To be honest, Sir Bob is probably one of the best, most compelling, most human and accessible speakers I've ever heard. I've heard the Clintons, Obama, Kissinger, Branson and others speak live, and rarely have I been more moved or compelled by one person's passion and life story. Geldof has achieved some amazing things including being better known for Live Aid than singing, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for Africa, being the person instrumental in getting billions of dollars of third world countries debt waived, and pressuring the G8 leaders to do more to help. Surprisingly he had much praise for President Bush for doing more than any other President to help Africa, and related his humorous tales of them hanging out as buddies only a week or so prior.
Sir Bob's information about how Europe has subsidies for farmers that mean that their farmers produce more food than could possibly be required, while African farmers are priced out of the global markets, while Europeans are taxed to store all of that excess food, and then ultimately dispose of it when it goes off, all occurring while millions of Africans regularly starve to death (especially during the Ethiopian Live Aid era), when Africa is just 8 miles away from Europe, did a good job of making everyone in the room feel ashamed to live in the first world.
Sir Bob's aims of brining the third would out of poverty, or at least into a more equal playing field are certainly admirable, and definitely compelling - and I think that we have a human obligation to implement a lot of the policies that he is so passionate about. HOWEVER, as far as the planet is concerned, I have some real concerns that it's just NOT going to be possible in the utopian manner in which a lot of people including Sir Geldof would like to believe.
Currently humanity is ALREADY using up the resources of the planet in a non-sustainable manner. In fact we are already chewing up the planet at a rate that is at least twice the replacement rate of natural resources in every area - so for example, forests are getting chopped down at least twice as fast as they are planted, fisheries are being exploited at least twice as fast as they can recover, water is being diverted for dams and irrigation twice as fast as our needs expand, and the list goes on. In fact, in the case of oil and coal, it took billions of years for those resources to form, and it's only taken around 100 years for us to use perhaps half the resource, so in that particular case, we're using up the resource perhaps a billion times faster than those resources will recover.
What this all means is that even if our global population was to stay steady, and use the same amount of fuel, resources etc, there WILL be a point in the future where we come up against a wall (which will be MUCH worse than the financial crisis), where we simply run out of resources to live in the way that we have, and we will either perish in the billions, or find new, more sustainable ways of living. Even if you don't believe in global warming, it's still easy to see that the whole world has been built out of the energy from coal and oil, and that perhaps there is only 50 years of those resources left. The whole world is going to have to shift to running on sustainable energy over the next 50 years or we're stuffed. Considering it can take 20 years to get a dam consented, planned and built, this isn't a lot of time.
Now here is where my concern for us and the planet really kicks in. As I have outlined - we ALREADY have a HUGE problem to deal with in the way that we are living in terms of Global Warming, and environmental degradation. Now if our impact on the planet was to DOUBLE, then obviously that problem would become a lot worse and we would hit the wall twice as fast. But I guess you might say 'well - we have to solve these problems anyway, so it won't be much worse to solve the problems for twice the number of people'. But what if I told you that our impact on the planet was going to be HUNDREDS of times the current environmental impact if we implement all of Sir Bob's wildest desires and lift all of the third wold out of poverty to a level of living comparable with our own?
You see, the Impact on the planet "I", is not just a factor of population, but also a factor of the Affluence, and resource use of each person "A", as well as the Technological impact "T" of each person, such as whether they use a hand plow, or a giant mechanical plow. We have been told that the population is going to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, so that's already an increase in resource use of 50%. But one thing that a lot of people aren't aware of, or don't think about, is that the average third world person currently consumes JUST 1/50th the resources of the average first world person. So for example, they don't have a car, plasma TV, big house, lots of water use, throwaway meals, clothes etc. The other thing is that there are currently TWICE as many third world people as first world people. So if ALL of the third world was to achieve a level of Affluence on par with the first world, we would have twice as many people using 50 times the resources, or around 100 times the resource use. The other factor is if course the Technology factor, that allow a single person to have so much more of an impact on the planet than previously - think of a chainsaw vs an axe, a tractor vs a manual hoe etc. The technological impact I believe would be around a 10 times multiplier, but lets just assume that it doubles.
So: our impact "I" on the planet in the future, if we lift the whole world out of poverty, will be an increase of: 50% (6 billion to 9 billion people); TIMES an Affluence impact on the planet of around 100; TIMES a Technological multiplier of at least 2; EQUALS: around THREE HUNDRED TIMES THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ON THE PLANET OF TODAY. Who wants to put their hand up and say that they believe that the planet could support a rate of exploitation 300 times current levels?
Now, the first world is already in population decline, because we have a level of Affluence that makes us comfortable, and we don't need to have large numbers of children to support us. In some African countries, the AVERAGE number of children per family is 9. So the challenge is HOW do we lift the third world to a level of wealth where they don't feel the need to have so many children BEFORE the world runs into an environmental crisis hundreds of times worse than the current financial crisis? Well - to be honest, I just don't believe that we can. My personal opinion is that in the coming decades we will see mass starvation and famines that make the Ethiopian crisis of 1984 look pale by comparison. We need to do what we can, but perhaps its time that the world started talking about having voluntary goals of a world population lower than todays, and a 'one child' policy similar to China's if the third world is to receive aid at all?
I'm NOT suggesting we kill anyone off, or let people starve if we can prevent it. BUT if humanity is going to co-exist with the rest of the animals and the planet for thousands of years to come, do you think it would be better to have a steady-state of around ONE billion people on the planet, all living sustainably and harmoniously, all being able to live close to the sea or in beautiful natural surroundings, or do you think it would be better to have TEN billion people all living in a polluted and charred earth, and all living in tiny concrete apartment blocks next to smouldering rubbish dumps? It took 10,000 generations of humanity to reach one billion people, and it will take just over ONE generation to go from one billion to ten billion. Perhaps it's time that we put the needs of the planet and the millions of future generations first, and talked about that taboo subject of setting a population limit for the planet before it's too late.
Sir Bob Geldof visits NZ herald article here