Monday, January 30, 2006

Beer, Clothing, and Pet Food

In 1967 the population of the United States reached 200 million. Life magazine, among others, featured the arrival of the baby that supposedly was number 200 million. This coming October it's expected that an infant will be born bringing us to 300 million, ranking the U.S. third in population after China and India. Will there be the same interest in 2006 as there was in 1967?

The Director for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in the United States, wrote an article in which he expressed his fervent belief that pesticides and biotechnology will allow food production to keep pace with growing world population. The writer accepts the generally held belief that by 2050 we will have added another 3 billion people to the planet. The author warns, however, that "eco-extremists" and the "con of the 'organic utopia' " must not be allowed to confuse consumers; otherwise we will not be able to meet world food demand.

Others, possibly less politically conservative, speak of the next generation of computers and the potential of nanotechnology that could lead us to creative new design structures and innovative energy efficiencies, thus allowing us to adapt to all sorts of things, possibly even to extreme climate change, which we humans have likely contributed to.

But something about all of this seems shopworn, so familiar, and fraying around the edges. Feudalism and the "divine" right of kings were considered sacrosanct and clearly representing the best of all worlds once upon a time. Is a poverty of imagination our real problem?

The Hudson Institute article assumes that the world can sustain the same traditional market economy. Individual income growth will expand with rising population, according to the article, and we are going to have to meet the expanding worldwide desire for products like "beer, clothing and pet food." Apparently nothing is really going to change.

Will advertisers convince teenagers in Mali that they can't be truly happy without cell phones? The mining companies in the Congo certainly stand ready to step up their digging of coltan, the metallic ore with the unique properties for storing electrical charges necessary for cell phones to function. Yes there are numerous adverse environmental consequences ... but maybe technology will somehow save the day once again. Can the developing world use more of our discarded computers? Perhaps we could give free psychotropic drugs to the 9 billion people in 2050, so that for one day a week all of us on planet Earth might believe this is the best of all possible worlds.

I'm waiting for the next generation of thinkers. Now that idea is exciting.

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