Death By Chocolate

January 1st 2010
Published: January 5th 2010
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Hercules Moth, Mission Beach, Queensland.Hercules Moth, Mission Beach, Queensland.Hercules Moth, Mission Beach, Queensland.

And just in case you're wondering, Deb is a Size 8!
Captain’s Log, Star-date January First, Twenty Ten.

These have been the voyages of Andy and Debbie, their year-long mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has dared drag his wife before...

As you may have gathered by now, we’ve finally re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down safely in the backyard pond, suddenly surrounded once more by the luxurious trappings of the western world.

Debbie returned with a bang, heading straight back to her old job within a week. Frankly I’d rather have been knifed in the belly like a stuck pig and had my entrails re-arranged than suffer such a fate, which is just as well, as that’s exactly what happened, finding myself whisked off into hospital (yeah, I know, again!) for a minor hernia repair.

I’ve spent the last fortnight recovering, sitting around doing not a great deal, leaving plenty of time to read other peoples’ blogs for a change. It seems we’re not the only ones to return this time of year, all left to reflect on our travels in one last summary. Interestingly many of us have noticed the very same thing on our trips: that the third world, while still blighted by poverty and deprivation, is changing, and changing fast.

I don’t know about you, but round our way things haven’t altered greatly in the last ten years. Actually they haven’t changed that much in the last thirty. Okay, we all have mobile phones and the internet now (that’s progress, apparently), and computer games have come on a bit since Space Invaders, but as far as the rest goes, our food, houses, cars, jobs and clothing are pretty much as they’ve always been, save for a few less piano-ties and the relative absence of leg-warmers (not often needed in Far North Queensland, it has to be said).

In parts of the Third World over same period things have gone from medieval to modern, progress at Warp Factor 10, oblivious to Scotty’s warnings that ‘the engines cannae take it, Captian!’. Amazingly the passengers seem to have taken all this in their stride, barely batting an eyelid as their lives are transformed within a generation.

You don’t have to look too far, though, to see where cracks have been papered over. The eventual aim may be Californication, but early volleys have fallen far short, landing instead in somewhere resembling the grottier backstreets of Pittsburgh on a very bad day. Rampant expansion with little hint of planning rarely looks pretty. If you’re don’t believe me, try taking a flight to Beijing and see how long before you choke, drive through Borneo where you can’t see the (rain)forest for the (Palm-oil)trees, or take a nice dip in the holy Bagmati river in Kathmandu, which offers spiritual purity if only you can take the overwhelming stench of sewage, rotting rubbish, and marauding pigs.

The developing nations have sacrificed much in the world-wide dash for cash. Not that you can blame them; they only want what we’ve already got. The snag is, what we’ve already got is entirely reliant on them keeping the whole edifice afloat. If we’re suddenly all to become ‘haves’, there’s a couple of small sticking points that we'll need to iron out pretty damn quick.

Firstly, and most importantly, once we’re all rich, who’s going to be left to make all our cheap tat? When Made in China becomes a mark of prestige, who’ll be left to pick up the baton. I nominate the Italians, who already
The Main ManThe Main ManThe Main Man

Ganga Aarti, Rishikesh, India.
seem adept at making flashy goods that fall to bits within minutes, but have so far conveniently forgotten to make them cheap. Bring back the Lira, I say. By now there would be about a billion to a dollar, and you could buy that shiny new Ferrari with the small change from your espresso.

The other small point, of course, is that nigh-on 7 billion people living your current lifestyle would lead to the disappearance of the ice-caps by a week next Tuesday, not to mention a sudden and dramatic global shortage of Doritos & dips, leading to widespread panic. Many of us would be left to settle for Cheesy Wotsits instead, certainly not a prospect that I for one would relish.

Clearly if third world expansion continues at such mesmerising pace, we’re all going to have to learn to tighten our belts and take our environmental responsibilities a tad more seriously. I don’t know about you, but I suspect merely recycling our shopping bags and changing our light bulbs just ain’t going to hack it. Perhaps it’s time to curb our insatiable appetite for material goods and indulge in a spot of global gastric-banding. Cause let’s face it, if we’re not prepared to bite the bullet, why the hell should they?

