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World has problems. Quit the rhetoric and fix it.

Posted on: Monday, 20 June 2011 @ 4:09pm
Blatting about
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What I love best about my current job is the inclination of the supervisor to tend towards wanting to "get shit done".  As with all large projects (and it is a decent sized Drupal project we're working on), you want to plan it as best you can to try to minimise stuff-ups and associated explosions down the track.

What you don't want is to get caught in this endless planning loop trying to cover every possible thing that could go wrong and never start.  At some point you just have to suck it up, expect there to be unforeseen difficulties and get on with it.

I feel that there's a lot of rhetoric arguments over "smoke and mirror" problems, which detract from the problems that are causing the "smoke and mirror" problems.  Once these underlying problems have been dealt with, they should magically fix pretty most if not all the "smoke and mirror" problems.  My "solutions" probably still have logic flaws and are extremely basic with no implementation plans or costings because I'm speaking very top level generically and it's going to vary from area to area.

Problem: human population

This year, apparently, the world's population hits 7 billion people.  Most of them are located in developing countries.

2010 global opulation density from GeoJunk

Map from GeoJunk

According to the CIA World Factbook:

Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years.

This more or less seems to indicate the global population growth has slowed down.

Demographers call this evolution the demographic transition. All countries go through it in their own time. It’s a hallmark of human progress: In a country that has completed the transition, people have wrested from nature at least some control over death and birth. The global population explosion is an inevitable side effect, a huge one that some people are not sure our civilization can survive. (Robert Kunzig, "Population 7 Billion", National Geographic magazine, Jan 2011)

I think the numbers are less important than the resource allocation, and Mr Kunzig appears to agree with me (or perhaps I agree with him):

The number of people does matter, of course. But how people consume resources matters a lot more. Some of us leave much bigger footprints than others. The central challenge for the future of people and the planet is how to raise more of us out of poverty—the slum dwellers in Delhi, the subsistence farmers in Rwanda—while reducing the impact each of us has on the planet.  (Robert Kunzig, "Population 7 Billion", National Geographic magazine, Jan 2011)

My interpretation it is that because the global fertility rate is starting to level out and should at least stabilise, possibly even go into a decline, we probably don't need to panic but definitely should not sit around hoping the problem will go away by itself.

Partial solution: not encouraging people to breed

Peter Costello, a Federal Treasurer for a little while, once encouraged Australian families to "have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country" in an effort to raise the birthrate to the replacement rate of 2, along with the introduction of a "baby bonus" (or as a few of us call it, the "baby bribe") of about $4000 in 2001. 

The cost was $510 million in the 2005-06 Budget. After a bit of tinkering and with the lump sum payment made directly from Centrelink, the cost of the scheme rose to $1.16 billion.

Last year there were 278,000 baby bonus payments of $5294 each paid to families who earn $75,000 or less.

The lump sum payment was stopped in January 2009. Now payments are made in fortnightly instalments over a six month period. The total price tag now? $1.5 billion.  ("Jack the Insider", "Boom baby boom", The Australian, 29 April 2011)

LeonCaleb at 1 day old

That $1.5b could go toward funding "clean" energy, maintaining community gardens, or into health and education, or improving public transport systems.

No doubt any hint of taking away the baby bonus will be shrilly likened to removing parents’ rights to breed.  (Tory Shepherd, "Breeding dissent: Time to scrap the baby bonus?", The Punch, April 2011)

There is a rather epic logic fail there.  People don't need to be paid to breed.  If they're breeding because of financial incentive, then they probably shouldn't.

Bigger solution: education, basic human rights and shifts in cultural perspectives

 Over here in developed/industrialised countries, people who opt for children naturally seem to tend toward smaller families.  Again from Mr Kunzig:

Photo of class and teacher by DrGaiaThe key, demographers there say, is the female literacy rate: At around 90 percent [in Kerala], it’s easily the highest in India. Girls who go to school start having children later than ones who don’t. They are more open to contraception and more likely to understand their options.   (Robert Kunzig, "Population 7 Billion", National Geographic magazine, Jan 2011)


School children by DrGaia

A lot of the developing countries that have high birth rates suffer high infant mortality rates, and also variations of

More than half the women in the Hindi belt are illiterate, and many marry well before reaching the legal age of 18. They gain social status by bearing children—and usually don’t stop until they have at least one son. (Robert Kunzig, "Population 7 Billion", National Geographic magazine, Jan 2011)

Map of infant mortality rates in the world from Wikipedia

Map of infant mortality rates around the world from Wikipedia

As I said on a friend's posted link on Facebook:

From observation of how all these "first world" countries have gone, if it were possible to bypass the religious nutjobs and get to these women that are popping out millions of babies (and the ones about to pop out milions of babies) and educate them in the systems of the world it's quite likely a lot of them would choose not to have millions of kids.

To get to a point where people are even remotely interested in education, a better standard of living is required.  Oxfam have the right idea with assisting people with farming practises and helping them start up businesses to start them on the path to food and financial security, and running their Grow project.

UNICEF spent $757 million in 2010 on immunisations for children in developing countries.  I really hope this was part of a greater effort involving basic infrastructure for sewerage systems and at least access to clean water if not clean, running water and basic health services.  It would be pointless to stab a child with a needle and feel good about saving millions of kids from possibly dying of measles while they're still living in squalor and don't have enough to eat.

Once all that is done, the only real major barrier to education is people who desperately cling to the outdated notions that women are inferior, not intelligent enough to be educated or merely commodities.  Similar types of people cling desperately to other silly ideas such as homosexuals shouldn't be "allowed" to get married, and that AIDS can be cured by screwing a virgin, or that lesbians can be "cured" by being raped.  I'm generally opposed to tromping over people's beliefs, customs and traditions, but when it's a human rights issue, I say tromp.  UN to the rescue.

Article 16.
  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 26. 

  • (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 Dec 1948)

We're not all done and dusted over here in the developed world either.  We still have the same sorts of things to do in a few places.  It's on a much smaller scale, but needs to be done nonetheless.

One of the areas the developed world really needs to move forward on is the losing the narrow definition of education and improve and increase the methods of delivery.  The idea that everyone has to attend school to receive an education was outdated when it started.  A lot of time is wasted by teachers and students who want to learn by students who just don't want to be there.  Remove the kids that don't want to be at school from the school, and you instantly solve the problem of too-large class sizes, and teachers are then able to provide quality instruction and optimum learning environments to eager and receptive students (listen to me spouting emotive language).  Love is not about genderThose that don't want to attend school can be easily educated by homeschooling, part time schooling and apprenticeships (or combinations of the above) depending on what they're suited to.  That will require a shift in how workplaces operate which will probably lead to a change in the economy.  

I bring up the "allowing gays to be married" thing again because in Australia it's still not "allowed".  It's an extremely basic human rights issue.  If a developed country can't get over that then they're going to have a very hard time doing anything else.  That may explain the smoke and mirrors and creating nonsense problems to avoid dealing with real problems.

"Love is not about gender" sign stolen from Dr Jenn's Den

Problem: resources

Solution: decentralise everything as much as possible

All the eggs in one basket.  Or egg carton as the case may be.Remember that saying about putting all your eggs in one basket?

I used to play StarCraft a lot.  These days, not so much.  A chunk of my game strategy involved sending out scouts for resources and burying them there (given a choice I will play Zerg) until I could get a drone out to build a hive there.

What has StarCraft and eggs got to do with anything? In both cases, if you have all eggs in one basket and you drop the basket, you're likely to lose all the eggs.  In StarCraft, having resource gathering outposts all over the place reduces complete reliance on your main base and increases productivity.

The same is basically true of real life.

Eggs from my chickens all in one...carton

Our current world food production is more than sufficient to provide an adequate diet to all humans, yet more than 840 million people are suffering from hunger. Hunger is a problem of poverty, distribution, and access to food. (Christos Vasilikiotis Ph.D., "Can organic farming feed the world?")

In a game, you build more farms, you can support a larger population.  Some people attempt to apply this simplistic concept to our current model of monoculture and try to pretend that more and more intensive agriculture is what's needed.  Problem would be quicker and easier solved by having more people growing slightly less food.

