. They are suggesting that this is the most economic method of influencing climate change, too, cleverly combining those two earlier development paradigms into one.

Ironically, when people have smaller families, they often become bigger consumers. In fact, many people say they want to have smaller families so they can afford things like cars, consumer durables and various other goods. So, the result of reducing family size is often an increase in consumption. In fact, there is little connection between high fertility and high consumption. On the contrary, populations with high fertility rates usually have low rates of consumption. The biggest consumers have low fertility rates.

In Kenya, much of their carbon emissions result from the production of goods destined for rich, high consumption countries. Kenya produces all sorts of goods in Export Processing Zones (a posh name for sweat shops), fruit and vegetables are force grown under electric lights and transported by air and biofuel crops that are responsible for the destruction of much of the country's remaining land resources. The rich have managed to export a lot of their carbon emissions to developing countries.

Contraception is a vital technology in reducing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. It also reduces unintended pregnancies. And many of the children who are born to HIV positive women are, in fact, unintended. There is a huge unmet need for contraception that the birth control evangelists seem to have done little to alleviate over the course of the last half century.

But it is not poor people in developing countries who contribute the most to global warming and environmental destruction, it is rich people in rich countries. Fertility may be low in rich countries, thankfully. But that doesn't reduce consumption, rather, it seems to be behind much of the continued increase in consumption.

Apparently this Trust is very excited by a study based on the principle that "fewer people will emit fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide". But this principle is flawed. Lower consumption (or fewer high consumers) will result in fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide. Most people in the world are low consumers. Here in Nakuru, some of the poorest are probably even negative consumers. The municipal dump is full of homeless people who derive their meager income by collecting and selling rubbish for recycling. Some even live in the dump in hovels made from waste.

I'm not suggesting that it is a good thing that people live like that because it isn't. What is disgusting is the idea that very rich, well educated, well fed people are pointing the finger at the very poorest of people and saying that they are the problem when it comes to climate change and environmental degradation.

So Porritt, Attenborough, Lovelock and other pompous tossers, leave your comfortable homes and offices, visit a few poor countries, or even poor people in your own countries, shut your big gobs, open your eyes and then rethink the consequences of the cooperation of a mere handful of the world's biggest consumers for the whole of humanity. Those who are condemned to a life of poverty will reduce the size of their families when they can see that it will be of direct benefit to them and people like them, but certainly not to people like you.

[See George Monbiot's 'The Population Myth' for an elaboration of the above argument.]



Claire said...

Here-here! Trying to curb population growth to me is the best example of a moral wrong: nobody has any right to contemplate it. It's not worth thinking about, not worth debating or imagining the consequences of a population-reduction programme, not worth modelling, not worth thinking how it could be achieved. Anyone who is doing any of these things should refocus on their only domain of control in this regard: their own family; and go back to spending their working life on acceptable ways to try and change the world.
There is also a feminist issue here. Population growth and control is about women's bodies and whether or not they are growing babies in there. Women in poor countries have enough problems trying to maintain control over their lives without becoming instuments of population growth or decline programmes. Once we decide it's completely immoral to even suggest that rich environmentalists could have a say over how mamny babies someone ont he other side of the world has, they can get back to lobbying governments about things which will make a huge positive improvement to lives.

Simon said...

Hi Claire
Thanks for your comment. What I most object to is the irrelevance of population growth to climate change. It's actually quite stunning how the slowest growing populations are the biggest contributors to climate change and the fastest growing are the smallest. The complete absence of logic in interpreting the data in the paper in question is baffling.

You're right about the feminist issue and I didn't even consider that. I was too busy feeling indignant at the sheer cheek of these over educated talking heads getting together just to miss entirely the whole thrust of climate change data.

The only explanation for their wonky thinking is that they are a bunch of neo-fascists, trying to put an intellectual gloss on their reactionary 'think-tank'.