Category Archives: Population

Book Review by Frosty Wooldridge

Book Review of Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom of the Elders edited by Marilyn Hempel 

In this book, extremely intelligent men and women who have spent their lives working for the betterment of civilization create a profound discussion on humanity’s fate. Their advice is at once profound and concrete. We best listen.

In 21st century America, citizens and leaders rush headlong and with great alacrity toward a doubling of our current 319 million population to 625 million by the end of the century. Growth is God, we are told.

The run-up to that exponential growth goal won’t be pretty—accelerating water shortages, unstable weather, resource depletion, and skyrocketing prices for food, water and energy.  Our cities grow more compacted, polluted and gridlocked. Our quality of life rushes desperately off a demographic cliff.  We force an unfortunate future upon our children.  We obliterate the Natural World in our contaminated and toxic wake.  We change our biosphere into a raging, chaotic tempest with no understanding of the outcome.

While Americans and their leaders cannot “see” that far, their children face enormous predicaments discussed by the “Elders” of this book.  For the most part, American don’t talk about the population explosion, rather, we assume it will vanish on its own. Reality check: it won’t. It will grow and become unmanageable. It already shows itself catastrophically to the Natural World.

The natural world offers balance and peace of mind.  Photo by Adam Jones

The natural world offers balance and peace of mind.  Photo by Adam Jones

The book starts with historical perspective. John Stuart Mill in the 1800s said, “There is room in the world, no doubt, for a great increase in population, supposing the arts of life go on improving, and capital to increase.  But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it.  The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain all advantages both of cooperation and of social intercourse has been attained.

“A population may be too crowded, though all be amply provided with food and raiment.  It is not good for man to be kept at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated is a very poor ideal.  Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character.  Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature….” Mill speaks of the Natural World and our need for it.

To many Americans, the wilderness is little more than a retreat from the tensions of civilization. To others, it is a testing place—a vanishing frontier where man can rediscover basic values.  And to a few, the wilderness is nothing less than an almost holy source of self-renewal. But for every man, woman and child, the ultimate lesson that nature teaches is simply this: man’s fate is inextricably linked to that of the world at large, and to all of the other creatures that live upon it.

Mill said, “If the Earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.  It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for importing the “Art of Living” and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the “Art of Getting On.”

Mill spoke those words back in the 1800s.  Today, humans jam cities in excess of 36 million people—many of them impoverished souls all crammed together in cement wastelands.

We turned the natural world into 36 million-packed human mega-cities that create enormous pollution and loss of connection with the Natural World. Photo by www.urbanscape.blogspot.com

We turned the natural world into 36 million-packed human mega-cities that create enormous pollution and loss of connection with the Natural World. Photo by http://www.urbanscape.blogspot.com

Our addiction to growth makes no sense today. We must learn from our elders to make way for a viable and sustainable future—before Mother Nature takes us by the hand, rather brutally and teaches us lessons in sustainable living.

 

Book:  Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom from the Elders by Marilyn Hempel

Publisher: Blue Planet United, Redlands, CA

ISBN # 9780692212271

Cost: $14.95 paperback

Available at www.Amazon.com

 

Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents – from the Arctic to the South Pole – as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast to coast across America. He presents “The Coming Population Crisis facing America: what to do about it.”  www.frostywooldridge.com. His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World, copies at 1-888-280-7715. For a motivational program: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, click: www.HowToLiveALifeOfAdventure.com

 

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Filed under Books, Family Planning, Human Rights, Population, Women's Rights

Blue Planet United Publishes New Book on Population

Elders_cover_WEBBlue Planet United has just published a new book titled Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom from the Elders edited by Marilyn Hempel.

This book is for all who have ever pondered the fate of humanity and the biosphere and asked, “What can I do?” Fifteen elders—giants in the field of human population and development—share their vision of a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. Drawing from many decades of practical experience and deep knowledge, they trace the contours of rapid population growth, its socioeconomic and environmental challenges, and the lessons they have learned in dealing with these challenges. They go on to lay out concrete actions that can move our civilization forward to a future of wanted children, empowered women, and an economy that works within restored ecosystems.

Features chapters by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, Malcolm Potts, Donald A. Collins, David Poindexter, William N. Ryerson, Linn Duvall Harwell, Sarah G. Epstein, Robert Gillespie, Martha Campbell, Lester R. Brown, Lindsey Grant, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich.

Click here to order the book online.

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Filed under Books, Family Planning, Human Rights, Leadership, Population, Sustainability

Population: Still The Big Taboo by Jonathon Porritt

The link between the environment and human population is a no-brainer.

The link between the environment and human population is a no-brainer.

I’ve been pre-occupied with the overlap between population and the environment ever since I read the Ecologist’s ‘Blueprint for Survival’ in the early 1970s. I’ve campaigned assiduously for progressive family planning programmes since that time on, just as I have for environmental and social justice issues. It’s always been a no-bloody-brainer that the two go hand in hand.

That’s not the case for the majority of people in the environment movement. For most of the big NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the UK (United Kingdom), population has either been completely off-limits or grudgingly acknowledged as an important area of concern but not one in which they feel any need to get actively involved. Throughout that time, the intellectual and moral disconnect has, for me, been startling. And it still is.

A few months ago, as a Patron of Population Matters (UK), I teamed up with my good friend Robin Maynard (who is as baffled by this disconnect as I am) to invite the eight leading environmental NGOs in the UK to review their position. Guided by the headline conclusion from the Royal Society’s ground-breaking People and Planet Report in 2012 (“Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues”), we asked them whether they would be prepared to commit to the following six actions:

  1. Accept and promote the findings of the Royal Society’s People and Planet Report that population and consumption must be considered as indivisible, linked issues;
  2. Acknowledge publicly and actively communicate the crucial relevance of population to your organisation’s mission and objectives;
  3. Support and advocate the principle of universal access to safe, affordable family planning for all women throughout the world;
  4. Call on the Government to act on the findings of the Royal Society’s Report and draw up a national population policy;
  5. Use your organisation’s considerable policy resources, voice and influence to speak and engage members of the wider public in an intelligent, informed and honest debate about population;
  6. Include the population factor in all relevant communications and policy pronouncements.

Hardly a revolutionary manifesto—but you might have thought the sky had fallen in. Lengthy delays, prevarication, excuses, weasel words—that was our reality for the next few months. The responses confirmed all our worst fears, and with the honourable exception of Friends of the Earth (that has now developed a new and rather more progressive position on population, which—to be completely fair—is a much better position than the organisation had when I was its Director back in the 1980s), they’re all pretty much where they were four decades ago. Despite a massive increase in human numbers and a correspondingly massive deterioration in the state of our physical environment.

In the interests of transparency, Robin and I have therefore decided to publish summaries of all the responses, based on which we’ve produced a ranking of the best to the worst. [Remember these are British organizations.]

  1. Friends of the Earth
  2. The Wildlife Trusts
  3. Campaign to Protect Rural England
  4. Greenpeace
  5. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  6. Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
  7. National Trust
  8. Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-UK)

As you can imagine, I take no pleasure in those findings, but my continuing anger on this score remains proportionate to that sense of collective blindness on the part of organisations that for the most part I respect and love.

[With the exception of the Center for Biological Diversity and Blue Planet United, U.S. environmental organizations do not rate well either. – Editor]

Source: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/population-still-big-taboo
For the entire report, go to the website.

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Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization By Paul Ehrlich

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse.  Photo by Chris Wevers.

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse. Photo by Chris Wevers.

A major shared goal of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) and Sustainability Central is reducing the odds that the “perfect storm” of environmental problems that threaten humanity will lead to a collapse of civilization. Those threats include climate disruption, loss of biodiversity (and thus ecosystem services), land-use change and resulting degradation, global toxification, ocean acidification, decay of the epidemiological environment, increasing depletion of important resources, and resource wars (which could go nuclear). This is not just a list of problems, it is an interconnected complex resulting from interactions within and between what can be thought of as two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system. The manifestations of this interaction are often referred to as “the human predicament.” That predicament is getting continually and rapidly worse, driven by overpopulation, overconsumption among the rich, and the use of environmentally malign technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service the consumption. 

All of the interconnected problems are caused in part by overpopulation, in part by overconsumption by the already rich. One would think that most educated people now understand that the larger the size of a human population, ceteris paribus, the more destructive its impact on the environment. The degree of overpopulation is best indicated (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis, which shows that to support today’s population sustainably at current patterns of consumption would require roughly another half a planet, and to do so at the U.S. level would take four to five more Earths.

The seriousness of the situation can be seen in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most important activity: producing and procuring food. Today, at least two billion people are hungry or badly in need of better diets, and most analysts think doubling food production would be required to feed a 35% bigger and still growing human population adequately by 2050. For any chance of success, humanity will need to stop expanding land area for agriculture (to preserve ecosystem services); raise yields where possible; increase efficiency in use of fertilizers, water, and energy; become more vegetarian; reduce food wastage; stop wrecking the oceans; significantly increase investment in sustainable agricultural research; and move feeding everyone to the very top of the policy agenda. All of these tasks will require changes in human behavior long recommended but thus far elusive. Perhaps more critical, there may be insurmountable biophysical barriers to increasing yields – indeed, to avoiding reductions in yields – in the face of climate disruption.

Most people fail to realize the urgency of the food situation because they don’t understand the agricultural system and its complex, non-linear connections to the drivers of environmental deterioration. The system itself, for example, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and thus is an important driver of the climate disruption that seriously threatens food production. More than a millennium of change in temperature and precipitation patterns is now entrained, with the prospect of more crop-threatening severe storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods- all of which are already evident. Thus maintaining – let alone expanding – food production will be ever more difficult in decades ahead.

Furthermore, agriculture is a leading cause of losses of biodiversity and the critical ecosystem services supplied to agriculture itself and other human enterprises, as well as a major source of global toxification, both of which pose additional risks to food production. The threat to food production of climate disruption alone means that humanity’s entire system for mobilizing energy needs to be rapidly transformed in an effort to hold atmospheric warming well below a lethal 5o C rise in global average temperature. It also means we must alter much of our water-handling infrastructure to provide the necessary flexibility to bring water to crops in an environment of constantly changing precipitation patterns.

Food is just the most obvious area where overpopulation tends to darken the human future – virtually every other human problem from air pollution and brute overcrowding to resource shortages and declining democracy is exacerbated by further population growth. And, of course, one of our most serious problems is the failure of leadership on the population issue, in both the United States and Australia. The situation is worst in the U.S. where the government never mentions population because of fear of the Catholic hierarchy specifically and the religious right in general, and the media keep publishing ignorant pro-natalist articles, and in Australia even advertise on prime-time TV to have more kids.

A prime example was a ludicrous 2010 New York Times screed by David Brooks, calling on Americans to cheer up because “Over the next 40 years, the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million.” Equal total ignorance of the population-resource-environment situation was shown in 2012 by an article also in the New York Times by one Ross Douthat “More Babies, Please” and one by a Rick Newman in the USNews “Why a falling birth rate is a big problem,” both additional signs of the utter failure of the US educational system.

A popular movement is needed to correct that failure and direct cultural evolution toward providing the “foresight intelligence” and the agricultural, environmental, and demographic planning that markets cannot supply. Then analysts (and society) might stop treating population growth as a “given” and consider the nutritional and health benefits of humanely ending growth well below 9 billion and starting a slow decline. In my view, the best way to accelerate the move toward such population shrinkage is to give full rights, education, and job opportunities to women everywhere, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion. The degree to which that would reduce fertility rates is controversial, but it would be a win-win for society. Yet the critical importance of increasing the inadequate current action on the demographic driver can be seen in the decades required to change the size of the population humanely and sensibly. In contrast we know from such things as the World War II mobilizations that consumption patterns can be altered dramatically in less than a year, given appropriate incentives.

The movement should also highlight the consequences of such crazy ideas as growing an economy at 3-5% per year over decades (or forever) as most innumerate economists and politicians believe possible. Most “educated” people do not realize that in the real world a short history of exponential growth does not imply a long future of such growth. Developing foresight intelligence and mobilizing civil society for sustainability are central goals of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (“the MAHB” – mahb.stanford.edu), goals now also a major mission of the University of Technology, Sydney.

Source: http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/overpopulation-and-the-collapse-of-civilization/

 

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Filed under Climate, Consumption, Ecological Footprint, Economy, Environment, Growth, Population, Sustainability

Crowded Planet: A conversation with Alan Weisman by Andrew D. Blechman

Alan Weisman

Alan Weisman

Over the course of the past one hundred years, we humans have grown in population at a rate rarely seen outside of a petri dish. Alan Weisman, author of the best-selling The World Without Us, spent two years traveling to twenty nations to investigate what this population explosion means for our species as well as those we share the planet with—and, most importantly, what we can do about it. His latest book is Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? Orion magazine editor Andrew D. Blechman met with Alan at his home in rural Massachusetts, amid birdsong and the patter of rainfall, to discuss some of the most serious issues ever to face the human species.

Andrew Blechman: Population is perhaps the monumental topic of our time, and yet the title of your book ends in a question mark. Why is that?

Alan Weisman: I’m a journalist, not an activist. I don’t make statements, but I try to find the answers to big, burning questions. This is the big one to me, because it addresses whether we’ll be able to continue as a species, given all the things that we have been doing to our home.

Andrew: The human population stayed relatively stable, or grew at a manageable rate, for tens of thousands of years but exploded in the past century. What happened? How did we humans come to dominate the planet so quickly?

Alan: The explosion began during the Industrial Revolution. Jobs were suddenly in cities rather than on farms. People were living in tight quarters, and that became an incentive for doctors to begin dealing with diseases that were starting to spread much more easily. Beginning with the nineteenth century, medical advances, such as the smallpox vaccination, were either eradicating diseases or controlling the pests that spread diseases. Suddenly, people were living longer, fewer infants were dying.

7 billion people and rising (click for full size graphic).  Courtesy of Infographic List: http://infographiclist.com/2012/03/21/7-billion-people-and-still-growing-infographic/

7 billion people and rising (click for full size graphic). Courtesy of Infographic List: http://infographiclist.com/2012/03/21/7-billion-people-and-still-growing-infographic/

Andrew: Before that, we were basically at a replacement rate?

Alan: Pretty much. Women would have seven or eight kids, and if they were lucky, two survived. Two is replacement rate. If a male and female have two kids, then they have essentially replaced themselves. Population remained stable because as many people were dying as were being born.

The other thing was that suddenly we learned how to produce far more food than nature could ever do on its own. Nature’s ability to produce plant life has always been limited by the amount of nitrogen that bacteria could pull out of the air and provide as food for plants. In the twentieth century, we discovered how to pull nitrogen out of the air artificially. As a result, we suddenly came up with artificial fertilizer that could produce much more plant life on this planet than had ever existed before. We were at about 2 billion in 1930 when we started using artificial nitrogen extensively. Today we’re at 7 billion. Between 40 and 50 percent of us would not be alive without artificial nitrogen fertilizer. It nearly doubled the food supply.

Andrew: They say that, in some ways, too much abundance isn’t actually good for a population, that it can actually stress it because it leads to overpopulation. For example, if you overfeed city pigeons, they have more babies and the population starts maxing out, whereas if you don’t overfeed them, the population keeps itself in check.

Alan: That’s the paradox of food production—it can ultimately undermine the viability of a population. At a certain point, it expands beyond its resource base, and then it crashes. Wildlife managers, for example, well know that if we don’t keep population in balance with food, a species can run into serious problems. They know that they can either relax controls on natural predators, or issue more permits to hunters—that is, human predators.

Andrew: What does it mean for the Earth to be full? For example, 350 parts per million has been identified as the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere beyond which we set in motion changes that will threaten the future of life as we know it. Is there a comparable figure for global population numbers?

