Monthly Archives: February 2013

Nature’s Capital by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

While it is certainly welcome that so much attention has been devoted over recent years to the challenges posed by climate change, it seems to me that this particular focus has somewhat overshadowed what could prove to be an even greater threat to our well-being—namely the unprecedented degradation of the Earth’s living fabric of species and ecosystems.

Deforestation, collapsing fish stocks, the decline of pollinators, a rash of animal and plant extinctions and the loss of soils are among a whole host of worrying trends that confirm how we are overwhelming Nature’s capacity to supply our ever-increasing demands and to sustain human civilization in the long term.

I have found it increasingly breathtaking that even though so much scientific evidence now abounds on the decline of so many natural systems, it still seems possible to write off these symptoms as simply the inevitable consequences of development, in the belief that we can somehow balance the destruction against the benefits of carrying on with “business-as-usual”. We may have convinced ourselves in the past that we could think this way, but not now. The idea that we can endlessly exploit natural systems in order to sustain economic growth has run its course and is no longer a viable option. We cannot go on as we have done; we have to turn the tide.

For a system to be “sustainable” it must be, by definition, capable of enduring without failure. So, it is a simple test. Does the way we treat Nature guarantee its endurance without failure?  From all the evidence we have, the answer is fast becoming a resounding “no”. In so many realms, by definition, Nature’s life-support systems will plainly not endure indefinitely. Whether it be the air we breathe, the water that feeds our farming, the forests that absorb carbon, or the reefs that protect our coasts, natural systems in all their diverse forms are suffering corrosive destruction, and this will inevitably have a damaging effect on our economic wellbeing, let alone our health, wherever we are in the world. This is the clear message that has come through from a number of recent expert studies, and yet it remains a notion that is evidently still not taking root in the collective view of our place in the world.

This is why for so long I have been at pains to explain how this rather fundamental predicament arises. In large measure it is due to what I would call a “crisis of perception”. It is not so much clever policies nor innovative technologies that we lack; it is more a question of us forgetting the simple fact that we and our economies are a much a part of Nature as the trees and the birds. Just as they are, we are also Nature. It is a mistake, therefore, to put any distance between us and the rest of Nature’s systems. By degrading natural systems, we effectively reduce our own prospects for continued development and long term security.

As the shifts in climatic conditions begin to bite and as critical resources become scarce, the reason why we must attempt to reverse Nature’s decline can be summed up in one word: resilience.  Time and again experience from around the world confirms that Nature provides us with what are often the cheapest and most effective ways of coping with the challenges we face, from water scarcity to the impact of extreme weather events. The more healthy Nature is, the more likely we will be able to cope with the testing circumstances that lie ahead. This is why things like preserving forests and putting the health of the soil at the very heart of our approach are absolutely critical.

All this leads me to conclude that we have to see ecology and economy as two sides of the same coin, and urgently so. The world desperately needs a more integrated view of Nature and how her needs are incorporated into our thinking about development and economics. By properly valuing Nature’s “capital”, it should surely not be beyond the wit of man (and economists!) to establish an innovative market for the “public utilities” provided by ecosystem services? It is a fact that we can no longer ignore: a secure and prosperous future for humanity can only be guaranteed by a much more harmonious coexistence with the rest of Nature’s complex and miraculous system.

Source: Dimensions magazine, International Human Dimensions on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), January 14, 2013.

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Albemarle County, Virginia: New Report Quantifies the Fiscal Costs of Population Growth

"Smart growth" strategies... are "doomed to fail."

“Smart growth” strategies… are “doomed to fail.”

A new report produced for Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population says that continued population growth in Charlottesville and Albemarle County would only increase the fiscal challenges faced by local government.

It also argues that “smart growth” strategies and economic development efforts to recruit even targeted industries are “doomed to fail” in a fiscal analysis that examines the full cost-benefits.

“I think we have long used a drug that we thought would cure our ills, and the drug is growth,” said Jack Marshall, ASAP’s president.  “This drug has side effects and its probably not a drug that is appropriate for most communities in America.  It’s time to reconsider that drug’s claims for what it can do.”

Using publicly available government data for the fiscal years between 2006 and 2009, the study examines the fiscal costs and benefits of population growth in the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Various land use categories – like residential, commercial, industrial and agriculture – were examined to determine if they pay their own way for the public services required. The report concludes, “few land uses pay their way … because new area residents require services that increase local government costs at a level greater than the additional local revenue they contribute.”

“Growth will not pay for itself, but to remain prosperous and have opportunities for your citizens, and to sustain a healthy community you already have, you actually don’t need it,” said ASAP board member David Shreve.  “This does not mean that all growth must end, nor does it mean, as we have been criticized, that we need to build a moat.” Shreve, who holds a doctorate in economic history, served as the report’s editor and adviser.

Neil Williamson, president of the business advocacy group the Free Enterprise Forum, said the report misses the mark. “While seemingly accurate in its limited financial analysis, [the report] fails to recognize the indirect, but calculable, economic benefits of population expansion,” Williamson said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.  “The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the report is flawed in design and unfairly prejudiced in its analysis and conclusions.”

“The report fails to calculate the considerable value of population to economic vitality,” Williamson counters.  “It is established that ‘Retail follows Rooftops’ and revenue (and jobs) follows retail.  One need only look to Greene County [where] the retail sales tax local option has increased exponentially since the establishment of the retail centers.”

Craig Evans was the project manager and principal author for the study.  Evans is a former member of ASAP’s board of directors and he serves as a member of Albemarle County’s Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee. “If you look at a land use in isolation, like commercial and industrial, they pay their way [so you think] let’s attract more,” Evans said.  “What happens is that as you attract more commercial and industrial uses, you inevitably attract more people.”

The report says that for every dollar in revenue generated, residential housing for those additional people has costs of $1.41 in Albemarle and $1.37 in Charlottesville.  The costs of public education are a large factor.

Last April, the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development published a Target Industry Study to help local governments focus their economic development strategies.  Albemarle decided to focus on attracting and growing the following industries: bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness.

“The targets were identified for the region and individual localities based on many factors, including the skill sets and experience of our existing workforce,” said TJPED’s president Helen Cauthen in an email.  “Our strategies around the target industries will be very focused on strengthening and retaining existing businesses in those sectors, which will provide job stability and security as well as career ladder employment opportunities for current citizens.”

ASAP’s leaders say this economic development initiative is one of their greatest concerns.  They prefer a focus on supporting existing small businesses and question whether the current population can or will fill the new jobs being targeted for creation.

“The Target Industry Study suggests we forge ahead and hire outside folks, not the underemployed,” Marshall said.  “We say wait a minute, it won’t work. … Continued growth exerts fiscal demands on local government and we have to deal with that some way.”

Shreve was asked how a community might close the fiscal gap identified in the report. “There are two legitimate ways, first improve the tax structure to get more money out of the community’s income to fund services,” said Shreve.  “The second way is to increase state and federal aid.” The report recommends more “progressive and responsive” tax structures. “We could move to a local income tax piggybacked on a state income tax,” Shreve gave as one example, a suggestion that would require action by the General Assembly.

Evans moved to the community in 2007 from South Florida and he acknowledges he fits the profile of a newcomer who wants to close the gates on others.  Evans said that in an ideal cost-accounting system, the existing population would pay to get community infrastructure caught up, then newcomers would have to pay for the new services they demand.

The study says recruiting more wealthy residents to help pay down the fiscal gap is unrealistic since it would require an average home price of $2.7 million for the next 2,000 homes in Albemarle to raise enough tax revenue to address even existing deficits.

“Development is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, development has a cost,” Evans said.  “The question has to be how much do we want to grow and as we grow how are we going to pay for it?”

Both Marshall and Evans hope the study will spark a deeper conversation among local officials as they update the city and county Comprehensive Plans. “A smart community doesn’t ignore these issues,” Marshall said.  “We should talk openly about them and make reasonable decisions.  We should talk about a vision that makes sense, then figure out what steps to take.”A 5-page Executive Summary of the study is available at

A 5-page Executive Summary of the study is available at <> , and the full report is at <>


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Education as a Conservation Strategy – Really? by Tim Tear and Craig Leisher, The Nature Conservancy

It seems like everywhere you turn recently, you hear how the planet’s population is headed to 10 billion. And obvious questions follow: How can we balance far more people with the natural resources needed for their survival? How will we get more food? How will we get more energy?

In this piece, we argue that compelling new data and lessons learned from years of work around the globe suggests that conservation groups – including our own, The Nature Conservancy – should think hard about adopting another global priority strategy: education, especially education of young women in developing countries.

