Malthusian theory and New Zealand’s environment (2019 ed.)

This article was first published on 06 August 2017. The second edition of this article acknowledges some of the changes in understanding the potential for the collapse of civilization. It includes such factors as the onset of the Anthropocene which is the geologic epoch in which the impact of humans on the planet has become such that it will leave an imprint in the geologic record; reassessments of the rates of resource consumption.

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Malthusian theory relates to the idea that exponential population growth and consumption of resources whilst food production remains arithmetical at best eventually causes a Malthusian catastrophe – the decline of the worlds population to a somewhat more sustainable level.

In 1983 with concern over the exploitation of natural resources around the world, and fears of a neo-Malthusian outcome for an accelerating human population, the Brundtland Commission was formed. It had the task of examining the problem on a global scale and how the world might address an increasingly intricate mish mash of environmental issues, economics, societal pressures and politics. It struck a chord with the then Labour opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives, angered as it was by the antipathy of the National Government to environmental issues here.

The 1991 Resource Management Act was written in partial response to the Brundtland Commission findings. It was also written in partial response to the fact that New Zealand had an obsolete environmental framework of laws that when put together were unwieldy. The Act replaced 69 other Acts and amended Acts, as well as 19 regulations and orders.

In terms of neo-Malthusian theory, the Resource Management Act on its own is not able to change the rate of resource consumption. The ecological footprint of the average New Zealander 10 years ago was large enough that if the whole world had our rate of resource consumption, all of planet Earth and 94% of an equivalent planet would be needed to sustain it. In other words, quite simply our rate of consumption is not sustainable by a large population.

In 2016 it was informally acknowledged by some geologists that the Holocene, the most recent geologic epoch had ended. It was superseded by the onset of the Anthropocene, thus tacitly acknowledging that the aforementioned consumption, in New Zealand and elsewhere had developed a strong global footprint. It is so strong that in the 1 minute of the geologic day, that humans have in existence, they have wiped out 50% or more of the total known species.

In third world countries adults tend to have larger families for socio-economic reasons including that in their senior years older people have family members who are able to support them when they can no longer work. Every human being needs fresh water to drink, to cook, to clean themselves and their clothes. About 800 million have no access to clean drinking water worldwide. The causes of this are numerous, but as drinking water is the most basic and fundamental way of hydrating a human, it is very difficult if not impossible to overestimate the importance of clean drinking water. A collapse of this resource through overuse, pollution and wastage would have immediate consequences. This is perhaps the most important part of understanding how a Malthusian collapse could occur.

No such problem exists in New Zealand with the growth of families. However clean water is becoming a bigger issue with each year due to the large amount used for dairy farming. It has degraded in many areas across the country and the rise of water bourne bugs has increased (see Hawkes Bay crisis in 2016). The advent of changes to hydrology and climatology caused by climate change (man made or otherwise)mean that these issues are going to become more acute with time as weather patterns change how we farm and how we use our fresh water resource. It will not be the cause of wars here, but in arid parts of the world, such as the Middle East water shortages might well cause confrontations involving individual nations military forces.

Another major problem is the rapidly increasing carbon level in the atmosphere. Since 1700 the output of carbon based gases has gone in one direction: UP. Last week it sat at 410 particles per million in the atmosphere, which is the highest it has been in about 350,000 years. The sources of it range from the consumption of fossil fuels, the burning of forests causing stored carbon to be released and the large scale use of materials such as concrete which releases about 7% of the worlds total man made carbon emissions.

Malthusian theory has been discredited by some theorists. Some say it is a theory that is too pessimistic. Others acknowledge the socio-economic causes of the theory, but say that there will be positive checks and balances that stop it from advancing, which I assume to mean further work on international treatises including the development of new ones and further advancing existing ones relating to the environment. However a trend away in the countries with the most economic, military and political influence from global co-operation against these challenges means even if all of the small and medium sized nations collaborated to share knowledge and technology, larger powers could undermine it.

So how discredited is Malthusian theory after all? And should we be worried in New Zealand?


The Xinjiang problem that western nations must acknowledge

Xinjiang (Sinkiang) in northwest China is a high altitude area with mountain ranges and deserts. It is populated by Uighur Muslims, but also by Tibetan Xibe, Russians, Mongols, Han and other ethnicities. It has a population of about 26 million and is an autonomous region.

Unfortunately Xinjiang is being afflicted by Chinese state sanctioned human rights abuses that can draw comparisons with certain past regimes. The Chinese Government has marked the Uighur people down as a national security threat, which threatens the security of the Chinese Peoples Republic. With the utmost contempt for human rights, the Government has imprisoned over 1 million Uighur, or roughly equivalent to the population of the entire South Island in camps that are officially called retraining centres, but which bare the hall marks of concentration camps – grim, inhumane places characterized by rape, torture, murder, state sanctioned brain washing.

Where have we heard that before?

