Saturday, November 29, 2014

human population projections raised

Say goodbye to anything resembling wilderness in the parts of Africa that aren't desert, if a new projection of human population growth turns out to be accurate.

The difference between old predictions for Africa and the new projection is more than 2 billion people, for a total of more than 4 billion people and still growing by the year 2100, pushing the world population to 11 billion, despite a predicted decline in Asia.

So many mouths to feed, we must do everything possible to feed them, or so goes the argument, used to justify practices that produce maximum yield (in the short term), while glossing over their long-term and collateral effects – exhausting soils, polluting streams and oceans, further contributing to climate change, and ensnaring farmers in a cycle of debt.

What we absolutely must do is to protect remaining arable land – preserving and gradually improving its productivity – protecting it both from farming methods that sacrifice long-term health for short-term gains and from the urban sprawl that takes good land out of production, and to reverse that sprawl as much as possible, regreening land that had been covered in concrete and pavement.

We must also find a way to maintain production without ruining the land and the planet as a whole in the process.

But, just as importantly, we must recognize that what hunger there is at this time is caused by poverty and insufficient local production, not by a global shortfall in food production. Rather, the global market suffers from a glut of commodities and a failure to maintain prices at levels sufficient to cover farmers' costs of production. It also suffers in the sense of operating to provide for human need because some can afford to pay more for grain-fed meat, even for fuel produced from grain, than others can afford to pay for the grain required to produce it, despite low efficiencies of conversion.

So long as the use of agricultural commodities (not just crop wastes) for fuel competes with their use in the production of food, we haven't yet reached anything resembling a production crisis. Let's not allow ourselves to be rushed into foolish choices. The pressure of world population isn't a crisis we can fix and forget; it will be with us for a very long time, long past the year 2100. We must find ways of dealing with it that don't sacrifice all else on the altar of maximum production.

No comments: