(from:) NZ Greens' NORTHERN NEWS JUNE 2000

Editor: David Parker, Northcote, Auckland
email: David_Parker


( by David MacClement, June 2000 )

This is a story about my waking up to the man-made plight of the world, and introducing my family to "the real world" during 1979 and 1988.

In January 1972 I read The Ecologist's "Blueprint for survival", which awakened me to a concern for the future of the world. Its doubtful future is caused by the product (a mathematical term) of the number of people in it and their individual consumption-and-waste-production, which exceeded the world's carrying capacity some decades ago.

I realised while back-packing one of my sons 25 years ago (i) that there was a large excess of people in the world, so for an increasing number of people there is at least one other person able to do what that one was doing (leaving practicalities out of it), so no ordinary person needs to feel they are indispensible, for the first time in the history or pre-history of the human race!; and (ii) that do-ing less was a good thing, since resource consumption is involved in most of the things that people do.

My wife and I spent two years from 1968 to 1970 as teaching volunteers in Ghana. We gained great fellow-feeling for the ordinary Ghanaians; we travelled around by "mammy-lorry", ate similar food and knew their hopes and fears — they're some of the best people I know — we were homesick for West Africa after we'd left. They had very little and yet they were happy.

After getting advanced degrees in Canada, during which time we had our three children, all five of us returned to West Africa — Nigeria this time — to take up one-year contract posts at Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria in the arid north of that big and diverse country. Our work in the Physics and Biochemistry Departments was much appreciated, but we particularly remember the daily experiences. Taking our oldest son to school for the first time; filling the clean bath-tub with drinking water during the two hours a day of piped water, to last the rest of the day; getting up before dawn for our daily walk while it was still cool, and resting in the early afternoon. Basically, cutting our coat to fit the cloth. And learning the great value of water.

After teaching at Auckland University and at a private school back in New Zealand during most of the '80s (Bera did research at the University), I found it necessary to ease the pressure, so took a year off without pay and we all went to Malaysia, India and Thailand. We took the cheapest accommodation that would allow our three children (10, 14 and 16 years old) to do their Correspondence School study effectively. Generally this meant we stayed in one guest-house for three to four weeks, exploring the area and getting to know the locals to some extent.

In Malaysia we stayed in Melaka (Malacca), finding out some of its ancient history (there was a Chinese colony there 600 years ago, providing protection from the Siamese and trading by sea), while our two boys made friends with some local boys. In India we started in Shimla (Simla), going through the usual "tummy upset" as we got used to the local restaurant food, and climbing the local "mountain" where monkeys hold sway. It became obvious that keeping ourselves healthy was the best protection — we couldn't rely on easy medical access if we really got ill. From our experience in Ghana, we knew the importance of a good immune system.

Then we took a local plane over the Himalayas to the Ladakh valley where we stayed in a guest house in Leh, the main (but small) town. The Himalayan central valleys are desert-like; Leh is built on the outwash fan of snow-melt rivers, and everyone's water comes either from a pipe coming out of the ground (for drinking) or from whichever of the multitude of small runnels goes near your house; you would dam it up temporarily to wash your clothes. Our family did the same. We were all in one large room — there were several other guests there during their short summer.

We all gathered in the other large room for the evening meal together — excellent food. The toilet was upstairs: there was a hole in the floor and after you'd finished, you scraped soil off the thick layer on the floor and pushed it down the hole. At ground level underneath was the compost room; animal shit and straw was also added frequently. When the compost was mature, it was shovelled out and mixed in the soil around the house: the kitchen garden. This was the source of those excellent vegetables we ate in the evenings — fresh out of the garden! In their long winters, the animals were kept in rooms on the ground floor (literally) of the house, as mountain people in Switzerland also did until recently.

Later in the Kashmir (Cashmere) valley, we stayed in the houseboat Bilqees, moored alongside the grassy "hithe" at the edge of Nagin Lake in north Srinagar. Our 10-year-old daughter became good friends with the owner-families who lived in a shed on the land; when they had no tenants, they lived on the boat themselves. They invited her into their home partly to play with their same-age daughter Mahbulba Shera, and partly because she was female and so young: they would have been embarrassed to let any of the rest of us see their poor summer living conditions. After a few weeks, one of the two owners Gulam and Aziz said to me: "I think our families are similar, and could be called struggling middle-class" — and I very much agreed. David MacClement

Part two of this article, future prospects, is below.


( by David MacClement, June 2000 )

Predictions of our future in recent decades were orders-of-magnitude too simple.

I have moved away from a view of the future of "everyone fairly sharing what little is left" to a picture in which, around the world, there's complexity in both time and space. Where, at different times, different places around the world slide into catastrophe and chaos; while others (hopefully the majority) struggle on for 5 or 10 years longer, learning from the earlier crashes so most manage with great effort and sacrifice to slide past their own demise. And still others, predictably the richer nations, put resources into keeping out refugees.

So amelioration rather than putting-right will be the goal for most of these crashes. With distinctions made by the rich nations between "those like us, in our own back yard" (Kosovo) and "those in the Third World, whose deaths won't affect us and may even benefit us" (Rwanda/ Burundi, the Congo region and Sierra Leone; like the US attitude to the Vietnamese and Cubans used to be).

And behind it all, and in many cases driving destruction, is the power and money of the rich making themselves richer. From pushing roads and clearances through the Amazon jungle, to the chemical and pharmaceutical companies' almost-control of the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in the USA. The same in Britain, under Thatcher, Major and Blair.

