The Surly Bartender is on a short leave of absence from La Cuadra. In place of his usual column, one of America’s greatest voices has agreed to pinch-hit. Joe Bageant suffers no fools and coddles no arrogance. In the course of a story he sits you down, buys you a beer, makes you feel comfortable – then whips out a razor, slashes a wound in your thigh and politely asks you to examine the gash while he sprinkles a bit of salt about its edges. He’s one hell of a talent and we’re proud he’d deign to publish his work with a bunch of grab-ass little punks like us.
“John Raymond Castillo, age 91. Sunrise, January 14, 1917. Sunset, February 1, 2008. He leaves 21 children, 140 grandchildren and 302 great-grandchildren.”
– Obituary announcement on Belize’s LOVE Radio station
“The population of Belize? Officially it’s about 300,000. But if you include all the kids, it’s probably three million.”
– Greg, longtime expatriate American in Belize
Hopkins Village, Belize
The din of squealing, laughing children is the background white noise of the Third World. In Belize, as in most of the Third World, 45% of all people are under the age of 16. About a dozen of that 45% swarm around me as I cut my toenails under the mango tree. A few are picking on the mangy, quarreling dogs but the majority are drawn in close, giving advice about how to cut gnarly, old man type toenails: “Saw dem off wid a file” seems to be the consensus.
What I see are children I help with homework and feed, and admonish about grades, unanxious and reasonably happy little members of the human race. They do not look much like a global migration or crushing planetary population pressure. Yet, they are among the most incredible wave of both ever in human history.
Most families here have five or six kids and their kids will have a similar number. I’ve yet to meet a native of the village who does not think half a dozen is not a nice round number of offspring. My adopted family has six kids and four adults living on a 100 x 300-foot lot. This does not include the Guatemalan family of five living in a rented cabana at one corner of the lot. Assuming all the children reach adulthood and procreate, the tally in ten years will be about 50 people of all ages trying to exist on this square of sewerage soaked sand.
But oh, were it that bright a future. As adults with families, these kids won’t even have this spot on which to live at all, much less live as well as they live now. The resorts and condo rackets out of Canada, South Africa and the U.S. are buying up these small plots. Unschooled in western financial concepts and janked by the developers’ offers of more money than they have ever seen in their lives, locals sell. Usually they are broke within a year. In any case their semi-literate children will join the next generation’s issuance of dispossessed poverty stricken young adults headed for elsewhere. Just what the world does not need, not here in Central America, not in the Middle East, not in Latin America or the U.S. But that’s what we’ve got and that’s what we are going to get a lot more of.
Population growth is the rhino in the playpen, the root cause of our approaching eco-disaster that no one honestly talks about. On the left we get an onslaught of information about what we must and must not do to prevent climate change. Good Democrats get Al Gore’s advice, which somehow never mentions the corporations doing the damage. And all of America gets feel-good electric car ads – buy your way out of the problem, or at least your guilt if you happen to have any. But nowhere do we get an honest discussion about population growth. If you care to, argue that climate change may or may not destroy us. But uncontrolled population growth is guaranteed to do the job. As an old Idaho rancher told me, “You can’t run a hundred head of cattle on half an acre.”
Most of the developed world remains clueless as to how all this will affect their own lives. But Americans in particular cannot get their head around the impact these billions will have on the lifestyles they are driven like rats in hell to sustain. About half of Americans . . . .