Monday, 28 July 2008

Fuel and food myths

There is a panic in the press about rising fuel prices and rising food prices. This is misleading the public, because the reality is that for the past 40 years we have been living in a blip in history. We are now getting back to normality.

Historically, the basic necessities of life have consumed most of an average family's income. For hundreds of years, most of the income a family generated went on feeding, clothing and housing. But for the past 40 years, in Britain and Europe, all these commodities have been getting progressively cheaper and cheaper. But this reduction in cost was based on unsustainable premises.

I could argue that a lot of the western economy, based as it is on extreme capitalism, is under threat. Crocodile tears have been shed at the collapse, or near collapse, of financial institutions, but why should we care? What do they really contribute? When capitalism is taken to the extremes of globalisation, there are huge numbers of people making money out of doing absolutely nothing productive -- simply shifting money around (but of course somewhere, someone is almost certainly being exploited, as any old fashioned socialist can explain to you). I can't get too upset about this, except it does have a major impact on wildlife. It leads to ever more rapacious attacks on natural resources. Agriculture expands, to provide more and more, cheaper and cheaper food, for our wasteful societies. I recall a recent statistic that stated around 40% of food in the UK was wasted. No wonder the rainforests are being cut for soya plantations.

What's the answer? Forget switching off the TV, we need to be far less wasteful in many other really big ways. Forget the idea of constant economic growth. Forget the idea that everything should be as cheap as possible, and thrown away in a few months. And bring population growth to the top of the political agenda. More and more people are going to put more and more pressure on resources; resources such as healthcare and transport.

I will repeat myself (and continue to do so whenever possible): Governments are using climate change and all environmental issues to obfuscate the real issue, and that is human population growth. And they are also ignoring the fact that any increase in population in a developed country, has significantly more environmental impacts than in a very poor country.

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