But there is more and it concerns us and our consumerist appetite. Xinjiang has significant cotton factories that are allegedly using slave labour. I cannot tell you what human rights abuses along the lines of slave labour have been alleged, but one can imagine those allegations are pretty damning and would bring China’s questionable human reputation into further disrepute. It would be lowering it to the level of the likes of Joseph Stalin and his notorious gulag system.

In order to hide the fact that somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million people have disappeared into these camps, China is relocating thousands of ethnic Han from other parts of the country into Xinjiang. It has clamped down massively on media access being granted and getting petrol from a service station or even sugar from a supermarket requires identification.

But how many western nations know about this and acknowledge that Xinjiang has been turned into one vast prison camp, never mind taking action against Chinese authorities? Many western nations actually do know of and acknowledge that China is conducting massive large scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. The United States and United Kingdom have both considered how to deny Chinese companies the ability to purchase western software and other products that might be used to expand the capability of the giant state security apparatus operating in Xinjiang.

New Zealand is also aware of what is happening in Xinjiang. The Government in July was one of 22 foreign nations to call on the Chinese government to stop the repression. But without doubt, our continued opposition to this will have its challenges. As the Government looks for new ways to express its concern, it will be aware of Beijing’s capacity for an angry response. It is an interesting and tricky tightrope to walk if one thinks about this. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

I support New Zealand trying to find new ways to show its concern. As we go forward towards the 2020 election I hope New Zealanders think about how we want to be viewed by the world on this. I would not want to think that we are complicit in the abuses that are going on in Xinjiang province by way of the products we purchase. I would hope that New Zealanders ask their Government irrespective of who is in office at the end of next year to remember economic prosperity cannot come at the expense of human rights.


Break up Google and Facebook

One started off life as a search engine. The other was a project started by a bunch of university students in 2004. At their time of launch probably neither Google or Facebook’s initial management probably had any idea in the slightest about what their brain child’s would morph into. But 14 and 15 years later respectively, with billions of dollars in assets, world wide influence best denoted by their dominance of the social media and search engine markets, Google and Facebook are now facing a monster of their own making: a growing movement around the world to rein them in.

It is not only contrary to the spirit of a competitive market place to have such large companies in existence, but also it threatens to control society in a way most people in the West have not realized. For years we used to think Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook were a good thing and so there was little thought given to the fact that there is no regulatory body capable of monitoring and keeping them in line.

Such is Google’s dominance that it is now starting to ask users for data relating to their health. Why you might ask? To create products that can run on it and further diversify its portfolio. The idea, which may seem innocent enough is not actually all that innocent. I said it wants data about your medical issues – in other words it wants to intrude into your private life and some of your most personal affairs.

When it starts doing that, one has to put their foot down and say “enough is enough”. It is clearly obvious that Google’s insatiable appetite is now becoming a problem, that its regard for privacy is completely insincere. Despite hefty E.U. penalties being handed down to the two companies, Google appears not to be able and/or willing to accept that it is causing major harm . Nor can it accept that to dominate a market in the way it does is not competitive at all. The 90% + control of the entire internet search poses no problems if you believe Google executives.

Another company with a problem is Facebook. The company’s disorganization has been well marked by mistakes in their regular features, such as the removal of the calendar feature that enabled one to track back through posts they put up themselves. A Facebook employee named Roger McNamee decided to expose the crooked interior of his employer. He wanted to show how the activities on Facebook of Russian agents hijacked the U.S. Federal election.

Facebook in August was told it might be subject to as much as E1.6 billion in fines for a massive data breach that may have affected as many as 50 million users.It was a breach that enabled misuse of Spotify, Tinder and other applications. But a bigger question remains for a company too big for its own good and that is whether the Government will have the courage to act.

Do not get me wrong. Both Facebook and Google have their uses and have clearly done very well out of all of the users that post on their pages. But if one is not profoundly disturbed and/or disgusted at the possibility of faceless tech having access to your most intimate medical records, then it is questionable whether you were paying attention. We rely heavily on both to do much, myself included. Both can also be accused of having a non-responsive attitude to regular every day issues – almost like “Facebook Help” is just there to enable the user to do the bare minimum and nothing more.

Are Facebook and Google fit to be run as mega businesses that threaten both societal gains and civic security? I think not and believe that the time is now for breaking them up.

New Zealand should be challenging Chinese propaganda

The line “Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated” might sound like something from a movie or a computer game. Except that it is not. It is a line from a Chinese propaganda film that has been made with New Zealand Government assistance.

It is not an acceptable use of taxpayer money to be funding Chinese propaganda films. Whilst the Chinese Government did not directly make the film, a state owned company called Bona was responsible for its production. The film qualified for N.Z.$243,000 in a rebate on theĀ  $1.2 million spent in New Zealand making it.

Propaganda is not necessarily accurate as Xinhua News Agency would have found out recently. A few days ago it broadcast that New Zealand was softening up on its official stance relating to the telecommunications 5G upgrade that is meant to be happening. Not so, as the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service came out strongly and said nothing had changed.

