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As Population Grows We Fail
To Protect Our Children

By John James

19 NOvember, 2008

Two trends are crashing against one another. Both are well-known. They are that world population is getting larger while food and water is getting less.

The cause of the first is out-of-control fertility producing a flood of babies, mainly in Africa, India and South America. The second is rampant consumption that makes the pollution that causes warming that is reducing the earth's capacity to grow more food.

Over-populating and over-consuming is a bit like Christmas, we cant stop cramming ourselves, buying more presents and over-spending on our credit cards - all for the sake of the thrill of doing it together.

Making love and spending money, having babies and giving presents. These come from very deep atavistic drives inside us that stem from our origins. Without the passion to reproduce, our species would die out. Without the enjoyment of being together in groups and celebrating, tribes would not have formed and the larger carnivores would have eaten us for their dinner rather than the other way round.

These are, in very simplistic terms, the drives that are thrusting up the population and hurling out those emissions that are warming the planet.
These drives were essential when there were only a few people on the planet. But now they bear the seeds of our own destruction.

We, all of us all over the world, have created too many people while our pollutants are reducing the world's ability to feed those who are coming.
We had friends over on Sunday. They brought their three children and we played ping pong and threw balls to one another. It was a beautiful day. Little children who have not been traumatised by life bathe us in a world of love and acceptance that we, as adults, have too often left far behind.

Take away children and we lose that most precious connection with our own fullness and joyfulness. Days like Sunday make it hard to write this piece; for children are our greatest joy, but are becoming our nemesis.
There are too many of them.

For example, in Uganda fifty percent of the population is under 15. In no time most of them will be having babies, and numbers will rise quickly.
When you do the sums, this means that within eighteen years Uganda's population will double to 60 million, and if that rate could be maintained and those people fed, by the end of this century this country, with the same area as the UK, would have the population of India.

More than a third of Ugandan women say they would like to stop or delay having children, but cannot because there minimal access to contraceptives.
Under pressure from fundamentalists in the US, population has been taken off the agenda of most donors, who have shifted their focus to HIV. Little can now be done to stop the doubling of Uganda's numbers.

And it is the same for many parts of the world: for nearly the whole of Africa, much of South America and India. There is a tragedy brewing.

We might feel that children are wonderful, as we did last Sunday, but if there are too many to be fed then they are being born only to die young. This is cruel. More people need more food, and food needs land, water and good growing conditions.

These are easily provided on fertile land. But all the best areas were being fully farmed years and years ago. Since then there has been growing desperation to find enough useable land to feed everyone on the planet. The stocks of basic foods held in storage around the world, of wheat and corn, have fallen 80 percent over the past 20 years. Yet in that time the global population has grown from four billion to almost seven.

In the late 60s I read a book called Famine 1975 by William and Paul Paddock. They warned that it would not be long before a hundred million would be in need of food. At the time I was reading it, the UN considered that only a few million in the world were malnourished or starving. Today that figure is almost a billion of whom 178 million are young children.

Lets see what this means …. Imagine you are in your favourite café and ordering cakes and cappuccino. In a moment all these malnourished kids are shared among everyone in Australia. You find there are eight children at your table, none over ten and all of them hungry.

Imagine eight of these young children standing in front of every Australian, from babies to ancients.

You look around, your heart bleeds for these children, underfed, imploring. You check out all the other people with milling children around each of them. What would you do? Faced with that, would we banish the kids, put them out of mind and finish our cake and coffee?

What else is there to do?

This is not a pleasant story for this time of year, but as we are one of the breadbasket nations that supplies food for the rest of the world we have to consider our role very carefully. In fact, the issue of breadbaskets highlights the whole problem.

The Murray-Darling Basin is the source of 40 percent of our agricultural income and a third of our wheat. We have all been reading of the problems there, rising salinity, loss of water, destruction of orchards and so on. Global warming is likely to render much of that area permanently less productive as rainfall lessens. The fertile lands in Western Australia are also receiving less rain.

The most obvious loss of food production, and the most important for Uganda, is nearby Zimbabwe, once called "the breadbasket of Africa". It used to export enough food to feed half the continent. Now, through political gangsterism, it can no longer feed itself.

Three years ago the UN prepared a report on the impact of global warming on productivity. Though their figures are based on computer projections that are now being exceeded by reality, they warned that within fifty years eleven percent of arable land would be lost in the developing world, and that this would bring a considerable reduction in cereal production. In addition higher temperatures would lead to less fertility in livestock and lower dairy yields.
Together, this means a huge loss of food in just those areas where the population is growing most quickly.

Extreme weather can make situations dramatically worse. We had Cyclone Larry that destroyed most of the Australian banana crop two and a half years ago. It took nearly 18 months for production to recover. If bananas had been our staple crop we would have starved.

We had the money to import substitutes, but if we had been relying on charity there were only enough stocks of food in the world for five or six weeks. Starvation had drawn down the world's food buffer to dangerous levels.
When there is a lack of food people get angry. We have already seen that price increases from food shortages have led to riots in many countries: Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal, just to mention a few. In the past year cereal prices have triggered violence in Mexico when corn that had been diverted into making biofuels pushed up the price of tortillas by 60 percent. In Italy, the rising cost of pasta prompted nationwide protests.
Nearly every one of these riots occurred in the cities. Now that half the world is living in great cities there is more tension just because there is less space.
Humans were created over millennia to live in small groups scattered over large areas. Being surrounded by space is a blessing, and the numbers seeking open views and the spaciousness of a small farm show how important this urge is.
When we are crammed together with less space, crime and domestic violence increases, and the crowding makes it easier to organise riots than in the countryside. In all these situations it is the very young, the children under ten, who bear the hardest impact.

In a recent report on The Implications of Climate Change for the World's Children it was written that "Those who have contributed least to climate change are suffering the most. It is clear that a failure to address climate change is a failure to protect the children."

John James is a therapist, architect, philosopher and medieval historian. With his wife Hilary and partner Marg Garvan he founded the Crucible Centre to help people using Energetic Healing and to teach Transpersonal Psychology. Their work, published in The Great Field, has just received the prestigious US Book Award as the "Best Spirituality Book of 2008". He wrote the site to share information on Climate Change.

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