Food for thought: The haves and have nots
When we look around the world, we see a glaring contrast between the wealthy and healthy nations and those in which people live lives of poverty, starvation and disease, with high rates of child mortality. A statistical analysis of the 160 countries having populations of one million or more (accounting for 6.6 billion people) clearly reveals the correlation between average per capita income (indicated by the gross domestic product per capita) and quality of life (indicated by life expectancy).A quick glance at the numbers above shows a distinct dividing line at $4,000/capita GDP between one-half of the countries, totaling three billion people, living in poverty with low life expectancies, and the other half, totaling 3.6 billion people, having economies that provide a more adequate food supply and health care, leading to much longer life expectancies. (There are a few exceptions, mostly in African countries such as South Africa, where there is a small wealthy upper class and a much larger impoverished lower class.)
As dissimilar as living conditions in these two halves of the world’s countries are, they are both faced with the same impending crisis – overpopulation. The three billion people living in impoverished countries have a history of ever-increasing populations exceeding their ability to feed them, resulting in devastating famines. Time after time, the rest of the world has responded with food, but without addressing the issue of birth control, emergency food supplies merely guarantee still more starving mouths to feed with each successive famine.But in our smugness, we in the other half of the countries tend to feel that we are immune to the consequences of overpopulation. We think we’ll always have more than enough food. But there is a limiting factor in the growth of the more advanced countries, and that is the continued availability of ample supplies of energy. Our numbers have grown in response to our constantly increasing use of energy. As our numbers continue to increase, we may reach a point where the available energy supply is no longer adequate to sustain our energy-dependent economy. What then? That could very well affect our ability to sustain our productivity, and even to produce and deliver enough food to our burgeoning population. In the end, we may be no better off than the poorer, other half of the world.But add to this the looming specter of global warming and its consequences, which will affect the entire planet; but it is the poorest countries of the world that will be the most severely impacted. A majority of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. All are predicted to suffer from higher temperatures, causing a major increase in heat-related deaths, and reduced rainfall leading to crop failures and massive starvation. In addition, rising sea levels will submerge significant portions of many overpopulated countries of southern Asia, Bangladesh in particular, displacing tens of millions of people and greatly reducing the amount of land on which to raise food crops. Sadly, the rest of the world’s countries will have their hands full with their own climate-related problems, and will probably be unable to do much of anything to mitigate the unparalleled human catastrophe of millions of people in Africa and Asia, and elsewhere, dying from starvation.Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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