Wednesday, 10 February 2010


There is an idea commonly put about by the business and intellectual elites that the earth is over populated, that there is no way in the long term to support the current mass of humanity and, to be blunt about the matter, that they heartily wish most of us were dead.

The environmentalist movement, with their talk about tough choices and changing minds has enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon.

In reality two things are responsible for the current state of the environment. One is the way of life we have adopted, which would be unsustainable even if there were only five hundred million people on the earth, or indeed five million for that matter. The other is, unpopular though the idea will be, underpopulation.

The lack of people means a lack of pressure to support natural resources such as fish stocks at levels which produce the highest harvests, lack of pressure to make much potentially productive arable land fertile and a lack of labour in the third world, not to mention a lack of higher food prices which would encourage third world producers to produce and first world producers to produce without massive subsidies.

I've even heard it suggested that lower population would lessen unemployment, even though our economy is based on services and would lose money with less people to provide services to.

A true overpopulation crisis would imply the efficient use of resources wasn't enough to sustain us, but African farmers produce nothing because of American subsidised imports, Caribean sugar plantations close down and revert to jungle because of European beet production.

Farmers of African rice are outcompeted by USG sponsored giveaways, and we all know they wouldn't give something away if it had a marketable value.

We also often hear that we are wiping away our environmental capital, and modern extensive agriculture techniques make this partly true but very misleading. Nature didn't give us a capital to use up, our predecessors created it. They spent their lives, more than they knew, on higher fish stocks, higher water tables and thicker top soil.

Men spent centuries digging leaf mould, bone meal, coal ash and excrement into the soil. Laying hedges to break wind and stop the erosion of top soil, to create new soil with their leaves, to hold water in the land with their roots.

The oldest building in Britain isn't stone henge. It's a tree. There are those who will quibble about my classification of a tree as a building, as there are those who say the pyramids aren't buildings, but this tree, which to the naked eye looks more like a forest, has been entirely shaped by man and due to man's efforts has long outlived its likely natural lifespan, not to mention those of all the humans who have tended it. It's a normal lime tree, grown into a copse through the cultivating efforts of dozens of generations of coppicers.

Even fish stocks have us to thank for their former high levels, fed by the siltation caused by land clearance and arable farming. The food production increases in Egypt brough about by the Nasser dam were cancelled out by the almos total destruction of their fisheries as the dam stopped silt from the Ethiopian highlands reaching the sea. The antiquity of the Ethiopian civilisation can be shown by the fact that Egypt, from earliest times, was reliant on the Nile silt, which in turn depended upon cultivation of the land around it's upper courses in Abyssinia.

Even before the advent of arable farming, humanity had long been sedentary and had planted the seeds of those plants he found useful so that they would be in greater plenty in future years. Hunter gatherers weren't nomads. They stayed in one place and, as has generally been the case with humans, shaped the land around them. They essentially created the species we eat today, both plants and animals, things we have no reason to thank nature for.

Primitives were like us, and they and their successors created the productive land we have today. They weren't nomads wandering about the place in yurts, abandoning each area as it became exhausted only to move onto the next patch until they killed they too. They didn't practice slash and burn like some loin cloth wearing Mayan savage, or some weak chinned aristocrat looking to encourage grouse numbers.

Mankind made the earth a suitable environment for himself and hasn't so far finished. That's the great work of mankind that we should be continuing, not reversing.

A word on fish. We have already passed peak fish. A properly sustainable fishing industry would produce more fish than we do now, but current practices such as dredging up breeding grounds on the sea floor have done damage. The logical conclusion would be a moratorium on fishing for a few years, which may seem unrealistic but is less unrealistic than the annihilation of 90% or more of the human race. Well, hopefully, at least. Then go back to fishing with more sustainable practices and higher yields.

Ultimately I would like to see global populations reach ten milliards. This should be doable by extending the lives of those in countries which have shorter life expectancies. Populations should increase enough before higher standard of living reduces birthrates.

I would like to see India continue to rebuild its ancestral water storage to maximise use of the monsoons and replenish the water table. I would like to see money spent on sand dams to create more usable land in Africa. I'd like to see western subsidies dropped and west African grain allowed into our markets. I'd like to see those hedges destroyed by fickle EU CAP policies replanted. I'd like to see those parts of the Amazon left as unused grass land replants with trees, the Maya nuts and other edible species, and populated with people so as to cultivate the land and revivify it.

The spectre that haunts our race is that of abandonment. Of the lights going out and the cities becoming empty. The Saxons arriving in the cities of the Romans and Welsh which they thought were built by giants, but which had been abandoned even by the degenerate remnant of Welshmen hiding away in their hillforts and coastal fastnesses. The empty cathedral of Simon Stylites, once holding 15,000 people and now gone, with dozens of surrounding settlements which still stand empty today because of the shifting of trade routes. The empty homes of south-western America, the population dead because of bad land management. The mounds of the Cahokians, the empty lands above the Exe, the Great Zimbabwe, the Canarian pyramids, the megalithic Baalbek and Lexis, the dried oases of the Tarim. The dead Mycenae and Hattusas. The Pope and some peasants squatting in the Forum. The European farmland abadoned after the black death, so much of it taken over by the wildwoods that carbon in the atmosphere dropped enough to cause the mini-ice-age.

Well and such collapse now would be global. We will either do what we were born to do, tame the earth, fill it up, spread life over its surface and wrest life from the dust, or we will continue on our current path, with doesn't just use resources but destroys them, which causes most damage with least people and which will ultimately make us a cancer which destroys both its host and itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment