I was standing outside the Victoria Terminus (VT) Station of Mumbai at 9 am with Professor Hikeda of Tokyo University. Professor Hikeda was researching on the subject of “urban crowding”.
A huge mass of human bodies was pouring out from the VT station. All bodies were walking briskly with not many “collisions” between them towards their destinations. Professor Hikeda was busy on his video recording the movement of bodies and speaking into his digital voice recorder taking his audio notes. “Reminds me of Tokyo – but the scale here is different”. He turned to me and said.
When I returned home, I started thinking about the human body and consumption. “Oh to keep these human bodies alive and in “motion”, there must be hell of a consumption” I said to myself.
Many of you know that every human produces an individual ecological footprint that is determined largely by the wealth and level of development in the country they live in. More developed countries have a larger footprint on average—but the choices we make in our daily lives about what to consume also makes a significant contribution. Driving a car, running clothes through a dryer, turning on the air conditioning—are the activities that add up to a larger footprint.
If everyone in the world lived like the residents of the US, humanity’s annual demand on nature is estimated to be equal to a whopping four Earths per year. And then there are several countries that have very low footprints that are poor in economy. In fact they are yearning for more consumption as they are undernourished and energy poor. “Basic” amenities and services are not available to them.
According to recent United Nations estimates, global population is increasing by approximately 80 million — the size of Germany — each year. Although birth rates have declined in most areas of the world, population growth continues to be fueled by high levels of fertility, particularly in Asia and Africa. Continued high birth rates in many developing regions, coupled with low fertility in more-developed regions, means that 80 percent of the global population now lives in less-developed nations.
See the chart below taken from the United Nations Development Programme (dated 2006) that attempts to link human well-being with ecological foot print.
The challenge of reducing our footprint is getting more complex every day. How do we decrease our resource use and at the same time create a future that provides food, water and energy for the 9 billion people that will share the planet in 2050? That’s the “sustainability equation” we are attempting to solve.
The goal is that everyone lives within the Earth’s capacity to sustain people and nature—and has equitable access to, and use of, natural resources.
When I asked this question to my Professor Friend, he lighted his cigar and said
“For the future footprints, the changes in the birth rates and the “dependency ratios” will matter. A dependency ratio is defined as the number of people over the age of 65 for each 100 people of working ages between 15 to 64”
I had not come across this term “dependency ratio”
“A recent forecast appeared in a November 2012 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The report is titled “Looking to 2060: Long-Term Global Growth Prospects”.
“And what does this report say?” I asked
“By 2060 Germany and Italy are expected to have dependency ratios above 55. The graph below shows estimates of “dependency ratios” of the Eurozone through 2060. So people in Europe will get older much faster before they become rich and overconsume. In 2010, China had just a dependency ratio of 11.3 but it is estimated that it will be in the same range as the US and UK in 2045. So there the surge in consumption will fall with tapering economic growth. The pace of change in countries such as China will make planning and adjustment of global resources much more difficult. The report says that more rapid aging of the population in China will partly explain why India and Indonesia will overtake China’s economic growth rate in less than a decade.
I said “So the underlying message is that a rise in the birth rates brings its own set of challenges in the form of an increased demand for resources such as food, energy, and water leading to high ecological footprints and affects the economic growth”
Professor summed up while extinguishing his cigar
“As quoted, a real dilemma is now taking shape: no growth in birth rates, then more dependency, less economic growth, and lower rises in standard of living. Or, growth in birth rate, more short term economic growth, and more pressure on resources necessary for a sustainable form of growth and improvement in standard of living”
I said “The sustainability equation will simply be jinxed!”
I started thinking about the human bodies, consumption that we need to do for living well and the birth and death cycles in the context of planets sustainability.
Since the matter had to be dealt at the highest level, I called Lords Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma on Skype and they answered my call immediately.
I saw that the Lords were working on a laptop along with Professor Jay Forester, father of System Dynamics and who used to teach at the MIT. They were busy adjusting the birth and death rates trying to tame Planets Population. I thought they were having fun like playing a mobile app game.
Professor Forester said Hi. He was showing the Lords how to plug in various “loss functions” like cyclones, earthquakes etc. and was introducing new sub-systems like “Climate Change”. He said that Climate Change will significantly alter the birth and death rates as well as the status on resource availability – rather resource security. “This sub-system will require more modelling” he said.
The Lords were thrilled to see such potential interventions and were wondering whether they could crack the difficult equation of sustainability using the tools and sub-systems.
I asked the Lords (and Professor Forester) – “My Lords – after the death on the Planet Earth – why don’t you keep souls with you at your end and don’t let them take birth again in human bodies. It’s the body that is becoming the problem. It leads to consumption and affects sustainability. The souls should rest in peace with you and simply not return. Won’t it help in reducing the birth rates?”
Lord Vishnu smiled and said “Dr Modak – we cannot keep every soul with us. There is a minimum qualification criteria that a soul must meet. The soul must be sensitive to people and to the environment and should be believing in doing good for everybody. Further the soul should be detached to the material world of consumption. Only then we reward such as soul and give them a place to stay with us”
I was shocked with this crazy logic.
“My Lord, shouldn’t it be reverse? All such good souls should be sent back to the Planet so that we attain sustainability. We badly need such good souls. You should keep the “bad souls” with you and do not let them return to the Planet Earth and take form in the human bodies”
The Lords and Professor Forester were stunned with my reverse logic.
I continued “Professor Forester – can you please run your System Dynamic model with this change?”
“You have an interesting point Dr Modak” Professor Forester said while starting the re-code and re-run of the model “I must try this alternate approach – at least for academic interest”
The three Lords were however not charmed with this idea.
“Oh Dr Modak, your jugglery with bodies and souls is fine for a discussion but you do not understand the Ultimate Truth” said Lord Vishnu.
With this, all the three Lords closed their lotus eyes in deep meditation. And there was a silence.
The Skype call was disconnected.
Cover image taken from http://bodymindsoulevents.com/
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