"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

7 billion and rising

 So any day now the population of the world will top 7 billion, if indeed it hasn’t happened already. And it is widely predicted that by 2050 there will be 9 billion humans on the earth. This raises so many issues. How will we be able to feed all these people, provide them with decent housing, satisfy their energy and water requirements, ensure that they all have adequate health care and education?
Mark Stevenson in The Times last Saturday took the optimistic view. More and more people, he wrote, will live in cities as the population grows, and they then apparently have fewer children, going some way towards solving the problem. Also, as he points out, there are economies of scale in providing the various services, utilities, education, healthcare etc., in a denser population. In addition we fight less apparently as we grow in number; we collaborate more, and become more innovative. “Imagine the creative geniuses lurking in the next 3 billion,” he writes.
But doesn’t he ever read the “world news” pages? We are incapable of properly feeding and housing a huge proportion of the existing 7 billion of us already walking this earth, let alone another 2 or 3 billion. As Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London, reminds us in the same paper, 2 billion already have no access to clean water, and 2.5 billion don’t have proper sanitation.
And what about migration issues, lack of jobs, city slums?

And according to a Christian Aid Report in May 2006, The Climate of Poverty: Facts, Fears and Hope, “a staggering 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century. Many millions more throughout the world face death and devastation, due to climate-induced floods, famine, drought and conflict.”

Not very much cause for optimism there then. And social injustices fuel anger and unrest and potentially explosive and violent situations, as we have seen on the streets of English cities so recently, and in the Arab Spring.

And one vital aspect of population growth was not mentioned by either of these gentlemen: ecology. We are already encroaching more than we should into the natural world, with often devastating consequences. But we also have a role within the complex eco-systems of the world, within the complex interrelationships of nature in all its facets. As the naturalist Francis Rose once observed, ‘nature is very complex. When you start to interfere by thoughtless introduction of alien species, you do so at your own peril.” But this principle can be just as well applied to our interference with nature at many other different levels- our destruction of natural habitats is one glaringly obvious example.
It is imperative that we curb our own excesses, that we stop violating the natural world around us, that we acknowledge the integrity of our finely balanced ecosystems. Never mind the introduction of alien species. Every time we drive one more animal or plant to extinction, not only are we poorer for that, but also the effect on the fragile balance of planetary life may be profound. That is why it is so important, and ever more urgent, that we do not compromise our future by today’s actions, or indeed through our in-actions.

But there is another reason, and I think a very important one, why the idea of ever more people crowding into ever bigger and busier and more crowded cities fills me with horror. When we lose contact with the natural world around us I believe that a part of our soul dies. We become wounded, incomplete in some way. Contact with the soil is part of our ancestry; it is a very natural part of us to want to till the earth, and commune with nature. It is definitely not a natural thing to do to hare down motorways and freeways at alarming speeds, in vehicles often four abreast. It is not natural, and surely not what God ordained, to live significant proportions of each working day stuck in traffic jams, barely moving, belching out ever more greenhouse gases. It is not natural to live many storeys up in high -rise condominiums and flats. It is not natural to join the awful rush hours of any large city on this earth.

It is not natural to have little or no compassion and empathy for the living world that we are now destroying.

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