Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.
At the peak of every commodity supercycle in history, humans have thought our insatiable demand for resources will exhaust the earth’s crust of just about every metal and mineral. In 1798, Thomas Malthus warned of the dangers of population growth, arguing that the power of demographics will be superior to the power of the earth to provide sustenance.
But even as our numbers swelled from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion today, a surprising thing happened: nature did not go bankrupt. Mother earth, it seems, has much to give. There have still been famines. But in all such instances, the loss of life was a result of failure in human action—botched policies, hoarding or corruption, and lack of cross-border aid. The world, as a whole, has never been short food.
Inadequate production is not to blame for some 800 million people that go to bed hungry each night. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, one-third of all food produced globally (1.3 billion tons) is never consumed. The food simply goes to waste. How is it that we are like this?
From the earth’s abundance, springs life. Yet, we seem to squander our amazing inheritance. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of the deaths in children under five — that’s 3.1 million children each year. One in nine people on this earth do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life. In America of all places, 35 million people are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from—13 million of whom are children. As actor Jeff Bridges poignantly observed, “If another country were doing this to our children, we’d be at war.”
What then should we make of this carelessness? Why do we withhold the bounty of life? Why can’t we give like the sun, to everyone equally and unconditionally? It is not the world’s resources, but our hearts and mind that are finite. It is not the neglect of resources, but the neglect of people that is likely to end very badly.