George Monbiot is at it again.
See It’s the Rich Wot Gets the Pleasure of 27 Oct 2011.
George Monbiot is at it again.
Why does he and his ilk insist on asserting the primacy of consumption over population growth as the most critical factor toward aggregate resource liquidation and associated global catastrophes such as climate change?
BOTH conditions are the problem!!
Each one factors upon the other to deliver increasing resource depletion and system entropy.
Why waste time and public attention span arguing a false dichotomy?
That said, it is high material consumption standards that are, ostensibly, the central pursuit of our current capitalist value system. It lies at the very heart of the dominant economic growth fetish, which has a core metabolic need for all participants to consume, and to compete to consume, ever greater streams of 'stuff'. Why else would 'consumer confidence' be such a prominent indicator of economic health?
Population growth is merely a lazy way to bid up national or corporate GDP numbers in lieu of the productivity gains that the 'experts' incessantly tout as being the ideal means for economic growth. However population expansion does also serve to bid up the value of resource assets owned by the obscenely wealthy, so perhaps it does provide for an implicit core function within capitalist economy.
In the third world population growth is largely a collateral damage aggregated from the cultural and landscape destructions borne of colonial resource plunder. However globalisation has very successfully harnessed those who are too poor to be effective consumers into a yoke of corporate slave labor. Consequently unemployed westerners can at least afford shoes, shirts and gadgets, even if they are the discards of others who are easily able to buy too much at cheap-as-chips 'discount' prices.
Given this centrality of consumption to the modern economic equation, and the relative periphery of population growth, what is George's plan for reform?
It had better be a damn good one. Consumption levels are now, more than ever before, THE dominant socio-economic value. Radically decreasing them will require absolute system revolution, or a complete systemic collapse. Either way larger population only adds to the difficulties and risks involved within the transition. Without this revolution, incremental consumption will be ongoing and population growth will magnify its impacts upon both the planet and the poor.
Furthermore, excessive population growth also confuses and complexifies systems of communication and delivery, both local and global. The poor are clearly the biggest losers from such systemic 'entropy'.
So then, all things considered, why trivialise or malign concern about population levels?
Monbiot's view on Nuclear power reeks similarly of evidence that he is, in fact, a closet growthist. At complete odds with his stated views against 'over-consumption' he fails to observe that aggregate energy consumption is way, way too great. He implicitly accepts current and growing energy demand levels as a foundation of the problem at hand, factors this with climate change as the greatest concern facing humanity, and arrives at nuclear power generation as the solution.
The contradiction this poses with his 'over-consumption' fetish is astonishing. However the most salient flaw in his thinking is his complete oversight of high energy consumption as a core problem, no matter what the generation method. The most critical fact is that we move around too much, we build too much, we dig up too much stuff, we eat too much and we breed too much. All because we derive access to and consume too much energy. (It is vital to note that we do not 'generate' energy. We extract it from materials and systems occurring naturally around us, all of which have critical extraction limits. There is also always a loss between what we extract from system flows or sinks, thus depleting them by that amount, and what we can actually convert to our use from that extracted amount. These losses also create impacts, such as waste heat and frequency pollution. Our economic system externalises both the depletion and the conversion losses.)
The cold reality of advanced depletion across multiple vital resource values dictates that it's time to simply stop being so utterly and intractably frantic in our lives and in our expectations. It's time to learn how to just sit around a lot more; to think, talk and have simple fun; to spend our precious, finite time upon unhurried days with people and pastimes we genuinely like, rather than purchasing facile amusement and ego adornment with money that we mostly don't have. This shortfall obliges our permanent commitment to a mostly un-fulfilling, grinding work schedule to which our tenure is increasingly uncertain and destructively competitive. Such an uneasy commitment, welded to us by debt, debases our life to being a cellular input to the weight and power of the global industrial behemoth. We become one small cell in a burgeoning consumer battery. And then, like George, we have to conjure or adopt myths that can enable some belief in our personal metaphysical health. Admittedly George has carved a relatively well-configured position within the battery complex.
The commercial cost of genuine basic needs poses a significant problem to most of us when considering this necessary slowdown, most particularly the cost of amenable housing. Both the affordability and the amenity of housing are directly and seriously diminished by rapid population growth. Amenity includes access to land, private or common, on which to grow food bearing gardens. Thus population growth increases our need to work even harder to maintain our own basic standards, even when we renounce mainstream consumer behaviors. Thanks George. Appreciate your help and concern with this problem. Not!
This condition of bondage to growth might be something that the Occupy movements could very usefully focus upon.