Monthly Archives: September 2012

One Hundred More Colorado Rivers Needed to Feed Growing Population by Alister Doyle

“Death Valley, No Water” Photo by Trey Ratcliff/Flickr/cc

OSLO (Reuters) – The world needs to find the equivalent of the flow of 100 Colorado rivers or 20 Nile rivers by 2025 to grow enough food to feed a rising population, and help avoid conflicts over water scarcity, says a recently released study by world leaders.

Factors such as climate change will strain freshwater supplies, and nations including China and India are likely to face shortages within two decades, they said, calling on the U.N. Security Council to get more involved. “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating,” former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said of a study issued by a group of 40 former leaders he co-chairs, leaders including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. “It will lead to some conflicts,” Chretien told reporters on a telephone conference call, highlighting tensions such as in the Middle East over the Jordan River.

The study, by the InterAction Council of leaders, said the U.N. Security Council should make water the top concern. Until now, the Security Council has treated water as a factor in other crises, such as conflict in Sudan or the impact of global warming. The study says that about 3,800 cubic km (910 cubic miles) of fresh water is taken from rivers and lakes every year.  “With about 1 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025, global agriculture alone will require another 1,000 cubic km (240 cubic miles) of water per year,” it states.  That increase is “equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers”, according to the report, also backed by the U.N. University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH) and Canada’s Gordon Foundation.

The world population now is over 7 billion.

CHINA, INDIA: 2.5 BILLION PEOPLE

The report says the greatest growth in demand for water will be in China, the United States and India due to high population growth, increasing irrigation and economic growth. “By 2030, demand for water in India and China, the most populous nations on Earth, will exceed their current supplies,” the report said.

Global warming, blamed on human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, will aggravate the problems. “We say in the U.N. system that climate change is all about water,” said Zafar Adeel, director of UNWEH. Severe weather events – such as droughts, floods, mudslides or downpours – are becoming more frequent.

UN-Water, which coordinates water-related efforts by the United Nations, will organize a meeting of foreign ministers this month and separate talks among experts on September 25 to look at ways to address concerns over water.

The report said there are already examples of water-related conflicts, for instance between Israelis and Palestinians over aquifers, between Egypt and other nations sharing the Nile, or between Iran and Afghanistan over the Hirmand River.

One billion people have no fresh water and 2 billion lack basic sanitation. About 4,500 children die of water-related diseases every day – the equivalent of 10 jumbo jets falling out of the sky with no survivors.

For more info see: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-10/business/sns-rt-us-waterbre88913w-20120910_1_water-scarcity-domestic-water-population-growth

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Re-examining Our Approach to Ecology: Ecosystems are Webs of Relationships by Rex Weyler

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” — Gregory Bateson, An Ecology of Mind

Piecemeal ecology isn’t working.

Forty years have passed since the founding of Greenpeace and the first UN environment meeting in Stockholm, fifty years since the groundbreaking Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and 115 years since Svante Arrhenius warned that burning hydrocarbons would heat Earth’s atmosphere.

Today, we have more environmental groups and less forests, more “protected areas” and less species, more carbon taxes and greater carbon emissions, more “green” products and less green space. These failures are not necessarily the fault of environmental groups, who have helped slow down the destructive impacts the industrial juggernaut, but the failures do demonstrate that all our collective efforts are not yet remotely enough.

For example, observing the “Living Planet Index” of species diversity, we find that after 1980 – even with the creation of new endangered species regulations, parks, and protected areas – terrestrial and marine species have declined. For the last thirty years, even with a massive increase in wilderness groups, species diversity has plummeted and the rate of decline has accelerated.

Likewise, as we gain 30% energy efficiency in heating buildings, we double the average space-per-person and then add more people, resulting in 300% more space to heat. The Rio+20 Conference proved once again that government conferences change nothing. After thirty years of climate deals, we have more CO2 emissions each year, not less. After forty years of international ocean dumping bans, the oceans are more toxic and more acidic, not less.

Why?

In July 2011, Camilo Mora, from University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University, and Peter F. Sale, from the UN University in Ontario, Canada, published “Ongoing global diversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas.” Their report shows that since 1965, land based “Protected Areas” (PAs) have grown by 600% to 18 million square-kilometers. Marine PAs have grown by 400% to about 2.1 million sq-km. However, in both cases – on land and in oceans – biodiversity has declined, and the rate of decline has increased.  Since 1974, terrestrial biodiversity has plummeted by about 40% and since 1990, in twenty years, the marine index has declined by 21%.

Mora and Sale site problems with the size and management of the protected areas, failure to protect enough area for home ranges and dispersal, and growing threats to large scale ecosystems. Such threats trace back to growing human population and consumption demands.

The authors support the establishment of protected areas but warn that these areas alone will not stop biodiversity decline without larger, systemic programs. Mora points out that most protected areas are really just “paper parks” in name only, but not truly protected.

