Sunday, July 13, 2008

A man and his metaphors.

Mike Driscoll wants to sterilize - I’m being kind here, he may actually want to kill off – a vast number of people currently co-habiting Mother Earth to alleviate the current energy crisis. This argument, so elegantly framed within Mike’s metaphor, is not a new one. Eradicating a segment of the population to solve a social problem has been popular for untold centuries. As a course of action, it illustrates some measure of logic and for those not chosen to be ‘dealt with’ it gives them something practical to do, to take their minds off what it is they are actually doing. Why it doesn’t happen more, I have no idea . . .

Except, it is never really an issue of population. It’s not about numbers, but how people choose to live.

Some people choose to live in the most appalling conditions imaginable. They do not choose the conditions, mind. But they do choose to live. And they also choose to have families. This is a privilege and a right for all humans, if able. So any person or group that want the power to decide who can, and who cannot have children is violating that right. And on a slippery slope they must also venture: who, how many, how? It is on this basis alone that such a proposal must be rejected. However, I’m afraid a more potent solution to this latest crisis needs to be found, as those proponents of population control will argue that the current situation is so unique, unprecedented and grave that we must take drastic steps to save the human race. They will say it is us or them.

This issue gets to the heart of human nature: good, greater good, evil. These concepts, while often presented as absolutes, are really a matter of perspective. In reality, Human Beings are opportunistic by nature. With each opportunity afforded to us, it is left to our moral filters to then define what can be considered proper or improper. What we consider to be an immoral opportunity is commonly referred to as evil. Opportunities that are considered good tend not to violate our morals. This is how good vs. evil plays out, unless you are a saint or a psychopath. So, in this crisis, just like those that have come before, it is opportunity that is the real commodity at stake, not oil or food.

To return to Mike’s metaphor, to this boat that we are all traveling on, lets call it the Titanic. Just for argument’s sake. The lower decks house the developing world, the decks that are closest to sinking into the abyss. What these people desperately need is the opportunity to be lifted out from their current situation, to higher ground. In a localized disaster we open our doors to the dispossessed, feed them and provide shelter. This is how a community works. And we now pride ourselves on having a global economy, but currently fail to live up to the obligations in this global village. So, rather than people turning their backs in despair, we need to open our doors.

Air travel too expensive? Want to experience how others live? First, there needs to be an inversion of attitudes and policies. For what I’m proposing, instead of sterilization or population control, is a massive increase in immigration throughout the Western World. The planes should be bringing people to our shores: every country, every home. Let them come, every single person that wants to grasp the opportunities that the West can provide.

In this increasingly corporate world, immigration is one of the few things that The State still has sovereign powers to manage. Let them flood in! Our way of life must change, but we are currently unable to do what is necessary: too little, too late. Immigration is the magic bullet. We need to come together in a way that is beyond this generation’s imagining. Invite everyone to the deluxe cabins and throw a party! If ‘they’ stay over there and ‘we’ stay over here, then no significant change will ever be achieved. And we all know it.

So the change must be radical and it must be confronting. When you are looking into someone’s eyes it’s harder to say no. Once they are here, we must look after them. Let necessity be the mother of invention. But the real necessity will only come if they are on our doorstep, in our own countries. It would be impossible to predict the effects, but at least we would be assured of reducing famine and war. And here I’m referring to Africa. But Africa has little to do with our current energy crisis. It is India and China that are gobbling up our energy and polluting our atmosphere. They are hungry for development and there is no sign as yet that they will alter their current strategies to achieve this end. So, if these people of India and China our so set on development, even if it means plunging our environment into peril and driving up the cost of energy, then let them come to the developed world right now! If a massive number of people from China and India were allowed to immigrate to the Western World it would immediately satisfy their desire for modern living and greatly reduce the need for unsustainable development in their home countries. What I’m talking about is a billion people. Yes, a billion people immigrating from the undeveloped to the developed world, and quickly. The global economy is supply and demand. If we reduce demand by taking a few (multi) million off their hands, then there will be less pressure on supply.

Okay, the obvious reaction. What country is going to allow a massive influx of foreign nationals into their country in this age of terrorism and international insecurity? My answer: is what choice do we have? Something drastic needs to happen. No country is currently able to really reduce their emissions and even if they do, it will only drive the price of oil up higher. The main difference between the developed world and the undeveloped world is infrastructure. The developed world has infrastructure in place. Granted, with a massive influx of people it will put this infrastructure under enormous stress, but this challenge is better than economic and climate collapse as China and India try and provide infrastructure for their enormous populations. The West must take on some of this load.

While in Africa, if we give real opportunity to the people of the third world then they may be less inclined to have so many children. And it will be their choice. In the prevailing global situation, opportunity is strangled for those less fortunate. For the poorest people in the world, one of the only opportunities involves having a lot of children in the hope of sustaining low-yield, intensive agriculture. With the opportunities the West can provide, they wouldn’t be driven to such desperate measures. The West needs to recognize the crisis that it faces. The options of ‘staying the course’ or becoming more and more insular will not help, no matter how convenient they seem. China and India will not be denied. So, let’s be pre-emptive and give these people what they want, now.

Fareed Zakaria in his book, The Post American World states that the economic genie is out of the bottle. Most governments now know how to structure their economies to be stable and competitive. Most countries in the world are at 4% + growth. Australia isn’t that special. We all have growth but are struggling to secure the infrastructure, resources and energy. So, how can this be viable? What measures will countries go to in their quest to become like America? Is China already squirreling oil to secure their energy needs? The developing world is coming, using the economic tools that we have provided. Didn’t anyone foresee this? They are hungrier than us. All we have is a big fat sense of entitlement.

No disaster, no matter how great, is going to jolt us into being charitable in a signifiant way. No amount of climate fear will make us radically reform our own economies. But that is not the issue. The rest of the world is now the elephant in the room. We need to make some space, re-arrange the furniture and stop being so precious. We have done this before, after WW2. It can be done again. The current population and energy crisis will not be abated easily. As we recognize the gravity of the situation then we must take radical action that works within supply and demand. We need to move a mountain of people.

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