This is the third of a seven-part series on changes to labour employment in the future, causes of this upheaval, and some possible measures to mitigate their disruptive effects. Most of what is described is applicable to western developed countries but middle-income countries such as Guyana are in the crosshairs. The difference is timing.
Further, Guyana does not possess the skills-set to prolong the onset of these changes. The country has received some service outsourcing jobs but these are low-skilled positions. It is therefore shared with the public to help focus attention on the decision-making needed to avert the imminent calamity.
In past two columns, I described the nationalist fervour sweeping America and Europe, characterized by the emergence of Donald Trump and Brexit. That is a reaction to the stagnation workers are currently experiencing in those areas in part due to increases in income inequality, a direct result of the collapse of Eastern Europe communism, and the bleak outlook of the future.
Thomas Robert Malthus, an English philosopher in the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries, postulated that in a period of resource abundance, a population would grow rapidly, but as the margin of abundance could not be sustained, checks on population growth, including famine, disease and wars, would reduce those levels back to those that are supportable.
To avoid such a catastrophe, Malthus urged controls on population growth. To rephrase, Malthus’s theory is that the world could sustain a given level of population and it self-corrects when exceeded.
Malthus has been discredited by his critics who argue these catastrophes have not taken place on a global scale. But this was mainly due to progress in agricultural technology, referred to as the ‘Green Revolution,’ until now.
The man-made threat is in the form of climate change which threatens food production and living conditions with drought, floods, storms and fires. Climate change is directly related to over-population. Yet there are deniers of man-made climate change. Last year was the hottest year on record and trends suggest 2016 will surpass 2015 as the hottest year, NASA said.
As droughts spread so do fires. Natural disasters described in biblical terms are now occurring worldwide and will increase in frequency. As the ice at the poles melt from this warming trend, ocean levels will raise with the potential of wiping out low-lying countries and coastal cities. The Arctic ice-cap is melting at such a rate that major nations such as Russia, USA and European countries are already competing for the resources that lie beneath.
The Tengger Desert on the southern edge of China’s massive Gobi Desert, not far from Beijing, is expanding at a rate of 1,300 square miles annually, in an already overpopulated country. And since storms such as hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, feed on differentials in temperatures, as the land and oceans warm up, they become more powerful and intense.
The deniers are making it more difficult to implement solutions. The culprit is greenhouse gases such as CO2. Before the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century, the world population was around 700 million and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. Today the population is around 7 billion and the concentration of CO2 is 390 parts per million. So far, our efforts have focused on alleviating the growth in concentration by reducing the burning of fossil fuels, instead of reducing the concentration. The latter would require carbon capture and storage and would not be feasible. No one is recommending controlling the growth in the over 7 billion world population.
Climate change has spawned large movements of migrants and asylum seekers to the developed countries, especially in the European Union. Much attention was focused on the ongoing Syrian war as the source of the mass migration to the EU, and not much on climate change that is roiling societies across the Middle East and Africa.
The New York Times reported that Syria was in the grip of a prolonged drought when war broke out, and large areas of sub-Saharan Africa are becoming uninhabitable. It went on to say that this is only the beginning of the crisis, because the conditions inciting people to flee their homelands will only worsen. They head to the EU because of proximity to their homelands and for the welfare benefits available there. Thus the irrational decision of the British to leave the EU.
But the fears in the developed countries are not only driven by the flood of migrants but by climate-driven destruction taking place within. In the US, fires are ravaging its west coast, tornadoes its mid-west and hurricanes its eastern states. Currently, Israel is battling several major fires. These are on such a massive scale that they overwhelm the country’s ability to cope and international assistance was sought.
Undoubtedly, climate change is man-made and directly attributed to world over-population. The only way to reverse it is population reduction. But as Malthus theorizes, the world self-corrects. Obviously, 7 billion is not a sustainable level and the storms, fires, floods, drought, famine and wars will take their toll. Fears are justified. Malthus was right.
In the fourth instalment, I will touch on the other major factor responsible for the stagnation experienced by workers worldwide, automation.