The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

“Too Few People Own Too Much World”

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Robert Newman challenges the popular wisdom that a population explosion is causing food insecurity in the world:

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. There is no population explosion. The rate of population growth has been slowing since the 1960s, and has fallen below replacement levels half the world over. But what about the other half? That’s where population is exploding, right? Well, actually, no. The UN Population Division’s world fertility patternsshow that, worldwide, fertility per woman has fallen from 4.7 babies in 1970–75 to 2.6 in 2005-10. As Peoplequake author Fred Pearce puts it: “Today’s women have half as many babies as their mothers … That is not just in the rich world. It is the global average today.”

He compares it to the hysteria of 100 years ago when:

…mainstream intellectuals such as HG Wells, WB Yeats, Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence were proposing not just sterilisation but actual extermination. Back then, there were fewer people in Britain, of course, but many more of them were homeless. It was thought that homelessness came from there being too many people. It was a population problem. Simple as that. But then voters – as opposed to intellectuals – realised that homelessness was caused not by too many people crowding too small a country, but by too few people owning too much land.
In came social housing and down – spectacularly – went urban homelessness. It’s never gone away, but neither has it returned to anything like it was. And the era of notorious doss houses the Spike and the Peg came to an end thanks to extending democracy to cover land ownership and land use.

He rightly points out that the problem is not a lack of arable land, but what it’s being used for:

According to the National Corn Growers Association, 30% of US corn ends up as fuel ethanol, while 5% is grown as corn syrup for junk food sweeteners and fizzy pop. Ain’t it grand that we’d sooner say there are too many human beings in the world than too much Coca-Cola, Honey Nut Cheerios or Special K?

Newman’s conclusion mirrors that of the Distributists over a century ago:

Food security and ecological sustainability are impossible without democratic control of land. Only through land nationalisation can we introduce the connected landscapes, smart cities and wildlife corridors that will let ecosystems bend, not break. As with homelessness a century ago, the problem facing a population of 7 billion is not too many people crowding too small a piece of land, but too few people owning too much world.

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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