Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Seven billion isn't the problem
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Column: Mark Steel
======== SEVEN BILLION ISN'T THE PROBLEM =====================================
If big populations cause poverty, why isn't New York City worse off than
November 21, 2011
MANY PEOPLE seem to feel it's a disaster now that there are 7 billion people
on the planet, but there are several arguments that can be used against this
The most important one may be, "What a miserable, grumpy, cynical, snobbish,
wretched way to look at the world. I bet you're fun when a friend has a baby.
Do you send them a card saying 'With deepest regrets,' and if someone's
killed in a car crash, send their family a balloon with a picture of a
champagne bottle on the side, and 'Congratulations! It's a corpse!' in bright
These people must wish the news would end with Fiona Bruce saying, "And
finally, on a lighter note, an earthquake in Indonesia killed 50,000 people
today, so at last that's knocked a bit of a hole in the world population.
Good night." Presumably, when they were at school, they'd shout at the start
of every history lesson, "Can we do the plague again, please sir? Oh PLEASE."
The idea that an increase in population is inevitably a calamity doesn't make
economic sense either. Because 5,000 years ago, there were probably only
around 100 million people on the planet, so if it is true, they must have
been rolling in it, buying second mud huts as holiday homes, and making
hip-hop videos covered in wolf's teeth bracelets.
Twenty thousand years earlier, there were even fewer people, so they must
have been disgracefully decadent, which explains why the Neanderthals died
out, as the only species to have partied themselves to extinction.
The mistake the pessimists make is in seeing each of us solely as consumers,
while forgetting that most of us can also produce. So the number that can be
allowed here safely remains static, as if the planet's a nightclub, needing
bouncers at maternity wards going, "Hang on. Wait. Stop pushing. Right,
there's been four deaths in Argentina, so I can let four of you in, but NO
One way to judge whether a rising population causes shortages is to look at
where the worst poverty is. Manhattan is one of the most densely populated
places in the world, so I would imagine the people must all be wafer-thin,
especially when compared to sparse areas such as lucky Somalia, where they
must have so much spare food, they spend all day throwing it at each other in
Maybe environmental problems start when some people consume more than they
produce. And that could be people such as Russian football club-owning
billionaires with 500 million pound yachts--or it might be those Africans,
who have such little understanding of economics they have the cheek to be
cheerful if they manage to stay alive.
/First published in the/ Independent .
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Columnist: Mark Steel
Mark Steel is a comedian, a columnist for the /Independent/  newspaper,
and a socialist and activist in Britain. He's the author of two collections
about contemporary Britain, /It's Not a Runner Bean: Dispatches from a
Slightly Successful Comedian / and /Reasons to Be Cheerful /--as well
as /Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution/ .
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