Trouble is, most folk living in the first world have yet to grasp quite how badly we’re about to be bitten on the bum. Here in Australia the main opposition party are still pushing the line that climate change has as much merit as your average X-factor contestant, recently even sacking their own leader for daring to suggest otherwise. Keep an eye out for a greying bore named Malcolm Turnbull banging out Waltzing Mathilda on the spoons anytime soon.

It’s only when you leave the comforts of home and plunge into the developing world that your eyes are really opened. Try taking a tour of China, India, Thailand or Vietnam and see if you come back thinking everything is just hunky-dory. Just don’t go with Tony Abbott, the current darling of the Australian Liberals, as the sight of him in his Speedos will tarnish even the best moments of the trip.

On your return home you’re going to feel like Roy Schneider out of Jaws. Everyone else is pottering round the boat like they’ve always done, minding their own business. Meanwhile you’ve been out the back chumming the waters and glimpsed the monster lurking beneath, the only one who knows ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat!’

Or should that read planet.

Anyone know where we can find one?

The really scary bit is even if we all go back to 10000BC, there’s an even bigger problem waiting in the wings, and it’s not just that most of us don’t look as good as Rachel Welch in a loincloth.

The real Inconvenient Truth, one so frightening not even ex-wannabe presidents dare bring it up, put bluntly, goes something like this:

There’s just too damn many of us.

And I’m not just talking about the tourists.

Captain Brodie’s problem these days is the real monsters are all the other guys on the boat.

Way back around the time The Beatles were writing Sgt. Pepper and I was but a twinkle in my mother’s eye (which many would argue was my finest period) there were just under 3 ½ billion of us on the planet. Forty odd years later we’re double that, the global population standing, as I write this, at 6,816,216,473, and increasing at the rate
Short-Tailed MacaqueShort-Tailed MacaqueShort-Tailed Macaque

Sungai kinabatangan, Borneo
of 3 per second, every second. While this increase may have done wonders for sales of the Fab Four’s back catalogue, for the rest of us it’s not such good news. Every morning when you wake up, enough new people have been added to the world to fill Wembley Stadium while you slept. Two more stadiums will be filled by the time you go to bed tonight. That’s an awful lot of bawling for one day. To see how many more have been added since I wrote this, click here:

Global population is currently increasing in what the experts refer to a J-curve; in other words, it’s exponential. As they themselves caution ‘Anyone who has examined world population over the last 200 years must be astounded and quite possibly alarmed. If the current exponential growth were to continue, within a few hundred years every square foot of the earth’s surface would be taken up by a human.’

Those of us who have summered on Greek beaches will know what fun this can be. And, of course, not all the world’s surface is covered by curving sands. Many a poor sod will end up laying the towel they
Prayer TimePrayer TimePrayer Time

Ganga Aarti, Rishikesh, India.
call home in the frozen wastes of Siberia, the blazing suns of the Sahara, or the multi-storey car-parks of Milton Keynes, where there’ll be less toned semi-clad sun-worshippers to take your mind off things, I'd imagine.

Now of course the above scenario is never really going to happen. It turns out there’s an upper limit to the population which the scientists refer to as the asymptote, or simply K (God knows why... perhaps the statisticians are so scared silly at this point they finally resort to taking ketamine). Every other species known to have reached K has undergone a sudden and catastrophic plunge in numbers, from which some have never recovered. The exact value of K for humans is at best an educated guess, but current estimates put it somewhere between ten and twenty billion. In other words, we could easily be there by 2050.

Forget Peak Oil. The real worry is Peak Food, Peak Water and indeed Peak People, whether or not they happen to be Beatles fans. Once the food runs out, you’re just as likely to start wars over Lennon versus McCartney as anything else, and I don’t imagine they’ll be setting phasers to stun.

Now the experts tell us that all is not yet lost, that if the third world follows first world trends then fertility rates will drop over time, and that by 2050 we’ll top out at only 9 ½ billion. Seems suspiciously close to their 10 billion death zone to me, but we’ll just have to trust them for now. Even they admit, though, that by the end of the century there’ll be 10-12 billion of us, when every new bundle of joy could be the one to tip us all over the edge. Not that, at 132 years of age, I’m likely to have to worry about it for too long. And then there’s always the chance the third world won’t play along and choose 2.3 kids in a semi in suburbia as their ultimate dream.

You have to ask yourself, at the end of the day, what we actually need another 3 billion people for?

Aren’t the Beatles rich enough already?

