Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Social Contract on Food & Population

More abstracts from the GPEW population Social Contract email debate:

If "We the people" could have a contract with the planet, it would have to be "We promise to look after you in all ways so that you continue to feed and nurture us".

That contract itself implies that we to agree to put an end to both destructive economic growth and indefinite population growth , because even humans with the lightest footprint cannot grow indefinitely.

We are debating the idea of a contract between people and government, along the lines of "We the people agree not to reproduce above replacement rate if you agree to make sure we have enough to eat".

First an idea has to be conceived and weaned, then it needs to penetrate the consciousness of more and more people. Some ideas have viral (i.e. self-propagating) properties if they resonate with a social need.

Tim says: the Social Contract is a nice way to formalise a balance of rights and responsibilities and the principles of democracy, 
RL: Voila. We agree.
but it's hard to see how it could be more than a concept
RL: At the moment it is just that - a concept. It has just been conceived. (Post 19th century Catholics would have us believe that such a concept already has a soul, but we need not go there). The idea or concept may die here, or it may unfold into an embryo, to a baby, born to within the Green Party (and why not?) but eventually growing into a mainstream idea that persuades governments to adopt it.

Our job is to think through policies and concepts for the age we are in. To create mental maps. Einstein: "You do not solve problems with the mental frameworks that produced them in the first place" (Words to that effect).

For all we know, there may be others hatching up the same idea.
I realise that the purpose is not some sort of 'binding contract' where
third children will be left to starve, but as an educational tool. I do
agree that a lot can be done through education - children need to know the
truth about what lies ahead for humanity and the planet and they need to be
given the life skills to make appropriate choices in their lives.

RL: agreed

But I think saying that the government will only guarantee to feed them if they don't have more than 2 children is going to far.
RL: Put it this way: The total sum of global authorities (i.e. the 193+ states on earth) CAN only feed all the aggregate of people if they DO not increase in numbers. That is the reality. (In fact, it is nigh impossible to sustainably feed the present world population, given the amunt of oil needed for food production).

Because this is the only possibility, governments would be lying if they said "We can feed you even if our numbers increase indefinitely". Undoubtedly many politicians will happily speak within the framework of that lie, but that is not our way. We must speak truth to power.

How about this formulation:

Social contract on food and population growth.

"We the people will do our best to limit our children to two, on condition that government does its best to feed us"

Admittedly, this lacks snappiness, but provides the flexibility that human behaviour needs. A phrase such as "
(without taking food away from someone who needs it more)."
could go into the explanatory paragraphs.

Ultimately, I think the planet and humankind will only be saved by people
consciously deciding to live sustainable lives through their own free will,
not through coercion.
RL: Agreed again!
I think the primary role of a Green government would therefore be to enable
and encourage more sustainable lifestyles.

RL: First, as a bit of an aside, we need to modify this "green government" tag. Nothing personal, lots of people use the phrase, but the political reality is that we will only get into government under PR, and PR usually requires coalition governments.

The lifestyle point; sure, that should be part of the policy of any government that has more than 2 neurons to think with, and is indeed happening *Carbon Trust &c). Alongside the CFL leaflets we need "Two is Fine" leaflets from a govt population education initiative, sure. Acting in the way I set out before, in schools and NHS.

1. We all realise we need some degree of self-restraint, aided by government
(my view)
RL: Agreed
2. Some of us vote green so that the government will restrain the others
(view held by some other members)
RL: Govt is very much, indeed centrally, about providing protection, usually calling for others (usually the powerful) to be restrained: Classically, protection against invasion and crime. Later comes protection against water pollution, poverty, unfit housing, and disease. Now we are beginning to install protection for minorities against bullying. Next, we need protection against anthropogenic global f*ck-up (to coin a prhase). It is just dawning on the world consciousness that the world needs protection against the effects of burning fossil fules. (A concept , by the way, that has passed though the stages of embryo and foetus, and is at present in the perinatal state, or maybe early infancy)
3. We all agree to have the government restrain us (social contract theory?)

RL: I do not think so. Primarily the govt is there to serve us, to protect us, not to restrain us. Not if we are not doing harm to others. If I do harm to others, I must expect to be restrained. In reality, the govt often restrains the wrong people (many of us, last year, at Faslane) and lets the powerful wrong 'uns go free.

So. I reckon we are pretty close here.

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