Population boom and the green dilemma
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-24 07:47

Population boom and the green dilemma

In our insane quest for development, and sane but disconcerted efforts to fight climate change, we seem to have forgotten the problem posed by booming populations. The rate at which the world population is growing would render development useless and nullify our efforts to save the environment.

The problem is not as a reader, who has responded to my last column (Tiger, tiger, not burning so bright, 2009-07-10), sees it. He writes: "Huge populations without work will be breeding grounds for social unrest, besides being difficult to support by welfare". A smaller "population should take care of all these other secondary problems concerned with the environment. It will reduce pollution and reduce demand on our natural resources". He goes on to say: "Today, we have the ability to create epidemics, earthquakes, and other 'natural' disasters. Yes, we can interfere with nature".

What he, like others, means is that we have the wherewithal to deal with climate change provided the population shrinks.

Sounds convincing, but the problem is one billion are facing starvation despite all our advances and production of more than enough to feed the entire humanity. Science has not been put to use for helping the majority. If it had been, hundreds of millions wouldn't be scavenging for morsels when many countries incinerate, bury or throw away food rotting in their silos.

In my last column, I had written that the logic of saving the tiger is simple: "We save the tiger, we save the forests; we save the forests, we save the trees; we save the trees, we stop greenhouse gases stored in them from polluting the atmosphere".

Here's a small example of what climate change has done, and why it is necessary to save the forests that still exist. An extensive study on a breed of wild sheep in Scotland shows global warming has caused them to shrink by up to 5 percent. Evolutionary theory says wild sheep should "gradually get bigger, as the stronger, larger animals survive into adulthood and reproduce". But the study shows the "local environment has had a stronger effect on the sheep than the evolutionary pressure to grow larger".

If global warming can do this to sheep, it's scary to think what it might have done to grains, vegetables and fruits, and, of course, us humans. We are already using astronomical amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, and fiddling with gene pools of seeds in our quest for higher production. We are encountering unheard-of diseases and epidemics with alarming regularity - most of which can be blamed on the state of the environment.

Our fellow humans and natural resources have been exploited not for the benefit of humanity but to fill the already overflowing pockets of the rich and powerful. It would be naive to think that if a couple of billion people were to vanish from the face of Earth tomorrow, the rich and greedy would consign their vices to the flames of history, and make the world a safer and better place.

Had they wanted to make the world a better place and prevent the booming population from becoming a threat, they would have helped feed and educate the poor. For a poor unlettered person, one extra member in the family means two more hands to feed the mouths, which is what food security is all about. And only education can change that sense of food security and prevent them from having more children.

But the rich know better - a group of healthy and educated people are more difficult to exploit.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com