Saturday, April 11, 2009

Are Poor Countries Doing Their Best to Alleviate Poverty? Can Technology Really Help Them?

The following comment was posted by “Adrian” in the OPT forum. While I am in broad and emphatic agreement with it, especially with the last paragraph, the passages I highlighted are ones that, IMO, need challenge. Would you care to?

The stated intention of the business world is to make people consume
more and raise their 'standard of living' towards becoming the
'American Dream' where 5% of the world's population consumes 25% of the natural resources; so if the population of the whole world has its
level of consumption brought up to that of North America the planet
will be totally devastated, whether the population increases or not and
even without the inevitable contribution of climate warming.

Definitely so IMHO.

However, the business world is merely reacting to the public's wishes. Large numbers of people in poor countries are doing their very best to increase their standard of living and lift themselves out of poverty, and who can blame them? As a result, their governments show
strong disinclination to hold back this increase in consumption. This means that the only way to reduce the total environmental impact of humanity, which is essential if catastrophe is to be avoided, seems to be to reduce out total numbers. Technology can help, but probably not fast enough.

Which is why the position of many of the large environmental groups --"the problem can be solved by austerity alone, so we don't have to address that nasty population issue" -- is both clearly illogical and very damaging.


My reaction:

1. “… poor countries are doing their very best to increase their standard of living and lift themselves out of poverty, and who can blame them?” Why are poor countries poor? In most cases overpopulation plays a major role in their poverty. Are they “doing their very best” to deal with that with family planning? Or are they just attempting to “grow” out of their problems, with our collusion and encouragement? Of course they cannot be blamed for wanting to improve their lot. But is economic growth the answer, or is stopping population growth the answer by making per capita shares of existing resources larger?

2. “Technology can help, but probably not fast enough.” Does technology, in the long run, really help? Or does it merely provoke more total consumption? When resources can be consumed more efficiently and cheaply by using a new technology, how, in the context of no constraints on population growth, could it be otherwise? Mr. Jevons would have agreed, paradoxically.

1 comment:

Realist said...

Technology may help, by empowering women through employment. However, education is more vital to population control. Cultural issues need to be addressed. People in poor countries need to realize that it's okay to adopt children and that they are not failures just because they didn't give birth to sons. Change is slow, and enlightenment will not occur overnight. It will be a challenge to undo centuries of growthism and misogyny.