Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The World needs more than an environmental overhaul

I recently saw 'Slumdog Millionaire'. I was shocked at the sheer scale of the ecological mess in the slums of India. Clearly the population expansion was too fast for planners to keep up, and of course the corruption that keeps so many living in the slums. It only outlined for me the problems we in the rest of the world may face as the world population grows over the next fifteen years. Our cities will get denser and denser as people from the troubled parts of the world migrate elsewhere. We can see the problems that face our large cities currently - crime, homelessness, pollution, traffic.

As water becomes more scarce in the southern hemisphere wars will no doubt break out as people fight over the little available. As temperatures rise, those that make their living in colder latitudes may also find it very difficult and will probably want to migrate to cities to find work. And, as you can see already, as cities increase in population so does the need for housing and usually valuable farm land is ploughed under for it.

So what can we do? Limit population? Sure, but can you imagine a world where having children is governed by, well, the government? China tried it. Now they have too few women, and too many single men(and single men get into a lot of trouble). Besides, just lowering population growth doesn't solve the problem. The population seems to grow over time anyway. What we need to change are the conditions under which people live. This will eventually allow population growth to reach an equilibrium state where families reach a sustainable size by choice. Prosperity will allow people to put their efforts toward making daily decisions that have a positive impact on the environment.

How can we achieve this? Well, that's the tough question. Not that the answer is out of reach, but that the answer is going to be hard for everyone to swallow. Our nature seems to get in way of the good that we try to do. When the massive tsunami occurred in Thailand in 2004, the wealthiest nations reached deep into their pockets to lend a hand. Unfortunately, many victims didn't get the help they needed due to mismanagement and corruption. The problem is greed.

Greed prevents us from truly helping those in need, in fact, there wouldn't even be needy people if greed was not part of our nature. Greed is behind the concept of financial and material growth. They will tell you that if your company is not growing, it's dying. That's clearly a load of horse-hockey. It just means your company is sustainable. So what we have to overcome is greedy behaviour. People will automatically take more than they need because they fear doing without. But greedy behaviour is like a virus. If others see you taking more than you need, they will do the same and then it snowballs. Next thing you know you have CEO's getting paid 10 million dollars a year while the people who actually do the work get less than half a percent of that. In many cases far, far less.

Now, I'm not saying that all the greedy people live in developed nations or are CEO's, but we in the developed nations can afford to do with less excess. We can also leverage the collective power in the developed nations to force corrupt leaders in poor nations to take care of their people. Bill Gates has given millions of dollars to pay for medicines that are needed in impoverished countries. Too bad the greedy behaviour in those countries prevents much of it from getting where it needs to go. It is said that roughly a billion people on earth are under nourished or starving and a billion are over nourished.

In the end, the answer to our environmental problems lay in a solution to our humanitarian problems. It starts with us as individuals, finding a peaceful and generous relationship with every other individual we contact. From this we can find satisfaction in human interaction and problem solving. We will need less stimulus from material wealth and finally put the myth of financial growth to rest and overcome our greedy behaviour. Sounds like Utopia doesn't it?

Remember, good actions have just as much chance of spreading around the world as bad actions do.

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