People in apartments can grow their own herbs and even vegetables in planter boxes on the balcony and/or in the kitchen, and if they were feeling particularly dedicated could fit quite a few planter boxes on window sills or anywhere that gets sunlight.  People with larger areas can have bigger vege areas, perhaps running off an aquaponics setup (using whatever fish they like to eat if they eat fish or maybe a million pretty goldfish if they don't), poultry, and if there is enough space, goats or cows for milk.

Vacant lots and "open areas" can be put to good use as community gardens, or at least some of it can be put to good use as community gardens.  Empty buildings that are unlikely to be used for anything else can be turned into vertical farms.

Artist's impression of the inside of a vertical farm

Artist impression of the interior of a vertical farm from The Vertical Farm Project

Hunting parties could be conducted for kangaroos and wild camels and crocodiles for meat rather than running billions of cows (in Australia anyway, substitute whatever is in the area for other countries, management is the key as you don't want anything getting hunted to extinction).

Quite a few laws need to be scrapped or changed for that to be able to happen.

More people producing more of their own food means more being produced andless being trucked around the place, as the only reason to transport food is to take excess to regions where it won't grow, or won't grow without more effort than it's worth.  People able to grow their own staples or grow most of what they use would then only be buying anything else extra that they want, which means spending a lot less money on grocery shopping, which could then lead on to working for pleasure and to earn money for "extra" lifestyle things rather than wage slavery.

To back up the gardening and community gardening efforts and in the interests of saving water, greywater systems and rainwater tanks should be plumbed into houses.  The grey water can go on the fruit trees and on lawn for people that like having lawn, and into the cisterns for flushing toilets.  People harvesting and storing their own water rely less on water from the system, and using water carefully to begin with ensures that we don't have to keep tapping acquifers and trying to build desal plants.

To overcome the electricity problem every building could be outfitted with a decent sized solar panel array to provide electricity and hot water, and possibly a wind turbine for additional electricity if there are no big trees in the way.  My friend Matt suggested that buildings that generate excess electricity can have it transferred to a centralised location, which can then be sold to buildings that use more electricity than they produce.  The current fossil fuel power stations can be used to supply any excess demand from industry and maybe eventually phased out.  With everyone providing their own or most of their own there won't be a need to worry about how to supply so many buildings with so much electricity, if anything any centralised power will be supplementary rather than primary.

Diagram from "Smart Grid City" by Ann Lok Lui, featured in The Architect's Newspaper, 17 Jan 2011
Go there to see the labels

Problem: the economy

This isn't a problem, and is a huge factor of all the other problems.

Governments are pre-programmed to want endless economic growth, and too often equate that with endless population growth. ((Tory Shepherd, "Breeding dissent: Time to scrap the baby bonus?", The Punch, April 2011)

That needs to change.  And so does the fact The Economy is currently centred around a small number of people making as much money as possible.  At this stage I'm not entirely certain what it should be changed into; something that ensures equitable resource distribution and that everyone has what they need for a decent life while still recognising and rewarding individual innovation and contribution sounds good to me.

Talkin' about a revolution



Don't get sucked into the smoke and mirrors debates.  They're the ones where everyone is bleating that their evidence is overwhelming and that anyone who doesn't agree with them is stupid/ignorant/unscientific/against [god|prophet]'s teachings/intolerant of other people's beliefs/judging them/too old/too young/hasn't experienced the world/etc etc etc, often with more vitriole than anything else.  Arguing rhetoric is a great way to pretend you're doing something or a great excuse for shrugging your shoulders and whinging about how no one is doing anything.  Be someone that does something, even if it is as basic as choosing the greywater safe laundry detergent and the fair trade chocolate.

Lobby governments but until such a time as we actually get responsible world leaders that care more about leading and the world than getting re-elected/staying in power, don't rely on them to do anything useful.  Anyone got what it takes to be a responsible world leader by any chance?

Focus on the underlying problems.  When they're resolved, chances are most of the smoke and mirrors issues will be taken care of.

No comments yet

mummabare Friday, 24 June 2011 @ 4:14pm [Permalink]

Awesome post Bek!

bek Friday, 24 June 2011 @ 7:32pm [Permalink]

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