Alan: That was one of the big questions that I set out to answer, or to try to see if it’s possible to answer: how many people can fit on the planet without tipping it over? It’s completely related to what we are doing. If we all lived an agrarian life, self-limitations would set in and our numbers wouldn’t grow much beyond our ability to grow our own food. However, if we are force-feeding our crops through chemistry, we can produce a lot more food, and a lot more of us, too. At a certain point, a downside kicks in to that.

But the answer to your question isn’t really known because we’re finding it out right now. We’re all part of a big experiment to see how many of us can live on this planet without doing something to it that is going to destabilize it so much that our own future is in jeopardy.

Andrew: Isn’t it almost impossible to predict the future, given how variables change? What if the population problem is self-correcting? After all, we’re no longer doubling, and many developed nations are experiencing population decline.

Alan: Some argue that population is in fact self-correcting, and that the correction is already underway. But it’s a little like saying a house fire is self-correcting, because it will eventually put itself out. Unfortunately the damage is done. One way or another, when a species exceeds its resource base, the population will come down. Nature does that in 100% of the cases in the history of biology. The question that I keep coming back to is, how soon is that going to happen?

Andrew: And will it be in time?

Alan: Exactly. If our population is coming down because nature is going to do it for us, well, it’s going to be, frankly, unpleasant to watch. When nature does in a horde of locusts because they eat themselves out of sustenance, it’s interesting for us to observe. When it happens to our own species, it’s not going to be very pretty.

So Many new consumers in Shanghai. Photo by Austronesian.

So Many new consumers in Shanghai. Photo by Austronesian.

Andrew: Is it the sheer number of people or is it the amount that we consume that matters, particularly in the so-called developed nations. Or is it simply that we live too long?

Alan: The answer to all of that is yes. All of those things are involved. I’m always curious about what people are thinking when they say, “It’s not population; it’s consumption.” Who do they think is doing all the consuming? The more consumers there are, consuming too much, the more consumption.

Andrew: And, as you mention in your book, there’s no condom for consumption.

Alan: I think, in the twentieth century, when our population quadrupled, we got to the point where we kind of redefined original sin. Just by being born, we’re part of the problem. There’s also no question that the most overpopulated country on Earth is actually the United States, because we consume at such a ferocious rate. We may not be as numerous as China or as India, but our total impact is huge.

That doesn’t mean that poor people in developing nations don’t have a severe impact on the environment. I was in Niger, which has the highest fertility rate on the planet now. Its average is around eight children per fertile female. In every village, I heard, “Had you been here twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t have seen that house over there for all the trees that we used to have.” Where did the trees go? Well, they needed them for firewood, and then the climate began changing and there’s less rain now. They’re not responsible for the industrial pollution that has gunked up the atmosphere, but when you take down trees, things change. You graze too many animals, and things really change. They’re now in chronic drought. In every village, hundreds of children have died.

What will ultimately carry the day in Niger is the dawning realization that they don’t have the luxury of continuing life as they used to live it, where men had multiple wives and wives had many children. And it’s not just in Niger, but many countries on the planet. Education seems to be the key. Any time you start to educate people, they start to put these things together, particularly if you educate women. Education is the best contraceptive of all.

The more you educate women, the faster the birth rate drops. Photo courtesy of Development Diaries: http://developmentdiaries.com/ethiopia-angola-double-number-of-girls-in-school-in-10-years/

The more you educate women, the faster the birth rate drops. Photo courtesy of Development Diaries: http://developmentdiaries.com/ethiopia-angola-double-number-of-girls-in-school-in-10-years/

Andrew: That’s what I gather from your bookthe more you educate women, the faster the birth rate drops, and the quicker a population adopts a family-planning mentality.

Alan: It was one of the wonderful things about doing this book, which could otherwise have been very grim and sobering. I went to so many countries, twenty-one including all my travels around the United States. I saw human beings confronting some of the most difficult questions in our history. How are we going to survive? What are we doing to ourselves? Yet one of the easiest things that we can do that can make such a huge difference is one of these blessed win-win situations. You educate women, and give women rights that are equal to anybody else’s on this planet, and they generally choose to have fewer children, because they have another way to contribute to society that would be difficult if they had seven kids to care for.

Every place where you’ve got really educated women, you’ve got a society that is more and more livable. The more women decision makers we have, the better our chances. All we have to do is offer fair, equal opportunity to half the human race, the female half. This problem will start taking care of itself really, really quickly. A whole lot of environmental problems, within a couple generations, will also ease up because there’ll be a lot more space on this planet for other species.

Andrew: It’s amazing how flexible we can be as a species. Humans seem to adapt to having large families, and they seem to adapt just as easily to having very small families, even single children.

Alan: There’s a moment in the book with four hundred brilliant, animated students at Guangzhou University in China. Their parents or grandparents had been denied education in the Cultural Revolution and led limited lives. But these Chinese kids believe the twenty-first century is theirs. They’ve got education and incredible opportunities to do interesting work. The sky is the limit for them—but also literally, because they know that Guangzhou’s factory pollution hangs over their lives, and that it would be even worse if China hadn’t curbed its population.

Something occurred to me out of the blue. I asked my translator, a young woman in her twenties, “Hey, are they all only children?” She said, “Sure. We all are.”

Many people appalled by China’s one-child policy think it must be so unnatural not to have siblings. I asked these kids whether they missed having siblings. They admitted that yes, they did. But then they said, “On the other hand, our cousins have become our siblings. Sometimes our best friends have. We’ve reinvented the family.”

That, to me, was yet another example of the great flexibility of the human race, that we can make adjustments when we need to.

Andrew: Now that it’s entered its fourth decade, what other lessons can we learn from China’s massive social experiment with the one-child policy?

Alan: In one sense, the one-child policy has been successful—there would be 400 million more Chinese otherwise. And we’ve learned valuable lessons about population management, like the threat of discrimination, even lethal, against female babies.

We’ve also learned that while a draconian edict may have worked in one place, it’s not going to work everywhere. We have to take the culture of a country, a nation, a political system, a religious system, into account if we’re going to talk about managing population, which I think we have to do. Look, if we manage populations of predators and prey in parks because they have limits, we need to realize that we’ve now come to the limits of our planet. We occupy the whole thing—in a sense the Earth is now a park, it’s parkland. We live in it, and we have to manage it ourselves. There’s no way around that. Sure, maybe we can learn to consume less. But frankly, if we try to attack consumption to solve all of our problems, by the time we change human nature enough so that people consume a lot less, I think the Earth will be trashed in the meantime. So I think there are other things we have to do.

Andrew: It seems like contraception is a lot easier to encourage.

Alan: Yes, and it’s improving enormously. We’re no longer overloading women with estrogen the way that we used to. Even better, there are several male contraceptives that are becoming available that involve much simpler chemistry.

Andrew: As you’ve said, restricting the size of families through legislation is usually viewed with disdain. After all, for many, children represent hope, the future incarnate, and reproduction a fundamental human right, even a biological imperative. But can we really tackle global population without resorting to this sort of intervention?

Alan: I don’t think we need to legislate population management. What we need to do is make it very attractive to people, and let them manage their own population. I’ve got several examples in this book, big examples, of where this has worked brilliantly. There are a couple of Muslim nations that I refer to that have brought their populations down to replacement levels without draconian controls from above, without any edicts. They’ve done it through making family planning available, and making it available for free in one case, and also opening up the universities to women and encouraging them to get educated.

Andrew: Like Iran.

Alan: Like Iran, yes. Iran is the place that has had the most successful family-planning program in the history of the planet. They got down to replacement rate a year faster than China, and it was completely voluntary. The only thing that was obligatory in Iran was premarital counseling, which is actually a very nice idea. You could go to a mosque, or you could just go to a health center. They would talk about things to get you prepared for getting married, including what it costs to have a child, to raise a child, to educate a child.

Andrew: It’s interesting to hear about such a program being embraced by a theocracy. Do the world’s major religions generally differ when it comes to family planning, or do they share similar beliefs?

Alan: The Catholic Church is somewhat unique in its adamant opposition to birth control. Unless it’s the rhythm method, so-called natural methods of determining when to have sex that might lead to procreation or not, it’s simply unacceptable.

I went to the Vatican for my book. It’s a very curious place. It’s the smallest country on Earth, only 110 acres, and populated by just 1,000 people, virtually all of them old men. They’re making these rules that many Catholics outside its walls are paying no attention to. Italy and Spain, for example, have two of the lowest birth rates on the planet. That’s because women are using contraception.

Other religions argue within themselves on these issues. You find conflicting opinions in all three of the major monotheistic religions. In Evangelical Christianity in the United States, there has been an anti-abortion, even anti-contraception movement that’s very strident, restricting women’s access to the birth control of their choice. Yet I interviewed an Evangelical leader who absolutely supports contraception and campaigns hard for it. They’re citing the same Bible.

Andrew: When it comes to protecting species, how many can we save? Are we at the “Sophie’s Choice” moment of being forced to choose?

Alan: We really don’t know. We know that the extinction rate is accelerating very fast as our presence on this planet pushes other species off the edge. At a certain point, potentially, we could push something off the planet that we won’t know that we needed until it’s too late. There is a terrible dilemma for ecologists, particularly conservation biologists, who are trying to conserve enough biology to keep ecosystems viable, and that includes viable for Homo sapiens. We’re just another species in that ecosystem. It’s hard for them to know which ones to save. How do we decide? Could we even control it if we knew which ones?

Say there is a species out there that we depend on; let’s say for food. Everything we eat is the sum total of everything that it ate, and all the things that these things ate before they were eaten. We use the phrase “food chain” but that’s not really descriptive. Pretty much every animal species on land has to consume ten times its weight of other terrestrial species, including plant life, because only about 10% of what we consume converts to body mass. That means that everything that we eat has eaten ten times its weight. We’re at the apex of a very large pyramid. When you lose a species, or more than one, the whole pyramid starts to crumble.

For this book, I wanted to see how we might establish a more harmonious relationship with our species and the rest of nature, as opposed to the mortal combat that we find ourselves in. I wanted to know what the happy medium is, if there is one, a happy medium between a world without us and the one with us, which we’re currently overwhelming. When I started to look at what we are doing—the numbers were so boggling. I did some long division to make it more understandable. It came down to every four to four-and-a-half days, there’s a million more of us on the planet. That just doesn’t seem like a sustainable figure, and that’s pretty much where we are unless we start to do something about it.

Interestingly, some wildlife ecologists have started taking family planning into their own hands. In Uganda, for example, the country’s fabulous biodiversity, such as its gorillas, which tourists are willing to spend a lot of money to see, is getting chipped away by an unmitigated human population explosion. The ecologists began to realize that in order to preserve the wildlife, as well as the tourist-related income for the people who live in these areas, they needed to convince residents to have fewer children.

Andrew: What about the other side of the population coin? If you look at the European democracies, their birthrates are so low that they’ve resorted to paying their citizens to have children. For them, among other concerns, it’s about economics. How are economies such as theirs going to cope with shrinking populations? It seems like calibrating or recalibrating such a thing—trying to mesh just the right amount of people with just the right amount of economy—is a tough thing to do.

Alan: It’s a tremendously tough thing to do. We’ve never had to do it before. We’ve always had room to expand, or thought we had room to expand, until it turns out we were encroaching on other things that were really important to us. China kept expanding by just knocking down more and more forests, and then suddenly, they lost all their flood control. Now they’re trying to put the forests back.

We’ve never had to manage our population before, and our economies were always a reflection of our natural increase. All of our conventional determining factors for the health of the economy regard whether it’s growing. Bill Clinton even turned economic growth into a transitive verbWe have to ‘grow’ the economyas if we were planting seeds and watering them.

It turns out that population growth and economic growth is inextricable. For an economy to keep growing, you have to have growing populations, because you need more laborers to produce more products, and then you need more consumers for those products.

If we have to start limiting our population, then we’re going to have to come up with a way to redefine prosperity that doesn’t involve perpetual growth. A shrinking population or a stable population can’t be a perpetual-growth society.

Andrew: How will countries with declining populations care for all of their elderly?

Alan: It’s an oft-repeated fear that circulates in the business and economic world out there that an aging population is terrible for the world, because there’ll be all these unproductive people and there won’t be enough productive young people paying into the social welfare coffers to take care of them.

Yes, some countries have shrinking populations. But they’re not looking at a situation that goes on into perpetuity, in which they have far more older people than younger people. They’re looking at a generation or so of a bubble where they’re going to have more older people, and then, as that generation dies off, the number of older people and younger people are going to balance out again, and it’s not going to be a problem.

How do they economically get through those bubble years? As an American, I can think of an awful lot of things that my government is spending money on right now that if it dedicated those monies to taking care of a generation of older people until our population evened out, we’d be a much better society.

Andrew: I was really surprised by the fact that the future of the planet, in many ways, rests on whether women on average have a half child more or a half child less.

Alan: Those are pretty shocking numbers, and I got them from a couple of different demographers. By the middle of the century, our population will be nearly 10 billion. But that assumes that all the family planning programs we have in place will remain in place. And it’s a pretty fragile network, dependent on a few donor countries, the most important one being the United States. Had the last presidential election gone differently, the United States may well have withdrawn a great deal of its support for family planning programs all over the world.

If family planning does not keep up with our population growth, or, if suddenly, for whatever reason, the supply lines break down and birth control pills or whatever contraception they’re using is not available to women in a lot of places around the world, a half a child more per fertile woman means that by the end of the century we’re going to increase to 16 billion people. A half a child less per woman means that we’re going to be back down to 6 billion really quickly. Then we can decide at that point if we want to bring it down further. But the difference is, on average, half a child either way.

Andrew: As a species, we seem somehow hard-wired to have difficulty seeing beyond our immediate surroundings or thinking beyond the short term. If that’s the case, what do you think motivates humans to change their ways? What do you think is going to work in this instance? How do you convince a species to rein itself in?

Alan: If we could convince people that it’s in their own best interest to limit the number of children they haveto limit the size of their familiesthen we’ve got a fighting chance.

It turns out that having fewer kids helps virtually every family. You see billboards in countries all over the world—they’re kind of clichés at this point—with a woman surrounded by thirteen ragged children. Then you see a couple with only two kids, and they’re all dressed well. Everybody looks healthy. People get that message pretty quickly.

Andrew: After researching this topic so intensely, what gives you the most hope?

Alan: The fact that there is something so sensible, so wonderful, and with so many benefits that can alleviate the pressures that we human beings put on this planet and improve our own existence as humans-and that’s simply educating women.

If we give women all the opportunities that they deserve, they’re going to take care of this problem, and frankly, we’d have a much better society all the way around. That goes for any religion. That goes for any culture that I’ve ever visited. Any place where you run into women who are empowered, things improve. Everybody lives better, males and females. Women who are educated are going to have fewer children, and that gives me a great deal of hope.

In addition to that, making birth control available on a global level is also very doable. We’re not there yet in terms of distribution—nearly a quarter of a billion women who might use contraception don’t have access to it. However, it would only take about $8-9 billion a year to ensure that everybody did. It’s just not a lot of money on this planet, and it would have such a wonderful, multifaceted impact. We’d have fewer unwanted children. We’d have fewer abortions. We’d have happier people.

Best of all, none of this involves high technology. This does not involve coming up with renewable energygiven all of our best efforts, we still don’t know how to power all of our vehicles and all of our industries with just the sun or wind. This is technology that we already have. In fact, the education part of it employs the best of human technologyour own brainsto convey information and wisdom to our children. Those young brains can absorb it all, and get very creative with it, and do amazing things, as human beings are capable of doing.

