baby of zimbabwe

Sustainable growth. Yes that’s right, it’s the new buzzword and it’s bandied about at the just finished G20 Summit. Let’s logically consider this for a moment.

‘Sustainable’ means by definition able to be sustained, able to continue in perpetuity. My old-school paper Oxford defines sustain as ‘support, especially for a long period’.

Growth means to grow. If we grow anything, a population of bacteria in a petri dish or a population of people on a planet, at a steady rate of any percentage you choose to pick, that growth is by definition exponential. It is not straight line growth (as the term ‘steady’ may imply), but numbers increase with greater momentum over time. Plotting it on a logarithmic scale does not change this simple fact.

Now, let’s logically consider Earth as a giant resource. Factually, is it infinite (like space, you could go on forever and forever and… you get the picture), or is it finite (like my bank account)? Obviously it must be finite. The matter contained within Earth and the Biosphere is finite. Many elements are easily recyclable, but they are still finite.

The G20 stated ‘we have a responsibility to recognize that all economies, rich and poor, are partners in building a sustainable and balanced global economy in which the benefits of economic growth are broadly and equitably shared‘. I submit that any juxtaposition of the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘growth’ create an oxymoron. And they certainly do seem to be moronic. Put simply, it is quite impossible to increase the human population on Earth, alongside increasing the use of Earth’s resources, forever. We will soon reach what ecologists term ‘carrying capacity’. This is the limit that the environment can provide for. To try to argue otherwise is illogical and absurd. I would hope that those highly paid officials are simply mistaken, and do not understand simple arithmetic, but I fear they are actively deceitful.

The G20 goes further and states ‘the current crisis has once again confirmed the fundamental recognition that our growth and prosperity are interconnected, and that no region of the globe can wall itself off in a globalized world economy’ which sounds entirely like a call for more of the same, and a warning that you’d-better-not-try-protectionist-measures because in these economically shaky times the richest nations want to ensure their continued access to the markets of labour in the poorer nations. It makes for cheaper production costs, and bigger profits.

China goes even further, and urges the rest of the world into actually boosting growth rates.

So, let us now consider, what if after the dust has settled on the economic crisis we then go back to doing pretty much what we did before, but with a few extra regulations thrown in to look like it’s all different? What if we refuse to give up the mantra of ‘economic growth’? To answer this question we must ask what ecology tells us about populations at carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity GraphWhat happens to a population at carrying capacity? What happens when the red line is above the blue? Well, simply put the death rate is greater than the birth rate, due to either famine or death via environmental degradation. This would have to be famine at a death rate never before seen, greater even than the famine bought about by Mao’s Great Leap Forward in which an estimated 40-80 million people died, or a death rate of 4.6% (Source: Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts). To imagine what this means, compare it to the death rate in the United States today of 0.915% (based upon 8.38 deaths per 1,000 population).

The above scenario is actually the best-case-scenario. Sometimes when populations reach carrying capacity, the population numbers overshoot and then they crash. Population crash may come about by limiting factors such as food (massive wide scale famine where the majority of people die, very few survive), or toxic wastes in the environment produced by the species (death on a massive wide scale by poisoning where the majority of people die, very few survive). A graph of this scenario would look like this one below, where N is the number of people, t is time and K is carrying capacity.

Population Crash

This type of famine or toxic waste will not look like what we currently have now or have ever seen in the past. It won’t look like the regular famine in Africa. It will be much worse, and it will be necessarily global. Except you can bet the rich will have isolated pockets, secure gated communities, where they survive while you and I do not.

Not to worry though, the bureaucrats state, we will have technology to come to our rescue. However, natural laws and the definition of growth and sustainability still stand. No population can continue to grow forever. We have a stark choice. We can either let nature run it’s course and allow our population to be controlled by famine, disease, war, and environmental degradation. Or we can implement involuntary population control based upon limiting the number of births to exactly the number of deaths. Which scenario would you rather live under?

We cannot continue with our mantra of economic growth. It is not, and can never be, sustainable. We can however, limit our population to zero growth and aim for an economic system that conserves the environment and is stable, not growing. We need to find a system that allows all to participate without growth.


On How To Be An Anti-Consumer

September 22, 2009


For some time now I have been very aware of living in a ridiculously consumerist society. And this is in New Zealand! I’ve been to the US and it’s completely insane there! It took me some time, but I have made a few changes in my life towards becoming a worse consumer, a state to which  I aspire.

The knowledge that the earth is a finite space and that we cannot continue our peculiar form of capitalism, with ever increasing growth, is (so I thought) pretty obvious. So it follows then that our business leaders, leading economists and politicians are all missing this very basic fact. (So why are they so well financially rewarded for such a gross lack of logic? That’s another story!)

It bothers me that whenever I buy stuff I often have to buy stuff with plastic packaging. It totally bothers me that we still treat oceans as a garbage dump, as if once it’s out of our sight we neednt worry about it anymore.

So, I buy less stuff. I own less stuff. In fact, I sold as much of my stuff as I could and now rent a furnished place so I have less stuff to cart around. This feels great!

I try to re-use glass bottles rather than buy water in plastic bottles. What’s with water in plastic bottles anyway? Here in New Zealand we have one of the most pristine environments left on the globe, yet we still insist that water packaged into plastic for profit must be better than the stuff that comes out of our taps. The ultimate in consumerism methinks.

When I buy the stuff I do want and need, I try to avoid brand snobbery. Often, cheaper options will work just as well, with less hype and packaging, as more expensive options. What we often pay for in more expensive options is advertising. And a higher profit margin. This is especially true when it comes to women’s skin care and cosmetics. I tried that expensive Lancome wrinkle cream, and I still have wrinkles. It didn’t work, and I can’t get my money back.

I have discovered shopping in second-hand clothing stores can be worthwhile. And saves a whole lot of money for other things that are more entertaining than shopping anyway, like experiences.

I try to not view shopping as entertainment. Every now and then the memory of how horrible malls are recedes so far into the past that I am tempted to go into one again. After about an hour, zombified and full of bad food, I remember. Usually I avoid them.

I would grow more of my own vegetables, but a sandy soil and reliance upon rain collected water precludes that one. I don’t seem to be cut out for it anyway.

I focus on outdoor experiences for entertaining my son, like teaching him to surf. The beach plays a big role, but we also have awesome native forests to explore, and non-native ones too. Having fun does not necessarily have to involve buying a bunch of stuff.

These efforts are for myself to feel less encumbered and manipulated. It also gives me a slightly nice feeling to know I’m being a little less polluting towards my environment. I’m sure there’s a lot more I could do, one day maybe I’ll get around to going off grid and building that electric car, but for now it’s gonna have to do.

Sexism Rant…

September 21, 2009


Here’s my rant, for what it’s worth (it feels SOOO good to get this one out there!)

I went to a political public meeting a while ago. The room was big, and packed. People crowded just inside the door. I guessed about half the citizens were women, half men. Most older, white, but that’s another story. When the politician finally let the people speak, the first 5 speakers were men. Of the next 10, only 4 were women. Maybe older women don’t feel as comfortable in public speaking as men? I dunno, but it really pissed me off. I don’t think many people present noticed.

When the local paper covered the meeting (front page stuff this was), 6 speakers were photographed and mentioned. ALL were male. No women’s voices heard at all. Now that REALLY pisses me off!

Some time ago I did a post-grad diploma. A girlfriend and I decided to check out a claim that men interrupt women more often than vice versa. We carefully recorded who spoke, who interrupted who, over a week. There were more women than men in this class, a lot of time we were in discussion. We thought, surely, the women should dominate the discussion? Being that there were more of them? No. Despite being less than half, the men dominated the discussion more than half the time. And they interrupted almost twice as often as women. This seriously pisses me off!

So, next time you are in mixed company check out who dominates the conversation. If people are interrupting, who is interrupting who?

One last thing that really pisses me off. People saying ‘get over it’ as if now laws are in place everything is just hunky dory and what-the hell-are-all-those-silly-women-complaining-about. If you are a white middle class male, you have not experienced sexism and probably not racism. So please, just listen when we try to explain what it’s like. It’s still alive and kicking. That’s what we’re trying to tell you.

The first time I went overseas, I went to Hong Kong. Amongst the general culture shock, I (as a white person) experienced racism for the first time. What an eye opener that was!  Until that day, I had no experience of racism and could not really comprehend it. I still cannot comprehend how it is to live with it all your life.

Women wanting equal rights, and an end to sexism, does not preclude men fighting for better treatment (like end to circumcision) at all. We’re talking about sexism here guys. If you have issues that affect men, that is a separate issue and don’t expect us to fight those for you too in order for our fight to be validated.

The Nuclear Family

September 21, 2009

white picket fencehousewhitepicketfence

When I was in my twenty somethings I was insistent that I did not want to have children. Yet, when I turned 30 I completely changed my mind. Happily, my husband at the time was also comfortable to have a child and so we had my beautiful Jack. Once he was born, my life changed completely and forever.

