Assume the Worst When it Comes to Climate Change and Population, General King tells Kansas Farmers Union by Tom Parker

Dr. W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College.

Dr. W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College.

History has a way of repeating itself, which means that if military historians and strategists peer back far enough, certain precedents can be found to illustrate patterns and models useful for the prediction of the near-term future.

Unfortunately, as retired Brigidier General W. Chris King told members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka on Jan. 4, there is no historical precedence for what the nation and the world face in the future from the combined forces of climate change, overpopulation and resource depletion. “We have nothing on which to base projections,” he said. “We have to assume climate change is going to make everything worse. And there’s no easy, immediate fix. It’s a really, really hard problem.”

King, chief academic officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, said that while the idea of climate change seems addressed to our times, it was already being discussed back in the 1970s and 1980s. The problem was, nobody was listening, least of all the U.S. military. Nor did the military consider them worthy of study.

“These subjects were not well received because [the authors] had patches on their sleeves and they didn’t get along with the military,” King said.

That began to change when one of the leading environmental scholars of the time, Norman Myers, characterized the impending shortage of resources as a national security issue on par with hostile nations. “It relates to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate and other factors that rarely figure in the minds of military experts and political leaders,” he wrote in The Environmentalist.

That assessment was mirrored in the latest National Security Strategy of the United States, dated May 2010, which declared “the danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”

The bottom line, King said, will be more failed states, more tension and conflict, and higher demand for military forces. “So now it’s my business,” he said. “Everything I do in the Department of Defense has been to address the threats identified in the National Securities Strategy, to protect the nation against all enemies.”

The primary culprit is climate change, he said, but it’s driven by population. Since 1950 the world’s population almost tripled from 2.5 billion to over 7 billion, and projections estimate an additional billion people every decade and a half.

Space is already at a premium, he said, and many parts of the world have already reached or exceeded their carrying capacity. “Where do you put all those people?” King asked. “All the good spots are already taken.”

Much the world’s population lives along coastlines and many others live by necessity on marginal lands susceptible to flooding or weather extremes.

With sea levels rising, the Alaskan town of Newtok is predicted to be underwater by 2017, earning residents the unfortunate status as the first climate refugees in America. The loss of living space and freshwater salination hold potential catastrophic outcomes, as would the collapse of estuarine fisheries. The loss of ice and snow in the arctic poses additional security problems of an open, unregulated and unguarded northern border. Rising temperatures will trigger fluctuations in extreme weather by increasing intensity and frequency as well as expanding areas at risk. Precipitation patterns will also change, impacting water, sanitation and food sources.

The military needs to adapt to changing climate and its associated global threats, and to develop strategies for action, King said. “When you dial 911 on a national level,” he said, “you call the military. Nobody else has the logistics capacity to move people and supplies on so vast a scale.”

Already worldwide 780 million people lack access to clean water, he said. More than three million people die each year from causes related to water or sanitation. Basic sanitation is lacking for two and a half billion people, and more than one billion people suffer from chronic hunger; most are children.

Compounding the problems, he said, is that many of these countries have the highest birth rates.

“Even if climate change didn’t exist, the 7.2 billion people and the limited resources to produce food and clean water to meet basic human needs is a disaster that’s coming at some rate which we don’t know yet,” he said. “And climate change is going to make it worse.”

The military response must be in less emphasis on force-on-force and more on humanitarian assistance, developing strategies for handling huge refugee and migration populations and to provide massive amounts of water when needed during emergencies, King said.

The solution, he added, isn’t up to the military. “We have to partner with the State department, economics, agriculture and other parts of the government that are going to have to adapt and develop,” he said.

The key is education. Kansas State University is now helping developing countries to move to sustainable systems rather than resource mining, he said. Overall, government agencies and organizations are trying to initiate a basic sustainable-needs model that will guide them into the uncertain future.

“This is our biggest threat,” King said. “But we’re not managing the planet that way.”

W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. This article reports on a talk King gave to members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka on Jan. 4, 2014. King retired from active duty at the rank of Brigadier General in August 2006—after more than 32 years of active service—and is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal. Source: the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal, February 17, 2014.  http://www.hpj.com/archives/2014/feb14/feb17/0203KFUConference1PIXsr.cfm

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Ghana: Health Minister Calls for Teaching of Family Planning in All Schools

Madam Sherry Ayitey, Minister of Health for Ghana.

Madam Sherry Ayitey, Minister of Health for Ghana.

The Minister of Health, Madam Sherry Ayitey has stressed the need for the Ghana Education Service (GES) to introduce the teaching of family planning in schools to enable the adolescent to know much about their reproductive health.

