Category Archives: population

It’s not the fault of the Baby Boomers

It isn’t, honestly.

I was talking to my father in-law over the weekend, and we were discussing the current plight of the world, and the expectation that the current 0-20 generation are expected to have less than we have enjoyed.

That’s less of almost everything except hassle and temperature. Less water, less energy, less fuel, less growth. Fundamentally we all need to put significant effort into making what we have go further, and use less of our store of finite resources. Yeah, I know, I do bang on about this, but it is true.

If I look back at how we have behaved over the past 60 years,  I probably should not be surprised at how we have got where we are. One activity that struck me as a particularly good example of how things were,  was the Sunday afternoon drive. We would all pile into the car and drive : not going anywhere in particular, just driving around, looking at the countryside and listening to the transistor radio strapped to the dashboard. That would be a complete anathema to kids today. Not just the seemingly pointless driving and the fact that they can only rarely glimpse the  hundreds and thousands of Lapwings and Starlings that we saw, but that cars did not even come with radios ….

We followed our parent’s guidance and aspirations, as you do. We bought more stuff, we ate more food, we wanted bigger houses and faster cars. We demanded more, because we were told that in the 21st Century we would have unlimited energy, flying cars, more leisure time, silver jump suits and jet packs. We’re still smarting from the lack of jet packs.

We were led by our parents to waste, though I am sure they did not realise that that was the message we were taking away. They had lived through at least one world war, and rightly they felt that they deserved a good life. They had to put up with hardships, but they came through, and when the world economy took off, they benefited.

In the booming post war period, Careers, Teenagers and Marketing were invented. People were getting more and more money with promotions, and they wanted to spend it on themselves and their kids. Marketing simply and easily guided them to the stores to do that.

The economy was growing fast enough to deliver wonderful new luxuries to us and our parents, and none of us gave it any real thought. Until the early 1970s, it was hunky dory. That little blip when the oil producing countries made us ration fuel was a bit of a worry, but the optimists won, and we soon forgot all about how life might be without our cars.

So, as the 70-90 generation hits the end of their lives, they can look back remember a generally pretty good time. They may possibly have had the best lives of any general Homo Sapien population.

The Baby Boomers that followed them have also had a pretty good time, but it isn’t totally their fault that world is how it is. They ( OK, We ) just didn’t really have a cause to think until recently. We were never told by our parents to stop consuming, as more consumption was a measure of success, we all consumed more to show our success.

I’m sure we would have acted differently if someone had provided convincing arguments as to why we needed to show some reserve when buying and wasting stuff. I’m also sure that making food into a cult and the de rigueur wearing of braces ( suspenders for those in the colonies ) in the 80s was a bit of a mistake. Just look at how much food we have wasted in the last 30 years. Though, thankfully, fashion has calmed down a little.

As things got better, science helped us to live longer and reduce infant mortality. The population expanded like topsy, maintained good health for longer, bought ever more stuff, and wasted ever more irreplaceable stuff.

So unless we noticed ourselves, and acted off our own bat to change our ways, we were guaranteed to get to where we are now.

No-one came to us with convincing arguments about restraint and concern.

No-one that most of noticed.

Except there was someone, shouting quietly : Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. How prophetic she was.

It’s a shame that there was not an equivalent economist doing the same. Well, maybe there was, but in this case, there was absolutely no-one listening.


Edit : you can read a copy of Silent Spring online at Google books


GBOB and the elephants

I was at the first GBOB this week. There were some great people there, people making a difference, but I was very disappointed with what they didn’t say. The TEEB Report suggests some great ways to place a monetary value on the environment, and there are some great examples, such as the true financial effect of turning a mangrove swamp into a shrimp farm or China stopping deforestation, or losing rainforest to palm oil production.

BUT : I have a few really big issues with all three of these examples.

1: Yes we know that mangrove swamps provide protection not only for wildlife, but also for people, no disputing that at all. So to attach a very high value to maintaining  mangrove swamps is absolutely necessary. However, the only reason that any one wants to make a shrimp farm from a mangrove swamp is to produce shrimps. One assumes that this is for food and to generate revenue for the local farmers by selling the food. If we did not demand cheap and plentiful shrimp, then the thought of taking a mangrove swamp and turning it into a short-lived ( around 4 -5 years, I gather, before it is too polluted to be useful for shrimp production ) farm would not occur to anyone.

2: Deforestation in China happened because of the huge demand for building materials to support the increased wealth of the country, mostly brought about by the Western world’s demand for cheap and plentiful stuff ( I won’t even start on if we actually need the stuff, never mind if we care what effect it is having on the Chinese, or, indeed, the Global environment ). So when the Chinese authorities realised that deforestation was a ‘bad thing’ for China, they stopped it. ( full details in the TEEB report page 11 ). However, as far as anyone can tell, the demand for the timber did not decrease. They did not take the opportunity to work on different strategies for building, or sourcing more suitable material that would have been more appropriate for their situation. It seems that they the suppliers of the timber simply went to other countries and bought up their timber supplies. Net ? they still use the same volume of timber, but it is now someone else’s problem.

3: Palm oil seems to have a hold on up to 10% of the products seen in an average western food store. In the past few years, it seems that we cannot make a vast range of products without using it. Even Jordans in the UK ( a well-known organic and generally caring food producer use it – though they do say it is from sustainable sources ). All credit to Marks and Spencer in the UK too, who have a policy of removing it from all products where possible. More power to them, and less to the food scientists who presumably found this magic ingredient. I have to assume that the properties of palm oil are so wonderful, that we kind of stopped when we hit on it, and subsequently it began to be incorporated into everything. OK, I agree, it is probably better than using whales for the same purpose, but I do wonder why we suddenly need to rape ( yes, a subtle reference to covering the European landscape with that awful yellow flower ) the rainforest to produce palm oil. Maybe I should research more as to why. In any case though, the thread at the GBOB sessions that I managed to see ( most of the day I was convincing people not to throw their PCs away, but to use them with OPD ) was distinctly “we need palm oil”. This came from both Pavan Sukhdev, lead of TEEB, and from the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman, and neither even began to question the reasons that we “need” palm oil.

I actually find it a little wrong that and ex international banker, probably involved with funding much global destruction in his role of leader of the global markets business at Deutsche Bank in India.  I guess though, it takes a banker to convince another banker,

So after I calm down a little, I have to say the HRH Prince Charles made a very sensible, passionate, and well argued case for the environment ( he may have some very odd ideas about architecture, but he does understand the natural world ). He also suggested that we add a fourth R to Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. That fourth R would be Restore. What a sensible addition to the mantra.

Back to palm oil though. I have two reasons for the need for palm oil. It also explains the need for more timber in China, and the need to turn mangrove swamp into shrimp farms.

1: Population growth. I know I have written about this before, but when are we actually seriously going to look at the problem ?  I know that the Optimum Population Trust is trying hard, and Richard Attenborough has been recently supporting their cause, but we need to listen.

2: Capitalism. OK I have written about this before too. We need to re-invent capitalism to be much more aware of the consequences of growth and, dare I say, greed.

I’ll try not to harp on this anymore.