What elephant...?

 
Tony Wardle talks about the elephant in the room

Tony Wardle casts an eye over the recent onslaught of news and finds something missing

Oh boy, nothing quite like this has ever happened during my entire working life as a journalist. So much news has had to be reported and interpreted that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Daily Mail was employing immigrant labour.

You know it all – Brexit, Bojo, Jezza, Call-Me-Dave, Georgie Porgie, Theresa May elections, coups, divisions and a plague of locusts. Careers broken, hopes dashed, lies exposed and more nastiness than you can shake a stick at.

You could be forgiven for thinking that we were witnessing the second coming, the arrival of aliens or judgement day such was the furore. Our future at stake, our children’s future at stake, the planet’s future, everything at stake! Well that much is absolutely true and although all that’s happened is passingly important, the real, long-term issues have been entirely ignored.

No one has said: “Vote for me and I’ll try and save the planet!” In fact they’ve all said the opposite but without actually saying it: “Vote for me and I’ll continue to destroy the planet!”

Standing in the corner of the room is an elephant so huge it’s scary but no one will even admit its existence. They won’t even take a peek at it through their fingers with the lights turned low because to acknowledge it might require them to do something seriously profound and change their rhetoric entirely.

My brother Mike is a retired engineer. Like me he has built his belief system on science and research – provable facts. ‘Don’t tell me, show me!’ He has become so concerned about population growth that the other day he sat down with some impeccable statistics and prepared a graph, starting at year 0, where BC collided with AD. Mike was born in 1927 and the global population has trebled in his lifetime. Just let that sink in for a moment – TREBLED, in one man’s lifetime!

World human population

If you look at the graph you’ll see that the growth line is now heading almost vertically upwards. However you look at it, whatever your politics or religion, it is clearly, screamingly, unsustainable. There has traditionally been two main competing theories about limiting population growth. The Malthusian one is that growth will naturally be limited by resources (or lack of them) with those at the bottom of the pecking order dying off through deprivation. The Marxist argument is that the problem can be solved through a fairer distribution of resources.

If you look at Africa alone, there are currently 50 million people at risk of starvation and thirst. Malthus would have us just stand by and let them die – something not acceptable to me. The Marxist approach is, I believe, far more humane and has much greater resonance with the human spirit. Problem solved? No, not really – problem ameliorated for a few years.

Apart from religious dogma, the main reason for high birth rates is insecurity – children are an insurance policy. If people have housing, work, food and fulfilment, the birth rate usually collapses. Yet we have for centuries ripped the heart out of colonial people to provide the raw materials for our industrial and commercial growth. Britain, through its greed, has played a massive part in fostering population growth.

Okay, that sets some of the parameters for some of the problems but how has June’s political furore dealt with them? It’s simple – they’ve made them worse. We need immigrants, we were told, because we are an ageing population with insufficient young people to provide for the oldies (of which I’m one). Every single politician promised sunlit uplands of greater growth and some immigration – in, out or shake it all about. This implies that our population has to keep growing forever simply to pay people’s pensions, whether through immigration or indigenous growth.

Several countries are actually encouraging people to have babies – Denmark, Russia, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and Romania. But most of all I love Japan’s efforts. There is a new state-run dating website called Fukui (honestly).

It’s all about growth because consumerism/capitalism can’t survive without permanent growth and so the global population has to go on growing. We are caught in the cleft stick of increasing expectations versus a rapidly deteriorating planet.

In recent years, the rate of growth of livestock has mirrored population growth. And something else that is also heading north at a frightening rate is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Ice core samples dating back 800,000 years and retrieved by the British Antarctic Survey, show that atmospheric CO2 was fairly stable over the last 2,000 years but started to increase in the early 19th century as the industrial revolution got underway and is now 40 per cent higher. A rise of this magnitude is almost unprecedented and in 200 years we have managed to hit levels that existed at the end of the last ice age, but they took 1,000 years to build up. Isotopes show the cause to be fossil fuel use and deforestation. And if there are still any doubters out there, the ice cores show that over this 800,000 year period, every increase in CO2 levels has been accompanied by a corresponding level of global warming.

What is likely to happen if we continue ignoring the elephant and plough on regardless? More people, more global warming, more destruction of the natural world! All the worst predictions of rising sea levels, storms, tempests and an increasingly hostile planet will almost certainly come true and what’s happening in Syria and Iraq will be seen as little more than a dress rehearsal.

Bangladesh, for example, floods regularly so what happens when it floods permanently, which it will? Just imagine 163 million people pouring into India, where there is simply no spare land. As countries battle for reducing resources, to which land is the key, the prospect is chilling.

There’s now only one instruction to be heard across the world – grow, grow, grow. It’s presented as the cure for all our ills when it is the main cause of them.

One of the planks in our argument for veganism is the environment so just imagine if you can the impact a vegan world would have on the current situation. The second biggest cause of deforestation and global warming would be gone as would the main driver of species loss, nitrogen pollution, soil degeneration, spreading deserts… and so on. We would require less than one-quarter of the land currently used for agriculture (Reading University). Right there, with that simple act, you have a framework for a whole new world. And once we have curbed our appetites for meat and dairy I am convinced that the log jam to change will be broken.

Population growth has to be curbed and if it isn’t, nature will do it for us. I can’t remember who said it but it’s undoubtedly true: “Nature does not tolerate an aberration for long. And the human race has become an aberration.” The consumer society has to become the conserver society. Or we may have no society.

Did you ever hear any of our leading politicians even touching on these profound topics? Of course not and yet meat and dairy consumption have started to fall and Viva! takes much of the credit for this. The silence from all the major political parties is shameful.

Now, in China, however… Believe it or not but the government has just called for a 50 per cent cut in meat consumption for its 1.35 billion population. Thank goodness someone is paying attention. I just hope they send a directive to every Chinese takeaway in the UK where the words vegan or even vegetarian are mostly an alien concept.