Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The New Chicken/Egg Dilemma: Hunger or Overpopulation?

Advanced apologies for the surge of posts either about or related to my visit to Humanity House – apparently it had quite an impact on me!


After completing the asylum seeking experience at Humanity House, you realize that you have found yourself all the way at the very top floor of the building. This means, in order to get back to the lobby, one must climb down a few flights of stairs. On the way down, there are several quotes and facts found along the stairwell, all of which are quite thought provoking*. One of these anecdotes read:

Overpopulation is not the cause of hunger; hunger is one of the causes of overpopulation

I’ll just give you a moment to let that sink in…

In my first year of undergrad, I wrote (what at that level would have been considered to be a lengthy) paper on overpopulation. It’s one of the things that keeps me up at night, especially as we are quickly approaching 8 billion! It scares me because with the issues we are already witnessing today, and with potentially far more mouths to feed in the not-so-distant future, I think, how are we to deal with this in a realistic and equitable manner? So when I see a quote like the one above, it really makes me think – and it gives me some level of confidence in what I’m doing.

I think, generally, when we think of overpopulation, we tend to see it as the root cause of hunger. This is understandable, because it is logical to connect more people with more hunger. However, when looking at the evolution of the human species, there is evidence that identifies why this understanding is incorrect.

In so-called developed countries, where education is a given – even if only basic (meaning up to high school level) – access to medical services are readily available, and employment opportunities are supported by systems that are intended to assist those who are unable to work, there is a false reality built. We take those social supports for granted. We often forget that access to these things has decreased our vulnerability to, well, survive. Add in the right for women to partake in all of these systems – particularly the education bit – and we have an advanced society. This creates less need to reproduce.

Now, when compared to other parts of the world, where education, medical services and employment are not freely provided, the reality is quite different. This is not an us vs. them argument. This is a reality for a large proportion of the earth’s population. What I mean by this is that, when such services are not present, it places a greater pressure on those living in these areas to meet their basic needs.

For example, a family in a remote, rural area relies on food they produce on their own land to sustain them. But, that work is laborious. There are no retirement plans to be found in this work, other than relying on the next generation to take over. So, maybe this family has a child or two in order to have a continuation of the farming activity that will provide food sources to the parents even after they have discontinued working. Makes sense, right? Well, now add in the fact that because of the limited, if any, medical services available (and assuming they can be afforded), ensuring those one or two children survive to the age that they can actually take over the farm and support their parents becomes increasingly more challenging. So, to offset that potential risk, one or two children turns into three, four, maybe five children, or in some cases, maybe even more than that. Sure maybe one or two do not survive childhood, but that means that more children are likely to survive than their parents**.

That, my friends, is how hunger, or the risk of hunger, translates into overpopulation. It is also why education and medical services are so important – especially for women. Because with both of those services, quality of life improves, and as a result the need to reproduce decreases. The specific note of women obtaining these services relates to the many studies that in doing so it gives her a better understanding of her rights and the choices she has for both her body and her future. There is plenty of evidence to support this, with Western European and North American countries as, perhaps, the most tangible confirmation of such. But if you don’t believe me - and you’re entitled not to - do a quick google search, visit a library or bookstore, visit an academic institution or get your hands on papers produced in these settings – you’ll find countless studies, reports, etc. to support this claim. 

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a fairly simplistic way of looking at this very complex issue. Despite this, it is the basic foundation of what that quote is trying to get across. Recognition of this fact is only the starting point - the way part. Finding the perfect solution is the real challenge. And, as always I don't have all the answers, but I'm happy to search for them. 

-the Orange Canadian

*Not that I need any help (over) thinking…

**Meaning, their parents are two people… so to replace them would require another two people. Any more than those two persons is adding bodies to the planet beyond the point of replacement.

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