Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Making the population crisis history?

Something has been conspicuously absent from the agenda of any of the debates on global warming, or at the G8 Summit. Human population growth.

It has been widely stated that global warming is the single greatest threat to the planet. But this is NOT true. The single greatest threat to the world is the CAUSE of global warming, and the cause is the human species, its insatiable demand for energy, and its rapid, uncontrolled growth. In terms of energy, the growth is more damaging in the developed world, so far. But what if the Blair and Geldof succeed in their mission to 'make poverty history' in Africa for example?

Historically, in most parts of the world, wars, famine and disease kept the population low. In Britain and most other parts of the developed world, disease and other 'natural' mortality such as death in childbirth, were greatly reduced, at the same time that food production increased, and better education of women reduced the reproduction rates. This has not been the case all over the world -- with dire consequences.

What will happen in Africa?

Until female education levels greatly improve, and women are able to control their fertility, populations will continue to grow; that is a widely observed fact. The only process that is limiting that growth at present is famine and warfare, and to a greatly reduced level of disease, and death inchildbirth. Humanitarian aid is aimed at wiping out disease, and curtailing warfare. This in turn leads to population growth, which in turn leads to stresses leading to warfare, poverty and disease. It's a vicious cycle, but looking at it from the perspective of a population biologist, the only way to break the cycle is to reverse or slow down the population growth rate, and the only way to do that is to improve female education levels. It may be a tough one to swallow, but is it possible that instead of spending money on food aid, which might exacerbate the problem long-term, the aid should only be directed at education?

As I have written many times before, politicians rarely look beyond the next election when making their promises. And unfortunately most aid charities look to solve the immediate problem, without having an exit strategy or a long term plan. And even when there is, in theory, a long term plan, the ramifications and implications of success are rarely examined. These factors all combine to create a recipe for future disasters.

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