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Does religion affect population growth?

What is the connection between religion and population growth? The answer might surprise you: absolutely nothing. Well, according to Hans Rosling.

In his April 2012 TED-Talk, Rosling graphs the relationship between religion, income and children between zero and fifteen years olds. He shows that there is no connection between religion and babies, and that there is a much closer connection between:

1 – mortality rates and babies born ie the more likely a baby is to die, the more babies a mother will have.

2 – women’s education, employment opportunities and getting married older and the number of babies a mother will have.

It’s well worth watching:


Using a new medium of boxes – 1 per billion people – Rosling demonstrates why it is inevitable that humanity will reach 10 billion and hence all planning for food, water, housing etc, must be taking into account an additional 3 billion people.

This is an interesting point, though he made the same point pretty clear in his last talk. I’m curious about a few cultural and religions trends that don’t seem to be captured in this animated graph.

For example, in my 2010 visit to India it seems to me that the Indian women had so many babies not due to economic or mortality rates, but as due to their culture. More babies = higher status, at least for the women of lower incomes that I met. Culture isn’t religion but the large red dot that represented India showed a huge reduction in babies. That is, my local observation conflicts with this data. That being said UNICEF confirms that the fertility rate in 2010 in India was 2.6 [1], so I suppose it must be. I guess it depends how the US (who is the provider of the data) has collected it… I’ve asked a friend in India for their opinion and will post that when I hear from him.

Another point that has me a little wary is the connection between different religious laws/controls and birthrates. For example, if Catholicism continues a ban on birth control, surely that will have an affect on birth rates? This distinction is obviously absorbed by the joining together of all the denominations of Christianity under one banner.

Forgetting the detail for now let’s consider the big population question that seems to remain: will we stop at 10 billion?

Rosling makes it clear this will happen only if we:

1 – rid the world of absolute poverty in a way that empowers people/nations to stay out of it

2 – address the various forms of violence that are preventing child survival rates

3 – provide access to child planning

4 – continue to die off when we are 65+ at the same rates as the past, i.e. not using medicine to continue to make us live longer, or preserve our brains in robotic bodies…

Will this happen? Well if you look at the world today you’d probably say no and predict the population increasing far beyond 10 billion. However if something happens to change this eg (following the order of above) we:

1 – reverse neo-liberalist policy that make the “3rd world” provide us cheap raw materials and labour

2 – we find non-violent ways to resolve political, tribal and personal conflicts

3 – the pope embraces condoms (kidding, well sort-of kidding… global family planning does require the spread of condoms)

4 – we realize death ain’t that scary and using medicine to make us live forever ain’t a good aim

So to conclude, while Rosling’s talk is all good in theory and proves the minimum population we can stabilize at is 10 billion, I do wonder about how valid the statistics and analysis are in practice… love to hear your thoughts.




Getting real: promising population stats & pending challenges

Hans Rosling gives an illuminating TedTalks presentation on one of my greatest ecological concerns: over-population.


Let each box = 1 billion people.

In 1960 it was relatively accurate to divide the world into the “First World” and “Third World”, the “rich” and the “poor”, the “developed world” and “developing world” or the Centre and Periphery.

In 1960 we were 3 billion people. The blue was the 1 billion at the top of the pyramid, dreaming of buying a car and a dishwasher. The green were the 2 billion at the bottom of the pyramid, saving for a pair of shoes and trying to feed their families.

In 50 years much has changed. 3 billion has turned into 7 billion. 4 more boxes have been added to the table.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, (the BRIC nations), are rising up. While the 1 billion blue affluent people now take planes to remote destinations for holidays, another green box of 1 billion people are buying cars, and 3 green boxes equating to 3 billion people are buying bicycles. We still have the 2 billion at the bottom looking for food, and saving for a pair of Havaianas. So an extra 4 billion in the middle mean a wider “gap” but that is filled in with a massive middle-class majority. Maybe we’d think of them as “Second World” or “semi-periphery” nations, or nations within nations seeing as the spread of income within nations also varies greatly.

So comes our familiar (and what I consider to be quite a horrifying) graph:

Now unless we want the whole world to look like the suburbs of Mumbai (no offense to my Indian friends who live there, but it really is a horribly over-populated loud dirty chaotic city), we can’t grow at this exponential rate forever…

Rosling gives a realistic picture:

Only 2 more boxes, 2 billion more people, bringing us up to a grand total of 9 billion. And I guess ideally, eventually, all those boxes are stacked on top of one another at the far right, enjoying their holidays all around the world.

Ho hum, and how is this, pray tell, going to come about?

Many, including Rosling, predict that the formula for a stabilizing population is to decrease poverty. A little family education for women and contraception availability (along with motivating men to wear it and Catholics to allow it) also helps. Apparently this is what the statistics say, loud and clear, so let’s go with it.

With poverty as it stands in 2010, with 2 billion at the bottom, by 2050 this 2 billion will be 4 – hence the 4 boxes on top of one another.

In order to stabilize population at 9 billion, these 4 billion people NEED to be out of absolute poverty – they need to be able to afford food and shoes, and be dreaming of bicycles and cars. If not by 2070 they’ll turn into 8 billion, bringing us up to 17 billion.

Following this line of thinking I see two questions that are imperative for anyone who doesn’t want to share the planet with another 16,999,999,999 people. These are:

  1. How are we going to ensure those 4 billion are in shoes and getting on bicycles by 2050?
  2. What can be done so that the 5 billion humans driving cars and flying planes don’t pollute the planet & exploit the non-renewables so much that all 9 billion don’t end up back at square one, scavenging off the left-overs from today’s greed?

Hm, tough questions, did I hear someone mention mining the moon and moving to Mars?

Population Vs. luxury… QUALITY OR QUANTITY?

“On the technical side there is no limit to population,” said a scholar after talking about solving world hunger. “We just need more efficient systems, and for the rich to eat less.” This may be true, BUT the greater question (in my opinion) is: Do we want more people living “simply” in a crowded place, or less people living lives of luxury?

“The population of the poor isn’t the problem,” so the idealists (like I used to be) say… “We actually need less white people.”

Given the ecological footprint of the one billion in rich industrialised countries compared to the six billion in non-industrial countries, this statement speaks some truth. But I’m not so sure that decreasing the population of white people will solve our ecological predicament.

I realise the basic solution is suggested to be the connection between income, education and birthrates. The more money people have, the more educated people get, the less children women want… and this will (somehow magically) stop the population at around 10 billion… but will it?

Just because a majority of white people have chosen to have less children as they get richer, largely because we have fallen for consumerist ideals and the economic slave system that supports this, does not mean that people in other cultures are going to respond to wealth in the same way. I’m not an anthropologist but it seems rather presumptuous to think we can understand people of other cultures, and predict how these people will react to education and money.

In the last two hundred years we have allowed one billion people to be become almost seven billion, and almost six of those billion have not been educated or had money. What will they do when they are educated or have money? In China as they get more money, they build more, buy more cars and have more children, not less of them.

“Human rights are meaningless without ecological rights,” said another one of the speakers. This seems to be getting closer to the real issue. Surely there are limits??? EVENTUALLY, when the planet has 5 billion, or 50 billion, there’s going to have to be some sort of population controls implemented – so why not be proactive and do it NOW, before there are even more ridiculous numbers of us?

How? I don’t know… I guess through some kind of recognition of collective responsibility and gaining momentum in a collective desire to make the world the place we want it to be. Should that involve some legalities that compromise individualistic human rights? In my opinion, yes. I think the future of life-on-earth as a whole is more important than us as individual humans having a right to choose the number of children we are going to have.

What do you think?

What’s more important: quality of life, or quantity of lives?

Greed: the JOY of having more than you need… Taoism and more about that frickin elephant.

I used to think we could all be less greedy – that if we wanted less “stuff” we would be happier, and some of that wealth would be shared with the poor. Apparently this simple shift has the power to end world hunger – the rich do with less, so the poor can have more. More recently I have realised that when I contemplate greed I have been wondering if it is actually a human problem that we have the ability to change? Or is greed simple a part of all life’s struggle to survive?

In a universe that (at least at present) is constantly expanding, getting more and more complex, and consuming more and more space, could greed be a universal constant? Is greed embedded in our DNA?

Check out this greedy monkey!


Maybe greed is so deep in our nature, it’s not something that can be fought? Maybe we humans are just greedy monkeys, so we just have to accept ourselves and allow greed to be?

If we accept greed, and hence accept that humans will always want more and better, should we give up on dealing with this elephant? While reading a book on religions in Nepal, I noted a Taoist teaching: “DO NOT QUIT”. So let us take their advice, and continue.

Also in Nepal, I met some travelers who were happily living a nomadic non-attached way of life.

“Money will come when, and if, I need it,” the cool collected hippy explained. She had been traveling for over 15 years or more, living on nothing yet living in abundance. “When you are traveling cheap you really don’t need much.” At $3 a roof over your head, and $2 for a massive meal, you are talking $1500 a year, so if you spent a few years working to save up $100,000 you could retire for life. We really don’t need much to survive. Especially if, like this hippy’s neighbor, you paraglide from place to place! Now that’s seriously  “following the wind”. And no footprint whatsoever.

“Desire nothing, enjoy everything.I think there is something in this Buddhist-approach to life – I definitely prefer life when I’m not fussing over money.

But how about non-attachment to other things? Do we really want to give up our desires?

Isn’t some attachment is what life is all about? Isn’t it the desire for something we don’t have, what keeps us going?

Be it attachment to people you love, attachment to a job you enjoy, attachment to a computer that carries hours upon hours worth of writing on it, or attachment to life itself, I’m not so sure I want to let that part of life go… There is something to be said for life’s dynamism – for the highs and lows, for the enjoyment that comes from pain and fear that adjoins attachment – it keeps things interesting. A life lived completely without attachment may contain no suffering, but it also (in my opinion) doesn’t contain much joy.

Of this book on religion the Taoist philosophies really resonated with me, mainly because Taoism values the opposites, the ups and downs, the yin and yang, rather than wishing them away. Taoists describe“Ziran” – state of “self-so” which means living in a state of being that ‘allows things and circumstances to unfold’. I really like this idea – connecting to everything, and allowing the most desirable scenarios manifest in reality.

Taoists describe the universe as our body, and the universe our nature; and they recommend we ‘keep in mind both the manifested and the unrevealed sides of the ultimate reality’ – I like these ideas too. We know the many things we know, but we must never forget there is SO SO SOOOO MUCH THAT WE DO NOT, AND CANNOT KNOW.

According to the Taoists, ‘The Way” is found in balance, in knowing what is enough – and they say that learning to say “enough” is achieved through an ‘intuitive observation of oneself and the universe’.

Coming back to my question from yesterday: can Buddha help us deal with the elephant in the room? Can finding inner peace help us do something about the population problem? I guess feeling peaceful inside ourselves can open the channels to creative solutions (like that magic biodegradable bag they put my underwear in), so I wonder, if we combine this with the idea of learning how to say “enough”, can we start to shrink the elephant?


References on Taoism:

Bede Bidlock, Why I Am A Believer: Personal Reflections On Nine World Religions – edited by Arvind Sharma (2007) p.200.

Can Buddha help us deal with the elephant?

I am starting to understand what Buddha meant when he said all life is suffering. No matter which financial situation you are born into, we always want more. It is very rare we reach a stage where we happily say “enough”. The more chocolate I have, the more chocolate I want. The more countries I go to, the more countries I want to go to. The more money I have the bigger apartment I can get, the better the car, the more vintage the scooter, the more designer the clothes, the better quality the beauty products, the more fancy dinners etc etc. Sorry Ecclesiastes quotes are in my head at the moment – 6:7 says “A man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied.” I think you could say that is pretty much on the money – things haven’t changed much in the last 2-3000 years.

When it comes to dealing with the elephant in the room (the world population), it would seem it is largely due to an inability for humans to say enough (be it enough children or enough consumption of products that harm our environment), that means that eradicating poverty will eradicate humanity, if we are still the billions we are today.

As I see it we have few options. Either:

1. we accept that billions of people will always live in poverty and allow them to continue creating more and more billions of people to live in poverty (given that those people living in poverty don’t have much of an ecological footprint so while they stay in poverty there isn’t really a problem). Or,

2. we somehow get rid of a few billion people (I’m not inferring not overnight, but thinking some kind of population control with a 100 year plan would be a good start). Or,

3. we suicide of our species (seeing as it doesn’t seem possible for 7 billion people we grow to to live the American lifestyle without destroying our habitat, let alone 10 or 50 or whatever ridiculous number of billion people we allow ourselves to grow to).

I really don’t like any of these options, not one bit.

Surely there are alternatives??? I wonder if Buddha can help?

Buddha observed that greed, anger and hatred were the root causes of the world’s problems. He thought that these three evils were rooted in ignorance about what will make us happy, and that solutions come from non-attachment, from meditating into a state of inner peace, and changing the attitudes that were causing the violence in the first place.

Does this help with the population problem?

I suppose monks don’t have sex so if we all became Buddhist monks that might help – but that’s no more appealing than the first three options.

I guess Buddha’s suggestions do seem to be pointing us toward a less materialistic lifestyle, which means less consumption and less planetary damage, so maybe there is something practical we can learn from it.

The problem with a solution the comes from decreasing consumption, is that for our economy this equates to a dead economy, no jobs, and a downward spiral into depression... I heard from my Opa about depressions, eating rosebuds to stay alive. Nope, don’t like that option either…

One of the best solutions I have come across is the suggestion that GOOD DESIGN can solve all the worlds problems. We need to find ways to consume in ways that don’t harm our environment: designing products and housing that don’t do any damage, setting up more efficient agriculture and trade systems, and consuming more equally around the world. Maybe we don’t have to cut our consumption – we can just learn to consume in different ways?

The exciting thing about this is that a few days ago, while doing a little lingerie shopping, I discovered it is already happening!!! Check out this Simone Perele biodegradable bag. I bought underwear from three shops and put it all in this little bag.


How good is that!!! With a little ingenuity maybe humans change the world. I’m definitely liking the sound of this option…

BUT do more efficient, non-polluting systems and more ecological product designs actually address the elephant in the room?

Will these systems remain ecologically sustainably when 7 billion become 70 billion? And what about 700 billion? Where do you draw the line? And if you don’t draw a line and implement some kind of population control, what will ever cause people to stop having so many babies?

I know there are predictions that the population will stop at 10 billion – but I don’t understand the logic behind it. Just because western countries have bought into the “have less children because children are too expensive” idea, doesn’t mean that other civilisations, as they develop, will culturally adapt in the same way. If a culture values having ten children, why will having enough food to feed them not make them have twenty? Maybe it will, but I’m not convinced.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” – said Gandhi.

I think this is true but I wonder: is greed something that will ever disappear? I’m not so sure. To be continued…

Note on the picture:

I am not actually sure if this is Buddha – I think it’s a Hindu god – if anyone knows, please let me know. I took this in Kathmandu, Nepal and am too lazy to find a better pic to suit this entry.

Coming to grips with the elephant in the room

I knew I would leave India with a new perspective of life – but the upturning of my worldview has happened in a far different way than I expected. I thought I would arrive home more passionate about social justice, more inspired to make a difference to the lives of “poor” people. Instead I am leaving India with a hardened heart, more humility, and an increased concern for the future of humanity as a whole. Why? Because the population problem, the elephant in the room, is far too big a problem to ignore. And I simply cannot see a solution to this problem.

Before I went to India, as those of you who have read older blog entries would know, I quite idealistically analysed the global inequalities and blamed war and poverty on western greed.

I looked at these graphs of population growth by economy and region, and blamed the population growth on western development.

population by incomeWhy does the population of poor and developing countries suddenly increase in 1940s, and high income countries only increase a little?

population by region

What is going on in Asia???

In my mind, the population had increased so much since WW2 simply because of the design of the global capitalist system. Post-development scholars criticise the global system for being miperialistically geared to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, with the raw materials bought for nothing and sold for billions and so making the rich richer and the poor poorer. I went a step further. It made sense to me that a larger population in developing countries equates to cheap labour, which means cheaper computers, phones, TVs, clothes, cars, chocolate etc. For a government subject at uni I analysed the power-distribution of the system, observing that it is the rich and powerful capitalists who pull the strings behind governments, the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, and other peak bodies. The rich and powerful capitalists I equated to anyone whose lives are not run by debt – those who have shares in companies, money in the bank, superannuation funds, own property without mortgages, own their own business etc. In particular it was the wealthiest of the wealthy – the people who own the banks themselves.

I thought education was the solution. Not education of the poor people, but education of the rich. I thought that if each of us understood the connection between our shopping habits and the mass workers, the connection between our consumption and our future environment, and that the roots of these to problems lay in the capitalist dream: to accumulate more money, then we would begin to move toward a more socially just and environmentally sustainable system.

I thought that the motivation to change our systems would come from a “new dream” that started with rediscovering the connection with our planet, so that we each come to prioritise the whole ecosystem that we are a part of, over and above our individual selfish desires. I thought that this would come from an understanding of Big History, coming to identify ourselves as part of the process of our Universe expanding and increasing in complexity (or what many, including myself, personify as “God”) .

Now, well, now I realize that the answers to the world’s problems are not that simple. There are far deeper roots to this systematic problem than western greed. It seems to me, in this moment in time, that the global system is NOT a simple cause and effect situation with western greed causing global poverty.

For one, inequality is not just a problem in today’s global system, it has always been a problem. Secondly, inequality’s root problem – greed – is not a western problem but is a human problem, a life problem. Thirdly, poverty has cultural, religious and historical roots that have nothing to do with the global system. The caste system existed in India before the British arrived. The caste system is thousands of years old and while Gandhi may have officially abolished it, culture is stronger than law. In India this caste system keeps poor poor and the rich rich, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with global capitalism.

Capitalists may benefit from the fact that China and India are over-populated, and hence human labour is cheap, but capitalists are not standing over these people telling them to have more babies.

Sure there’s the tiny motivational factor of more children equals more money, but talking to Indians at different income levels it seemed to be the cultural aspects (tradition, the values placed on family, lack of entertainment etc) that are behind the population explosion over and above their desire to make money from them. If women get married at 10 and have babies the rest of their life, for cultural reasons over and above any monetary motivation, how can poverty ever be addressed? It is their own actions which perpetuate their poverty and cause the inequalities of the global system to continue.

Should capitalists stop benefiting from cheap labour? That would only mean these people have less job opportunities… that’s not going to help. What if they pay them a little extra, that is, change to a “fair trade” system? This may help a few lives but when people are willing to work for less, because working for less is better than working for nothing, how can such a “fair” system be sustained? How is it “fair” if some people have jobs paying fair wages, while the rest of the billions have no job at all?

Fair trade or free trade, escaping poverty is a choice that people in the situation will collectively have to make for themselves. And unfortunately eradicating poverty requires doing something about that frickin big elephant staring everyone in the face. What? I have NO IDEA. Could this be why so many yogis and religious leaders advise to withdraw from the world and look for peace inside?

And so my worldview crisis…

As a result of the fear that comes from this lack of solutions, the altruistic side that used to dominate my mind is becoming more self-centered: what future do I want for the future generations that spring from the people I love? My previous almost disdain for wealth, thinking all money was intrinsically connected to a corrupt system, is turning into an appreciation of it. Work hard, work smart, then share and enjoy your earnings with your family and friends… what’s so bad about that?

Let’s face it, animal, plant, or human; black, white or in between; this is ultimately life’s instinctive purpose: to live as long as we can, and create offspring to continue our work when we die. That’s why we choose the partners we choose to mate with. That’s why we fight the wars we fight. That’s why we work so hard to buy a house and establish systems of governance, education and business. SELF-PRESERVATION and PROCREATION.

India has given me a new appreciation for the work my ancestors – for their efforts to create a world so good for us, their children. Maybe their methods weren’t so peaceful, with inquisitions, colonialism and imperialism, but let’s face it: it’s not only our ancestors who have done this and if it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else. Before the British invaded India, it was the Moghuls, and before that it was other nations from Central Asia. The British were far from the first, and it is highly unlikely they will be the last.

My experiences in India have left me thinking that if the wealthy of the world did suddenly decide to spread their wealth, to educate the billions in poverty and create a socially-just system; the peace it would create would probably be short-lived and soon all the densely populated places like India would spread to populate the rest of the world. My favourite city would become just like my least favourite, and so would every other city in the world.

I realise my perspective is becoming incredibly selfish, but I do not want people sleeping and dying on our streets; I do not want people trying to rip me off on street corners; I do not want to be living in a dirty, polluted, noisy, over-populated place. In short, I do not want to see Sydney turn into Mumbai. 

According to if we continue at our present rates, our population will be over 11 billion by 2035!!! And what then, will Australia still be sitting there with it’s 21 million people? I don’t think so. With Australia’s rivers drying up there just ain’t enough water for everyone. Nor infrastructure, or systems for food, housing, anything…

And so I worry, might my passionate pursuits  to make a more socially just world bring the extinction of my own culture, my country’s wealth and the life style, and all the opportunities our ancestors dedicated their lives to deliver?

While our own culture is no where near perfect, with its insatiable desires and materialistic emptiness, western culture has A LOT to offer: freedom; the scientific quest for knowledge; the creativity that comes from competition; the opportunities for individualistic pursuits. It would be a big shame to lose it in place of an overpopulated communistic uncreative mess.

Think about it, if income was distributed evenly, will the 2 billion women of child-bearing age suddenly decide not to have babies? And, if the wealthy were to even out the income, my new lack-of-faith-in-humanity makes it seem realistic to assume that another group of people would rise up and the same cycles of violence would begin just with a new group of rich and powerful. And, even if this didn’t happen, how long would it take before we would run out of resources (seeing as ecological economists say 10 planets would be required for all people of the world to live an American lifestyle)? Does this mean, simply in attempt to better the lives of people with less money today, all of humanity will die out? I’m sorry, but I don’t think this would be good for anyone involved.

Okay, okay, calm down Juliet, calm down. As you can see there is a lot going through my head. Out of fear I’m becoming defensive. I’m guess I’m still culture-shocked, and struggling to comprehend the reality of our global situation. It’s one thing to see population in a graph but it’s a different kettle of fish to see it with your own eyes. When one’s mind connects such a mess to projections of possible futures for earth and humanity it’s really quite a confusing and scary topic.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

  • If you consider population control then what about human rights?
  • If you don’t control the population then what do you do about the billions living in poverty?
  • If you bring people out of poverty then you destroy the planet for everyone.

Now I understand why overpopulation has been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

My conclusion: “Elephant? What elephant??? I don’t see it either!”

Follow up thoughts six years later… February 2016

I received a comment that drew my attention back to this post and I thought I should revisit the “elephant in the room” in light of some things that I have learned since 2010, and some things that have changed in the world during this time.

I deleted a paragraph that a commenter interpreted as bordering on racism. It’s difficult: one’s views can be taken out of context and considered unchanging, so what if someone looks at that and starts thinking I’m racist? That being said I think everyone is “a little bit racist”, in some ways, and we go overboard trying to be politically correct – sometimes at the cost of honesty, and being able to speak one’s mind.

I value difference – I value different cultures and peoples, and I think it is important to avoid imperialism, and other forces, taking away from our beautiful diversity – unless in the opportunity for self-determination people choose to change and evolve in ways they want to change, integrating parts of other cultures. It is just as dangerous to romanticise a culture and group of people, and want them to stay the same, as it is to attempt to interfere and change them. A people should be able to choose for themselves how their culture evolves.

Australia has and is committing devastating human rights abuses against people seeking help from and refuge in our country, and I do not in any way condone this. Hence my deleting a paragraph that may have been interpreted as supporting Australia’s immigration policies. I don’t. I think the White Australia Policy was shocking, as has been every  In the context of someone in their twenties having a rant it was not racist, but as something that might be attributed to me later in life, not so good.

In my mind at that time, battling with the confronting nature of my own experiences in the chaotic suburbs of Mumbai in contrast to the affluent bubble of Sydney, I saw some of the need for a strict immigration policy. My current opinion is that it is important to have a smart and humane immigration policy – one that sees the value in each person’s life, and works creatively to find space for them in the many parts of our country that are crying out for higher populations. And one that is linked ot foreign aid and international relations policies, helping to remedy past and current wrongs of Western civilisation that are at root of many wars and problems in the countries people have fled.

There are three messages that I want to add on to this blog entry:

  1. With regard to insights into India’s population – I learned a great deal on this from Vandana Shiva on her visit to Sydney in 2014. It had continued to puzzle me why India’s population increased so dramatically when it did. Dr Shiva attributes this to colonialism and the removing of peasants from land, which created uncertainty and instability, which led to people having more children.
  2. Furthermore Dr Shiva taught me that the caste system was not in the same negative form that one might interpret it today – Dr Shiva believes this has been reinterpreted by the West in a negative light, where it used to be more about division of roles and labour than hierarchy. It was a structure for society that worked, made sense.
  3. Possibilities for stabilising global population, lifting everyone out of poverty and living in harmony with our planet do exist, and all three must go together. We, especially those with the money and positions to do so, need to invest and support investment by our governments into çradle-to-cradle design and renewable energy technologies that offer ways in which humanity can live without destroying the planet. We also need to build support for various structural changes and restrictions e.g. on how much corporations can pollute, who pays for pollution and wastes, etc. If we can learn to live in ways that do not destroy the earth, then perhaps a large human population isn’t such a problem.

I’d like to add a final note about the changing nature of opinions. My views are constantly changing, and I hope that anything read on this blog can be understood in context that it was written by a person growing up, learning, and wanting to discuss different views and perspectives – all which I see as constantly changing through such a dialogical process.

I see the world in a very different way to what I did six years ago, particularly at this point in time where I’d found India so confronting. I leave this blog entry up here as I believe the process of changing our views, of thinking through the hard questions, of having a rant about contending ideas, is a valuable part of conversations necessary for addressing such problems and moving toward more ecological and peaceful futures.

So please do not judge me by the post above, but please use it as food for thought, for better understanding your own positions, which are too also likely to be developing and changing through time as the context for your ideas and expanding sphere of learning and influence also changes. Thank you!

Picture credits:

The Elephant in the Room – my own attempt at photoshopping a photo of an elephant from Taronga Zoo into my Opa’s sunroom.

Population graphs – wiki-commons

Good links found here –

Chapter 2 – One Country, Many Worlds

There seems to be a great reverence for Gandhi throughout India. His face features on every rupee note, and his philosophy and practice of non violence gained a mention in almost every Indian speaker’s presentation at the conference. “Truth is God”, said Gandhi, dedicating his life to it. “You will not have peace, unless you love the truth,” said one of the speakers.

While I was relieved my presentation was over, I did take away a number of fantastic messages from the conference. My favourite was from an academic from Nigeria who made the point that “peace begins with mothers” – when a child is brought up in a peaceful environment, they will not divert from peaceful values. “When you have peace in the home, you will have peace in the country, and peace in the world.”

“The world is getting smaller, our horizons must get larger.” “A peace army requires peace weapons, not weapons of war. What are peace weapons? Love, service, fate, prayer from all the religions, and truth.” “We need to do more than respect diversity – we need to celebrate it.” “The corporatisation of religion is the problem, not the religion itself. The problem starts when one’s identity is consumed by it. The dogmatic authoritative beliefs are not innate – they are placed there.” “Violence is not an action – it is a response, a reaction.” “Our aim should not be to gain victory, but to come to mutual understanding.” (Just to name a few of my favourite quotes of the day. I will have to wait till the papers are released to attribute them to the scholars appropriately).

Having filled up on yet another large buffet lunch of Indian cuisine and sweet desserts, my new friend Sunny (nickname for Mrinal) introduced me to his girlfriend Varsha who was about to go shopping with his mum. Let’s face it shopping in a new city with local girls is an offer no girl in their right mind would miss. So I decided to play hooky from the last couple of hours of ceremonial peace conference, and jump in Varsha’s car.

“No seatbelt,” Varsha reminded me as I searched for something to tie me to the car before we hit my least favourite streets in our world.

Cities always transforms the second you are seeing it through the eyes of a local. What was scary and horrifying is normalized and shrugged off. The air-conditioned car seemed to block out the sound of the honks, leaving my senses free to peer out and observe, relaxed and (relatively) safe. My friend played dodgem cars with ease, chatting to me while she honked her horn yet still retaining her lady-like manner.

As I watch the streets I noticed that alongside cows, it’s the dogs that live the good life. They own and roam the streets, seemingly more intelligent and free than half the population. Cows have it even better. And I see why: it’s all in the eyes. No body in their right mind messes with the cow.

At a shop, a pretty and very petite Indian sales girl who looks younger than my 13 year old sister communicates and commands attention of someone much older. Curiosity gets the better of me – I have to know, so I ask. She is 22, and married. “That’s what happens when they don’t get enough nutrition as a child,” my friend explains. She was tiny – in every way. There she is, without enough food, and here I am, with every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner, a smorgasbord at my finger tips. I look down at my own growing belly. In three days I’ve put on weight already – I can see it. As if I needed to do that after the last few months of ankle sprains and chocolate binges while writing and editing and sitting on my ass. Each day at the conference I eat a big lunch thinking I won’t eat dinner, and then friends insist I come with them for more food and drink. Each bite is enjoyable yet brings me one step closer to the well-known proudly rounded Indian body shape – well at least it’s the body shape of the wealthy anyway.

They may be a conservative crowd – I have been warned that showing one’s shoulders or legs being a big no no – but when it comes to big bulging stomachs that’s the one thing you let loose from your dress. Midriffs show like Britney in the nineties but while Britney’s abs (back then) were quite a pleasant site for the eyes, I’m not sure I can say the same about the women I see on the streets. There is something to be said for not caring, for being proud of what you have got, and not being obsessed with one’s weight. It may be healthier for the mind, but I highly doubt it is healthy for the body. And it is definitely not for me.

After an afternoon of shopping, my new friends invite me to a small Indian wedding that is a couple of hours from the city. I readily agree – everyone knows to never turn down an invitation to an Indian wedding. This one is small, only around one to two hundred people. My friends, on the other hand, estimate theirs will be huge. By huge I mean around 2000 people!!! His father is well known. There will be many international guests. And I will be invited… wahooo! But it won’t be till later this year, or next… that and invitations to Turkey and Nigeria are setting me up for another interesting trip.

As we drove to the wedding, I looked out at the huts and clothes and people sleeping at the side of a massive highway. “Why has the population gone from 200 million to 1 or 2 billion since the British arrived?” I asked my friend.

“Many reasons,” he said, “lack of education for one.”

“That’s the reason they always give. But what did the British do to change their education? Surely it should have been rising just as fast before the British?”

“India used to be a rich country. Actually it is still a rich country, only it is inhabited by far more poor people than rich,” he started to explain. “Poverty has never been so bad. The worse the poverty, the worse the education, and the more children. People have children because they think it will bring them more money. And then children don’t go to school because they have to work for their parents. Not to mention lack of entertainment – the more poor you are, the more you rely on sex and of course they don’t use contraception so… Also the religion and old caste system doesn’t help. Girls in lower castes get married as young as 8 years old, and start having babies at 12. And then there’s the face that medicines are brought to the villages, so people live longer. Oh and there’s the prostitution cycles – children are basically bred for the sex trade.”

The whole situation is heartbreaking. The population is incomprehensible. Officially sitting around one billion, with others making estimates it’s now around two. And here I am looking at it through the closed glass window of my friend’s air-conditioned car, driven by a chauffeur who has his own wife and children but who I am sure is more than grateful for his job and the generosity my friend gives him.

There are two worlds here: rich and poor. The poor work for the rich and the rich, I suppose, work for the richer. The gap is incomprehensible, and seemingly unfixable. You are born where you are born, and you deal with it. It’s your karma. Apparently. If you are in the lowest class, getting paid pittence to do any job you can, it’s your own fault. You did it to yourself – last lifetime or the one before. Maybe you killed a mosquito. Now you will pay for it. Bullocks yes. But it does make it easier to accept one’s blessed or cursed fate. When did the caste system start? Did it arrive when the Persians invaded? Or was it already in place before that? Questions for me to research when I get home and have more internet time.

As I sit in the car watching, my heart breaks again and again. It is so so sad and so so hard to accept. The most painful wound is the stabbing guilt in my stomach adjoined to the constant feeling of relief and gratefulness that I am sitting on this side of the window.

“What’s that smell?” I ask, as we stop for my friend to buy cigarettes.

“It comes from the sea,” she explains. “The evaporation of the sanitary deposits that are made far too close to the city. During monsoon, the smell gets worse.” Note to self: avoid monsoon at all costs.

The wedding was great – full of incredible costumes and strange and wonderful traditions.


We were tired and seeing as weddings ceremonies go on forever, we called it a night and drove home.

Bright and early the next morning, Sonny picked me up and with my camera in hand I saw the more touristy side to the city.


Now that’s a lot of mangoes!


Coconut water was good. Not as good as Brazil (to be brutally honest), but still very good.

DSC_0107Apparantly a speeding fine equates to a 100 rupee bribe, that is, $2. Damn it, wish we had corrupt cops in Australia.


Cadbury is one of those companies that everyone claims as their own. I thought it was Aussie chocolate, Sonny thought it was Indian, but Google tells me it’s British. Go figure.


This building is being built by the richest guy in the world, or one of the top three richest people in the world (I think my friends said.) Pretty impressive but imagine the great view of the slums – all those people your wealth could help…




Gateway of India – “Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their imperial majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the second of December MCMXI” – it’s beautiful but not such a nice memory for Indians, right? I wonder why it still draws so many tourists?


Feeding corn to the birds. Obviously.


You all know I’m a big Shanatarm fan… so Leopolds was a must!


Sorry about the blur of my new backpacker friends met while sipping beer and chowing down chicken but the lighting in this shot shows Leopolds more than my other shots.


This boy had only one leg. He doesn’t look it in this photo but he was very happy to have his photo taken. And he wasn’t begging. God bless.


Sonny allowed this man, who spoke very good English and had come from the country to the city to find a job but failed, to polish his shoes. The man asked for only 10 rupees, and while chatting to him Sonny learned that if he had a special shoe-box this man could stand in a busier location by the train station and get far more customers.

“How much would a shoe box cost?” he asked.

“150 rupees,” the man answered. When Sonny handed him a hundred rupees he was gob-smacked and tried to hand it back. Sonny insisted and eventually the man gratefully and graciously accepted.

“That’s a better way to give,” Sonny explained. “Help people on an individual level, and help them have jobs not beg.” True, true, true.


Alina and Joel, our new friends from Leopolds, stayed with us for the rest of the day. After markets and KFC, a glass of Rose in his apartment and a frantic shopping spree we dropped in to a last-minute invitation to a bollywood party. Free booze and more delicious buffet food – served around midnight by a stunning pool that due to my flash you can’t see is behind us. What a day!

I want to say a very special thank you to Mrinal whose unmatchable hospitality and generosity caused me to love a city I first hated. And thank you to Varsha and your family too. Thank you so much.

Living too long and popping too many babies

Today I’m doing a little report for my Dad’s business which is in the Aged Care sector. And I tell you what – I’m learning some VERY interesting (and frightening) facts along the way…

“Around two million Australians are aged 70 years or older. That’s 9 percent of our population. Four per cent of the population are over 80 years of age. The proportion of Australia’s population aged over 70 is expected to rise to 13 per cent by 2021 and to 20 percent (around 5.7 million people) by 2051.” (Australian Bureau of Statistics)

In other words:

In forty years, one-fifth of the Australian population are going to be over 70.

And the ageing population isn’t scary enough for you, put it in this context:

The world population that has gone from 900 MILLION to almost 7 BILLION – in just 200 years!!!

According to the US government census report the current populations of the US and the world are:

U.S. 308,530,840

World 6,797,902,065

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on 22 January 2010 at 12:25:31 PM (Canberra time), the resident population of Australia is projected to be:


This projection is based on the estimated resident population at 30 June 2009 and assumes growth since then of:

  • one birth every 1 minute and 45 seconds,
  • one death every 3 minutes and 40 seconds,
  • a net gain of one international migrant every 1 minute and 51 seconds leading to
  • an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 11 seconds.

    By the close of this century we could have reached a whopping 14 billion – well that’s the UN’s “high” estimate… (see graph above.)

    What I really don’t understand about the “medium” and “low” estimates is what they think will cause people to stop having babies.

    Sure in the rich west we are slowing down, discovering the joys of life without children…

    But what sign is there that the third world are going to stop popping out their five or six per woman?

    In a world where (as a by product of being integrated into an unjust system created by the West) their quality of life is getting worse – why would they suddenly give up their source of joy – their desire to have a big family?

    It’s not like they are going to be brought out of poverty any time soon seeing as (very unfortunately) our system is intentionally designed to keep them poor. Don’t believe me? Think that maybe the wealth will trickle down, bring them out of poverty and then they will stop having babies? Then consider the fact that under the current system, reducing poverty to a state where the poorest receive $3 per day, ‘an impossible 15 planets’ worth of biocapacity’ equivalent to our earth would be required. (says Andrew Simms, the policy director of the New Economics Foundation in London in New Scientist article ‘Trickle-Down Myth’ 18 Oct 2008 – p. 49)

    In other words ‘we will have made Earth uninhabitable long before poverty is eradicated.’

    Ok – this has led me far too far into distractionville and procrastinationville. I’m supposed to be doing the report for my Dad on Aged Care but have spend the last two hours thinking and writing about fleas… (see next entry)… Ok, now back to work Juliet – back to work NOW.