I found myself suffering from terrible post natal depression. When we discuss postnatal depression in our society, it is rarely a useful discussion. We are urged to ‘get treatment‘, which of course comes in the form of a pill. We talk about practical support like cleaning the house, cooking some meals and maybe doing some laundry. I believe this is often not enough, and does not address the deeper causes of our high rates of postnatal depression in some western societies.

I came to believe that our nuclear family set up is not healthy for women and children. It is not healthy for a woman, alone, with a small baby to be stuck within four walls day after day, with only a very few other adults in her world for a few of her waking hours. It does her ego no good when she does attend a social function, and is asked the ubiquitous question ‘what do you do?’ , the reply ‘I’m currently at home with my small child/baby’ often results in a glazed over expression from the questioner and a quick end to any conversation. Combine this with sleep deprivation, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is not healthy for children, especially only children, to spend so much preschool time apart from their peers. Once babies can walk and talk they need their peer group for their social development.

Why do I think this is not a natural way to live? We all need human contact. We are herding animals, more like wildebeest, unlike loners like cheetah. We live in social groups. To isolate individuals at such a vulnerable time in their lives is unnatural, and inhumane. It also places the full burden of caring for an infant upon one person. Consequently, the bond between mother and baby will be stronger than it would in a more social environment, to the extent that babies will become very distressed if separated from their mothers (most, but not all babies). This dependance can from time to time be felt as suffocating, especially if it does not lessen as the child grows older.

Babies do not go home from hospital with an instruction manual. There is a lot of society’s baggage, about what it is to be a ‘good’ mother, and if you get it wrong it’s all your fault of course. Unfortunately for new parents, real learning outside of books is often missing. Because of the structure of the nuclear family, many of us will have no experience at all of how to look after babies or children. We may have had very little contact with babies or children until we hold our own. This is not conducive to a good start as new parents.

For fathers, beginning a family places a huge financial burden. With falling real wages and now increasing unemployment due to the developing recession/depression, this is only going to become more difficult to achieve. Mothers are sometimes forced back into work before they are ready for financial reasons, leaving the care of infants to strangers. I’m not going to go into all the ways this is so wrong as a society here, suffice to say this is not optimal for any of the parties concerned; parents, children, or the caretakers who often leave their own children in other poorer countries to care for kids of others in richer countries.

There is a native American tribe in the Amazon, in Venezuela, the Yequana. Their babies don’t cry. The people live in joy, not stress like we do. The babies are not the center of attention and adults are constantly surrounded by other adults. I believe this is a much better model for women and children, for society as a whole.

Women and Surfing

September 15, 2009

clean at waipu cove

The surfing world is male centered and dominated.

I’m a surfer. And I’m a woman. This should not cause any conflict, it doesn’t in itself, it only causes conflict for me when I encounter the ‘surfing world’.

Here’s what I mean. A quick perusal of top news stories today from google reveals… a story about a possible breakaway tour which of course is all about mens surfing and has nothing to do with any women surfing, a pic of a dog surfing for chrissakes, and one of the top articles on my search has a woman, but she’s not even a surfer and the article of course has to have a picture of her in a bikini (airbrushed to hell) and a comment on how hot she is (because if she wasn’t she would probably not warrant mention in the media). This is quite typical. And if you can find articles about women surfing out there, it will have to repeatedly point out that it is WOMEN’s surfing, as the absence of a mention of gender in the surfing world defaults to the male status quo.

Surfing magazines and sites are the worst, and the biggest reason for my conflict as a surfer. Top two surfer mag and surfline have the typical masculine look of surfing mags, online and print. To be fair, surfer mag does have a pic of an actual girl, actually surfing, on its front page. One pic. However, the only pics of women I can see on surfline are babes in bikinis. Not surfing.

When I began surfing I was completely naive to all of this. I simply wanted to surf and enjoyed catching waves. When I got a little better, and surfed more often, I began to check out the occasional surfer mag. I actually may have purchased one. Or two. I was so very quickly turned off, and so very obviously excluded, that it really put me off the surfing culture.

There is very little space in surfing culture for women and girls here in New Zealand. This male dominated, with girls as eye candy, surfing media, has an impact on me as a woman surfer. When I’m out the back, watching the waves, I am anxious to some degree of the men around me. I feel like I don’t fit in, I am encroaching in their territory. When I was a beginner surfer I was so anxious I would even avoid them to the point of avoiding waves.

Now I’ve been surfing for about 5 years and I live at my favourite spot I don’t let them get between me and the waves. I have had a few occasions where I have caught a wave only to almost have a collision, with the guy telling me something along the lines of ‘I didn’t think you were going to get that one’. Why? Because I’m a woman? I always wonder.