Sale says flatly, “Protected areas are a false hope in terms of preventing the loss of biodiversity.” In “paper parks,” plants and animals disappear to poachers, development, and industrial pressure for logging and mining. Often, without adequate enforcement, industrial developers simply ignore protection rules. Similarly, in the 1980s, environmentalists fought for and won international bans on pelagic whaling and toxic dumping, yet we continue to fight to enforce the bans as they are routinely ignored by whalers and the toxic waste industries.

Furthermore, park boundaries cannot restrain pollution and global warming impacts. Typically, when a forest or coral reef is protected, the neighboring area is overharvested by industry and often decimated, breaking natural ecosystem links. Finally, this study points out that ecosystems require appropriate scale to allow for variations in ecological diversity, richness, abundance, synergies, and co-dependence.

Mora, Sale and many other biologists and ecologists have warned that we cannot stop biodiversity decline without putting limits on human population and consumption growth. “There is a clear and urgent need for additional solutions,” the authors warn, “particularly ones that stabilize … the world’s human population and our ecological demands.”

In practice, human efforts to protect and restore Earth’s ecological health have focused on a “species” or a “habitat” or some thing that needed protection. But this has failed to account for the fundamental nature of living systems. Earth’s ecology is not a collection of things. Rather, Earth’s ecology operates as interlocking, co-evolving systems, driven by feedbacks and interactions. The systems remain always dynamic, never completely stable, and always correcting for instability, the way a hummingbird adjusts in flight or a human bicycler maintains balance.

Every subsystem in Nature interacts with others. Nothing exists alone in nature. Nothing survives alone in Nature. We talk about a “tree” and “soil” and “atmosphere,” for convenience, but none of these exist without the others. There is no absolute division among these elements of the system. Indeed, biological and physical sciences do not describe “things.” Science describes relationships. “All division of the world into things,” warned Gregory Bateson, “is arbitrary.”

Global environmental strategies to date reveal isolated efforts but systemic failures. As planners and implementers of ecological wisdom, we have not yet grasped the complexity of systems, the rules, demands, and feedback mechanisms of complex living systems.

In short, human environmentalism has yet to embrace Earth’s biosphere as a living process. The biosphere itself exists nested in a geosphere and solar system, which generate materials and energy and information for all the subsystems. Deep within the biosphere, communities, families, organisms, organs, and cells represent finer subsystems.

An ecosystem represents a living system at the highest level of complexity we can imagine, and far beyond our ability to fully describe, manage, or predict. An ecosystem is not a thing. It is a web of relationships, a dynamic co-evolution of systems and subsystems, all nested within each other. Each subsystem draws matter, energy, and information across boundaries from more fundamental systems; decodes information and makes decisions; and passes new information, products, and waste, back into the larger systems. Nature works as a continuum. Ecosystems are not “managed” by any of the parts, and as far as human science knows, no ecosystem ever will be.

Ecosystems evolve patterns of relationship, which we call “rules,” but do not pre-determine outcome. Rather, the rules of nature’s “game” create trends and variations on themes. The variations and patterns that can repeat and replicate themselves become “alive” but they are never just “things.” Every subsystem within an ecosystem – from cell to society – remains a co-dependent process, interconnected with other dynamic processes.

In living systems, the continually altering flows of matter, energy, and information, reach states that ecologists call “dynamic equilibria” during which system instabilities oscillate within mutually supportive limits – a body, a forest, a neighbourhood of species –  for long periods of time. During such equilibria, randomness among the interactions give rise to new patterns, radical novelty, called by systems analysts “emergent behaviour,” a new pattern, which can influence the system to new directions.

Since co-evolving systems include random factors – as do chess games or hurricanes – they are not entirely predictable, even if one knows the rules. Thus – and this our society needs desperately to embrace – systems themselves evolve, and new relationships almost always include unintended consequences. Each subsystem – organ, body, society – within an ecosystem co-creates a complex web of processes with its neighbouring subsystems. Nature is a web of relationships. Our ecological efforts need to recognize and protect these complex relationships.

One strength of the human species is our acute ability to learn. Our society appears steeped in denial, but we can learn from our ecological mistakes. Our “solutions” to the challenges of ecology on a crowded planet have not yet been successful. “We’re winning a lot of battles,” Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said at the 40th anniversary of Greenpeace, “but we’re still losing the war.” Sadly, this is true. Every day, our planet is poorer, with less forests, less species, less fresh water and arable soil, and more desserts, more toxins, and more CO2 in the atmosphere. To reverse this, we need to learn about the systems in which we live.

A recent ad campaign from International Business Machines (IBM) imagines innovations to create “a smarter planet.” But Nature has news for IBM. The planet is already far smarter than any human engineer. We cannot manage Nature. Rather, we need to apprentice ourselves to Nature, to learn how Nature solves dilemmas and sorts out imbalances.

For every species other than humans, the biggest environmental issue on Earth is Humanity. If we don’t change our ways, seriously and thoroughly change, then nature will eventually leave us behind and carry on without us.

Source: http://rexweyler.com/blog-placeholder/  , July 2012.

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Ensuring A Sustainable Future by Progressives for Immigration Reform

“Just think! By 2040 there may be twice as many of us to enjoy this beach!”
photo by Tom Sullivan/Flickr/cc

We must choose between sustainability and continued population growth. We cannot have both.

DOES IMMIGRATION IMPACT POPULATION GROWTH?

The nation’s ongoing debate over the number of legal and illegal immigrants entering the country each year has raised legitimate questions about the sustainability of current U.S. immigration policies and the size of nation we wish to become.

Although political sensitivity has often curtailed the discussion of the impact that immigration has on U.S. population size, the fact is that immigration accounts for 63% of our nation’s population growth. For over 30 years, immigration has served as the largest contributor to the increase in U.S. population. As a direct result of its immigration policies, the United States is now the third most populous nation in the entire world and grows at a rate of more than twice that of China. In fact, the United States has the fastest population growth of any industrialized nation, and is surpassed only by India and Nigeria.

Projections issued by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that over the next 50 years the United States is set to add an additional 167 million more to its population, with 105 million resulting solely due to immigration. This projection is an increase of more than 55% of the U.S. population today.

The United States currently adds 1.25 million immigrants (net) to its population every year. Without a return to more traditional levels of immigration, somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 per year, U.S. population is slated to increase from 307 million today to 468 million by the year 2060.

Public opinion polls demonstrate that stabilizing the size of U.S. population is a concept that most Americans are willing to embrace. The goal of population stabilization can be achieved by curtailing large-scale immigration.

“It’s so good to get out into nature!”
photo by M Griffiths/Flickr/cc

Does Immigration Impact The Environment?

Many people want a sustainable society, one that secures essential natural resources for future generations and preserves flourishing populations of all native species in perpetuity.  Yet the United States will fail in these efforts, if we fail to stabilize our population. As David Brower, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, put it, at the dawn of the environmental movement: “We feel you don’t have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy.”

Many people seek to preserve open space, farms and wildlife habitat from sprawl. They support new parks and wildlife refuges, and improved land use, transportation and zoning policies. But over half the sprawl in the United States is caused by population growth. Unless we stop population growth, sprawl will continue to gobble up undeveloped land.

Many people want the United States to take the lead in combating global climate change. They support higher mileage requirements for cars and trucks and increased funding for mass transit; replacing coal-fired power plants with solar, wind and other alternative energy sources; and higher efficiency standards for heating, cooling and insulating new buildings. But in recent decades, four-fifths of the increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has come from U.S. population growth, as more people drove more cars, built more houses, ate more food, and did all the other things that generate carbon. Unless we stop population growth, America will continue to generate too much CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases.

Some environmentalists argue that Americans only need to focus on fighting pollution and reducing our consumption, in order to curb environmental destruction. They are right to argue for decreased consumption and increased vigilance against polluters, but wrong to assume that such efforts can take the place of stabilizing our population. A growing population can swamp improvements in consumption or pollution abatement. In fact, we have seen this happen regarding national energy use and carbon emissions in the past few decades, as greater efficiency in per capita energy use has failed to keep pace with increased numbers (more “capitas”). Total energy use and total carbon emissions have risen, due to population growth.

As President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development put it:

“Managing population growth, resources, and wastes is essential to ensuring that the total impact of these factors is within the bounds of sustainability. Stabilizing the population without changing consumption and waste production patterns would not be enough, but it would make an immensely challenging task more manageable. In the United States, each is necessary; neither alone is sufficient.”

One of the Council’s ten main recommendations for creating a sustainable society was: “Move toward stabilization of U.S. Population.”

Some American environmentalists argue that overpopulation is solely a global problem, not a national one, and that it requires an exclusive focus on global solutions. They are right that worldwide population growth is an immense environmental problem, but wrong to think that addressing it is best done by ignoring U.S. population growth. The U.S. government should finance and encourage family planning efforts in developing nations, to help slow population growth. We should stick up for the rights of women in international forums and encourage female literacy and economic empowerment in poor countries, since securing these rights and furthering these interests are both the right things to do, as a matter of justice toward women, and they have proven successful at reducing fertility rates around the world.

However, Americans also need to attend to our own house. The United States is the third largest nation in the world, and our population is growing rapidly. Our most direct and important responsibility regarding global population growth is to end population growth within our own borders.

In addition, while many progressives like to think of ourselves as “citizens of the world,” concerned for the well-being of all humankind, those of us who remain citizens of the United States, have further, particular responsibilities. As Americans, we believe we have a special responsibility to preserve wild species and wild landscapes right here, in our own country. Our children and grandchildren will blame us, rightly, if we fail to preserve opportunities for them to get to know and appreciate wild nature. They will blame us, rightly, if we fail to preserve clean air, clean water, sufficient topsoil to grow food, and all the other resources essential for their well-being. In other words, we have a duty to future generations of Americans to create a sustainable society. Continued population growth makes achieving that goal impossible. We must end U.S. population growth.

However, in order to stabilize America’s population, we must reduce immigration, since today it is high immigration rates that are driving continued rapid population growth in the United States. During much of the previous century, population increase was fueled primarily by high native birth rates, but in recent decades, the total fertility rate of American women has fallen dramatically: from 3.5 children per woman in the 1950s, to 1.7 children in the 1970s, to 2.05 children today. According to a recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center, 82% of population growth between 2005 and 2050 will be due to new immigrants arriving and their descendants. [http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=85]

WHY DO IMMIGRATION NUMBERS MATTER?

With a total fertility rate slightly below 2.1 children per woman, today the United States is well positioned to transition to slower population growth in coming decades. If we can encourage slightly lower birth rates among American citizens, we could stabilize our population sometime later in this century. If we do not reduce immigration, however, our population will balloon over the next hundred years, and continue growing with no end in sight.

Skeptical? Consider four numbers: 310 million, 377 million, 571 million, and 854 million. 310 million is the population of the United States as we write these words, at the end of 2010. The last three numbers are population projections for the year 2100, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau. Each of the three projections holds fertility rates steady, while varying immigration levels, so annual immigration rates make the main difference between them.

Under a zero immigration projection, the U.S. population continues to grow throughout the 21st century, increasing to 377 million people, 67 million more than our current population. Under a “middle” projection, with immigration a little less than one million annually, we instead add nearly 300 million people and almost double our population by 2100, to 571 million people. And under the highest scenario, with over two million immigrants annually, our population nearly triples by 2100, adding almost 600 million more people by the end of the century, to 854 million people. Obviously, according to the Census Bureau, immigration makes a huge difference to future U.S. population numbers.

A booming population has numerous harmful ecological effects beyond the sprawl and increased greenhouse gas emissions we have already discussed. It increases water use. It accelerates deforestation. It furthers crowding, which in turn makes it harder for young Americans to connect with nature, furthering “nature deficit disorder.”  Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, asked in a speech in Wisconsin in March, 2000: “With twice the population, will there be any wilderness left? Any quiet place? Any habitat for song birds? Waterfalls? Other wild creatures? Not much.”

Population growth also increases our dependence on fossil fuels, making the U.S. more likely to resort to deepwater oil drilling and more susceptible to disasters such as the recent BP Gulf oil spill. Indeed, it is hard to think of a single environmental problem that is not made significantly worse by population growth, or that could not be more effectively met if we could stabilize or reduce our population.

As the Clinton Council on Sustainable Development put it ten years ago: “The sum of all human activity, and thus the sum of all environmental, economic and social impacts from human activity, is captured by considering population together with consumption.”

President Jimmy Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, in a report twenty years earlier, stated: “The United States should . . . develop a U.S. national population policy that includes attention to issues such as population stabilization.”

And the great conservationist Aldo Leopold, fifty years before that, wrote:

“If there is any question of ‘superiority’ involved at all, it is whether we will prove capable of regulating our own future human population density by some qualitative standard, or whether, like the grouse, we will automatically fill up the large biological niche which Columbus found for us, and which Mr. Edison and Mr. Ford, through ‘management’ of our human environment, are constantly making larger. I fear we will. The boosters fear we will not, or else they fear there will be some needless delay about it.”

American environmentalists face a choice. Ultimately, our environmental goals can only be accomplished if the population of the United States stops growing. This will only occur if immigration is substantially reduced, preferably by bringing immigration numbers in line with emigration numbers. We must choose between sustainability and continued population growth. We cannot have both.

Does Immigration Impact American Labor?

Immigration has had both positive and negative consequences for the U.S. economy. It benefits some groups of Americans and harms others. The benefits flow primarily to affluent Americans while the costs are mostly borne by low-income Americans. It is a regressive policy, just like tax cuts for the wealthy or right-to-work laws. Progressives who support low-wage workers should be able to find common cause with the advocates for immigration reduction.

Three basic facts about immigration under-gird its economic impacts. First, immigrant inflows into the U.S. labor market are very large. Immigration accounts for over half of labor force growth. Such large numbers inevitably mean that immigration has had large effects. We can argue about what those effects might be, but we cannot pretend that they have not occurred.

Second, immigrants are especially likely to have low levels of education and skills. About 30% of all foreign born workers (and about 60% of those from Mexico and Central America) do not hold a high school degree. Illegal immigrants are even more likely to have low levels of education. While many immigrants are highly educated, the large share with low levels of educational attainment concentrates their impact in the low-wage sector of the labor market.

Third, immigrant workers are spread throughout the occupational distribution. Less than 2% of all foreign born workers (and less than 4% of those from Mexico and Central America) are in agricultural occupations. The largest shares of foreign workers are in production and construction occupations. Workers from Mexico and Central America are also especially likely to be in buildings and grounds maintenance, transportation, and food service occupations. Immigrant workers are not isolated in a separate labor market. The assertion that immigrants “take jobs that Americans don’t want” is a myth.

The upshot is that immigrant workers increase job competition for American workers, and drive down their wages and employment opportunities. According to Professor George Borjas of Harvard University, immigration from 1980 to 2000 reduced the weekly wages of all native workers by about 4%. The greatest negative impacts were on high school drop-outs, black and Hispanic workers, and young workers.

There is also good evidence that immigration has decreased the employment of these groups of American workers. According to Professor Andrew Sum and his colleagues at Northeastern University, a one percentage point increase in a state’s labor force caused by immigration results in a 1.2 percentage point decline in the employment rate of 16-24 year olds, and a decline of twice that amount among African Americans of that age group. Professor Sum has also shown that almost all of the job growth between 2000 and 2004 went to immigrants. Young workers, minority workers and workers without a high school degree have unemployment rates that are much higher than other workers. This is the opposite of what one would expect if low-wage occupations faced labor shortages, as the advocates for open borders often argue. In fact, the U.S. already has an excess supply of labor in low wage occupations—that is why they continue to pay such low wages.

These figures on the impact of immigration on the wages and employment of American workers might seem small (though a 4% wage reduction can significantly reduce living standards for people with low earnings). But immigration creates a number of offsetting trends that blunt the measurement of its effect. For example, the negative consequences of immigration tend to wash out over time as workers adapt and the labor market adjusts. The workers most adversely affected by immigration in a particular locale may move or drop out of the labor force. Immigrants may be attracted to locales that offer higher wages, obscuring the correlation between immigrant growth and wage decline. All of these factors make it difficult to measure the true economic impact of immigration.

Immigration also creates economic benefits. By adding to our labor resources, it increases our capacity to produce goods and to generate income. The major recipients of this additional income, aside from the immigrants themselves, are the employers who hire them and the high-skill workers who work alongside them. Immigration can also increase consumer choices and expand markets. If it stimulates growth, it may also stimulate investment (though an increase in the availability of very low-wage labor is usually associated with a decline in investment in labor-saving technologies). Immigration may help keep jobs in the U.S. if it increases our competitiveness with respect to labor costs.

Like the labor market impact of immigration, the fiscal impact is also characterized by pluses and minuses. Because immigrants have lower incomes and larger families than natives, they tend to use more social services, particularly public education and public hospitals. They also tend to pay less in taxes, resulting in significant fiscal deficits at the state and local levels. But the opposite is true at the federal level because immigrants often pay social security taxes but fail to collect benefits. The overall fiscal impact of immigration appears to be negative, at least in the short-run, but not large relative to total government borrowing.

Because immigration creates both benefits and costs, its aggregate economic impact is surprisingly small. Those who argue that immigration will destroy the economy, and those who argue that immigration will save the economy, are both wrong.

Immigration is both bad and good for the American economy. The problem from a progressive perspective is that the negative consequences of immigration fall on the shoulders of those least able to bear it: low-wage workers, minority workers and young workers. Like international flows of capital and commodities, international flows of labor add to growth but also increase job competition, particularly for workers without specialized skills. Progressives who are critical of other aspects of globalization should apply the same analysis to immigration.

 This section on labor was written by Steven Shulman, Professor of Economics, Colorado State University.

THINKING FAMILY PLANNING GLOBALLY, ACTING LOCALLY

Bringing population size into balance with natural resources is critical to improved economic conditions and environmental and food security worldwide. This is a key element in preventing further damage to the planet’s ecosystem and the current threats to a stable climate conducive to all forms of life on Earth.

Families should always be created by choice and not coercion. The first priority of U.S. humanitarian aid should be provision of comprehensive, voluntary family planning and reproductive information and services along with support for elevation of the status of women and girls, education of daughters, protection of children from exploitation, and related social and health goals. The accumulated evidence of the last half century is that delaying childbearing until adulthood and spacing of children is the single most effective step to improving maternal and child health that any society can take. Having every child wanted and loved is a requirement for healthy development of children.

These priorities and steps will reduce the potential for civil and international conflicts that can result when demand for resources outstrips supply.

A number of countries, especially in Asia, have demonstrated that the reduction of high fertility rates is a precursor to society-wide economic development. Such development narrows the gap between rich and poor, leading to egalitarian societies. Indeed, economic progress and economic welfare should always be measured not by such indicators as GDP, but rather GDP per capita. Economic policies of the United States should emphasize genuine well-being, not increasing consumption beyond the level needed for a decent and healthy life.

The United States should provide universal access to voluntary family planning services here at home. The U.S. should work to reduce both its population growth and excessive consumption of energy and resources in order to protect the most vulnerable in the global society from the potential effects of climate change and environmental destruction. The U.S. should take a lead role in demonstrating the positive benefits of sustainable population size and lifestyles.

 For more information contact: Progressives for Immigration Reform, 888 16th Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006, phone toll-free: 866-331-PFIR, website: http://www.progressivesforimmigrationreform.org

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The Next President’s Inaugural Speech (If Only…) by Brent Blackwelder

“We will take up the challenge of leadership so that we can once again pursue the noble vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Once upon a time the United States was a global pioneer of democracy and justice. The founders of this great nation articulated a noble vision of inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Times have changed. We have emerged from this presidential campaign with an ignoble vision of alienating wrongs – venom, vitriol, and the pursuit of pettiness. The campaign, including my campaign, dodged the most important issue of our era: coming to grips with the ecological reality confronting life on this planet. Today I pledge to make our nation once again the leader in solving economic, environmental, and social crises.

We have built a global economy that refuses to recognize ecological limits to growth. Repeated financial collapses, mushrooming corruption, and rampant speculation have characterized the last twenty years. We will blaze a new trail over the next twenty years; we will take bold steps to confront the failed global economy. Better late than never, we will face the issues of climate change and population growth that we have been avoiding for political expedience.

Modern industrial societies, with the United States leading the way, are emitting so much pollution that we have endangered the stability of earth’s climate and jeopardized the survival of over one quarter of the planet’s species. Our global population of over seven billion needs access to goods and services, but almost a billion are already struggling to obtain the bare necessities. Our civilization is using natural resources much faster than the earth can regenerate them. Scientists explain that we would need one and a half earths to keep consuming at our current rate. We can do better.

Our goal is to create a true-cost economy, a sustainable economy that gives everyone a fair chance. No more cheater economics and no more casino economics. We will put the cheaters in jail and close down the Wall Street casinos.

We will challenge the zealous pursuit of economic growth as the solution to the all problems. Much of our so-called economic growth has cost us far more than it has been worth. We have ruthless growth that benefits a few at the top but does nothing for most Americans. We have futureless growth that destroys resources, such as water and farmland, that will be needed by our children and grandchildren. Our economy should line up with our family values. We tell our children to save for the future. We don’t tell them to outspend their peers and judge the quality of their lives based on quarterly financial reports.

We will fund family planning so that the 250 million women worldwide who want such services can get them. All U.S. foreign aid will be screened to ensure that women will be better off as a result of the assistance.

While America has been sleeping, other nations have stepped into leadership roles:

  • Iceland has become the leader in empowerment of women; women hold the majority of jobs in university education and have nearly half the seats in parliament.
  • Bhutan has become the leader in measuring progress; this small Himalayan nation has committed itself to maximizing gross national happiness rather than gross national product.
  • Costa Rica and Sweden are leading the way in climate stabilization by instituting carbon taxes.
  • Germany, a nation with unexceptional wind and solar potential, has became the world’s largest generator of electricity in both categories.
  • Several European nations are taking the lead on jobs, shifting to shorter work weeks to relieve unemployment and enable citizens to spend time as they choose.

It’s encouraging to see other nations stepping up, but the United States need to get in the game. We can no longer stand still and watch other nations pass by on the way to a sustainable twenty-first-century economy.

Instead of rehashing the vicious debate over the deficit, I will move to implement a Robin Hood tax of just half of one percent on financial transactions. This simple and fair tax would yield billions in revenue and prevent Wall Street gamblers from playing with our money. We can haveprosperity without growth.

We will adopt a four-day work week. There is no winner in a rat race. We will share the work, so that everyone can have a job, and we will trade the high productivity of our workers for a time dividend – meaning more time spent with our families and less time spent at the office.

Instead of fighting wars over oil, our military will prevent wars by helping to engineer the transition to clean energy. The military is already far ahead of the public and politicians in recognizing the threat of climate disruption. For example, the U.S. Army is working to get its bases off the electric grid and onto renewable energy. We will accelerate efforts like these and apply them across the nation.

We have only to look at the history of our nation to find inspirational leadership. The United States led in stewardship of the land with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first, in 1872. Faced with mounting pollution in the 1960s, we responded to the challenge. Congress launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and assumed global leadership in reducing pollution by passing clean air and water laws. Other countries replicated our laws.

Now, even though most citizens are aware of profound economic and environmental problems at home and abroad, the United States has been a drag, not a leader. Instead of excuses and gridlock, we will take responsibility for our actions. My administration will put aside pessimistic notions of what we can’t do and focus on what we can do.

I am not proposing an unachievable agenda for the American people, but rather a solid plan to build on our past triumphs and cooperate with today’s leading countries, regions, cities, and towns that have begun the quest for an economy with a future. We will systematically transform the United States from the biggest consumer to the biggest conserver. We will take up the challenge of leadership so that we can once again pursue the noble vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thanks to Brent Blackwater of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy for the following piece of creative writing, which is the inaugural address we certainly won’t be hearing in January 2013. 

Note: Blackwater recently retired as the president of Friends of the Earth and has testified in front of the U.S. Congress more than 100 times.  He is a founder of American Rivers and helped expand the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System from eight rivers in 1973 to over 250 today. He has initiated campaigns to reform the World Bank and succeeded in getting Congress to enact a series of significant reforms directing the Bank to pay more attention to the environment. He graduated summa cum laude from Duke University and received an M.A. in mathematics from Yale, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Maryland.

See: http://steadystate.org/presidents-inaugural-speech/

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Does Falling National Fertility Increase Income Inequality? from The Economist

Photo by Andrew Bardwell/Flickr/cc

In poor countries lower fertility is usually good for the economy. But it can also increase inequality.

ECONOMIES benefit when people start having smaller families. As fertility falls, the share of working-age adults in the population creeps up, laying the foundation for the so-called “demographic dividend”. With fewer children, parents invest more in each child’s education, increasing human capital. People tend to save more for their retirment, so more money is available for investment. And women take paid jobs, boosting the size of the workforce. All this is good for economic growth and household income. A recent study estimated that a decrease of Nigeria’s fertility rate by one child per woman would boost GDP per head by 13% over 20 years. But not every consequence of lower fertility is peachy. A new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health identifies another and surprising effect: higher inequality in the short term.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Source: The Economist, Aug 11, 2012.

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Los Angeles Times Editorial: Overpopulation is everyone’s problem

“Hungry in Bangladesh” Photo from BBC News service/Flickr/cc

With 1 billion people chronically hungry and Earth’s population expected to increase by 50% before the end of the century, it’s time to get serious about family planning.

At one point, the prevailing wisdom was that nations needed robust birthrates to protect their economic welfare, and that if only we could produce food more efficiently, feeding the Earth’s burgeoning population wouldn’t be a problem. Now, with 1 billion of the world’s people chronically hungry and the population expected to increase by 50% before the end of the century, we know better. Or we ought to.

A recent five-part series by Times reporter Kenneth R. Weiss detailed the multipronged dilemma facing the thinkers and global leaders whose aim is to reduce famine and sickness without devastating the world’s finite resources. There would have been even higher rates of starvation already had it not been for the development of modern agricultural techniques, but the world’s capacity for producing yet more food is limited. The easily arable land has been taken, and it is actually shrinking because of the encroachment of cities and suburbs; water clean enough for agriculture is increasingly tapped out in some key regions. Climate change is expected to put further strains on food production.

No one has a good solution. That’s why family planning assistance is one of the most important forms of humanitarian aid that the United States and other developed nations can provide.

CLICK HERE to read the full article on LATimes.com.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2012.

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Connecting the Dots by Susan Finsen

Burning Oil, Rising Water. Artwork by J. Schweitzer/Flickr/cc.

Climate change is a reality we can no longer ignore, and we need to start connecting the dots: Record-breaking heat, natural disasters, rising sea levels and melting glaciers are not isolated anomalies. Rather, such events are the “new normal” as the Earth warms in response to increases in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The National Academies of Science of all the major industrialized nations conducting research on climate change have all issued statements that climate change is a real and serious problem which must be addressed soon in order to avert much more serious disasters.

The Pentagon, too, has issued several plans to deal with the civil and international unrest caused by climate-induced food and water shortages and the influx of environmental refugees.

In the U.S., the public has not regarded climate change as a high priority, likely in part due to a vast public relations campaign bankrolled by the fossil fuels industry, designed to cast doubt on climate science. (The Koch Brothers alone have spent nearly sixty million on climate denial front groups, for example.) But a new poll conducted at Yale University shows a sharp increase in the number of Americans who are concerned about climate change. It seems that recent weather extremes have caught the public’s attention: Temperatures in the U.S. in March were 8.6 degrees above normal according to NASA, far exceeding all records since 1895 when records were first kept. More than 15,000 temperature records were broken in March nationally, and for the first three months of the year temperatures were 6 degrees above average.  

No one heat wave or natural disaster can be linked directly to climate change, but such events do raise awareness that something is different now. And on Saturday, May 5, environmentalists all over the world created events designed to raise public awareness and lead more people to “connect the dots”. The organization responsible for this, and other, global days of action is 350.org.

WHY 350?

The number 350 (CO2 parts per million) stands for the amount of C02 that climate scientists tell us is compatible with human civilization as we know it. The atmosphere is currently at 396 ppm (parts per million). The events are designed to call attention not only to the facts of climate change, but to the many solutions already available to cut greenhouse gas emissions. For more information about these events, and what you can do, visit <www.350.org>.

It is wise for us to educate ourselves about the probable impacts of climate change in our area and to do what we can to prepare for them. One prediction of the climate models is for more weather extremes—more precipitation as well as more drought. Also more precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. Therefore for regions dependent upon the mountain snowpack for water, there may well be shortages in hot summer months.

Developing methods to conserve in many ways now will help to avoid shortages and the restrictive measures that can go along with them later.

Susan Finsen is a professor of philosophy at California State University, San Bernardino, CA, with a special emphasis in philosophy of biology, applied ethics and experimental psychology. She co-authored the book, The Animal Rights Movement in America. Prof. Finsen is also an animal rights activist and director of ‘Californians for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’.

 

350 MEANS SAFETY from the CLIMATE CRISIS

350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteers in over 188 countries.

350 means climate safety. To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million (ppm) to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

At 350.org, we’re building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and push for policies that will put the world on track to get to 350 ppm. To join us, go to: http://www.350.org/

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The Complex Relationship Between Human Population and Climate Disruption by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

 

Family planning brings joy to mother in Korogocho, Kenya. The clinic there serves more than fifty women per day. Photo from Gates Foundation/Flickr/cc.

ABOUT HALF THE EARTH’s biological production capacity has already been diverted to human use. Life-supporting ecosystems are affected everywhere by the planet’s 7 billion people, which is projected to reach at least 9.2 billion by 2050. The links between population and environmental quality are complex and varied. Understanding them requires knowledge of consumption rates that differ between rich and poor, new and old technologies, resource extraction and restoration, and the dynamics of population growth and migration.

Stabilizing the planet’s population is a critical factor in creating a sustainable environment. Humans are depleting natural resources, degrading soil and water, and creating waste at an alarming rate, even as new technology raises crop yields, conserves resources and cleans up pollution. While rich nations with low population growth are mainly accountable for the unsustainable use of the planet’s resources, developing countries, with lower overall consumption, contribute a growing share of total CO2 emissions.

Slowing the rate of population growth may give countries time to take measures to meet people’s needs, while protecting the environment through various means.

Preventing unwanted births through family planning, and guaranteeing individuals and couples the right to reproductive health, can help slow population growth rates and moderate environmental impact.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

  • World population is rising by about 78 million people per year, and is projected to grow from 7 billion people to 9.2 billion by 2050—over three times the population of 50 years ago.
  • BUT if birth rates remain unchanged, the UN estimates that world population will be 11.9 billion by 2050.
  • Since the 1960s, fertility in developing countries has been reduced from an average of six births per woman to three, thanks primarily to the use of contraceptives. However, in 56 countries, the poorest women still average six births, compared to 3.2 for the wealthiest.
  • The wealthiest countries, with less than 20% of Earth’s population and the slowest population growth, account for 86% of natural resource consumption—much of it wasteful—and produce the majority of the pollution and carbon dioxide.
  • At the other extreme, the depletion of natural resources is occurring most rapidly in the poorest countries, where fertility rates are highest. The poorest 20% of countries account for only 1.3% of consumption; but their urgent drive for economic growth often leads to lax regulations of destructive and polluting industries.
  • Increasing demand for water is directly related to population growth—extra water is needed to grow more food. Lack of access to water is already putting pressure on about a third of the world’s population. Climate change will make the problem worse in many places.

BENEFITS OF ACTION

  • Preventing unwanted pregnancies in developing countries through family planning might be one of the most cost-effective ways to preserve the environment. In developing countries with high fertility, having fewer, healthier children can reduce the economic burden and environmental demands of poor families.
  • Choice about fertility is a step towards equality for women. It empowers them to take part in family and community decisions, and it enhances their opportunities for education.
  • Family planning programs have a record of success in reducing unintended pregnancies and slowing population growth. In Thailand and Iran, for instance, well-managed, fully voluntary programs have led to significant change.

WHAT MUST BE DONE?

Providing full access to voluntary reproductive health services, which are relatively inexpensive, would be far less costly in the long run than the environmental consequences of rapid population growth from the failure to meet the urgent need for reproductive health care. Family planning is now seriously underfunded by donors and developing countries. To meet the unmet need for contraceptives, global population assistance should now exceed US$1.2 billion per year for family planning and increase to $1.6 billion by 2015. Current assistance is $550 million—less than half of today’s needed amount.

UNFPA believes the following will help:

  • A broad coalition of vocal support from influential groups at the global, national and local levels.
  • Adequate and consistent funding to provide universal access to contraception.
  • Media campaigns focusing on the benefits of smaller families.
  • A wide range of safe and effective contraceptive methods available in health facilities and through social marketing and outreach services.
  • National and local debate on the rights of men and women in relation to their bodies, health, education and access to economic and social resources.

 Source: UNFPA < http://www.unfpa.org/pds/climate/size.html> and http://www.unfpa.org/rh/planning/mediakit/ 

The UNFPA works to ensure universal access to reproductive health and the right of all people to be able to decide on the number and timing of their children. UNFPA works with governments, civil society and other UN agencies, and leads in forecasting needs, providing and coordinating the distribution of reproductive health commodities, mobilizing support and building each country’s logistics capacity. It works with family planning in 140 countries around the world, providing contraceptives to health posts and hospitals that serve millions of men and women.

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Filed under Climate, Family Planning, Human Rights, Leadership, Population, Sustainability, Women's Rights