When I consider the age of current and wannabee world leaders I want to cringe. I am sixty-nine myself, and planning the end game perhaps ten years ahead. This is how things work: we live in our own timeframes. I only need enough money until I die. Teresa May is 60, Angele Merkel and François Hollande 62, Vladimir Putin 63, and Donald Trump 70. We have as much hope of trying to get them to think long-term as we have of persuading a twenty-something to buy a retirement annuity.
In the 1960’s we were blissfully unaware of, or even pleased with population growth. We had to rebuild the numbers war stole from us. Every new house and every new car created work. The super-big coal power stations were our new cathedrals. If we could have looked inside, we would have gazed with awe at our creations. Everything was getting bigger and bolder. We were even finding new planets.
The world population was growing steadily then, but not yet exponentially. We regarded this as a sign of better health, and better education. Ten years later, when field biologist and itinerant teacher Bill Mollison warned we were heading for unsustainability some called him seditious. The father of permaculture was a prophet of the doom we may be entering, unless we listen to his words:
The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone … the lawn has become the curse of modern town landscapes, as sugar cane is the curse of the lowland coastal tropics, and cattle the curse of the semi-arid and arid rangelands.
Those three population projections swing as wildly as the ‘solutions’ proposed in the debate. Two things however are clear. Since 1800, our numbers have increased from 1 billion to 7.4 billion. We are likely to grow beyond the green asymptote of 8.8 billion because nobody is doing anything to stop it. As long as poor people do not have pensions, how else are they to sustain themselves in old age?
My morning does not improve as I discover the 2016 World Population Data Sheet. We may sourcing 18% of our global energy from renewable sources, but I fear the global population is growing faster. Looking at the chart, China and Russia may be slowing down, while the United States, India, and some of the world’s poorest nations still have their foot flat on the gas.
The top fertility rates are horrifying, I am sorry, I cannot think of another word. There appears to be a total disconnect between what collective Europe is saying, and what is happening in most places elsewhere. We cannot blame this on culture, religion, poverty, or politics although I submit we need to start handing our future to a younger generation.
I am a great believer in inter-generational teams. If a 74-year-old grandmother can turn an unknown youngster to an Olympic gold medal winner and world champion, surely there is merit in the idea. Tannie Ans Botha has a ‘permaculture thought’ from which we can learn. She tries to prevent injuries by listening to the athlete’s body: ‘If the body says stop, we stop, or go a little softer. It is time to do the same to the earth. So what is to be done, where do we start?
I am going to put a revolutionary spin on this. We are not going to curb global population growth by natural means any time soon. We have been dreaming about it, ordering it, promising it, and hoping for it at least since I was an economics student in the late 1960’s. That was about where the blue line started going exponential.
Matthew Dunn put his pen neatly on the point earlier this month. He is on the trail of Albert Einstein’s thinking, ‘the measure of intelligence is the ability to change’ and George Shaw’s ‘those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production. This is going to be difficult because a lot of land on our planet in neither habitable nor arable.
The writing is one the wall. We need to shrink two footprints. The first one is carbon and we know that. The second is the amount of land we ‘own’, but waste on consumption. It is time to take a hard look at how we are misusing the earth’s arable resources. Our forebears founded our cities where the land was fertile.
How much rich land have we buried under concrete? How many sugarcane farms should we uproot and replant with real food for the people? When are we going to start ripping up our lawns? You can bet your bottom dollar Teresa May, Angele Merkel, François Hollande, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and the rest of them are not going to set any of this in motion.
We need young leaders to take permaculture forward. Baby boomers be can the grandmother in the photo because we have wisdom. We need someone with longer vision to carry the baton on, which means they must be younger.