AND WHY WESTERNERS SHOULD CUT THEIR EXCESSES
By Rosemary Ekosso
Friday, March 27, 2008.
The developed nations produce a great deal and use what they have well. But they also take a great deal from us. Colonialism, slavery and neo-colonialism have contributed in no small way to what the West is today. Where would France be without la francophonie?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is teeming with resources. It has 2345.41 thousands sq. km of surface area, and 25.62 people per sq. km. Is that overpopulation?
The world has become too small for its inhabitants because they have exploited its resources in an unsustainable manner, we are told. Yes, but who has been doing the exploiting? Who consumes more? Who uses all kinds of dangerous and greedy methods to mine the earth’s resources? Whose ecological footprint is larger?
The West, that’s who. Comparing their ecological footprint with that of developing world inhabitants is like comparing a shallow breath with a strong gale. Our footprint is not even noticeable.
Taken as a whole, Africa “only has a population density of 66 people per square mile” (not kilometre, mind!), says Jim Vittitow of the Population Research Institute (PRI) in this article. Admittedly, the PRI sounds like a Vatican anti-contraception mouthpiece and some of the things it says make me nervous, but its President, Steve Mosher, is right when he says: “You don't cure poverty by eliminating the poor”.
It's a fact that Europe was built by the cheap labour working in its factories during the industrial revolution, while America was largely built with Black slave labour.
So where would we find the cheap labour to develop our economies if we do not have children? If there were only six, or even twenty, or a hundred million Chinese, China would not be making anyone nervous.
In addition, I find this charge of overpopulation hypocritical. If it were not for the sweat shops in Asia, how many of the fashion houses could produce their expensive shirts and handbags at such negligible cost? How do these people reconcile their outsourcing of labour with their claims of overpopulation? Who would do that work if we didn’t?
Consider this also: because of AIDS and endemic diseases like malaria, population growth in Africa has slowed down. According to Vittitow, it is actually falling. So if we are experiencing negative growth as the economists call it, why are they pointing the finger at us?
David Woodward of the New Economics Foundation says:
"In other words, the issue isn’t that fertility in the developing countries hasn’t come down – actually it has fallen dramatically, to a level below that of most of the developed world two generations ago. Rather, as Northern fertility rates have dropped, so too have Northern perceptions of how many children they find it acceptable for people in developing countries to have. They will happily judge people in developing countries for having “too many” children; but it never crosses their mind to pass the same judgment on their own or their parents’ generation in their own countries, who had many more children."
I think when people talk about overpopulation, and point the finger at us, what they really mean is that there are too many poor people. But it is not the poor who have used up the planet’s resources. It is the rich.
The reason there is not enough space for all of us now is that the rich want to make sure they maintain their current standard of living. If they gave up some of their pleasures, there would be enough to go round. Think for instance, of how much would be saved by everyone taking public transport in countries were it is well and efficiently provided, like the Netherlands. Think of the unnecessarily large SUVs in a country like the United States, which has good enough roads not to need them.
The question is not that there are too many of us. The question is whether if we were allowed to enjoy the fruit of our labour, we would not be able to feed, clothe, heal and enjoy ourselves. I think the answer is a resounding yes.
If Malians, for example, could sell their cotton at a decent price, it is possible that their government could afford to set up an early warning system and stocked grain to prevent food shortage.
It is not fair for Westerners to ask us to reduce in number because we are being exploited too thoroughly to be able to live like decent human beings, and because other people want to go on enjoying their little perks.
Also, if the world is now hurtling towards mass famine and deprivation, it is not the fault of the parts now referred to as “overpopulated”.
It's folks in the West who insist on having in one household, enough appliances that use enough energy to power a small village in Africa.
For instance, the following are considered essential in a normal Western household: at least one TV set, VCR or DVD player, stereo, MP3 player, personal computer, printer, fax machine, scanner, cooker, refrigerator/freezer, food processor, coffee maker, dishwasher, air conditioner, central heating, hair dryer, electric shaver, dehumidifier, electric fan, cell phone, washing machine, dryer, pressing iron.
You will agree with me that the list is far from exhaustive.
The issue for poor Africans is not whether there are too many of them. It is whether it is okay to have more children and trust that God will provide. As the children of Mali will tell you, he does not. Or rather, he does, but someone with the guns and the money and the power is hogging it and won’t share.
The consumer society consumes us and then insults us. It is time for the west to wake up and admit that the over population is on their side, not on ours. If they cut down their populations to half, then there might be enough resources to go round at their current rate of consumption. Instead of whining about Africans, Westerners should look at what they are doing to the planet.
If, say, my country, Cameroon were to increase its population density to 150, would we be unable to feed ourselves? I think not. I think if there were more efficient storage, processing and marketing of our food alone, we’d be just fine.
If certain foreign powers like the Bretton Woods Institute and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would allow us to market our commodities to our profit, instead of fixing the prices that suit them and ruining our economies in the name of growth and structural adjustment, we would make more money, build more schools and hospitals, and have viable economies.
Rosemary Ekosso is with the Internation Court of Justice, the Hague, Holland. She blogs at www.ekosso.com
Please e-mail comments to email@example.com