Growing, Growing, Gone: Reaching the Limits – An interview with Dennis Meadows

growth_limitsThe Limits to Growth, released in 1972, has profoundly influenced environmental research and discourse over the past four decades. Allen White of the Tellus Institute talks with Dennis Meadows, one of its co-authors, about the genesis of the report and its lessons for understanding and managing our uncertain and perilous global future.

The Limits to Growth report [from the Club of Rome] focused on natural resource demands, pollution, and population growth, yet the Club of Rome’s initial focus was more on weapons, nuclear proliferation, and security. What prompted this shift? 

The shift stemmed from Jay Forrester’s insight that the issues about which we were talking then (and still talk about today)—hunger, poverty, oil depletion, climate change—are not in themselves problems; they are symptoms. The problem is continued material growth in a physically finite world.

Continual physical growth of population and economic activity eventually reaches the point where the globe simply cannot accommodate anymore. Biophysical systems press back, whether through disease, scarcity, climate, or other response mechanisms. These pressures are danger signals, indicating overshoot of some aspect of the planet’s physical limits.

It is very frustrating to me to hear people talking about starvation as a problem and then say that the way to solve it is by producing more food. The only way we are ever going to have adequate food is by stabilizing the population. Regardless of genetic modifications, food subsidies, or improved storage techniques, as long as population continues to grow, we will eventually overshoot our capacity to feed the world.

Upon publication in 1972, The Limits to Growth triggered intense discussion and debate in academic and policy circles. How would you characterize this spectrum of reactions?

First of all, one common misconception about our report was and is that we proved the existence of limits. Our model assumed the existence of limits [on a finite planet] and then traced out the implications. Available data, however, were sufficient to identify and roughly quantify such limits.

It is also important to understand the nature of the controversy surrounding the report. At the risk of oversimplification, there are two kinds of people: those who decide which salient facts they like and then try to trace their implications, and those who decide which implications they like and then look for salient facts to justify them. You see this distinction in full display in contemporary debates around climate change.

The economics profession is based on the assumption that continual growth is possible and desirable. Likewise, most politicians have a predisposition for growth because it makes the problems they address—unemployment, poverty, diminished tax bases—more tractable. Instead of having to divide a fixed pie, which gets you in trouble with some constituents, you can grow the pie so that nobody has to make a sacrifice or compromise. So there was—and is—a set of vested interests in the notion of growth.

Economists claimed that we were underestimating the power of the market or technological innovation, and some politicians argued that we were trying to block the development of the poor.

After four or five years, people lost interest in the debate, and public discourse returned to its traditional short-term, siloed form. In 1992, we came out with the second edition of The Limits to Growth, and there was again a brief, but now much smaller, effort to discredit the work.

In light of the early danger signals that had already appeared by then—ozone depletion, oil shortages, toxic loadings—why was the reaction so muted? 

The first edition was published in thirty-five foreign language editions; the second edition, in fifteen. The number of articles referencing or criticizing Limits in the 1970s was probably ten times what it was in the 1990s. The economists and politicians simply felt less threatened by our analysis the second time around. From their perspective, it was not worth their effort to challenge our findings. The time horizon of politicians and economists was shorter than ever, whereas our analysis focused on longer-term issues.

Were there any regional differences in reaction, e.g., between the US and Europe or between developed and developing countries?

Yes. Of course, when we talk about developing countries, we are dealing with a very diverse group. But, viewed together, the developing countries basically said, “You are the ones who caused the problems, and you have to solve them. Our goal is to develop. And don’t use this kind of analysis to block us from causing the same problems that you caused.”

The Europeans have always been more receptive to the type of analysis found in The Limits to Growth. For example, I get many more invitations to speak in Europe than I do in the U.S. The sales of the book were greater in several European countries than they were in the US. You also see this reflected in legislation. The precautionary principle has substantial standing in Europe, but it is typically dismissed in the United States.

A third edition appeared in 2004. What insights did it offer thirty years after the original?  

