Actually, I have no problem with optimists, once they keep their pie-eyed nonsense to themselves and don't seek to "convert" me, like some misguided fundies would like to do! There are much worse things than blinkered optimists, including drug addicts, drunkards, and brain-jacked religious fools.
My problem with optimists begins when they seek to publish their disjointed memes for a broad audience without providing all the facts.
Thus, the recent piece by Charles Kenny in TIME (March 29), 'Sweet Bird of Youth! The Case for Optimism' (p. 48). Kenny uses as his starting point the "demographic transition" - defined by economists as when populations move from high rates of fertility and mortality (women having lots of children, many of whom die young) to low birthrates and longer life expectancies. He then notes that Asia, Latin America and especially Africa are well into such a transition.
For example, in Egypt, the average age is 30. In some parts of sub-Sahara Africa it's even lower (e.g. 18) accounting for why so much violence and anarchy is occurring. Those excess young have nothing to do so become child soldiers for assorted movements, ready to shoot or rape at the drop of a hat. Fortunately, Kenny does succeed in making one sober point before veering off into La-la land. He writes:
"Traditionally, economists and political scientists viewed a youth bulge as a problem. As part of the rising number of mouths to feed and hands to emply, an army of youths would put pressure on wages and food supplies, potentially dragging developing world societies further into povery. And youth could all too quickly become a literal army - provoking unrest and civil war."
Alas, he quickly veers from that realistic assessment by writing "recent evidence tells a different story". He then cites work by David Bloom of Harvard (Who says that optimists can't pick and choose, as they cherrypick to feed their delusions?) that the "youth bulge can speed up economic development".
He argues that on this basis, "when a greater percentage of the total population is of working age then - other things being equal- one would expect income per person to be higher." But in fact, other things are seldom equal. Thus, in all those demographic transition nations, the respective youth bulges have generated enormous surplus labor pools - youths of working age all right, but with nothing to do and no prospects in sight. Hence, all the turmoil in the Middle East, from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Algeria to Libya and Yemen, as well as Syria.
Each of those nations, contrary to Kenny's pie-eyed visions, has a vast unemployed youth demographic which is no more than surplus labor and additional mouths to feed. With nothing to occupy them, and nothing to lose, they've turned their empty hours into revolutions. And there's no sign of it stopping.
Even Kenny, when he wipes the mist from his brain, is sober enough to acknowledge this:
"But there's nothing inevitable about a youth bulge producing a growth dividend. Benefits have to be earned. Without the right policies spurring education and job opportunities, they won't materialize. "
He then goes on to aver "the Middle East got education right" but that a "sclerotic private sector and hidebound institutions have failed to create sufficient jobs for graduates." Totally missing the boat that it is the sheer numbers of those graduates that has overhwhelmed all plausible job creation! Even if the private sector in Egypt was "non-sclerotic" and all its institutions worked overtime, there is no likelihood of finding enough jobs to emply even half the potential population needing them. The reason is simple: Egypt is and has been OVER-POPULATED!
This is what these part time Pollyannas can never absorb: if people reproduce beyond the rate at which even the most efficient economies can create jobs, there will always be more unemployed than getting the jobs. The same applies to food stuffs, and explains why 65% of Egypt's population is under nourished. The same reason, and the two factors go hand in hand. Why can't those like Kenny admit the culprit is over-population? Well, because they don't wish to give voice to the Malthusian specter hanging over us all!
As I noted in an earlier blog, the Global Footpoint Network, at: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/
shows that our entire planet, developed and undeveloped world, is on a total path of unsustainable existence. That is, we currently need not one but one and one -half EARTHS to sustain our current rate of consumption. This means it requires on average 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the resources humanity uses in one year! (At our population of 7 billion)
Thus, even if the estimate is high- with current growth rates we'll soon reach the actual limits defined and dictated by this number - which means a tipping point and crash. See also: http://www.dieoff.org/
None of this is acknowledged by dreamers like Kenny, who actually has the incredible audacity and stupidity to write:
"Falling mortality at a time of rising populations worldwide suggests even more good news: the global breakdown of the so-called Malthusian trap, which predicts that rising population will lead to increased poverty, famine and even war as limited resources are spread among ever more people."
But the problem is that the Malthusian trap is every bit as real as it was earlier: we simply haven't reached the tripping point yet! That is bound to occur since no population, not of ANY world - can consume the equivalent of 1.5 a planet's worth of stores each year and survive! THAT is common sense!
That Kenny brushes this off so lightly, either shows he's monumentally ignorant of the supply squeeze we're in, or he doesn't want to share it with his readers.
Last year, a lead investigative story on over-population in Mother Jones ('The Last Taboo', May-June, p.25) showed the Malthus forecasts aren't that far off at all and also the dire predictions of Paul Ehrlich ('The Population Bomb') may only be off by a generation, making Ehrlich a "premature prophet not a false one".
As I noted in an earlier blog, over population is real and a major threat. It underlies all our other problems from inadequate energy sources (making risky deep water drilling necessary) to global warming (more people generate more CO2), to inadequate potable water and scarcer foods. Readers who may not have seen the blog can link to it here:
At the comments end of the blog a number of naysayers shared their misgivings and I responded to each in turn, showing how and why they were wrong.
Let's go on to another of Kenny's idiotic statements:
"Instead, famines have become increasingly rare..."
But in fact, this has only been because of the Green Revolution which has now nearly run its course. As also noted in the Mother Jones piece, concerning this "Revolution":
a) the chemical fertilizers that enabled it are destined to run out as Peak Oil hits, and all priorities go to using oil running the industrial machine- as opposed to generating chemical side products like fertilizers, plastics.
b) All the pesticides, fertilizers, weedicides issuing as enablers to the Green Revolution manifested as "enormous downstream costs" in the form of polluted land, air and water. In some cities, the careless runoff - especially of fertilizer- has fueled dangerous outbreaks such as of the cryptosporidium organism that sickened over 400,000 Milwaukeeans in 1994.
In effect, the Green Revolution was duplicitous, providing life supporting bounty with one hand and robbing FUTURE life support with the other. Geomorphologist David Montgomery, quoted in the MJ article and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization, has computed that human activities now are eroding topsoil at ten times faster than can be replenished. As he warns:
"Just when we need more soil to feed the 10 billion people of the future, we'll actually have less, only a quarter of an acre of cropland per person in 2050, versus the half-acre we have today, on the most efficient farms"
Of course, many people make much ado over the projected numbers. For its part, the U.N. projects the planet's population will "stabilize" at 9.1 billion in 2050. But this makes a monster assumption: that the global fertility rate will drop to 2.02 offspring per woman in the years between 2045-2050, down from 2.56 today. The bugbear is that there are very narrow margins for error. If the world's women average just 0.5 child more in 2045, for example, all bets are off and the world population peaks at 10.5 billion five years later.
Second, as we know farming also requires vast supplies of water, plus growing populations need water to survive - potable water free of parasites and diseases. This is simply not happening. In the ‘State of the World’ report (2000, pp. 46-47), it was noted that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025.As they note (p. 47):
"When a country’s renewable water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per capita (what some analysts call the water stress level) it becomes difficult for the country to mobilize enough water to satisfy all the food, household, and industrial needs of its population.”
The same 'State of the World’ report notes at present rates of decline and even without factoring in the worst global warming influences – the number of people living in water-stressed countries will rise from 470 million to 3 billion by 2025, more than a sixfold increase. Add in projected new climate change data and likely effects (see. eg. recent issues of Eos Transactions of the AGU) and the stressed populations increase nine or tenfold. This means even as the topsoil required for adequate crop growth is rapidly declining, so also will be the water to sustain the crops.
An even more worrisome aspect has surfaced with the actual harvest data studies pursued by Dr. David Lobell of Stanford University, with respect to African maize. Lobell's studies indicate yield losses of 20% or more for this crop by the middle of the century - just when global population is peaking. Further, his studies show that just a 1C rise in temperature will reduce yields across two thirds of the maize-growing region of Africa- even in the absence of drought. Add in drought and the effect "spreads to the entire area". (See: The Economist, March 19, p. 91)
Then there's the "colony collapse disorder" affecting honeybees. If it's not soon solved, we may see a massive famine affecting half the globe that was only last seen in places like Eritrea. (Honeybees, for those unaware, pollinate, 70 of the 100 food crops humans regularly use. Albert Einstein once opined that if the honeybees should all die out, humanity would have perhaps four years to survive. I am more generous, and give us ten.)
On a roll, Kenny continues his Pollyanna charade:
"Wealth has been spreading so much that global poverty has been more than halved since 1990".
Of course, left uinsaid, is that 1/2 percent of the global populace controls nearly 87% of its wealth, including access to key resources. Four fifths of the world population remains malnourished and this will worsen as the Green Revolution collapses for the reasons given. More likely half or more of that surplus population will die of other causes including pestilence - as we see antibiotic resistant infections proliferating including a malevolent new one dubbed "CRKP". See:
But once Peak Oil and climate change combine it will be one master "cluster fuck" on top of these resistant bacterial strains. Am I saying we should all off ourselves right now? Nope. I am saying that if we get serious and take action we might be able to avoid the worst, but the window is down to a couple years, if that. We've already squandered way too much time in useless debate, when we ought to have applied solutions.
In the meantime, air-headed optimists with their published bullshit allow the gullible to postpone critical and painful solutions by spreading the meme that "Hey! All's well, so don't sweat it! We're cool!" Which maybe was also something along the line of what the captain told the passengers of the Titanic just minutes before it began to sink.