Friday, August 13, 2010

Unsustainable Arguments

Of apparent interest to some in the current Federal election campaign is the issue of sustainable population. Having dumped Kevin Rudd's Big Australia policy, the government has refocused the debate on sustainable growth, and the most pertinent aspect of this is immigration. Inevitably, because they are relevant, the twin issues of over population and alleged food shortages come to the fore. We may be all right in Australia but we are part of the global community, and therefore cannot make decisions as though we were alone on this planet.

According to the FAO, (Food and Agriculture Organisation), there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone—at least 1.5 times current demand. In fact, over the last 20 years, food production has risen steadily at over 2.0% a year, while the rate of population growth has dropped to 1.14% a year. Population is not outstripping food supply. “

To avoid picking on individuals, I suggest Fred Smith who is a multi-billionaire. Let's say Fred lives in the United States and has a net personal worth of roughly 50 billion dollars. (Forbes magazine has 1100 names on its current list of world billionaires, by the way.)Fred deposits just 10% of his wealth into a bank account where he will earn a 5% per annum return. Excluding the compound interest factor which I can't calculate, this will generate $250 million per year. Money for nothing. It sits in the bank and earns interest. It costs $572 per year to sponsor a child through World Vision. World Vision doesn't throw cash at problems, they invest in sustainable futures for poor communities. With the interest earned on Fred's investment he could sponsor 437 062 children.I'm sure you can see where this argument is leading despite my lack of mathematical prowess.

The world is suffering a food shortage, because of the cost of food. It is a problem of distribution. I repeat what the FAO said above, 'Population is not outstripping food supply.' Two billion people live on an income of less than $2 per day and they spend around 70% - 80% of that income on food. When the price of food goes up in wealthy nations like Australia, we simply eat out less or switch to cheaper alternatives. (Generic bread instead of Helgas, for example). When the price of food goes up in the two thirds world, they don't eat. We’re seeing more people hungry and at greater numbers than before,” says World Hunger Program’s executive director Josette Sheeran, “There is food on the shelves but people are priced out of the market.”There are many reasons for rises in food prices but one of the most immoral is speculation in food community prices on the short term money markets.

The world is not overpopulated nor is it short of food resources. The problem is distribution. The higher the population density the greater the demand placed on resources. Is the answer to stop having babies and ban migration to ensure allegedly sustainable population numbers? Or should we just be smarter and more just with how we use the resources we have? Does the maintenance of high living standards for the few of us who live in affluent nations have to damn the rest of the word to the ongoing hell of extreme poverty? No, it doesn't. So what are you going to do about it?

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