Perhaps at this point we should turn to the wise words of David Attenborough, who’s something of an expert on Life on Earth. He closes his seventh series, The Life of Mammals, (where he finally turns his attentions to us) with the following:

‘Up until now we’ve changed the environment to suit the needs of our growing population. Perhaps the time has now come to change the population to suit the needs of our environment.’

Or we can just bumble along as usual and see how long it takes for K to turn up. At the end of the day, I’m sure not even a plague of locusts seems that bad if you happen to be a locust.

It has to be said that dwelling on such thoughts can get you down in the long run. While most of our trip was just fab and groovy, for a wee while there in Thailand I let it all get on top of me, as can probably be surmised from the general tone of that blog! Eventually I shared my concerns with Debbie, who immediately thought of a solution far better than anything I’d been able to muster:

“Would you like some chocolate?”

“Oooh, yeah. That’d be great!”

“Good. I’ll go get us some.”

But that’s just my point. Eventually, there’s just not going to be enough chocolate to

Karumba, Queensland.
go round, and then where will we be? I’m not sure it’s the kind of problem that’ll just goes away if you kiss it better.

We’re all of us guilty of letting things get this far. You’ve gotta ask yourself, what was wrong with your old telly? What was wrong with your old phone? How many pairs of shoes do you really need? Racking my brains here, I can’t really come up with any good reason for owning more than 3. Which begs the question, how many have you got? And more importantly, if you hadn’t gone out and bought all those extra pairs, think how much chocolate you could have had by now!

Perhaps its time for us all to remember that just because we want something, doesn’t necessarily mean we should have it. Before you stuff that next morsel in your mouth or buy that fancy new trinket, maybe you should ask yourself this one important question.

Do I actually need it?

And don’t give me any of that crap about Retail Therapy. If you really believe in such a thing, then clearly Retail Therapy is not the only kind you need. Somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten why we’re called Consumers, and are happily eating away the whole planet in our efforts to keep up with The Jones’s, who astonishingly seem even porkier than ourselves.

Don’t you think it’s time to start easing back on the throttle a little? Steady as She Goes, Mr Sulu.

The tricky part, of course, is working out how to change all this. Ironically the one country to have done anything at all to curb its population is the same one churning out all the crap we love to fill our lives with. Despite this, the Chinese have been roundly lambasted by the rest of us for even trying. For me, the one child policy is a bit like Churchill’s attitude to democracy: it’s the worst solution you could possibly think of, until you try to think up a better one.

Well that’s exactly what I’ve been doing these last few months, and here, exclusively, and for the very first time, I share with the world my own solutions for this mother of all problems.

1) Bonzai Children.

Cast your mind back to the late 1980s, when George Michael was still trying to pass himself off as a red-blooded heterosexual instead of propositioning policemen or slumping at steering wheels. Back in those days the new breed of movers and shakers, the indomitable yuppies, strangely decided the next vital accessory for your dockland apartment was a century-old stunted tree. In no time flat there were foot-high oaks atop black dining tables, and miniature maples dwarfed by lava lamps all across the lands. Needless to say the fad didn’t last long, the 100-year production line ensuring to a perennial short-supply, and they were quickly swapped for classy hi- tech replacements such as Furbies and Dancing Flowers. Someone, somewhere, must have miss-timed the market and been left with a warehouse full of the bloody things, so don’t be surprised if they spring out once more on an unsuspecting world circa 2080.

I’m thinking it might be time to dust off the idea a little earlier and give it a bit of a revamp, replacing the trees with toddlers. I’ve yet to work out the exact details, as unfortunately it involves wrapping them head-to-toe in copper wire, not something likely to go down well with Social Services anywhere outside Northern Thailand. Putting a modern spin on things, though, I thought we could step back even further and ban conventional breeding altogether, introducing mandatory IVF. You then just need to conveniently forget to take the baby out of the test-tube until they turn 18, producing a generation of slim four-inch adults with perfect dome-shaped heads and improbably large feet, sort of like foot-binding in reverse. Obviously we’d have to switch to Bonzai cats & dogs at the same time, to avoid Tiddles playing Tom & Jerry with the new arrivals, but think of the savings on Whiskas alone! Sure, there might be some unfortunate accidents way down the track, when failing eyesight leads you to tread on the grandkids, but hey, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

2) Join the PGA Tour.