Uncertainty, change and variation

One of the problems with democracy, whether of village, district, city or nation, is that those living in those places went there because there was (or they worked to create) an environment that suited them. Certainly, strange people and, in many cases, strange ideas are definitely not welcome since they presage change and there's too much change during times of transition.

Even in New Zealand most people in most places will not "go Green"; certainly most of the rest of the world will not. There will be individuals, towns and nations which will march to a different drummer, so Greens had better be prepared to deal with a fairly wide range of other ideologies and degrees of social breakdown.

Hopefully, few will be fascist; there will be other types of totalitarian regime (like Albania, or under military/gang oppression) but, if we're lucky, quite a few nationalities will consciously design their ethos around something between money-focussed American capitalism and social-focussed egalitarianism of the 1980s, Scandinavian-style. It's obvious from the last 10 years in China, and the all-pervasiveness of gaming in New Zealand, that "getting rich" is a very powerful human drive, so some form of capitalism will be very common where there's sufficient order to support it, whether it's consensus-based or force-based order.

The non-human world

I've said little about the natural world. Mainly because I'm pessimistic: the nature I knew so well as I grew up is gone forever — there's not a chance that there will ever again be only 1 to 2.5 billion people in the world, with their corresponding relatively light footprint. But also because governments never will, and very few people will, put a high enough value on the whole ecology (of the nation, the region or the world). The most that all governments and most people will do is to have varying degrees of awareness of the need to protect their environment; a human-centred view, largely economic.

Consequently, the dynamic, healthy ecology of most places and regions will be degraded, often to and beyond the state where recovery is still possible. The two biggest threats to the ecology of most places are: human-caused loss of biodiversity, and human-caused climate change. This is one place where New Zealand can have (and already does have, to some extent) a world-wide value. It can contribute as many as 3 of the 20 places world-wide where, in 30 or more years, visitors will be still able to experience wildness and something like the original richness of nature. A model of what it could have been like if over-production and consumerism hadn't pushed us over the edge, during the last half of the twentieth century. There was a news item in mid-June about antibiotic-resistant strains of disease: more evidence of excess during the last 50-to-60 years. I remember the time before man-made antibiotics were generally available; we just sweated-it-out (or died if we weren't cared-for or were unlucky). The hallucinations when you were at the height of your fever were "old friends" for me!

At the end of my personal website piece (at http://davd.tripod.com/Me.html ), I say: "I happen to have lived a good life, at the peak of human civilisation; I don't need more."

So we should all get used to uncertainty, complexity, rapid and chaotic change; the world will generally be very different from the one I grew up in and that most of us function well in. A few bright points and pleasant places (like New Zealand), but generally worse.

I finish on a personal note: I hate buying, using-up, and throwing away! David MacClement
David MacClement can be emailed on d1v9d@bigfoot.com.

From the UNDP's Human Development Report 1999  (265 kB PDF); page 35 (of 37):
{at: http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/1999/en/pdf/hdr_1999_front.pdf }




In 1997, 84 countries enjoyed a life expectancy at birth of more than 70 years, up from 55 countries in 1990. The number of developing countries in the group has more than doubled, from 22 to 49. Between 1990 and 1997 the share of the population with access to safe water nearly doubled, from 40% to 72%. During 1990-to-97 the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS more than doubled, from less than 15 million to more than 33 million. Around 1.5 billion people are not expected to survive to age 60. More than 880 million people lack access to health services, and 2.6 billion access to basic sanitation.
Between 1990 and 1997 the adult literacy rate rose
from 64% to 76%.
During 1990-to-97 the gross primary and secondary enrolment ratio increased from 74% to 81%.
In 1997 more than 850 million adults were illiterate. In industrial countries more than 100 million people were functionally illiterate. More than 260 million children are out of school at the primary and secondary levels.
F O O D  A N D  N U T R I T I O N
Despite rapid population growth, food production per capita increased by nearly 25% during 1990-to-97.
The per capita daily supply of calories rose from less than 2,500 to 2,750, and that of protein from
71 grams to 76.
About 840 million people are malnourished.
The overall consumption of the richest fifth of the world's people is 16 times that of the poorest fifth.
I N C O M E  A N D  P O V E R T Y
During 1990-to-97 real per capita GDP increased at an average annual rate of more than 1%.
Real per capita consumption increased at an average annual rate of 2.4% during the same period.
Nearly 1.3 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, and close to 1 billion cannot meet their basic consumption requirements. The share in global income of the richest fifth of the world's people is 74 times that of the poorest fifth.
During 1990-to-97 the net secondary enrolment ratio for girls increased from 36% to 61%.
Between 1990 and 1997 women's economic activity rate rose from 34% to nearly 40%.
Nearly 340 million women are not expected to survive to age 40. A quarter to a half of all women have suffered physical abuse by an intimate partner.
Between 1990 and 1997 the infant mortality rate was reduced from 76 per 1,000 live births to 58.
The proportion of one-year-olds immunized increased from 70% to 89% during 1990-to-97.
Nearly 160 million children are malnourished. More than 250 million children are working as child labourers.
Between 1990 and 1997 the share of heavily polluting traditional fuels in the energy used was reduced
by more than two-fifths.
Every year nearly 3 million people die from air pollution—more than 80% of them from indoor air pollution—and more than 5 million die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by water contamination.
H U M A N  S E C U R I T Y
Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the people in developing countries live under relatively pluralist and democratic regimes. At the end of 1997 there were nearly 12 million refugees.



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Northern News is the newsletter of the Northern Province of the Green Party but doesn't purport to represent the Green Party.

Editor: David Parker
email: David_Parker

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