Monday, 14 December 2009

The bigger picture?

Occasionally, connections can make so much sense. Over 20 years ago, I embarked on a distant learning course on Human Ecology. Just for the fun of it, I was that kind of kid. The other day, I watched Sir David Attenborough (sorry, forgot the title of his feature) ponder on population growth, the education of girls, food and oil shortage. The surprising thing was that all it did was reiterate what I learned over 20 years ago.

So here are the issues:

1. There are 7 billion people on this planet (when I took the course it was 4 billion) and we are struggling to feed them. If everyone on the world had the life style of the average Indian, we could feed 9 billion. If everyone had the lifestyle of the US, we could feed barely over 1 billion.

2. Carbon based energy will be used up in the not so distant future. Our agriculture (i.e. feeding those 7 billion) and consumer culture depend on oil.

3. World population continues to grow very fast. We will go beyond 9 billion. It's only started expanding like this in the past 150 years due to mortality rates going down. We don't want people to die of diseases, so we have to find another avenue to get back to population levels that the world can sustain.

Solutions must include as outcomes: food production to feed the growing population, severe reduction of dependency on oil, and levelling of world population.

To me, that seems to be the simplest summary of our task ahead. Now I'm looking for local solutions for this task. The documentary argued that the education of girls and young women was the biggest factor in a soft approach to population control. The higher educated girls are, the smaller their families. Education brings choice, empowerment, control over their own fertililty. Heaps better than the Chinese model.

Then look at what's happening in education to young people in the UK: disengagement, keeping head down in school, detention, exclusion. Young people for whom textbook education just doesn't cut it. Why? I don't have the answers, but I can see alternatives to education that are meaningful for young people.

A barrier to all of this is of course the way our society distributes wealth through wages. And here's where my main connection of today comes in: A Bit Rich is a report by New Economics Foundation which unveils the real value of professions for societies and compares it with the renumeration. You may argue with the nitty gritty of how they come to the "real value" but there's no doubt that the bottom line is that: We've created a society where the private and financial sector get high salaries but don't actually contribute an awful lot towards society, whereas those professions that do are paid a pittance. Often, women are to be found those in the more valuable professions (think cleaners and childcare workers) and it's also no news that maternal income is crucial in getting rid of child poverty. The cycle thus closes.

So then, we need to connect meaningful educational options with reducing reliance on fossil fuels and and increase in food production. As a step towards encouraging such sollutions, we need wages and salaries to reflect the actual contribution towards the things that matter. This is our challenge. This is not about climate change, whatever your position on this one may be. It's more about, as much as I hate to say it, survival.

It's a high task, but fear not, local changes is what we need and what we can do. Solutions can be found and I've just heard of a really exciting one so if you some clever people get their thinking hats on (there are after all 7 billion brains going about), surely there must be some great ideas floating about.

Ideas to save the world in comment box below please (I'm serious by the way!)


The Dotterel said...

There are solutions a-plenty Steffi, but whether society will ever 'bite-the-bullet' and adopt them is what worries me most. Maybe the banking crisis and obscene bonuses will interest people just a little bit more. That will be all it takes - enough people to be interested.

Heather said...

what a fabulous post, that really made me stop and think. On a very local scale, my household, how the hell would we cope if there was no oil tomorrow. how would i feed us, dress us, educate the children, heat the house, feed the animals. It is very easy to just brush it all aside and think 'ah whatever, much more important things to think about' etc but when you actually stop and think, it is terrifying -and we live on a farm and are capable of growing our own crops.

I agree entirely about wage distribution. Those that contribute valuable things to society, educating our children, nursing the sick, keeping our streets sanitary and hygienic, growing our food, they are the ones that ought to be paid well.

Catharine Withenay said...

I agree with Dotterel. Are any of us really prepared to make the sacrifices that are necessary?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

What really scares me is all this talk about getting carbon levels back to 1990. I was studying global warming in 1990 and talking about how unsustainable it was then. Now that is what we are hoping to get back to? Scares me silly.

slugs on the refrigerator said...

no ideas to save the world here...though, in a bizarre coincidence, I too was a student of human ecology (at the centre for human ecology here in scotland). I must say learning about and delving into the issues has left me less certain about what to do...ah the burden of awareness.

Anonymous said...

Am really keen to look into studying Human Ecology as it all ties in with Anthrapology and Sociology.

I concure that although there are several brilliant ideas to help save the world, it is up to us as a nation to make the sacrafices and changes.

But are we willing to do that?

Would be interested to hear of your project to make these facts more well known and would be willing to help in any way possible.

Take care
Kate Collings

cartside said...

Tim, I'm kind of thinking along the lines of projects/ideas that we can implement locally - on a medium to big scale. So not just about individual life style changes (as important as they are) but creating jobs, food, and paying jobs that create the bare necessities appropriately. Of course, we'll need both...

Heather, these are just my fears. Real fears. I do think that there may be a situation where very soon we have neither oil to produce the food and goods we consume, nor other fuel on which our economies, lives run. We will need a greater self sufficiency and how are we going to prepare? Ray Mears anyone?

Catharine, no, we're not willing. But we'll soon not have a choice if I look at where we're heading. And it's going to hit us hardest because we're so used to all that stuff.

Fraught Mummy - absolutely. we're aiming far too low even if we should get agreement on that line.

Kat, same here, the knowledge is almost crushing. Thankfully there are some people with great ideas out there, and I'm really and truly looking for small solutions. As a consequence of doing the human ecology course I became a vegetarian - people always think I feel sorry for animals, when it was always about distribution of food. 20 years later finally an awareness of the impact on cattle farming is getting through to mainstream culture, so at least one tiny improvement.

Kate, yes it does link lots of different areas, it's fascinating because it's so holistic. Part of the course was also the impact on religion. And we have to make changes on all levels, individual, community, country, nation, continent, global. We can't afford to wait for the politicians to drag their comfy backsides off their chairs. It's not my project that I hinted at which is why I'm not sharing at the moment, have to ask permission first. It's a good one though!



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