Forget population, focus on consumerism.
It’s what we’re doing, not how many of us are doing it that’s the real problem.
George Monbiot’s article (Population is just a sidekick to the real big baddie – consumption) – upon which I commented repeatedly – stirs some thoughts that I feel need explaining. I was pleased to see him write that as I had planned to write my own post on this for a couple of weeks now. He beat me to it, but here is what I think.
A lot of people seem to struggle with the concept that an increasing population is not necessarily the problem it’s made out to be. That is not to say that somewhere someday there will be a limit – a number that is ‘too much’ – but that we have to accept our own inability to work out what that number is. Why?
Well, for a start we can definitely say that if we continue dong things the way we are doing them now, then we will run out of all the resources our planet can provide and we will face a rather rude shock, to put it mildly. Catastrophic civilisation collapse is another way of thinking about it.
Now, if in this equation we only increase the population then the bad stuff happens sooner as more people are doing it. So yes, in this model population is a problem. The main point here however is that even if you reduce population, the way we are living will still come to that end one day – maybe just a few years later than it would have been with more people. So, if you haven’t worked it out yet – this tell us that the way we live must change either way, no matter how many people we have, thus population is the wrong problem to be working on.
Secondly, so long as we are living in an unsustainable manner, we will never be able to truly know what that magic number or limit actually, truthfully is. Because only once we have a stable sustainable and balanced human population can we then see what the necessary resource demand is to support a happy human life. Until that moment, all guesses are coloured by bad data, all graphs will show a downward curve hitting the baseline at some point because unsustainable behaviour is by definition going to bring an end to itself.
To put it another way;
Let’s say a hundred people living highly consumerist unsustainable lives might actually (in reality) allow a thousand to live sustainably in their place.
Until they are actually living in that balanced sustainable way, they won’t come up against the actual limits of population until they are doing everything else right – because until then, the way you live is what’s going to end you no matter what – and thus is you’re biggest problem anyway, and where you should be focusing your efforts.
This is the situation we have today.
Quite a few people however, seem to struggle with even imagining another way of living. They seem to think we live in the best of all possible worlds and that anything else must be a step backwards, or down – that the only human consumption model is the one we have now.. that there is no other way to live comfortable rewarding lives than this way.
This is catastrophic failure of imagination.
We have the answers to the major problems of our times but they are largely incompatible with capitalsm – which is a problem to their implementation but makes sense if you think about it because they are the antidote to the problem – which unsurprisingly is capitalism – so that incompatibility should come as no shock.
The barriers that people have in their minds when discussing this are considerable however. They think because they live ok and have a hope of living better if they work more or get richer that it’s a fair system or the best one we know of. Why ese would we have it right? Those in power have only our best interests at heart don’t they? A very feudal mentality underlies all this – though few would stop to appreciate it.
We need to remember that the system we have now is deliberate. It is not here by accident but by the design of the ruling classes that preceded this age, and who have been working it to their advantage ever since. History shows this very clearly. Capitalism provides us with the incentives to be greedy and subordinate almost everything to money – but that is not who we are. That is not our nature as history, science and well as the numerous examples our there today will attest. Any observation about human greed is almost always made within a culture dominated by a monetary system and it’s incentives. We have lived differently in the past and we can do so again – only better and more wisely. But first we have to survive long enough to remove capitalism.
Capitalism accumulates wealth to those that already have it, that’s why we have this system and also why the Russians had to have a revolution in order to try anything else. Now that failed miserably for a variety of reasons and I certainly am not advocating that path, but what I will say is that just because Lenin and his cronies made a terrible hash of it doesn’t mean that what they were fighting against was really any better. It wasn’t that the failure of soviet Leninism proved capitalism was right – far from. Slavery and oppression wear many masks. Now that advertising and brand management rules the public spaces we just get a different coat of paint on it really, don’t we?
Whether you’re shackled at night in a cell and forced to pick cotton by day, ploughing fields and indentured to pay back debts to feudal overlords, toiling in factories for inhuman hours for less than subsistence pay – or you are left no choice but to live as a wage slave to a corporate job you hate, or unable to travel, re-educate, follow your dreams or change careers because you are chained to a mortgage and the whole while coerced, forced or manipulated in consuming a whole lot of shit you don’t need that needs replacing in a year or two – frankly makes little difference to me. Either way you are left with little genuine choice about how to live your life and the system is doing to you rather than for you.
Population therefore is something to keep an eye on at best but is far far down the list of concerns we have if we are going to tackle our current dangerous behaviours fuelling the looming crises of climate change, food production, energy generation, clean water and breathable air.
Once we employ the necessary changes to our societies to tackle those things, then population will be a question viewed more clearly. To get there however, I don’t see how it can be done whilst keeping capitalism and, more specifically, the monetary system. They have to go.. So you and I need to start thinking about the choices we can make to ease ourselves gradually to a better world.
Let’s do it.