January 28, 2014
In a recent article published by Quartz titled, “Bill Gates predicts there will be almost no poor countries by 2035” Microsoft philanthropists, Bill and Melinda Gates, conjecture in an annual letter to their foundation that worldwide poverty will be largely eradicated by 2035. They list three myths about poverty that can be overcome but do not address a stark reality that, unless confronted, makes efforts to deal with these myths ultimately fruitless in the long term. The Gates’ have good intentions. However, their efforts and goals will be largely impeded and blighted if they do not account for the impending resource crises and its implications in their thinking.
In addition to the “Inconvenient Truth” of global warming, there are a number of “Other Inconvenient Truths” that comprise an “Inconvenient Triad”, or super nexus. The super nexus consists of societal needs for economic and environmental sustainability, economic and population expansion, and simultaneous resources needs. These trends will begin to act collectively in a negatively synergistic manner to the detriment of human civilization if left unchecked. One consequence is skyrocketing resource costs which threaten the very fabric of societal functionality.
Societies which are cataloged as impoverished are likely to function at relatively low levels of technological sophistication. So what are the implications of this statement? It means that when a society is raised out of poverty, its level of technological functionality is also likely raised. It has been shown that societies which operate at increased technological levels also have increased resource demands per capita which are required to maintain societal functionality. For example, in the early 1970s, Cook indicated (Scientific American, September, 1971) that a society transitioning from primitive agricultural to industrial will require about 50,000 more Kcal per capita per day of energy to maintain societal functionality. Water demands will also rise as well as waste generation. Furthermore, because of potential resource interlinkages, other unforeseen conflicts may arise such as determining whether water is used for energy or food production. Thus, an unforeseen consequence of raising the level of societal functionality is exacerbating resource requirements and associated resource interlinkage issues.
Do potential resource challenges mean that we should attenuate philanthropic initiatives such as those of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Absolutely not. It means that when initiatives are engaged to address poverty situations, a more comprehensive approach should be employed that also encompasses long term resource considerations. Without a solid resource foundation, the long-term worldwide amelioration of poverty will be difficult to realize.
Photos credits: Wikimedia Commons (Bill Gates), BioConversion Solutions