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Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

Population, global warming: time to wake up, just as if there were to be a tomorrow.

by Peter A. Belmont / 2011-02-08
© 2011 Peter Belmont


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China is experiencing drought and a fall-off of grain production.

The United Nations’ food agency issued an alert on Tuesday warning that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.
”China’s grain situation is critical to the rest of the world — if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shock waves through the world’s grain markets,” said Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, in the Philippines.

Now, we do well to recall that China is the only country which has even tried to limit the rate of growth of its population. No other country is trying. “Let’s just hope that people stop having so many children so early,” politicians and experts seem to say.[1] “But let us not be so indelicate or impolitic as to talk about limiting population growth. Not at home, surely! And not abroad, either. I mean who are we to tell Chinese or Indians or Arabs or (orthodox) Jews or anyone else, after all—oh, dear, all this is so indelicate, what with the USA running away from birth control and abortion.”[2][3]

And let us also not forget a central warning regarding global warming—the warning that weather would change unpredictably. More rain here, less rain there. More heat here, less heat there. Storms. Quicker snow melts so that the slower snow melts of former times, filling rivers moderately over an entire growing season, will be replaced in some places with quick snow melts, filling rivers immoderately so that the water supply is quickly exhausted in the early days of the growing season—or before it even starts.

And most of this is unpredictable in detail. But it is not unpredictable in gross.

Global warming is coming. Humankind is not even bothering to try to fight it. Strange weather is with us already. It will get stranger as time goes on.

Therefore (and I do mean “therefore”) agriculture will be unpredictable. Crops will fail more often.

And because the world population shoots up as if there were no tomorrow, the world is in no position to maintain large stores (you know, a world-sized one-year wheat supply) of reserves of staples as insurance against drought.

Expect massive starvation, repressive governments, massive civil unrest (as in Egypt), food-caused emigration, massive concentration camps of emigrants, etc.

And, because we are still human, because some of us are comfortable enough to give our attention to long-range problems, may we not begin to talk among ourselves, once again, about limiting and reducing population growth? And population size? (And if not to talk, then to whisper? Can we act as brave as the kids in Cairo’s Tahrir Square?)

OK, I’m whispering. Listen up:

Wouldn’t the world economic system have a better shot at feeding humanity if the world population were reduced by 50% and the arable land held constant?

And won’t the problems just get worse if the population rises 10% and arable land is reduced 10% (by overgrazing, by deforestation, by the spread of urban areas into countrysides)?

And global warming continues along with growth of human populations—except perhaps where there is massive starvation—because we’ve done nothing to stop either?

”Oh, Peter, lighten up!” someone says.

And so he asked—ever so lightly—

Shouldn’t those of us who can presently afford to do so just adopt a hedonistic lifestyle as long as it lasts? (But please, don’t ask what “it” is. And don’t ask “for whom the bell tolls.”)


[1] In 2008, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission said that the policy will remain in place for at least another decade. In 2010, it was announced that the majority of the citizens first subject to the policy are no longer of reproductive age and it has been speculated that many citizens simply disregard or violate the policy in more recent years. In response, the deputy director of the Commission stated that the policy would remain unaltered until at least 2015.(wiki:one child policy)


[2] The best USA can do to control population growth is to fight really nasty wars abroad and to try to deny medical care to the poor at home. But all this is too little and too late, quite apart from the morality of these as means of population control.


[3] But where global warming and huge population size come into the picture, is there any room left for any sort of morality, I mean, isn’t it sort of squeezed out?


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