Source: Orion magazine <http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7694> Reprinted with permission. Orion is an award-winning, non-profit, and ad-free publication. Anyone can request a free copy by going to <www.orionmagazine.org/freetrial>. Or you may subscribe for just $19 for 6 issues, nearly half off. An audio recording of the complete interview of Alan Weisman by Andrew Blechman is available at <www.orionmagazine.org/audio-video>.

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15 Years of Telling Stories and Changing Lives Around the World from The Population Media Center

A family in Burkina Faso. Photo courtesy of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

A family in Burkina Faso. Photo courtesy of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

SHELBURNE, VT – In Burkina Faso, François and his wife listen to a popular radio program, Yam Yankre (The Choice), when he gets home from work. François earns meager wages as a mason, which makes it hard to support his wife and six kids.

“Through Yam Yankre,” says François, “my wife and I learned that there are ways to keep from having children. I am very happy now because of this program.”

François explains that he and his wife did not go to school and never learned there was any way to prevent having more children. If it were not for Yam Yankre, François is sure that he and his wife would already have a seventh child.

For 15 years, Population Media Center (PMC) has been reaching audiences around the globe through mass media. Burkina Faso, a country approximately the size of Colorado with a population of almost 16 million located in Western Africa, is one country where PMC works. To date, PMC has had a hand in telling stories that address important health and social issues in more than 50 countries. These stories repeatedly demonstrate the power of entertainment-education to improve the health and well-being of families.

“Impact evaluations and results from our programs provide compelling evidence that entertainment-education can help people adopt healthier, more prosperous lifestyles,” says Bill Ryerson, PMC’s Founder and President.

PMC’s primary activity has been to create long-running radio serial dramas, like Yam Yankre, that engage audiences with authentic characters and culturally appropriate challenges and opportunities. PMC also produces dramas for television, provides training in effective mass-media communications, advises other media productions, and creates national media strategies – all focused on entertainment-education that use the Sabido methodology to create culturally-specific stories with “positive,” “negative,” and “transitional” characters to model behavior.

François began listening because of his wife. He came home from work, and his wife said, “There is a François just like you in this story…you should listen.” In Yam Yankre, the transitional character’s name is François.

“I recognized myself in the character of François,” says the real-life François. “He is being pushed to have too many children without knowing what to do.”

PMC’s serial dramas address numerous issues, ranging from reproductive health and family planning, to environmental preservation, to child protection, to population stabilization. The goal of every program is to model various viewpoints and interpersonal communication, so that locals talk about the issues and ultimately make their own choices.

Throughout its 15 years, PMC can point to very specific accomplishments on a range of issues. In Ethiopia, 63 percent of new health clinic clients seeking reproductive health services said they were listening to one of PMC’s dramas. In Rwanda, listeners to Umurage Urukwiye were 1.5 times more likely than non-listeners to want three or fewer children. In Nigeria, 67 percent of reproductive health clients in the four northwest states named Ruwan Dare as the motivation to seek health services.

“I spend the majority of my days traveling globally, mostly to places you won’t find in vacation brochures,” says Ryerson. “I see firsthand how the increasing number of people on the planet is affecting the lives of many and hindering development. I have witnessed the struggles with hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. It drives home to me the continued importance of PMC’s work in partnership with global agencies and foundations. We’re striving to improve opportunities and the health of people in need and to bring about a sustainable planet.”

ABOUT POPULATION MEDIA CENTER (PMC):
Population Media Center (PMC) is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 15 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world.

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Selective Moral Disengagement – Hiding Behind Good Intentions by Albert Bandura

Photo by Szymon Kochanski.

Photo by Szymon Kochanski.

The Population Bomb is Still Ticking

Selective moral disengagement, with the denial it fosters, enables people to pursue harmful practices freed from the restraint of self-censure. This is achieved by investing ecologically harmful activities with worthy purposes through social or economic justifications; enlisting exonerative comparisons that make damaging practices appear righteous; using sanitized and convoluted language that disguises what is being done; reducing accountability by displacement and diffusion of responsibility; ignoring, minimizing, and disputing harmful effects; dehumanizing and blaming the victims, and derogating the messengers of ecologically bad news. These psychosocial mechanisms operate at both the individual and social systems levels.

We can disguise environmentally harmful practices and dress them up in words to help ease our consciences, but such practices will have a negative impact on the planet and the quality of life of future generations, no matter how we label them. We must stop attempting to justify our actions and switch on our environmental conscience to save the  world.

As consumers we are now bombarded with messages telling us to consider the environment and to save energy in the face of global climate change.  However, the fact is that personal economic savings on energy consumption may be offset by increased consumption of  goods and services. What may at first appear to reduce the level of ecological harm that we cause, may in effect be cancelled out and possibly lead to even greater harm.  Moreover, many of us pursue practices that are detrimental to the environment but which we justify by a kind of moral disengagement. This frees us from the constraints of self-censure and we defend our actions on the basis that such practices are somehow fulfilling worthy social, national, or economic causes and, as such, offset their harmful effects on the future of our planet.

Moral disengagement equates to switching off one’s conscience. Convoluted language helps disguise what is being done, reduces accountability, and also ignores and disputes harmful effects.  Learning about moral disengagement shines the light not only on the  malpractices of others but on ourselves.

Human conduct can be distinguished in terms of whether it falls in the realm of social custom or morality. This distinction is based, in large part, on the gravity of the  social consequences of the conduct. Harming others by one’s practices is clearly a matter  of morality. The reality today is that harm to the Earth is largely the product of human activity. Societies, therefore, have a moral obligation to preserve the environment so that future generations have a habitable planet.

We are witnessing hazardous global changes of mounting ecological consequence. They include widespread deforestation, expanding desertification, rising Earth temperature, ice sheet and glacial melting, flooding of low-lying coastal regions, severe weather events, topsoil erosion and sinking water tables, increasing loss of fertile farmland, depletion of fish stocks, loss of biodiversity, and degradation of other aspects of the Earth’s life support systems. As the unrivalled ruling species atop the food chain, humans are, at an accelerating pace, wiping out species and the ecosystems that support life.

Environmental degradation of human origin stems from three major sources:  population size, the level of consumption, and the damage to the ecosystem caused by the  resources used to supply the consumable products which support an increasingly affluent lifestyle. Environmental sustainability must address all three sources of impact on ecological systems and quality of life. There are limits to the number of people the Earth can support sustainably. The world’s population was 3 billion in 1950, more than doubled to 6.5 billion in the next 50 years, and is increasing by about a billion every 15 years—toward a rise of over 9 billion by the year 2050. Adding billions of new consumers will take a heavy toll on the Earth’s finite resources and ecological system. We have already exceeded the size of the human population the Earth can sustain. Converting to clean, green technologies, renewable sources of energy, and adoption of less consumptive lifestyles will help, but adding billions more consumers will offset the  benefits of these other remedies. Lifestyle changes must, therefore, be coupled with  reduction of population growth.

Moral disengagement by indifference to harmful realities extends beyond disregarding, minimizing, or disputing their occurrence. It includes ignoring escalating  population—the root cause of environmental degradation. A view, currently in vogue,  contends that population growth is no longer an ecological problem. This erroneous view  arises from failure to consider the differential pattern of population growth across regions  of the planet, and the changing shift of populations. The population growth problem must  be addressed globally, not dismissed as a myth by selective focus on some industrialized  countries with declining birthrates.

Compare the claim that the population bomb has ‘fizzled’ with actual population growth trends. China has a population of 1.3 billion and is adding about 7 million people  annually. India has passed the 1 billion mark, and is on the brink of surpassing China as  the most populous nation in the world. At its current fertility rate their population will  double to a staggering 2 billion in 44 years.  Africa has a population of 944 million and, at its present growth rate, will swell to 2 billion in 35 years. The population in the Middle East and North Africa is about 400 million and is projected to surpass 700 million in 50 years. The USA has the highest rate of population growth among industrialized countries. Although the rate of population growth globally has slowed somewhat, it is still at a pace to add about 1 billion people every 15 years. Dismissal of global population growth cannot go on indefinitely. Mounting aversive consequences of environmental degradation will eventually force the international community to address the population problem.

