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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 122)...

    I think you've answered this question, but inadequately: There is a well-established correlation between standard of living and population growth. The higher the standard of living (and hence the more food produced locally) the lower the birth rate. This flies in the face of your contention that population growth is tied to food production. Taking this down to the microcosm - when you see a picture of people starving in Ethiopia, what is ALWAYS in the picture? A LOT of infants and children. They're not producing any food, but . . . .

    ...and the response:

    You say:

    "There is a well-established correlation between standard of living and population growth. The higher the standard of living (and hence the more food produced locally) the lower the birth rate."

    This is true, but only in places where the country has traversed the "demographic trap" and gotten through the growth phase of the population dynamics (see an introductory ecology textbook for more info).

    Further you claim:

    "This flies in the face of your contention that population growth is tied to food production."

    No, actually it doesn't. What I am talking about is the fact that if you add food to any system occupied by animals, any animals (humans are animals), you will get an increasing population size (again, see and introductory ecology textbook for more info).

    Finally, you suggest:

    "Taking this down to the microcosm - when you see a picture of people starving in Ethiopia, what is ALWAYS in the picture? A LOT of infants and children. They're not producing any food, but . . . ."

    "But" indeed! Where do you think those people are coming from? Are they being molded out of dirt? Are they eating stones to make babies?

    Have you not seen the images of the UN workers spreading food among hungry crowds? Have you not seen Sally Struthers asking us to support children that are starving by sending money (food) to them? They cannot produce enough food because they are exceeding their local carrying capacity -- the land cannot support that many animals. It wouldn't matter if they were elephants, rats, beetles, or humans. If we send more resources, we will have more animals.

    Do you remember this passage from Ishmael?

    "We increase food production in the U.S. tremendously every year, but our population growth is relatively slight. On the other hand, population growth is steepest in countries with poor agricultural production. This seems to contradict your corre-lation of food production with population growth."

    [Ishmael] shook his head in mild disgust. "The phenomenon as it's observed is this: 'Every increase in food production to feed an increased population is answered by another increase in population.' This says nothing about where these increases occur."

    "I don't get it."

    "An increase in food production in Nebraska doesn't necessarily produce a population increase in Nebraska. It may produce a population increase somewhere in India or Africa."

    "I still don't get it."

    "Every increase in food production is answered by an increase in population somewhere. In other words, someone is consuming Nebraska's surpluses — and if they weren't, Nebraska's farmers would stop producing those surpluses, pronto."

    "True," I said, and spent a few moments in thought. "Are you suggesting that First World farmers are fueling the Third World population explosion?"

    "Ultimately," he said, "who else is there to fuel it?"


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