In the second and third editions, we revisited our findings, looked at how global trajectories were unfolding, and compared them with our forecasts. Generally speaking, our forecasts were borne out. Last year, Graham Turner of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (and formerly of the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation) analyzed the predictions in The Limits to Growth and found that our business-as-usual forecasts for population growth, economic growth, and environmental impacts have been fairly accurate.

Does the current work on planetary boundaries signal the prescience of The Limits to Growth?

I admire very much the research on ecological footprints and planetary boundaries by Matthis Wackernagel, Johan Rockström, and others. They are dealing with these issues at a level of detail that was not possible back in the 1970s.

Our interests, however, are somewhat different, and I would say that there has not been, to my knowledge, anyone who has focused on our core question, that is, the dynamics of growth in a finite world. Although a recent article on planetary boundaries traces out the future dynamic implications of limits, much of the work in that field focuses only on the limits themselves and our proximity to them.

Were we prescient? In the 1950s, Harrison Brown’s books dealt with the issue of limits without using a computer model. Two centuries ago, Thomas Malthus famously projected a clash between population growth and food provision, albeit in a simplistic way. The ancient literature, too, contains references to the limits to growth and consequences of violating them. Our insights were not unique or unprecedented, but our modeling was.

Regarding modeling and future scenarios: Do you see normative modeling or extrapolative modeling as more powerful for inspiring corrective action?

I think we are now in a situation where it doesn’t make much difference what we want to see happen fifty years from now.

White water rafting provides a useful analogy here. When you are going down the river, most of the time it is placid, but every once in a while, you hit the rapids. When it is placid, you can sit back and think where you want to be, how you should time your journey, where you want to stop for lunch, etc. When you are in the rapids, you focus on the moment, desperately trying to keep your boat upright until you return to quiet waters. During the placid moments, it is very useful to have a discussion about where you want to be tomorrow or the day after. When you are in the rapids, you don’t have the luxury of that kind of discussion. You are trying to survive. Our society has moved into the rapids phase.

Climate change is an example of this. There was a period where we had some possibility of influencing future climate by our decisions about the use of fossil fuels. I think that time has passed. Climate change is increasingly dominated by a set of feedback loops—like the methane cycle and the melting of Arctic ice sheets—which are beyond human control. They have come to be the drivers of the system. The dominant drivers of the system are not people sitting around trying to reach a consensus about which of several different possible outcomes they most prefer.

Any modeling exercise is rife with uncertainty. Under such circumstances, some lean toward optimism, others—like yourself—toward pessimism. What underlies this divergence? 

Our research and reports are neither optimistic nor pessimistic; they are realistic. In my professional life, I lay out our assumptions, support them with empirical data, and then use computer simulations to trace their implications for the future behavior of the system. When the simulations show that current trends cannot be continued, people with a vested interest in current trends may become pessimistic; I do not. In my personal life, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

In the next few decades, if we maintain our current trajectory, we are destined to overshoot multiple planetary limits. In the face of this reality, how do we move forward? 

Conventional oil production peaked around 2006. Unconventional oil production, e.g., fracking and tar sands, has continued some degree of growth, but it is a totally different matter. Conventional oil is inexpensive and yields a relatively high energy return on investment. Unconventionals don’t do that. They are expensive, and the net energy return on investment is quite low.

When you don’t have conventional energy sources like oil, you cannot sustain the kind of economic growth rates that we have seen in the past. As a practical matter, then, there is now very little real wealth generation. Most of the economic activity these days consists of those who have more power getting richer by taking away from those with less. This is why we see widening gaps between rich and poor.

Many of the futurists presume large-scale energy consumption of one kind or another. It is energy intensive to coordinate and motivate large assemblies of people and organizations. Absent abundant, cheap energy, this becomes more difficult. I expect that the trend towards global integration is going to stop and then start to recede.

In my own work, I have shifted from a preoccupation with sustainable development, which is somewhat of an oxymoron, toward the concept of resilience. I think that is the future: to understand how different scales—the household, the community, the school––can structure themselves in a way to become more resilient in the face of the shocks that are inevitable regardless what our goals might be.

You see the climate debate evolving this way. Talk about prevention is on the wane, giving way to talk of adaptation. Adaptation really means resilience. It is about designing actions for dealing with New York City the next time superstorms threaten to paralyze the city or for figuring out what California can do if the current drought continues for many more years, or even decades.

Aspirations and good fortune will get us only so far.  Human survival cannot risk reliance on them alone.

Dennis Meadows is Emeritus Professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he was Director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research. He co-authored the pioneering 1972 book The Limits to Growth, which analyzed the long-term consequences of unconstrained resource consumption driven by population and economic growth on a finite planet. Dr. Meadows co-founded The Balaton Group in 1982, an international network of researchers and practitioners in fields related to systems and sustainability, and co-authored updates to The Limits to Growth in 1992 and 2004. 

Source: Great Transition Initiative, June 2015.      <http://www.greattransition.org/publication/growing-growing-gone>

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The Values of Hope and Happiness from the David Suzuki Foundation

Materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

Materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

A fight is going on inside us, between two wolves. Which wolf will win? The one we feed.*

Reading the news, it’s hard not to feel a growing sense of unease. The threat of terrorism, growing instability and conflict overseas, and uncertainty about the economy diminish our collective feelings of safety and security. To this we add the looming environmental threats of climate change, pollution, declining ocean health, oil spills and extreme weather.

All of it takes a psychological toll, even when we’re not directly affected. Studies show that when we feel threatened, we isolate ourselves and focus on restoring our sense of security.

Many people attempt to alleviate anxiety by grasping for wealth, seeking pleasure and taking solace in achievement or status. But this strategy backfires. Instead of bolstering our sense of security and well-being, it diminishes it.

Across cultures and regardless of age and gender, people whose values centre on social position and accumulation of money and possessions actually face a greater risk of unhappiness, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. In his book The High Price of Materialism, psychology professor Tim Kasser shows how materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

People who are materialistic also tend to be less interested in ecological issues, have negative attitudes toward the environment and demonstrate fewer instances of sustainable behaviour. That’s a tragedy for humanity and the rest of life on Earth.

Cross-cultural research in social science has identified a set of consistently occurring human values. Social psychologists refer to one cluster as “extrinsic”, or materialistic. These are concerned with our desire for achievement, status, power and wealth. Opposite to those are “intrinsic” values. They relate to caring, community, environmental concern and social justice.

Although each of us carries both, the importance we attach to one set of values tends to diminish the importance of the other. When power values like social status, prestige and dominance come first, the universal values of tolerance, appreciation and concern for the welfare of others are suppressed.

The U.K.-based Common Cause Foundation is synthesizing this growing body of values research. It offers guidance to social change organizations on ways to engage cultural values to further their causes. Because values are like muscles — they get stronger the more we exercise them — activists can consciously stimulate intrinsic values in communications and campaigns.

Researchers have also discovered what they call the values “bleed-over effect”. Because values tend to exist in clusters, when one is activated, so are compatible neighbouring values. For example, people reminded of generosity, self-direction and family are more likely to support pro-environmental policies than those reminded of financial success and status.

The forces behind planetary crises are complex. History, politics and economics influence how humans act. Social change requires a focus on individual behaviour, corporate responsibility and government policy. In today’s unstable political environment, values must also be part of the equation.

That’s where we find an important connection between environmental and social justice movements. On a values level, the efforts and strategies to combat climate change and biodiversity loss complement and strengthen those required to bring about greater equality. When environmentalists invoke intrinsic values to increase support for their cause, they also increase support for social justice.

Because values are an important driver of attitudes and behaviour, they are essential to changing social norms. What can we do as individuals? Our social responsibility goes deeper than our consumer habits and voting choices. We need to reflect on what’s important to us. We all deserve to feel secure in our homes and communities, but we can’t depend on the false sense of security that isolation or materialistic pursuits bring. When psychological insecurity is on the rise, we need to stay committed to the values that make us environmentalists and champions of social justice. Instead of retreating to our corners, let’s turn toward one another to re-establish our sense of security and strength.

The good news is that values that support a healthy society and sustainable planet — self-respect, concern for others, connection with nature, equality — also make us happiest in the long term. Each one of us is a value prism, subtly bending the light in a particular direction. Let’s be conscious of where we direct our light.

From our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Public Engagement Specialist Aryne Sheppard.

*An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. “One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. “This same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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Regulating Abortion and Boating: A Modest Proposal by David A. Grimes 

"I Trust Women" bumper sticker from http://www.zazzle.co.nz/feminists+bumper+stickers

The recent avalanche of state abortion regulations (for the sole purpose of improving safety) has had the desired salutary effect. Indeed, thanks to the Republican Party’s preoccupation with gynecology, the risk of death from abortion has over the past decade gone from one death per 100,000 procedures to one death per 100,000 procedures. (The challenge was considerable, since getting lower than one is tough.) After the bevy of new restrictions, abortion today is safer than an injection of penicillin (as it was before the new regulations). Emboldened by their dramatic success in improving abortion safety, Republican-led state legislatures should now direct their medical expertise to non-gynecologic public health threats.

Danger in an abortion clinic?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past decade the average number of deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion has been about 10 per year. Induced abortion and miscarriage remain the safest possible conclusions of pregnancy. In my home state of North Carolina, no abortion-related death has occurred in decades.

Danger on the high (and low) seas

In North Carolina, 16 persons have died in boating accidents in the first few months of 2015. In 2014, 26 persons died in boating accidents in the state. Most fell overboard and drowned, and most of these deaths could have been prevented had life jackets been worn.

Nationwide, 610 persons died in boating accidents in 2014, for a boating risk of death of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered boats. Many of these deaths were preventable. Among drownings for which information was available, 84 percent of victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Time for new laws!

As these federal statistics reveal, each year about 60 times more Americans die from boating than from abortion. While the risks are not directly comparable, having a boat is clearly more dangerous than having an abortion. Hence, more boating regulations are needed. Modeled after the highly successful abortion regulation blitz, the following is a tongue-in-cheek legislative agenda for the Republican Party.

Boaters’ Right to Know Act

Because of the dangers involved, women must receive state-mandated counseling about boating safety before launching. A script written by part-time politicians in the state capital will advise boaters of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of boating. The state-scripted counseling must include the following:

  • Boating causes long-lasting psychological distress related to leaving terra firma (dubbed the “post-nautical stress syndrome”).
  • Government-issued nautical charts are unreliable; the earth is indeed flat, and boats routinely fall off the edge.
  • Wearing a life jacket increases the risk of breast cancer from friction with the chest.

Crisis Boating Centers

State-mandated counseling will refer potential boaters to information centers sponsored by golfing organizations opposed to boating. Proceeds from state-sponsored license plates saying “Choose golf” will subsidize these centers, which provide both on-site and Internet information about boating.

Ultrasound requirement

All boats must have an ultrasound transducer (sonar). The boat operator must provide a narrated description of the contours of the bottom of the river, lake, or ocean to women passengers before launching.

Hospital proximity

Boats can only be operated on waters within 30 miles of a hospital in the rare event that hospitalization of a passenger or crew member is needed.

Mandatory waiting periods

Because women boaters are flighty and irresponsible, a mandatory waiting period is required. A three-day wait sounds about right. For example, if a woman decides after work on Friday to take her children fishing, she could receive the obligatory state counseling about risk and then cast off from the dock… on Monday evening. She has the entire weekend to reflect on whether fishing was a prudent plan for her family.

Licensure

Only Coast Guard-licensed captains can operate boats (despite decades of evidence that such extensive training and experience are unnecessary).

Facilities

Since ambulatory surgical centers are (incorrectly) thought to be safer than abortion clinics, similar upgrades are needed for boating:

  • Only Coast Guard-inspected vessels may be used for recreational boating.
  • Boats must be at least 40 feet long and 14 feet wide, with a canvas or hard top for sun protection.
  • All boats must be equipped with a chart plotter, autopilot and radar.
  • Only diesel engines are allowed, since this fuel is less flammable than gasoline used in outboard engines.

Insurance

With state regulation of abortion coverage in health insurance as a model, states will determine which private insurance carriers can underwrite boat insurance policies. Insurance companies need legislative help.

Politics and public health

As Groucho Marx aptly noted, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Dr. David A. Grimes is the author of Every Third Woman in America: How Legal Abortion Transformed Our Nation. He is the former Chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Source: Huffington Post 05/27/2015. Follow David A. Grimes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drdavidagrimes

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WHO expands list of recommended birth control options in order to save women’s lives by Al Jazeera Staff Reporters

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception.

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception.

The World Health Organization just added a series of long-acting, hormonal contraceptives to the list of globally recommended birth control methods, which will significantly reduce mothers’ risk of dying during childbirth, experts say. The WHO’s guidelines relax restrictions on the use of hormonal methods for breastfeeding women who are less than six weeks postpartum, according to researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The guidelines are welcome in many poor countries, where the researchers hope policymakers and health industries will adopt the updated recommendations to battle high maternal death rates.

More than half of women in low- and middle-income countries (defined as nations with a gross national income less than $12,615 per capita) become pregnant within two years of a first birth, despite their desire to postpone pregnancy or not have another baby at all, according to a study in Contraception, a reproductive health journal. Pregnancies that occur within that interval are at higher risk of resulting in maternal, newborn or child death, according to the researchers.

Experts writing on ‘Global Health Now’, a blog affiliated with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called the move “bold” and “overdue” – one that increases women’s chances to access safe reproductive healthcare worldwide.

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception, according to a 2014 study in 35 low- and middle-income countries published in Human Reproduction, an Oxford University journal. An estimated 222 million girls and women who want to avoid another pregnancy are not using any method of contraception, according to the WHO.

While more than 92% of mothers do not wish to give birth again soon after a pregnancy, 61% of postpartum women in low- and middle-income countries do not use family planning methods, according to the Contraception study.

But at least half of these women give birth again within an interval that’s deemed unsafe to the mother’s health, according to the same study. Even when a mother is using contraceptives, the study found, she is relying on short-acting methods rather than long-acting ones such as implants.

Previously, medical practitioners were discouraged from prescribing hormonal birth control such as patches and implants to women who are less than six weeks postpartum. Many women rely on barrier methods, such as condoms, or believe that practicing breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, fueling many unwanted births that put mothers’ health at risk, according to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s researchers.

“The support for postpartum family planning contained in the revised MEC [WHO recommendations] should usher in a wave of policy changes that make the FP2020 commitment an attainable goal rather than a lofty target,” the researchers added, referring to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s public health target of reaching 120 million more women and girls with voluntary family planning options.

Source: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/1/who-expands-birth-control-options-for.html

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Thoughts on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si by Herman Daly

The big ideas of the encyclical are Creation care and justice, and the failure of our technocratic growth economy to provide either justice or care for Creation.

The big ideas of the encyclical are Creation care and justice, and the failure of our technocratic growth economy to provide either justice or care for Creation.

As a Protestant Christian my devotion to the Catholic Church has been rather minimal, based largely on respect for early church history, and for love of an aunt who was a nun. In recent times the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control, plus the pedophile and cover-up scandals, further alienated me. Like many others I first viewed Pope Francis as perhaps a breath of fresh air, but little more. After reading his encyclical on environment and justice, dare I hope that what I considered merely “fresh air” could actually be the wind of Pentecost filling the Church anew with the Spirit? Maybe. At a minimum he has given us a more truthful, informed, and courageous analysis of the environmental and moral crisis than have our secular political leaders.

True, the important question of population was conspicuous by its near absence. In an earlier offhand remark, however, Francis said that Catholics don’t need to breed “like rabbits,” and pointed to the Church’s doctrine of responsible parenthood. Perhaps he will follow up on that in a future encyclical. In any case, most lay Catholics have for some time stopped listening to Popes on contraception. The popular attitude is expressed in a cartoon showing an Italian mamma wagging her finger at the Pontiff and saying, “You no playa da game; you no maka da rules.” Discussing population would not have changed realities, and would have aroused official opposition and distracted attention from the major points of the encyclical. So I will follow Francis’ politic example and put the population question aside, but with a reference to historian John T. Noonan, Jr.’s classic book, Contraception* which sorts out the history of doctrine on this issue.

The big ideas of the encyclical are Creation care and justice, and the failure of our technocratic growth economy to provide either justice or care for Creation. Also discussed was the integration of science and religion as necessary, though different, avenues to truth. And yes, the Pope supports the scientific consensus on the reality of climate change, but, media monomania to the contrary, the encyclical is about far more than that.

Francis’ voice is of course not the first to come from Christians in defense of Creation. In addition to his ancient namesake from Assisi, Francis also recognized Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who has for two decades now been organizing conferences and speaking out in defense of rivers and oceans, including the Black Sea. The Orthodox Church lost a generation of believers to Communistic atheism, but is gaining back many young people attracted to the theology of Creation and the actions it inspires. Liberal mainline Protestant Christians, and more recently, conservative Evangelicals, have also found their ecological conscience. So Francis’ encyclical would seem to be a capstone that unifies the main divisions of Christianity on at least the fundamental recognition that we have a shamefully neglected duty to care for the Earth out of which we evolved, and to share the Earth’s life support more equitably with each other, with the future, and with other creatures. Many atheists also agree, while claiming that their agreement owes nothing to Judeo-Christian tradition.

This theology of Creation should not be confused with the evolution-denying, anti-science views of some Christian biblical literalists (confusingly called “Creationists” rather than “literalists”). Mankind’s duty to care for Creation, through which humans have evolved to reflect at least the faint image of their Creator, conflicts headlong with the current dominant idolatry of growthism and technological Gnosticism. Creation care is also incompatible with the big lie that sharing the Earth’s limited resources is unnecessary because economic growth will make us all rich. Francis calls this magical thinking. He skates fairly close to the idea of steady-state economics, of qualitative development without quantitative growth, although this concept is not specifically considered. Consider his paragraph 193:

“In any event, if in some cases sustainable development were to involve new forms of growth, then in other cases, given the insatiable and irresponsible growth produced over many decades, we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late. We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept degrowth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.”

Laudato Si is already receiving both strong support and resistance. The resistance testifies to the radical nature of Francis’ renewal of the basic doctrine of the Earth and cosmos as God’s Creation. Pope Francis will be known by the enemies this encyclical makes for him, and these enemies may well be his strength. So far in the US they are not an impressive lot: the Heartland Institute, Jeb Bush, Senator James Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and others. Unfortunately they represent billions in special-interest money, and have a big corporate media megaphone. They believe in letting The Market set policy and behavior. The encyclical calls out the opponents and forces them to defend themselves. Neither The Market nor technology created us, or the Earth that sustains us. Thanks to Francis for making that very clear when so many are denying it, either explicitly or implicitly.

* John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, Belknap Press, 1986. Noonan demonstrates the lack of a biblical basis for opposition to contraception, as well as the origins of church doctrine in secular Roman law, which was absorbed into canon law. The ancient Roman meaning of “proletariat” was “the lowest class, poor and exempt from taxes, and useful to the republic mainly for the procreation of children.” Clearly contraception was not indicated for them, although tolerated for patricians. This literal meaning of proletariat as the prolific class was lost when Marx redefined the word to mean “non owners of the means of production.” But the Malthusian connection with overpopulation and cheap labor has remained real, even if downplayed by Marxists as well as Catholics.

Source: The Daly News, 23 Jun 2015. <http://steadystate.org/thoughts-on-pope-francis-laudato-si&gt;

Also see: <Pope Francis.aletela.org>

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Microbes, biodiversity and the benefits of getting dirty by David Suzuki

People responding to David Suzuki Foundation surveys after our annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report significant mood improvements, more vitality and energy, and increases in nature-specific emotions like awe, curiosity and fascination.

People responding to David Suzuki Foundation surveys after our annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report significant mood improvements, more vitality and energy, and increases in nature-specific emotions like awe, curiosity and fascination.

We’re surrounded by life, but Earth’s most plentiful living things are invisible to the naked eye. Microbes are not only around us, they live on and in us. Although some mocrobes cause maladies ranging from food poisoning to smallpox, there are many more we couldn’t live without.

Beneficial microbes break down food and produce vitamins in our guts. They coat our skin, protecting us from attacks by harmful microbes. Outside our bodies, they decompose organic waste, fix nitrogen and produce half the world’s oxygen.

Scientists refer to the microbial communities on and in our bodies as “microbiomes”. Every one of us hosts as many as 100 trillion microbes — our guts alone are home to 500 to 1,000 different bacteria species!

Just as human activity is harming the diversity of visible life, it’s also diminishing microbial diversity. As researchers learn more about the profound ways good microbes keep people healthy, they’re also seeing how our urbanized, indoor lifestyles have transformed our microbiomes, increasing the risk of disease.

Just as we pollute the environment outside us, we can also pollute and upset the “normal flora” of our bodies by what we eat and do. Effects range from indigestion to deadly disease. One modern consequence of our lack of understanding about the necessity of healthy microbiomes is seen in our use of antibiotics. Despite their benefits, decades of overuse for personal sanitation, minor maladies and to promote growth in livestock has led to new illnesses and infections as sometimes-harmful bacteria evolve to resist antibiotics and our own microbial defences.

According to Alan Logan, author of Your Brain on Nature, diet and where we live and play have a tremendous influence on the microbial ecosystems on our skin and in our noses, mouths and intestines. Logan and experts from a range of disciplines at the Natural Environments Initiative workshop at Harvard School of Public Health found people who live in areas with rich plant diversity have more diverse microbiomes. The air we breathe, the soil we dig and the outdoor plants we come into contact with include a variety of microbes that may be absent in indoor and built environments.

Researchers have even found digging in dirt, whether gardening or playing, can benefit our physical and mental health. A microbe common to mud and wet soils, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been shown to influence brain neurotransmitters to reduce anxiety and improve cognitive functioning. Another microbe encountered in natural environments, Acinetobacter lwoffii, has been shown to benefit the human immune system, preventing asthma, hay fever and other ailments in children who have been exposed to it — although it can also cause infections and gastric problems for people with compromised immune systems.

Research by Ilkka Hanski and colleagues at the University of Helsinki found microbe diversity reduced the incidence of allergies. They compared adolescents living in houses surrounded by biodiverse natural areas to those living in landscapes of lawns and concrete. From skin swabs, they learned that higher native-plant diversity appears to be associated with greater and more diverse microbial composition on the participants’ skin, which led to lower risk of a range of allergies.

It’s likely that, as we learn more about the microbial world, we’ll find other beneficial microbes in nature. The research also highlights the importance of overall biodiversity to human health. A good solution to protecting biodiversity, from the smallest microbe to the largest animal, and to keeping ourselves healthy, is for all of us to spend more time outside.

According to the American Public Health Association, “People of all ages and abilities enjoy higher levels of health and well-being when they have nature nearby in parks, gardens, greenways, naturalized schoolyards and playgrounds, and natural landscaping around homes and workplaces.”

People responding to David Suzuki Foundation surveys after our annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report significant mood improvements, more vitality and energy, and increases in nature-specific emotions like awe, curiosity and fascination. Research has also shown people who develop deeper connections with nature are more likely to care for and protect it, a phenomenon renowned biologist E.O. Wilson called “biophilia.”

As this year’s 30X30 Nature Challenge wraps up, consider it an inspiration to get outside at least 30 minutes every day of the year. It’s good for your health, mood and microbiome — and nature!

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.  The David Suzuki Foundation is a registered charity in both Canada (BN 127756716RR0001) and the United States (94-3204049). We are located at 219-2211 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., V6K 4S2.

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Milkweed is a monarch’s best defense — You can help by David Suzuki

What can you do to help? Plant Milkweed and Don’t Use Roundup!

What can you do to help? Plant Milkweed and Don’t Use Roundup!

The monarch butterfly is a wonderful creature with an amazing story. In late summer, monarchs in southern Canada and the U.S. northeast take flight, travelling over 5,000 kilometres to alpine forests in central Mexico. The overwintering butterflies cling to fir trees there in masses so dense that branches bow under their weight.

The monarch’s multigenerational journey northward is every bit as remarkable as the epic southern migration. Three or four successive generations fly to breeding grounds, lay eggs and perish. The resulting caterpillars transform into butterflies and then take on the next leg of the trip. Monarchs arriving in Canada in late summer are often fourth or fifth generation descendants of butterflies that flew south the previous year.

What may be the monarch’s most striking quirk is its caterpillars’ reliance on milkweed as its sole food source, a phenomenon called “monophagy”. Milkweed plants contain small traces of cardenolides, bitter chemicals monarchs store in their bodies to discourage predators, which associate the butterflies’ distinctive coloration with bad taste. But relying on a single type of plant for survival is a risky strategy that has put monarchs in grave danger.

In the mid-1990s, the eastern monarch population was more than one billion. In winter 2013, the population had dropped by more than 95 per cent to 35 million, with a modest increase to 56.5 million this past winter. As University of Guelph postdoctoral research fellow Tyler Flockhart notes, a single severe storm could extinguish the entire monarch population. A 2002 snowstorm wiped out 80 million butterflies. A similar trend has been occurring west of the Rockies, where the western population overwinters in California and migrates as far north as central B.C.

Roundup Kills Butterflies

Much of the monarch butterfly decline has been pinned on virtual eradication of its critical food source throughout much of its migration path by profligate use of a glyphosate-based weed killer called Roundup, which corn and soybean crops have been genetically modified to tolerate. Blanketing fields with the herbicide kills plants like milkweed. As a result, several U.S. Midwest states — the heart of monarch breeding territory — have lost most of their native milkweed, causing monarch reproductive rates to drop by more than 80 per cent.

A recent study suggests glyphosate is merely the first of a one-two toxic punch from industrial agricultural operations. The second is neonicotinoids, the controversial nicotine-based insecticides that have been identified as a chief culprit in the decline of honeybees, along with a host of birds, bees and butterflies. It appears that even at one part per billion, these chemicals can affect monarch caterpillar development, delivering a potential knockout blow for the imperiled insects.

The good news is that many jurisdictions are catching up with the science. Ontario’s government has proposed regulations to reduce neonic use by 80 per cent over the next couple of years. In early April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a moratorium on new applications to use neonicotinoids. I hope this marks the turning of the toxic tide, but time is running out.

What can you do to help? Plant Milkweed and Don’t Use Roundup!

While government agencies in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada are scrambling to hatch plans to save monarchs, the scientific community has been clear: A lot of milkweed must be planted over the next few years. One great opportunity is the many thousands of kilometres of linear corridors — rail, road and hydro rights-of-way — that run throughout the migratory landscape and can be modified to grow milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants.

Yards, school grounds and parks are also perfect for butterfly gardens and milkweed patches, and planting milkweed in your backyard or balcony garden is a great way to help. Be sure to call your local garden center or nursery to ensure they stock native milkweed plants and seeds this spring.

Find out more about milkweed and information about how to bring monarchs back from the brink at the David Suzuki Foundation’s Got Milkweed campaign website. You can also donate to support Foundation volunteers planting milkweed in the Greater Toronto Area.

Planting milkweed may seem small, but the combined actions of thousands of concerned Canadians and Americans stitching together parks and yards with schools and rights-of-way into a glorious tapestry of butterfly corridors could usher in a new, hopeful era for monarch butterflies.

From our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation. Written by David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts.

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