There is also mass migration of people from heavily populated poor countries to more habitable or prosperous ones. Some of the people are migrating in search of a better life. Others are seeking a safe haven from internal ethnic atrocities. And still others are ‘environmental refugees’ subjected to forced migrations because of the growing  inhabitability of their environment as their once-fertile land turns into desert through   prolonged drought and inadequate water resources. The oft-repeated scenes of hordes of emaciated people struggling to survive under squalid conditions in refugee camps is more likely to depersonalize and  dehumanize them than raise social compassion. Large-scale international migration, which will swell with increasing environmental destruction, is changing the face of national populations and becoming the source of major regional upheavals that breed sectarian violence.

The population bomb is rapidly ticking away, but is being ignored as a major contributor to climate change and ecological destruction. Population  growth is an escalating global problem—not a disappearing one. In an attentional sleight of hand, soaring population growth disappears as a problem and population decline is  elevated to an alarming one that ‘haunts our future’.   Even some of the leading environmental and conservation organizations, which morphed  from active grass-roots environmentalists to cautious bureaucracies, have, in accommodating political forces, disconnected ecological damage from population growth. The population of the USA was 150 million in 1950 but grew to 300 million  in 2006 and is heading to 420 million in the next 45 years. Most of this increase stems from migration. After a grueling internal fight over the role of immigration in population growth, for fear of its racial implications, the Sierra Club jettisoned domestic population growth from their agenda as an environmental conservation issue.

Fear of alienating donors, criticism from the progressive left, and disparagement by conservative vested interests claiming that overpopulation is a ‘myth’, served as further incentives to cast off the rising global population as a factor in environmental  degradation. Population growth vanished from the agendas of other mainstream  environmental organizations that previously regarded escalating numbers as a major  environmental threat. Greenpeace announced that population “is not  an issue for us”. Friends of the Earth declared that, “it is unhelpful to enter into a debate about numbers”. The common justification for the retreat is that it is consumption not human numbers that is creating environmental problems, despite evidence that more people produce more ecological damage. To construe ecological woes as due to consumption and dismiss the number of consumers as of minor consequence overtaxes credibility.

David Brower, the inspiring founder of the Sierra Club, would have probably viewed this retreat for political reasons as a tragic irony. He put it well when he once  said, “You don’t have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy”.  The escalating global population which already exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity is now a much more serious ecological threat. Some prominent scientists have taken bold steps in the inhospitable political-correctness climate to break the stranglehold of the population taboo. Christopher Rapley, Director of the British Science Museum, argues that stabilizing human population at an ecologically un-sustainable level is not much of a solution. In his view, we need fewer people to curb global warming.  A few columnists and commentators are also beginning to give voice to the global consequences of willful indifference to the population aspect of the problem. Mounting ecological degradation will force renewed attention to population growth.

Population growth has become politically incorrect for a variety of reasons.   About two-thirds of the greenhouse gases are produced by the richest industrialized countries with high consumption lifestyles, but only about 3% by Africa, the poorest continent. To target poor countries that suffer the ecological harm of extravagant lifestyles spewing pollutants elsewhere is analogous to blaming the victim. Ironically, ignoring poor people’s need for help with planned childbearing and social supports that  enable them to achieve it, is victimization by benign neglect.  High consumption lifestyles wreaking havoc on the environment and harming other people’s lives is a moral issue of commission. Evasion of the influential role of population growth in environmental degradation is a moral issue of omission.

Immigration is a minefield in political life. On the one hand, industrial, agricultural, and service industries want cheap labor and workers to perform the dirty and low-wage jobs that their own citizens will not accept. They rely heavily on migrant workers, both legal and illegal. Using economic justification, the industries also argue that they need cheap labor to stay competitive in the global markets. They use their political clout to secure their labor needs. On the other hand, migrant groups are marginalized, denied adequate services, even human rights. Families that are better off are not about to groom their own offspring for toilsome menial jobs with paltry wages and lowly social status. So migrants are welcomed although they tend to become a disadvantaged ethnic underclass that remains largely unassimilated and is resented for its  intrusion on the prevailing cultural norms, traditions, and practices.

To complicate matters further, immigration is an emotionally charged issue with  deeply-engrained prejudices, favoritism toward certain ethnicities and occupational  stratums, and indignation over illegal entries. These conflicting forces have spawned  political correctness in both the political right and political left.  Some people exploit   this contentious issue for political purposes, but most do not want to talk about  population growth for fear of rousing the controversial specter of immigration and being  branded a racist.

Burgeoning populations also fuel civil strife with devastating humanitarian  consequences. In many underdeveloped countries a major share of the population is under 20 years of age. As previously noted, populations in many developing countries will double in 20–30 years. The added stress of deteriorating life conditions  facilitates the collapse of weak states and the rule of law. Many recent conflicts occur in countries with young populations, living in poverty, without jobs or skills, under autocratic rulers often plagued by corruption. The age structure, intense competition for sparse resources, and widespread social discontent make young men ripe for recruitment for civil wars and terrorist activities, and provide a growing threat to international security. To worsen this problem, water sources are being rapidly depleted as the demand by soaring human numbers outstrips the supply. The looming water crisis will spawn  growing regional conflicts over the allocation of water from sources crossing national borders. In the 21st century, water will be a major global issue over which people will fight.

Expanding economies fuelling consumptive growth by billions of people is  intensifying competition for the Earth’s vital resources and overwhelming efforts to  secure an environmentally and economically sustainable future. Powerful parochial  interests create tough impediments to improving living standards globally through  sustainable eco-development with economic growth which preserves the Earth’s environmental base. Employing collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into an irreversible ecological crisis.

Many people are beginning to express concern over catastrophic climate change, advocate environmental conservation in the abstract, but resist curbing their behavioral practices that degrade and destroy the life of the planet. Under troublesome life conditions people generally seek quick fixes that require no significant changes in lifestyle. Once they get wedded to rewarding lifestyles that exact a toll on the environment they devise schemes that enable them to stick with their behavioral practices without feeling bad about their adverse effects. They make cosmetic changes in their energy and resource use that make them feel like conservationists. On average, Americans consume more energy in a week than an inhabitant in India does in an entire year. Environmental conservation calls for more fundamental lifestyle changes than switching to more efficient light bulbs and  doing a bit of recycling. People remain faithful to their driving habits but seek to power  them with supposedly environmentally-friendly fuel that inflicts hardships on the less advantaged. [Think ethanol and catastrophically rising corn prices in Mexico.] They create marketplace systems that enable them to continue their consumptive ways but grant them forgiveness for their ecological sins through the purchase of carbon offsets for green projects. Through carbon cap and trade schemes, industries can spew greenhouse gases but buy carbon credits from more efficient companies with unused allowances rather than clean up their act. Going green through ecologically degrading behavior is an odd way of saving the planet.

As in the case of token remedies at the individual level, tinkering with  environmentally and economically unsustainable systems, while aggressively promoting ever-rising consumption rates with polluting technologies, will not beget a green future.  Substitutes for genuine behavior change usually accomplish too little too slowly. If we  are to preserve a habitable planet it will not be by token gestures and schemes for buying  one’s way out of wasteful and polluting practices. Rather, it will be by major lifestyle  changes with commitment to shared values linked to incentive systems that make  environmentally responsible behavior normative and personally worthy. A sustainable  future is not achievable while disregarding the key contributors to ecological   degradation—population growth and high consumptive lifestyles.

Ecological systems are intricately interdependent. Global changes affect  everyone regardless of the source of the degradation. Because of this interconnectedness, lifestyle practices are a matter of morality, not just environmental sustainability. Most current human practices work against a less populated planet whose inhabitants live sustainably in balance with natural resources. Given the growing human destruction of the Earth’s environment, Paul Watson [Founder of the Sea Shepherd Society] may not have been too far off the mark when he characterized the human species as an “arrogant primate that is out of control”.  Moreover, this arrogant human is morally disengaged from his own actions. If we are to be responsible stewards of our environment for future generations, we must  re-engage moral sanctions with lifestyle changes and ecological decision-making as we seek to build a sustainable world.

This article was taken from the academic treatise: Bandura, A. (2007)  “Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement”, International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 2, # 1, pp 8-35.  Reprinted with permission of the author.

Biographical note: Albert Bandura is an internationally acclaimed Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He is a proponent of social cognitive theory. His landmark  book, Social Foundations of Thought and Action: a Social Cognitive Theory,  provides the conceptual framework for this theory. In his book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, he presents the definitive exposition of the centrality of people’s beliefs in their personal and collective ability to exercise some measure of control over their self-development, adaptation and change. He was elected to the presidency of the American Psychological Association, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Overpopulation and Climate Change, from the Center for Biological Diversity

The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global climate disruption due to the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.

Portland, Oregon, for example, decreased its combined per-capita residential energy and car driving carbon footprint by 5 percent between 2000 and 2005. During this same period, however, its population grew by 8 percent.

A 2009 study of the relationship between population growth and global warming determined that the “carbon legacy” of just one child can produce 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person will save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, etc. Each child born in the United States will add about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent. The study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”

One of the study’s authors, Paul Murtaugh, warned that: “In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime. Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources. . . . Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”

The size of the carbon legacy is closely tied to consumption patterns. Under current conditions, a child born in the United States will be responsible for almost seven times the carbon emissions of a child born in China and 168 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.

The globalization of the world economy, moreover, can mask the true carbon footprint of individual nations. China, for example, recently surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter. But a large portion of those gases is emitted in the production of consumer goods for the United States and Europe. Thus a large share of “China’s” greenhouse gas footprint is actually the displaced footprint of high-consumption western nations.

WorldCarbonEmiss

The United States has the largest population in the developed world, and is the only developed nation experiencing significant population growth: Its population may double before the end of the century. Its 300 million inhabitants produce greenhouse gases at a per-capita rate that is more than double that of Europe, five times the global average, and more than 10 times the average of developing nations. The U.S. greenhouse gas contribution is driven by a disastrous combination of high population, significant growth, and massive (and rising) consumption levels, and thus far, lack of political will to end our fossil-fuel addiction.

More than half of the U.S. population now lives in car-dependent suburbs. Cumulatively, we drive 3 trillion miles each year. The average miles traveled per capita is increasing rapidly, and the transportation sector now accounts for one-third of all U.S. carbon emissions.

Another one-fifth of U.S. carbon emissions comes from the residential sector. Average home sizes have increased dramatically in recent decades, as has the accompanying footprint of each home. Suburban sprawl contributes significantly to deforestation, reducing the capacity of the planet to absorb the increased CO2 we emit. Due to a dramatic decrease in household size, from 3.1 persons per home in 1970 to 2.6 in 2000, homebuilding is outpacing the population growth that is driving it. More Americans are driving farther to reach bigger homes with higher heating and cooling demands and fewer people per household than ever before. All of these trends exacerbate the carbon footprint inherent in the basic energy needs of a burgeoning U.S. population.

Globally, recent research indicates that assumptions regarding declining fertility rates used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to develop future emissions scenarios may be overly optimistic. While fertility rates have generally declined over the past few decades, progress has slowed in recent years, especially in developing nations, largely due to cutbacks in family planning assistance and political interference from the United States. And even if fertility rates are reduced to below replacement levels, population levels will continue to climb steeply for some time as people live longer and billions of young people mature and proceed through their reproductive years. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions may drop, but the population bulge will continue to contribute to a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Time is short, but it not too late to stop runaway global warming. Economy-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to a level that brings atmospheric CO2 back from 386 parts per million to 350 or less, scaling back first-world consumption patterns, and long-term population reduction to ecologically sustainable levels will solve the global warming crisis and move us to toward a healthier, more stable, post-fossil fuel, post-growth addicted society.

Source: The Center for Biological Diversity, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/climate/index.html

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.

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Preposterous Population Forecasts For Africa by Gwynne Dyer

23 men and 1 bovine in the back of a mini-truck in Northern Nigeria.

23 men and 1 bovine in the back of a mini-truck in Northern Nigeria.

LONDON – The news on the population front sounds bad: birthrates are not dropping as fast as expected, and we are likely to end up with an even bigger world population by the end of the century. The last revision of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, two years ago, predicted just over 10 billion people by 2100. The latest revision, just out, predicts almost 11 billion. That’s a truly alarming number, because it’s hard to see how the world can sustain another 4 billion people. (The current global population is 7+ billion.) The headline number is deceptive, and conceals another, grimmer reality. Three-quarters of that growth will come in Africa.

The African continent currently has 1.1 billion people. By the year 2100, it will have 4.1 billion—more than a third of the world’s total population. Or rather, that is what it will have if there has not already been a huge population dieback in the region. At some point, however, systems will break down under the strain of trying to feed such rapidly growing populations, and people will start to die in large numbers.

It has happened before—to Ireland in the 1840s, for example—and it can happen again. In fact, it probably will. When you look more carefully at the numbers, you can even identify which regions will be hardest hit, because even in Africa there are large areas where population growth is low and dropping.

None of the Arabic-speaking countries of northern Africa will increase its population by more than one-third by 2100, and some will even be declining. South Africa, at the other end of the continent, will only add another 10 million people by the century’s end. It’s in the middle belt of Africa that things will get very ugly. Between now and 2100, six countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Nigeria, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Four of the six are in central Africa. In this area, where fertility is still high, the numbers are quite astonishing. Most countries will at least triple in population; some, like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, are predicted to grow fivefold. That is on top of populations that have already tripled, quadrupled or quintupled in the past half-century. Uganda had 5 million people at independence in 1962; it is projected to have 205 million in 2100.

The numbers are simply preposterous. Niger, a desert country whose limited agricultural land might feed 10 million people with good management, a lot of investment, and good luck with the weather, already has twice as many as that. By the end of the century it will have 20 times as many: 204 million people. All these numbers are based on assumptions about declining birthrates: If we all just carried on with the birthrates of today, there would be 25 billion people on this planet by the end of the century.

The key question is: how fast fertility is declining. All the numbers in this article so far are from the U.N.’s “medium estimates”—the moderately optimistic ones. The “high estimate” for Niger gives it 270 million people by 2100: an extra 70 million.

It makes no practical difference. Even the “low estimate” of 150 million people in Niger by 2100 is never actually going to happen. That is 15 times too many people for the available land, and Niger certainly cannot afford to import large amounts of food. Even without reckoning in the huge negative impact of climate change, large numbers of people in Niger (and quite a few other African countries) will begin starving long before that.

So the real picture that emerges from the U.N.’s data is rather different. It is a world where two-thirds of the world’s countries will have declining populations by 2100. China and Russia will each be down by a third, and only the United States among the major developed countries will still have a growing population: up from 320 million at present to 460 million. (By the way, that means there will only be twice as many Chinese as Americans by then.)

In terms of climate change, the huge but ultimately self-limiting population growth in Africa will have little impact, for these are not industrialized countries with high rates of consumption and show no signs of becoming so. The high economic growth rates of African countries in recent years are driven mostly by high commodity prices, and will probably not be sustained.

It is the developed and rapidly developing countries whose activities put huge pressure on the global environment, not only by their greenhouse gas emissions but also by their destructive styles of farming and fishing. Their populations are relatively stable but their actual numbers are already very large, and each individual consumes five or 10 times as much as the average African.

These frightening population predictions are mostly of concern to Africa—but those troubles cannot be completely contained. For example, already hundreds of boatloads of West Africans are arriving illegally on Italian shores.  Thousands of ‘refugees’ and this is only the beginning. What to do?  The world is in deep, deep trouble on many fronts.