Huawei, a company suspected to have Chinese Government influence and a significant supplier of cellphone technology in New Zealand – I have a Huawei device myself, had been in line to install a 5G network here. Since concerns over whether telecommunications giant Huawei’s potential to compromise the New Zealand telecommunications system popped up, a hard line has been taken against the Chinese company, which was black listed by the Australian and United States Governments.

When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong five months ago, pro-Beijing Chinese students in Auckland tore down posters. When they escalated in August pro-China students angrily confronted Hong Kong Chinese over their support for the protesters. “Traitors”, “anti-Chinese”, “rioters”, among other allegations were hurled. Considerably more serious was a physical confrontation where a Hong Kong student was pushed to the ground. The Chinese Government Consul General in Auckland congratulated the pro-Beijing students for their strong response. It also attacked New Zealand media for showing bias and portraying China in a negative light.

I and several others responded to criticism published by way of a letter to the Editor of The Press of the Hong Kong protests by pointing out that Beijing’s version of “the law”, where arbitrary detention, unfair trials and executions, are the norm, were hardly fair. No counter reply was received, but I do not imagine our allegations went down well.

And then there is Xinjiang, a Chinese province near Tibet, which has been virtually locked down because its large Muslim population are accusing Beijing of grave human rights abuses. Camps with the consistency of gulags are alleged to have been set up. Amnesty International has been documenting abuses that have gone on there. Massive numbers of Uighur Muslims have been detained arbitrarily, and allegations of torture, slave labour and other activities that are contrary to universal human rights have been logged. China denies everything and says that it is a western beat up – which fails to explain why one person who has lost a relative in a round-up says nothing inflammable can be brought in Xinjiang, the internet is down.

So, if this is not Chinese propaganda, why are they so antsy about western journalists going to have a look? Why are pro-Beijing students resorting to knocking people over?

New Zealand Defence Force might return to Iraq

I have heard a suggestion that the New Zealand Defence Force might have to return to Iraq.

If the New Zealand Defence Force does return to Iraq, what are we going to do? Are we going to continue training Iraqi soldiers who might then go shoot dead civilians in the street as they have been doing these last few weeks? Are we going to be there in a monitoring capacity? Are we going to be peace-keepers/makers?

Historically New Zealand was involved in the crude British operation in 1916 that lead to the formation of Iraq as a Western geopolitical construct with no regard for ethno-geographies. One might argue on that basis that therefore we should be involved in Iraq because we helped to make the mess that led to Iraq’s formation, we should be a part of the solution to its re-establishment as a nation state.

But I am not honestly sure Iraq is destined to survive as a nation state. When it was founded, the borders cut straight through ethnic groups. Thus some found themselves in Persia (which became Iran). Some found themselves in what would become Turkey after World War 1 ended and others wound up in the French construct that ultimately became Syria. The treaties that were brokered following World War 1 did initially for example acknowledge the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and accepted that an independent Kurdish state might be necessary.

Unfortunately all of that unravelled, which is a shame because in the post-Saddam Hussein mess that Iraq has descended into, a Kurdish state in the north of the country would help bring some stability to the Turkish and Syrian border regions. As the Kurds are one of the more progressive ethnicities in the Middle East, the relatively advanced social status of their women would go some way towards being a guiding beacon that Middle East women can understand.

But back to the New Zealand Defence Force. I personally would be reluctant to send them back – I had doubts about their original mission in light of the apparently aimless U.S. mission which went from Operation Iraqi Freedom to general war for the sake of war.

Could/should the New Zealand Defence Force risk getting its hands soiled by trying to keep the peace between Shia, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, whose rivalry goes back hundreds of years? The rules of such conflicts are generally messy, and New Zealand is constrained by the Geneva Conventions in terms of what we can and cannot do. Were we to find ourselves in breach of these, it would be hugely damaging for our reputation as a country that prefers peaceful outcomes, but which will fight a hard clean fight if we have to.

And what would Iraq say to the idea of a Kurdish state covering much of the traditional lands of the Kurds? As with Iraq’s neighbours Syria and Turkey who both have significant Kurdish populations, I doubt their response to such an idea would be at all warm. Turkey views the Kurdish Workers Party (P.K.K.)as a terrorist entity and it is blacklisted by the United Nations as such, which would mean New Zealand could not recognize it. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan very much wants to neutralise the Kurd’s as a political force, and sees Turkey’s future in reviving the Ottoman Empire.

If we really must go back we should be putting as much effort as possible into removing unexploded ordnance, helping rebuild infrastructure and showing Iraqi’s how to maintain it. Last time this was a successful initiative as it showed the Iraqi civil population that not all of the western countries were there for the fighting and that there were people who cared about them. It would also help acknowledge our historic links to the geopolitical designs of Britain in the 1910’s.