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In the whole of history up until 1800 the population of the world had grown to one billion people. Between 1800 and 2017, a little over 200 years that population had grown to 7 billion. Imagine that! In just 200 years our little blue planet had grown in human population by 6 BILLION human souls….
In the whole of history up until 1800 the population of the world had grown to one billion people. Between 1800 and 2017, a little over 200 years that population had grown to 7 billion.
Last week I read an article in that most respected of magazines, The Lancet in which a team of scientists propose a “Planetary Health Diet” .
Now, to get published in The Lancet is no mean feat, and those really really smart medical people and scientists who read it tend to believe. Newspapers pick up on the ‘research’ and suddenly we have The Daily Mail, The Express, The Sun, and every other popular newspaper and magazine reporting on this marvellous scientific breakthrough.
A quick summary as reported by the mainstream media is that if you halve your meat intake, halve your sugar intake, and introduce more nuts and berries, then it will be good both for you and for the planet. There could be as many as eleven million less deaths per year they say. Greenhouse gasses will be reduced, and biodiversity would be preserved.
Scientists are smart. They come from the cream of the crop (no, don’t forgive the pun. It was bad but I still like it!) They study hard for years to achieve their mostly altruistic goals and above average incomes.
Now let us look at it differently. From the point of view of someone who never made it through High School and did not go to university until he was forty two years old, only to study for a BA. The degree you study when you are not studying for a degree, they say.
Someone born today will live in a world of about 10 billion people by the time they are 30. So, regardless of the scientists lovely ideas, after the whole of the known history or humanity, the population of our little blue planet will have increased tenfold in a matter of about two hundred and fifty years. By that time human beings could be living to half that age, and no matter the amount of meat you eat, or how much land is saved for growing nuts and berries rather than meat in feedlots, we will still be on a pathway to destruction. If we have not already done so.
It has been going on for years, this old and corny argument about eating our way out of potential disaster. Population grows, so we must eat our way out of trouble by changing our habits. Yes, to a tiny extent. The argument goes that if we cut down the amount of meat we eat, then there will be less sheep, cows, goats etc to fart, and therefore less methane produced, and therefore a change in climate which will of course lead to greater success for the human race.
Tim Lang, a professor at Britain’s University of London along with his colleagues spent three long years on the study. In that time more than twenty million babies have been born, and that growth is becoming exponential.
I’m not going to give the figures on extinction of species because I might just get depressed, but if you want to see your doctor about anti-depressants you can find some pretty sobering figures here.
Three years this study took. How many scientists and scholars were involved and how much money was spent and by whom seems to have been lost in the reporting, but I’m sure these people are either “nut jobs” in the very kindest sense of the phrase, or they are “nut jobs” in the other sense. Did they sit up all night drinking coffee? (60% of wild coffee plants are in danger of extinction at this very moment.) There are only about 124 species of the plant, and only two of them are used in any quantity commercially. You don’t even have to have a humble BA and know the works of James Joyce, W.B Yeats, and Wilfred Owen. You don’t even have to know who those dead authors and poets are to know that the Planetary Diet is not going to work and three years and a lot of money have been wasted.
Whether we eat less meat, eat more nuts and berries, and drive eco friendly cars, Planetary Diet is not going to work. We might, possibly, maybe reduce deforestation and save the lesser spotted pink skink so that it can live in peace within a square mile of some old steel mill. (No such creature exists to the best of my knowledge, but just bear with me.)
Sure, we know that sheep and cows fart, and that methane is the result. Deforestation is a clear and present danger. Species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Climate change is a fact, despite the flat-earther attitudes from some.
Where I grew up in the North of England, we used to scrub around in the ditch behind the house and find those little fish called Sticklebacks. We caught newts on bits of cotton with worms tied on the end. We chased Red Admiral butterflies. We kept hairy caterpillars in jars of fresh vegetation.
The ditches and ponds are gone. The bushes the Red Admiral caterpillars fed on have been cut down, and the roundabout where we played in those bushes has become a supermarket car-park entrance. Creatures we thought would always be there have gone from out town.
The problem with the Planetary Diet, all three years of (I am sure) dedicated research, is that it misses a whole point. People. Those ten million plus who will be potentially starving in little more than thirty years.
There is this thing we call ‘carrying capacity’. How many sheep, cows etc per acre can be kept in comfort. How many people can the earth maintain even if we cut down meat eating, build smaller houses, grow upwards rather than outwards. The answer almost universally is less than ten billion.
So it is likely that your children born today and tomorrow will either suffer severe deprivation, or war. Perhaps both. There will be famines unheard of in history. Wars and genocides will create greater waves of refugees, and because those refugees will be kept crowded into relatively small areas of (barren?) land, they will wish to overflow to more comfortable places, and who could ever blame them. Every human being deserves a certain quality of life.
Not very many years ago scientists (of course) completed long studies on aquaculture or fish farming. One of the most commonly farmed fish is the Salmon, once a very expensive treat and now readily available at a cheap price at any supermarket. But what of the unforeseen problems?
Fish pens are often placed on or near the migration routes of wild fish. The food pellets fed to the penned fish are filled with antibiotics and pesticides which are used to control parasites. Wild fish feed on the pellets that remain uneaten and drop through the nets. The penned fish, kept in quite high quantities expel waste. The waste smothers the sea grass beds killing or vastly reducing the areas of living and feeding space used by Dugongs and Green Sea turtles. Migrating geese rely on sea grass leaves. So, while fish farming may look entirely sustainable, we will always create greater problems in trying to feed a world population which is growing almost exponentially and will soon become actually exponential.
I’m just a writer with a lowly BA, but I still know that what Dr. David Suzuki has been arguing and lecturing about since I was a young man of twentysomething has to be dealt with in more aggressive ways.
Last week an article appeared in Australia where I live, about a million or so fish that had died and were rotting and stinking in the Murray Darling river. Politicians say drought, some say a mass outbreak of algae, while others say that the draining off of water for agriculture or use by corporations has caused the mess. Some or all of that may be true. Some blame climate change but their argument goes begging when we ask who or what is changing the climate, and are human beings responsible? Probably both. Simply by being here we change the climate. Yes, of course the dead fish are a massive environmental disaster. We can continue the blame game until the problem is eased or stopped, but before we continue the blame game we have to figure something else out.
We have the technology, and not even what we might term ‘high’ technology to do something about the rotting carcasses that are a hazard to both human and beast. A simple, portable harvesting machine could be built in a matter of a week or so by just about any classy mechanic to clean up the rotting carcasses, reduce them to fish meal, and use them as feed or fertiliser. Not hard. Even I could do it, because if one can visualise it one can make it. The same goes for mass algae outbreaks. Again, not even high tech to filter out the algae, turn it into powder, bag it and use it as a fertiliser, or even a food! Sounds silly? Well give me some alternative! If Elon Musk can frivolously put a Tesla into space, he can spare a few dollars to clean the planet he wants to leave so badly. And that goes for all the other multi billionaires who pay little tax and live a sweet life without too much care about the planet.
Finally, because I know some of you are bored by now there is the problem of water. Why, if there is no more and no less water on the earth than there ever was, is there a global shortage of water? Yes, much of it is polluted, and polluted by the very animals that scientists who advocate the Planetary Diet espouse. Cows, sheep, goats etc drink the water, fart and shit in their paddock, and end up polluting the water. They produce methane which warms the climate, there are heat waves and droughts across entire continents.
New Zealand, with something like four million people and thirty million sheep contributes per capita the greatest amount of methane in the world. So our Planetary Diet looks good from that standpoint. New Zealand also has the clearest and cleanest water on the planet.
Vegans and vegetarians may have a point, but that is their choice to make, and most human beings still keep animals for food. As drought spreads, animals, (and people) die. Refugees flood across the world just like water finding its own level. Famines cause war and genocides. But human population continues to explode. Populations explode even more in situations where food and water are scarce. That is the human condition. It is human nature to try to continue the species.
Water is not scarce JUST because of climate change. After all, with no more or less water on and in the earth than there has ever been, what goes up must eventually come down one might think. No. Not actually.
The estimates range wide between 55% and 85% of the adult human body is water. Now consider how many more People were born between 1800 and 2018. Then extrapolate that figure to 2050 when there will be in excess of ten billion people, a tenfold increase in human population alone. Then factor in all the large beasts, fish, and fowl required to feed them all. Every human being is a walking column of locked up water.
No wonder some large corporations have suggested that water is not a right, and that THEY should have the rights to water so that they can sell it in bottles and cans. Well sort of. What the chairman of Nestles said was that the idea of water being a human right is ‘extreme’. (Ie: not really a human right!)
What it gets down to in the end is not just the gigantic masses of food waste in the western world, or the fact that one can turn on a tap and get water. Nor is it the Planetary Diet. It is about how to 1) deal with the vital problem of population and that will not be done via war, disease, famine, or lack of water. 2) Begin to clean and process all food waste, fish kills, algae blooms into product that can be used. 3) Either stop buying up market gardens which once flourished in towns and cities, just to build apartments on AND begin to build food growing ‘factories’ within the cities to grow food which will save on transportation, (and therefore pollution and costs). 4) Add in the Planetary Diet for good measure. Encourage those who wish to become vegan or vegetarians to do their thing even if it is not your thing.
There are many complexities to argue. What then of jobs and work? How do we deal with it? How do we decrease population without draconian measures? How do we stop the wealthy western world from visiting all the blame on refugees and the poor of different cultures and races? How do we get the obscenely rich to become involved in cleaning and processing the organic waste we generate instead of watching in awe while they send people to Mars and Teslas into space?
What I find spectacularly depressing is that much of this can be done by us, in our own homes. I know, one of you will say that if you have less children in the west, then people of other cultures will have more and you will be overrun. Prove it! Have less children and feed those who yet cannot be fed. If you do that you can encourage them too to have less children and enjoy a comfortable life. When there are less people there will be more water. When we grow a little less meat there will be less waste. When we stop damming rivers and growing cotton and wheat on stolen water from the rivers, we will have better food and less algae blooms and less fish kills. It is an holistic approach to living.
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