According to her, the reported huge numbers of teenage pregnancy occurred as a result of lack of knowledge about the importance of family planning among the youth and that the teaching of the subject would help reduce the stigma associated with health education in the society.

Madam Ayitey, who was speaking at the National launch of the 2013 National Family Planning Week celebration in Ho, observed that the time had come for education on family planning to be regarded as a major development issue, because high population rate in the country would definitely have negative effect on national development.

She stressed that the theme for the Family Planning Week, “Your Future, Your Choice and Your Contraceptive” was timely, noting that the issues of girls’ education ought to be regarded more seriously, particularly when large numbers of abortion and maternal deaths are teenagers in the country.

Madam Ayitey said the teaching of family planning in schools ought to be seen as very important because it would go a long way to equip the youth particularly teenage girls to make an informed decisions concerning sex.

The Health Minister continued that traditional authorities and religious leaders should regularly invite expects in family planning in their communities regularly to educate the people on the need to produce the number of children that they could take care of.

According to her, in the world’s poorest countries, contraceptive health and family planning for adolescents have become a taboo, and in many parts of sub-sahara Africa, the issues of family planning and adolescents’ sexual health have been completely ignored, leading to pregnancy and childbirth complications

Madam Ayitey noted that there were still large numbers of the youth who did not gain admission to either Colleges of Education or the universities because of the large population rates, as well as the huge numbers of unemployed youth who completed school or dropped out of school due to early pregnancy.

She said the adherence to family planning education would go a long way to help in dealing with major development problems as reduced population would ensure effective development adding that her outfit would in future include other maternal health issues to the National Health Insurance Scheme to deal with reproductive health that would reduce maternal death.

The Director of the Ghana Health Services, Dr. Ebenezer Appiah Denkyirah said a number of activities had been lined up throughout the country to create the needed awareness about family planning and reproductive health and urged Ghanaians to visit health facilities anytime to be provided with the best family planning that would suit their needs.

Dr. Appiah Denkyirah emphasized that family planning helps to control population growth as well as protect people from contracting sexually transmitted diseases which should not be seen as the preserve for only women and asked men to actively participate in family planning activities with their wives to ensure a healthy family and society.

The Deputy Volta Regional Director in Charge of Public Health, Dr. Winfred Ofosu said family planning would help the nation to grow its population in a sustainable manner as a household, a community and a country in accordance with the resources of the nation.

The Volta Regional Minister, Joseph Nii Laryear Afortey Agbo, noted that family planning had become increasingly important, cost-effective and high yielding intervention that exists in the world.

Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201402102023.html

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Art as Resolution by Eleanor Cleverly

Art and culture supports the betterment of individual character and social values, and is an important part of sustainable living.

Solar photovoltaic glass art by artist Sarah Hall.  Image courtesy of Sarah Hall Studios.

Solar photovoltaic glass art by artist Sarah Hall. Image courtesy of Sarah Hall Studios.

I was once, in college, admonished by a peer for a touchy-feely New Year’s resolution that I’d made. Although the full list included tangible experiences, such as travel to a new city and working out daily, the leader of the pack was much more nebulous: to be a little kinder.

Character-driven resolutions may be in style now, but they continue to pose a difficulty in measured impact. A list of “100 Things to Do Before I Die” provides the ease of tally—either you did it or you didn’t—and earnings in character or wisdom are left for the ether, or at best between the lines of a travel journal. Asking for a kinder, more compassionate outlook may be too vague for real activity to take place.

That said, there’s evidence that one timeless pursuit can promote intrinsic values. Participation in it increases the “capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue, and foster new ideas and relationships,” as written by Shelagh Wright in The Art of Life.

It is engagement in art and culture.

This thesis states that whether it be in practice or participation, art and culture supports the betterment of individual character and social values.

First, the development of freedom, creativity, and curiosity are strengthened through the arts—values known to increase overall life satisfaction. Second, flow-conducive activities as practiced in art suppress focus on extrinsic concerns like financial success, image, and popularity—values known to decrease overall satisfaction. Finally, deeply disruptive experiences, such as the profound consideration of one’s own mortality, reorient people toward intrinsic values. Art and culture have the potential to be this healthy disruptor, shaking up our world perception and encouraging inward reflection.

Self-reflection is key in a society prone to prescribing identity, rather than nurturing it. Much of the messaging we receive emphasizes money, image, and status, all external concerns. As Tom Crompton notes, the more than 3,000 advertisements that whiz by us each day “invite us to think of ourselves as consumers rather than as citizens.”

Participation in art and culture offers relief. A study conducted at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas showed that students who visited the museum “demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.” This echos what most devotees have long known: art and culture is key, at any age, to reconciling with the human condition.

It’s unlikely that visiting a museum or listening to a symphony will allow one to achieve the full breadth of human kindness and compassion. Still, the historic words of John F. Kennedy, honoring Robert Frost, ring out to us today: “When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

In 2014, I have a new resolution. Listen to more bluegrass music, stop in when I notice a neighborhood reading, and be more fearless in my own creative contributions. Then, kindness will come.

Source: Center for a New American Dream, January 14, 2014 : <http://www.newdream.org/blog/art-as-resolution>    Eleanor Cleverly is the Arts and Culture Fellow at the Center for a New American Dream.

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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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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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Outing the 800 Pound Immigration Reform Gorilla by Stuart H. Hurlbert

Before we can discuss how this heavy fellow might change our future, we must first get him out of the closet and into the living room for close inspection.

As when his brother was in the closet in 2006, inspection has been hindered by baggage piled against the closet door – tons of anecdotes, hard luck stories, numbers without context, and self-serving demands from multitudinous interest groups. Who can blame many in Congress and the general public for imagining that it may be only a capuchin monkey in the closet.

We can’t have a sane immigration policy until we have a sane population policy. The single most important question for any immigration reform bill is how it will affect U.S. population size over the medium and long term. That will drive everything else. Many, perhaps most, environmental scientists and natural resource economists regard even the present U.S. population of 316 million as one that is not sustainable economically and environmentally over the long term.

But discussions of population policy are taboo in Congress and other establishment venues. The political parties and their controllers fear any disturbance to our existing de facto population policy of “growth forever.” The reason the growthists censor is, of course, that they want no reasoned population policy. To their minds, one favoring stabilization would be “un-American”, if not an outright Communist plot.

Now let’s open that closet door a bit. The whole gorilla can be visualized with numbers in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 population projections and the Congressional Budget Office’s June 2013 report on the probable demographic impact of S.744, were it to become law.

The U.S. Census Bureau makes four population projections out to the year 2060, based on four different immigration scenarios. As usual, three of these (termed the low, middle, and high series) assume net immigration rates that increase continuously into the future, though in different degrees. The fourth (termed the constant series) assumes annual net immigration remains constant over time at 725 thousand, about what it is now.

In the context of true immigration reform, where changes in all deficient laws and policies should be under consideration, the logical starting point for discussion would be the constant series projection. This gives a U.S. population in 2060 of 392.7 million. That would be an increase equal to the total current  population of the western third of the U.S.  And we would still be growing in 2060 by 1.2 million per year.

So the first question a responsible Congress should ask is, “Do the American people want our population to expand to 393 million, given all the economic, environmental, and social consequences of doing so?”

If the people do not want this, true immigration reform must start by figuring how to adjust laws and policies so that net immigration levels are lower than 725 thousand per year. Options that would logically be on the table would include rates of 400 and 550 thousand total (not net) immigrants per year. Those were the recommendations of the 1972 Rockefeller and 1995 Jordan commissions, respectively.

The Census Bureau usually recommends its “middle series” projection as the basis for comparisons, and governmental agencies at all levels use that projection for planning purposes. The middle series (like the low and high series as well) is based on laws and policies many of which everyone agrees need changing.

The establishment nevertheless pushes this “growth forever” middle series projection as de facto policy. The general public meekly follows, mainly because the media never tell them what is really going on. Indeed, the media mostly engage in piling more baggage in front of the closet door.

The 2012 middle series projects a U.S. population in 2060 of 420.3 million that would still be growing by 2.1 million people per year.

Now consider the Congressional Budget Office report. This contains some ‘spin’, is secretive about key assumptions, and gives a vague population projection but only to the year 2033. Its information is sufficient, however, to estimate that S.744 would lead to a conservative revised 2060 middle series projection of about 441.5 million people, with that population still growing at 2.7 million per year.

In sum, S.744 is an excellent start on immigration reform if the intent is to increase U.S. population size by 40% by 2060 and probably more than 100% by 2100.

If apprised of all the negative consequences of moving in that direction the American people would surely demand that Congress start from scratch, deliberate with greater intelligence, and put the U.S. on the road to population stabilization. All censors and baggage-pilers out of the way, please.

Stuart H. Hurlbert is emeritus professor of biology at San Diego State University, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, former board secretary of Californians for Population Stabilization, and current president of Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization.

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