By Ghassan Karam
Mahmud Ahmadinejad the Iranian President is a chauvinist, a traditional ecologically ignorant chauvinist. This post is not about traditional politics, and is not concerned with either the role of the Pasadran, the Iranian support for Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas or even whether Iran’s’ real ambitions are peaceful applications of nuclear technology or not. Each of the above is an important issue in its own right but a more fundamental belief that shapes the Iranian behavior can be traced to a vision that sees everything in the world through the narrow, vulgar and reactionary Huntingtonian vision of the West vis a vis the rest. The rest in the Ahmadinejad vision is essentially Islam, just like Samuel Huntington predicted. The resulting conflict is not a Clash of Civilization as Huntington wants us to believe but in the words of Edward Said it is a Clash of Barbarians.
The stream of misinformed and at times utterly irresponsible statements by the Iranian president is unending. The whole world remembers his denials of the Holocaust, his claim that Iran is a state that is free of gay people, his assertion that Western decadence is best exemplified through Paul the Octopus and recently his mind numbing critique of the policies to reduce population growth on the ground that these policies are the product of a decadent anti Islamic Western mind set.
Iran has a population of 75 million inhabitants and its population policy is often used as an example of what government can accomplish once it puts its mind to it. The fertility rate in Iran has dropped substantially over the past 20 years as a result of family planning campaigns that have reduced family size substantially. The current fertility rate of 1.71 combined with a youthful population suggest that Iran s’ population should peak at about 90 million by 2050. Most economists and ecologists agree that Iran has benefited substantially from its ability to reduce its fertility rate, so why does Mr. Ahmadinejad seem to be focused on eliminating the conditions that brought about these gains?
President Ahmadinejad declared early this week a new program to encourage Iranians to have more children. The government program will reward every new born with a $950 bank deposit and an additional %95 every year until the new born is 18 years old. This level of incentives will be difficult to dismiss by the less fortunate in Iran but will most probably have disastrous effects if it succeeds.
Food is arguably the most important constraint on the level of welfare and nutritional intake of a population. Studies have shown that at least 205 of Iranians cannot purchase adequate amounts of food and around 50% suffer of nutritional deficiencies. Yet Mahmud Ahmadinejad decided that Iran could double its population to 150 million without appointing a commission or conducting a single study. Where is the food going to come from is a question that is not raised by the president and even more importantly if the food is available who is going to ensure accessibility.
Iran can use its oil revenue to subsidize various domestic programs but as the number of Iranians increases so does their consumption of energy which results in less and less net oil exports. Some economists project that Iran might not have any excess oil to export in 20-30 years even without a major demographic bulge.
Obviously food is not the only challenge from a growing population. A healthy economic environment will have to create adequate good paying jobs in order to keep the well educated from migrating to other parts of the world. But the challenge is again not limited only to the well paying jobs but can often be seen not only in the double digit official unemployment numbers but also in the underemployment that is very widely spread.
Maybe the biggest long term challenge of the misguided population policy advocated by Mr. Ahmadinejad is to be expected in the ecological degradation that such a policy will cause. Added rates of fresh water withdrawal, deforestation, increased use of fossil fuels will result in more pollution and ecological degradation at every level. One study after another all over the world warn that the planet has already exceeded its carrying capacity but the Iranian president in his typical nonchalant way dismisses all of these scientific studies as being a Western conspiracy aimed at containing Islam. Ecological scientific studies are conducted on the basis of universally accepted principles and to argue otherwise is senseless and absurd. Truth is stranger than fiction; you cannot make these things up.