A harem of eighteen women and only two kids? That’s exactly the kind of numbers we’re gonna need to Save the Tiger! If that’s not a role-model, I don’t know what is! The lad’s a shining example to all!

3) Holidays in Space.

Richard Branson is always banging on about his latest Space Tourism venture, but never actually seems to get anyone off the ground. When he finally does, in order for it to work for our purposes, he’ll have to take a leaf out of his own airline’s habits but provide a subtle tweak. Instead of losing your luggage, he’ll deliver the goods back safe and sound but lose the passengers instead. I personally nominate Richard to take the first flight himself, and hereby claim first dibs on his Caribbean Island holiday home and private jet.

4) Computer Games better than Sex.

Now I know an awful lot of you just got a new Wii for Christmas and still think it’s the best thing since sliced bread an’ all, but frankly, in my view, it’s rubbish. I mean, given the choice between bowling on the telly or a session between the sheets, which would you choose? Oh... really? Well all I can say is you must be one pretty damn hardcore bowler!

Give it a few years though, once they’ve replaced that annoying buzzy controller with a life-like Brazilian Supermodel Cyborg and even I might give it a go. That would keep me amused for hours (well minutes, at any rate), the fun only ending at Game Over when my name came up right at the bottom of the Hi-Score table, failing miserably to take her to the next level, which apparently involves a rooftop mirror, a swing and the addition of her twin sister Giselle. Anyone for tennis?

5) Mobile Phones that give you Cancer

Actually, I think we maybe have this one already.

6) Praying Mantis Mating Methods

How many of us, do you think, would still be prepared to get jiggy-with-it if we risked decapitation by doing so, not so much a one-child policy as a one-parent one. Actually most guys under 30 keep their brains in their trousers anyway, so for them losing their head just means big savings on hair-gel and exfoliant. As for us older chaps, most of us get our heads bitten off by our loved ones on a daily basis anyway, without the need to so much as take off our socks. No, if this one’s going to work it’s the girls who are going to have to face the chop for a change. Personally, I don’t know many women who’d get frisky with a praying mantis in the room, let alone right there in bed with them! Trouble is, that would make it a no-child policy, which is not what we need either. Somehow we’ll have to split it 50/50, only fair in these days of sexual equality. To keep the girls happy I’d suggest the loser is whoever’s first to climax, a gamble most of them would fancy their chances in I’d imagine, keeping the reproductive process trickling along nicely. It would also mark the instant demise of the faked orgasm, which might just come as a bit of a wake-up call to everyone. Obviously for safe-sex you’d then need a crash-helmet as well as a condom, just in case your partner got carried away while nibbling your ear.

7) Just Say No

As you might guess from the heading, I haven’t actually thought of a decent 7) yet, but if you have any suggestions of your own, please feel free to add a comment below.

So there you have it, a handful of remedies to live long and prosper. And if you don’t fancy any of those, you can always place your faith in our leaders to actually agree on something in Mexico City six-months hence. I’d suggest they start with ‘What’s the capital
Sweet Tooth?Sweet Tooth?Sweet Tooth?

Naya Pul, Nepal.
of Mexico?’ and see if they can move on from there. Ironically for a green summit, what we really need from them is to come up with something concrete. If not, it might just be time to Beam me up, Scotty.

If travelling shows you anything, it’s what a beautiful and extraordinary world awaits just beyond the doorstep for those who choose to step outside.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep it that way?

We claim to be the most intelligent species on the planet (as if being smarter than a woodlouse is something to brag about), while busily trashing the very world we depend upon for our survival. That is illogical, Captain.

To err is human, so they say. Don’t you think maybe it’s time we started trying to evolve?

After all, it’s amazing what we can achieve when we really put our minds to it.

Brain Surgery, the Moon Landings, Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Birthday Cards, a broom that’s a mop and a sponge!(Just $19.99 while stocks last!)

So come on, whatd’ya say. Let’s give it a go!

But just remember, I get first go with the fem-bots when they finally arrive!

So that’s about it from us for now. Time to head back to the 9 to 5, save up our pennies, and see if there’s anything left out there worth seeing when the jar finally refills a decade or so hence.

I’ll finish off by wishing you, in the words of John Lennon, a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Welcome to a new decade.

Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Kirk, Out.


5th January 2010

Peak Food, Peak Water and indeed Peak People
I agree with your concern about population control - sadly however I don't think we are the majority. Many of my friends are planning 2-3 kids.

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