Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sustainability? Never mind the reasoning, just feel the poople!

Good luck to the Sustainable Development UK 09 Conference which is taking place today in London. They say "Soaring oil prices, global food shortages and rising carbon emissions mean now is the time for decisive action by all those concerned with the role that sustainability plays in the future safety and security of the UK".

This attracts the attention of the Today Programme, and our John interviews Prof Beddington.

John Humphreys takes the line that there is nothing we can do about population increase, energy, food and water. I know he does not mean it (or maybe he does), he is just being adversarial, which is presumably in his job contract: Para3.5.4: "If an interviewee makes any statement, you are obliged, not to seek clarification, but to put the opposite point of view".

The result of adversarial interviewing is a sense of confusion and frustration in the listeners, going on to nihilism. This, in my view, is not helpful especially when dealing with serious global problems. We need to be solution-oriented.

How much better it would be if John Humphrys had said,
Population is a very emotive issue, but would it not be sensible for Governments to say to their citizens, "We will undertake to feed you, if you will undertake to restrict your offspring to replacement levels".

Even this would draw criticism from some listeners, but at least it is a constructive approach that suggests the idea that we are not all doomed, and there is nothing we can do.

Prof Beddington said, first, recognise there is a problem. This in itself is difficult enough. Denialism is rampant, whether primary denialism, not wanting to face up to the fact that humanity is in deep doo-doo unless it makes radical changes in the way it goes about things, or secondary denialism, because the radical changes required clash with deeply held beliefs regarding the need for the privileged few to live their individual live lives free of any restraint on doing exactly what they want to do.

We face a clash between logic and emotion, reason and ideology.
Logic says that since the trends on water, food, and energy show that we are on a course that ends in disaster, it follows that we should take action.
Emotion says that to change the habit of a lifetime is a drag, and it would be better to continue as we are doing, and hope for the best.
Reason says that decarbonising our economy is possible, but will take a huge effort, so we had best start today.
Ideology says that decarbonising our economy is a challenge to free market fundamentalism, so should be deferred as long as possible.
Logic says that human population cannot expand forever into a finite space, but ideology says that the Pope and the Hadith both agree that God/Allah want Catholic and Muslim populations to expand forever, even if it means widespread starvation, eco-degradation and war.

It would be easy to get a bit depressed and cynical over all of this. However, it takes a long time and many nautical miles to turn a supertanker around, and this may explain why it is taking so long to get any action on population, water management, food production and distribution and global warming. I have been in the Green Party for 30 years, and I can say that never have our concerns been so high up on the political and scientific agenda, nor at so high a level of the political pyramid. The Green Party in the UK is still to a very great extent shut out of the political and mass media process, but our time will come. Politicians and corporate media can feel some of the poople some of the time, and they can poop on some of the fools all of the time, but they cannot pop all of the feebles all of the time. Something like that.

Anyway, it's a lovely day, and I'm off out to plant some seeds.


Glenn Vowles said...

I'd say you've planted many, many seeds Richard - plant and otherwise!! Many thanks for your work over 30 yrs in the Greens - a continuing inspiration both to me and to others. And thanks for your ongoing, informative and often amusing blog!!

Coneve said...

I'm puzzled by your idea that the government should somehow feed us. This should never be a task of the State. God help us all if it ever does!

DocRichard said...

Hi Coneve

It has been agreed by the UN that Governments have a Responsibility to Protect their citizens. To protect them from invasion, from crime, from genocide, from all sorts of threats to their security.

People get very angry with their Government if there is no food. We had food riots in several places last year.

Now if the population in a country just keep expanding, the country will not be able to feed them. There will be not enough food for them to eat. This happens all the time in animal populations - it is a scientific fact.

If people in a country just keep increasing their numbers, in the end there will be hunger. Not enough food to go round. With the best will in the world, the Government will not be able to arrange for them to have more food.

In Zimbabwe there is not enough food, but in that case it is more the incompetent Government's fault than the people's fault. If on the other hand, Robert Mugabe was an absolute genius, just and kind and efficient, but the Zimbabwean population doubled in size every 20 years, say, they would soon start to starve, because there is only a certain amount of food that you can get from a set area of land.

Therefore, to avoid starvation, we need two things: a sensible competent government, and sensible people who do not think that it is possible to expand forever into a finite space.

Sorry, this is a bit difficult to explain, but I hope you can see what I am driving at.