Self-devouring growth

Self-devouring growth

This was the title of a talk by Prof Julie Livingstone from NYU at UCL the other week. I sometimes sign up for an event and am not sure exactly what I have signed up for. This was one of those events.

The talk turned out to be about Botswana. Professor Livingstone, is an anthropologist.  She looked at three aspects of Botswanan society, economy and culture – rainwater, beef and roads.

Water is a fairly limited and therefore precious commodity in Botswana. So much that it had an a quasi religious function. However governments in Botswana have tried to ensure that all citizens have adequate water. This has involved building dams. The dams either dry out or they flood.

The Okovango Delta is Botswana’s second most important source of earnings. It is now threatened. I think diamonds are the number one currency earner. They too are limited.

Water is one of a number of issues that cause political conflict. We have seen that political conflict does not seem to be handled very well in African countries – they system cannot cope with it.

People in Botswana spent much of the 20c hungry. However food is now over-abundant as in the West. This has led to a rise in the growth of diseases linked to bad diet – heart disease and cancer.

The attitude of Botswanan people to cattle has changed. The cow used to be sacred in their culture. People used to own cattle which were a source of wealth. Now two thirds of the population do not own any cattle at all. They used to only eat meat on special occasions. Now they eat beef all the time. The animals are now seen solely as beef. There are now vast slaughterhouses. There are mass culls of animals when they have outbreaks of animal diseases.

The cattle themselves have changed. The animals are more sedentary and they are much larger. They produce CO2 emissions. The beef industry creates a lot of waste. There are mass die off of animals.

And finally, she looked at roads. There has been a large increase in the amount of paved roads in the country since independence. There are more roads, more cars and more people commute. Many of the roads lead to slaughterhouses. Cattle wandering about cause accidents.

You need sand and gravel to build roads – both are finite resources. Desert sand cannot be used to make roads.  There is a black market in construction-grade sand.

The Japanese replace their cars every 3 years due to government regulation. These used cars are exported to Botswana and other countries in Africa. The cars will break down in Africa. They will be sent to landfill in Africa. Africa is not really equipped to deal with these problems effectively.

The used cars are paid for with credit. The credit industry is predatory. There are problems with people becoming trapped in debt which can lead to suicides.

After a slow start, I though the talk was quite interesting. I agree with her central these which is that there must be limits to growth. I personally drew the conclusion that concluded that trying to provide a western type lifestyle in say Botswana is not going to work. I also dont think that neo-liberalism is working well for us in the West. I think I assumed that the talk was about the west. But it seems to me that those of us who believe in de-growth, have to show that our current economic model is also self-devouring.

There has been 120 outbreaks of African Swine Fever in China. This had led to millions of pigs being slaughtered. It has not had a lot of coverage in our press.

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