While the Christmas season is now over, an article published recently by CleanTechnica author Steve Hanley referencing the Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol In Prose, Being A Ghost Story Of Christmas” got me thinking.
If the modern industrial world is to be considered to be Ebenezer Scrooge himself, then Madagascar is essentially the face of things to come (the ghost of Christmases yet to come). For those unfamiliar with the island’s history, humans only first established a permanent presence there around 2,000 years ago, with the extinction of most of the island’s largest animals following shortly afterwards (including “true/primate” lemurs the size of gorillas, 15-foot tall flightless birds, and hippopotamuses).
The island could be considered to be a sort of microcosm for much of what’s been going on elsewhere in the world in recent times as human populations have uncontrollably grown — with deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification effectively stripping the island of its former status as a sort of paradise and leaving it in the fast-diminishing state that it currently is in.
In particular, the situation facing southern Madagascar is relevant — as the region is rapidly growing drier and less hospitable by the year; and malnutrition, disease prevalence, and starvation are becoming more and more common.
The climate itself is, perhaps more importantly, changing rapidly there as well, and the weather seems to be growing harsher by the year.
“The air is more violent. The wind is very strong,” stated Soja Voalahtsesylvain, the chief of the village of AnkilibeVahavola, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In nearby areas, Voalahtsesylvain continued, “there’s no production because the land is very dry.”
“It’s our everyday life now. We wait for the rain because our main issue is lack of water. We don’t know when it will come.”
Which is a circumstance that will sound more and more familiar to literally billions of the world’s current population of ~7.5 billion as the century grinds on.
As it stands, residents in AnkilibeVahavola are reliant upon an 8-hour round-trip walk to the nearest river for drinking water — which means that, without a change, the village is likely to end up being mostly depopulated owing to water scarcity.
Which is also a reality that will be facing a very large portion of the world before too long (as I noted in an article about high temperatures and drought on the Indian subcontinent, not that long back).
Reuters provides more on the situation in Madagascar: “This region of Madagascar has been chronically poor for decades, but a series of droughts, which government officials say are driven by climate change, have left close to a million people struggling to cope in this southern African island nation.
“Drought is increasing the risk of malnutrition and could cause deaths in children younger than 5, half of whom already suffer from stunting, Norohasina Rakotoarison, a spokeswoman for Madagascar’s Ministry of the Environment, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“In the south of the island, where many people farm for a living, the rainy season is getting shorter and shorter, they say. Rains that once stretched from October to March now fall only between December and February.”
Despite the sunny optimism of many of the industrial world’s over-urbanized and detached-from-natural-reality cohort, the situation described above is essentially what’s in store for the world as a whole if anthropogenic climate change isn’t limited to a substantial degree.
Only, worse, actually — as widespread warfare and cultural breakdown are a given in many regions (where different ethnic, ideological, and political groups already despise one another) once food and water constraints begin hitting in earnest.
In AnkilibeVahavola, for the time being, the people at least have some kind of societal pact that’s still in place. Reuters provides more on that: “For now, in AnkilibeVahavola, home to about 3,000 people, families are trying to get by using a traditional lending system, in which poor families borrow water or food from neighbors and eventually pay it back when the rains come. But this year, it’s been more difficult.
“‘There’s no food and people are hungry. We only eat cactus seed and fruit. We cook it and boil it with water,’ said Rafoava Ravaonimira, 65, another resident of the village. She said it was hardest to explain to the youngest children why they can only have one meal a day. ‘The older the kids grow, the more they understand’.”
To comment briefly on reliance on cactus seed and fruit (imports brought there from the Americas in colonial times) for survival, a number of researchers came out recently and noted that adaptation based around increasing reliance on prickly pear cactus in some regions (and other similar plants) would have to be pursued if many very large regions weren’t to be completely depopulated in the times just ahead.
To move on, though, I wanted to highlight the situation in Madagascar since — like the broader industrial world as well — many of the problems present there are directly the result of, and being exacerbated by, human behavior.
The slash-and-burn agriculture that has been pursued so enthusiastically in Madagascar in recent centuries has more or less turned much of the island into a desert. And it is still being pursued — despite people knowing the problems it causes, owing to the short-term “need” to do so (feeding one’s family, etc.).
The modern world as a whole is in just such a situation — where intentional population reductions and thus reduced consumption levels could in some ways limit the extent of the catastrophe that’s coming, but there seems to be no real will there for such actions.
Instead, nearly every political body in the world seems to be angling to make sure that the coming population reductions fall entirely upon neighboring or foreign countries, and that internal resource consumption levels can continue as is or even grow. [Editor’s note: In countries where population decline is posing economic challenges, governments actually have financial incentives in place to encourage residents to have more kids.]
So, to put it bluntly, we’ve seen what’s coming if we continue our current way of living, but we don’t seem to be willing to adjust our behavior as Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge did in the story “A Christmas Carol.”
Keep an eye on Madagascar over the coming decade if you want to know more about the world that your children and grandchildren will be living in as they come of age — just try to imagine it as being bloodier, stupider, and less coherent as well.
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