Friday, July 10, 2009

Demography Is Destiny

I can already hear many of you saying that Lebanon faces so many other pressing problems that demand immediate solutions and as a result we do not have the luxury to worry about long term demographic problems. I can understand that line of thinking but in this case I beg to differ. The real reason d’être of any societal project should be to ensure its survivability into the distant future. As we all well know it is absolute folly to concentrate on the very short run especially when it is clear that the short run survival is being accomplished at the expense of the eventual survivability of the system. That behavior is similar to that of a drunken sailor who is driven only by the pleasures of the moment when it is clear that tomorrow’s headache will prevent him from performing at his assigned tasks. Another more apt example would be a current life style that can be maintained only by diminishing the stock of capital available.
Unfortunately such levels of unwise expenditure summarize the magnitude of the environmental degradation all over the globe. It is indisputable that the level of consumption by the 7 billion humans far exceeds the rate at which the ecosystem can absorb the waste generated from such level of economic activities. As Paul Ehrlich and most environmentalists have always preached levels of affluence play a major role in the current ecological degradation that we are facing but yet the crisis is also due to the cheer number of humans whose demands for food, shelter and other essentials of modernity have contributed immensely to the physical stress on environmental assets. It would be impossible to resolve the environmental question without first addressing the human population issue. It is disingenuous to speak about finding a solution for say scarcity of water and yet keep on increasing the number of people in the world by over 70 million every year. By the same token a meaningful resolution to the climate change challenge is not credible unless we tackle the issue of how many people the natural system can handle and at what level of affluence.
We can choose to neglect the fact that demography is destiny at our own peril. The lessons to be drawn from this issue of limits to carrying capacity and the consequent shortages it imposes on global resources are to be adhered to by all societies large or small. The case of Lebanon is a perfect illustration of this point. The small country of just over 10,000 square kilometers has a population of approximately 4.5 million people that is growing at about 1.61% each year. A simple extrapolation till the end of this century would increase the population of Lebanon to over 20 million people. By the end of this century Lebanon would need to have five times more of everything that it presently has in order not to regress. Five times more of everything in order to run on the spot. In order to understand the depth of this population crisis in Lebanon it would be helpful to take a quick look at the population density of all countries in the world. Such an analysis reveals what very few in Lebanon are willing to admit. Once the micro-European states such as San Marino; The Chinese administrative regions such as Macau and the very small island nations such as Nauru are excluded then Lebanon becomes the tenth most densely populated country in the world. (The only other Arab country ahead of Lebanon is Bahrain).
How does Lebanon propose to provide for its projected population of 20 million people at the turn of the century? Lebanon would neither be able to feed itself, provide the required energy, undertake the huge infrastructure investments nor preserve its natural endowment for the future generations. The Lebanese state is already living off handouts. Lebanon, in particular because of its already very high population density, and all other countries whose fertility rate is above replacement is acting like the proverbial drunken sailor. We are behaving as if we have no moral obligations to the future. And that is sad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Controlling population growth is a prerequisite for dealing with any environmental issue. What good is it for a country to grow its economy by 2% and its population say by 2.1% every year?


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