Source: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/author/int-gwynne_dyer/

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United Nations Greatly Raises its World Population Forecast – Population Division of the UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs

Most of the population growth will occur in developing regions, which are projected to increase from 5.9 billion in 2013 to 8.2 billion in 2050.

Most of the population growth will occur in developing regions, which are projected to increase from 5.9 billion in 2013 to 8.2 billion in 2050.

World population now projected to reach 9.6 or 11 billion by 2050. India expected to become world’s largest country, passing China around 2028, while Nigeria could surpass the United States by 2050.

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by almost one billion people within the next twelve years, reaching 8.1 billion in 2025 and 9.6 billion in 2050, according to a new United Nations report, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. This is a much larger increase than the 9 billion in 2050 that was previously predicted.

At the country level, much of the overall increase between now and 2050 is projected to take place in high-fertility countries, mainly in Africa, as well as countries with large populations such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States.

Most of the population growth will occur in developing regions, which are projected to increase from 5.9 billion in 2013 to 8.2 billion in 2050. Growth is expected to be most rapid in the 49 least developed countries, which are projected to double in size from around 900 million inhabitants in 2013 to 1.8 billion in 2050. “Although population growth has slowed for the world as a whole, this report reminds us that some developing countries, especially in Africa, are still growing rapidly,” said Wu Hongbo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Fertility higher than expected

Compared to the UN’s previous assessment of world population trends, the new projected total population is higher, particularly after 2075. Part of the reason is that current fertility levels have been adjusted upward in a number of countries as new information has become available. In 15 high-fertility countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated average number of children per woman has been adjusted upwards by more than 5%. “In some cases, the actual level of fertility appears to have risen in recent years; in other cases, the previous estimate was too low,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Another contributing factor is a more rapid increase in life expectancy anticipated for several countries: longer life, like higher fertility, generates larger populations. Advances in methodology have also contributed to changes in projected population trends.

Give or take a BILLION

Most results presented are based on the UN’s “medium-variant” projection, which assumes a substantial reduction in the fertility levels of intermediate- and high-fertility countries in the coming years. For these countries, it is assumed that the pace of future fertility decline will be similar to that observed for other countries, mostly in Asia and Latin America, when they underwent similar declines during the second half of the 20 century. So far, that pace of fertility decline has not come to be. “The actual pace of fertility decline in many African countries could be faster or slower than suggested by this historical experience,” Mr. Wilmoth said. “Small differences in the trajectory of fertility over the next few decades could have major consequences for population size, structure and distribution in the long run.”

The “high-variant” projection, for example, which assumes an extra half of a child per woman (on average) than the medium variant, implies a world population of 10.9 billion in 2050. The “low-variant” projection, where women, on average, have half a child less than under the medium variant, would produce a population of 8.3 billion in 2050. Thus, a constant difference of only half a child above or below the medium variant would result in a global population of around 1.3 billion more or less in 2050 compared to the medium-variant forecast.

More and more large countries

The new projections include some notable findings at the country level. For example, the population of India is expected to surpass that of China around 2028, when both countries will have populations of around 1.45 billion. Thereafter, India’s population will continue to grow for several decades to around 1.6 billion and then decline slowly to 1.5 billion in 2100. The population of China, on the other hand, is expected to start decreasing after 2030, possibly reaching 1.1 billion in 2100.

Nigeria’s population is expected to surpass that of the United States before the middle of the century. By the end of the century, Nigeria could start to rival India as the second most populous country in the world. By 2100 there could be several other countries with populations over 200 million, namely Indonesia, Tanzania, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda and Niger.

Large variations in fertility levels

Based on the information in the report, countries of the world can be classified into three groups depending on their current levels of fertility. In recent decades many countries have experienced major reductions in average family size. Fertility level does not necessarily mean ‘growth’ or ‘no growth’ since immigration and emigration also influence the number of people in any given country.

It is now estimated that 48% of the world’s population lives in “low-fertility” countries, where women have fewer than 2.1 children on average over their lifetimes. Low-fertility countries now include all of Europe except Iceland, plus 19 countries of Asia, 17 in the Americas, two in Africa and one in Oceania. The largest low-fertility countries are China, the United States, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Japan and Viet Nam.

Another 43% live in “intermediate-fertility” countries, where women have on average between 2.1 and 5 children. Intermediate-fertility countries are found in many regions, with the largest being India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico and the Philippines.

The remaining 9% of the world live in “high-fertility” countries, where the average woman has 5 or more children. Of the 31 high-fertility countries, 29 are in Africa and two are in Asia (Afghanistan and Timor-Leste). More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. According to the UN’s medium-variant projection, the population of Africa could more than double by mid-century, increasing from 1.1 billion today to 2.4 billion in 2050, and potentially reaching 4.2 billion by 2100. Rapid population increase in Africa is anticipated even if there is a substantial reduction of fertility levels in the near future. The medium-variant projection assumes that fertility will fall from 4.9 children per women in 2005-2010 to 3.1 in 2045-2050, reaching 2.1 by 2095-2100. The gap for Africa between the high and low variants of the new projections, corresponding to half a child more or less per woman compared to the medium variant, amounts to roughly 600 million people by 2050 (2.7 vs. 2.1 billion) and potentially 3.2 billion people by 2100 (6.0 vs. 2.8 billion).

Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the future population of Africa, the region will play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of world population during this century.

Beyond Africa, the population of the rest of the world is expected to grow by just over 10% between 2013 and 2100, with Europe’s population projected to decline by 14%. Fertility in almost all European countries is now below the level required for full replacement of the population in the long run (around 2.1 children per woman on average). Fertility for Europe, as a whole, is projected to increase from 1.5 children per woman in 2005-2010 to 1.8 in 2045-2050, and to 1.9 by 2095-2100. Despite this increase, childbearing in low-fertility countries is expected to remain below the replacement level, leading to a likely contraction of total population size (unless there is an increase in numbers of immigrants).

Longer lives around the world

Life expectancy is projected to increase in developed and developing countries in future years, according to the report. The last 100 years has seen the most rapid decline of mortality in human history. For the world as a whole, life expectancy at 
birth rose from 47 years in 1950-1955 to 69 years in 2005-2010. Over the next 40 years, life expectancy at birth is expected to continue on a similar path. At the global level, it is projected to reach 76 years in 2045-2050 and 82 years in 2095-2100. By the end of the century, people in developed countries could live on average around 89 years, compared to about 81 years in developing regions.

Even in the world’s least developed countries, which include many countries highly affected by HIV/AIDS, life expectancy is projected to increase. Life expectancy at birth in the LDCs was estimated to be 58 years in 2005-2010 but is expected to increase to about 70 years in 2045-2050, and 78 years by 2095-2100.

As fertility declines and life expectancy rises, the proportion of the population above a certain age rises. This phenomenon, known as population ageing, is occurring throughout the world. Overall, the more developed regions have been leading this process, and their experience provides a point of comparison for the expected ageing of the populations of less developed regions. In 1950, the number of children (persons under age 15) in the more developed world was more than twice the number of older persons (those aged 60 years or over), with children accounting for 27% of the total population and older persons for only 12%. By 2013, the proportion of older persons in the more developed regions had surpassed that of children (23% versus 16%), and in 2050, the proportion of older persons is expected to be about double that of children (32% versus 16%).

Population ageing is not advanced in developing regions, especially in countries where fertility remains high. For China, where fertility has been below the replacement level for several years, the report points out that population ageing is more advanced and is progressing more rapidly than in other parts of the developing world.

The report’s figures are based on a comprehensive review of available demographic data from around the world, including the 2010 round of population censuses, and on projections of possible behaviors.

For the entire World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, visit http://www.unpopulation.org or contact the Office of the Director, Population Division, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, tel.: +1 (212) 963-3179, email: population@un.org. Editors’ note: UNDESA Population Division publications can be found at <http://esa.un.org/wpp/Documentation/publications.htm>

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