Seeing Is Believing

Our assumption is that most conservationists will be skeptical. We were too. So let’s see if we can alter your perspective by taking you first to Tanzania. In true Nature Conservancy place-based fashion, there is a stunning conservation area that provided the initial attraction – only later were the alarming statistics related to population and human well-being discovered that helped open our eyes to the importance of education.

On Tanzania’s western boundary, the Conservancy’s Africa program has a project to conserve a vast forested area with the rugged Mahale Mountain National Park at its core. In addition to containing approximately 90 percent of the chimpanzees in the country and other Africa icons like elephants, the project area also captures a significant portion of the Lake Tanganyika coastline. Lake Tanganyika is a true freshwater biodiversity gem. It has not only some of the most spectacular fish diversity on the globe, it also holds – in one lake – nearly as much fresh water as all the U.S. Great Lakes combined. But to successfully conserve the fish and chimps, complex conservation issues must be addressed.

In this remote region, people are almost entirely dependent on fishing and farming. When people can’t get enough food from the lake, they turn to the forest for hunting and to clear new land for farming. When there are too many people for the natural resource base, both the lake and the forest suffer. To get a better handle on these underlying land- and water-use issues, we conducted a baseline socioeconomic survey of the 50,000 people who live in the area (Hess & Leisher 2010). What we found startled us. The 10 villages on the edge of the lake bordering the national park had some eye-opening numbers:

  • 49 percent of the population is under the age of 15, among the highest percentages for that cohort in the world.
  • The average household size of 6.7 is 29 percent higher than the 2010 Tanzania average of 5.2 and among the highest in the world.
  • 130 of every 1,000 children born locally between July and December 2006 did not survive to their 5th birthday, giving the villages an under-age-five mortality among the highest in the world.

This baseline social science survey made the conservation challenge clear: If we can’t address rapid human population growth in the area, we will not succeed in conserving the lands and water on which all local life depends.

Demography Is Not Destiny

A common reaction to the data is that, given such overwhelming population pressures, is there any reason for hope?

Why is this important? Because the projections of Earth reaching 10 billion people span a longer timeframe than it took South Korea to dramatically alter its demographic profile.

To find such reason, we have to journey to the other side of the globe – to South Korea. The demographic structure of South Korea in 1960, with roughly half its population under the age of 15 and 6.3 children per woman, was similar to many developing countries in the world today and much like where we work in Tanzania. But in just 30 years, South Korea’s demographics changed from a youth-heavy population pyramid to a much more sustainable teardrop shape (Figure 1), with a growth rate at replacement level.


South Korea could be dismissed as an aberration because it has such a large and vibrant economy – think LG and Hyundai – but South Korea is not alone. Colombia, Morocco, and Bangladesh had similar demographic shifts in even less time. Imagine how much worse environmental crises in these countries would have been had they not transformed their population pyramids? Rather than continue with the sole focus on more mouths needing more inputs, why not also adopt strategies that result in fewer mouths? Our argument is that population size and growth – and the increased consumption that comes with more people – does matter, and that conservation needs to address this challenge. These examples of dramatic demographic change show that it is possible to take the fuse out of the population bomb.

A recent report from Lilli Sippel et al. from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development looked at the demographic challenges in Africa and what factors contribute to a reduced population growth rate. Education – in particular educating women – was one of the most significant factors for reducing population growth rates. In the figure below, they show how increased education levels result in fewer births per woman. This study also calls out education as the key factor for greater economic development, which is a necessity for sustaining the benefits to an older population.

Investing in Women Pays

The third stop on our journey takes us to the library to look at what we have learned from a half- century of international development. A meta-analysis of 26 countries from Teresa Castro Martin and Fatima Juarez dove-tails with Sippel et al.’s findings: educating women reduces the number of children, and even completing primary school was enough to make a significant difference.

Educating women also had one of the highest returns on investment rates among all development initiatives. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the return on investment for completing primary school ranges from 25 percent to 38 percent. This means every $1 invested in primary education returns $1.25 to $1.38 to the community economically.

For comparison, consider this: Primary education’s return on investment was even greater than child vaccinations, which itself is the best buy for the money in the health sector. When poor women in developing countries earn income, they spend most of it on their families, creating a positive feedback loop that helps the next generation to be more educated and healthy.



Our final stop visits an apparently odd correlation: education and climate change. The UN posited in 2009 that educating women about reproductive health and providing them with family planning options would do more for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than stopping all deforestation. Education reduces population growth rate, which reduces growth in consumption, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions. REDD+ is cool – but educating women is even cooler for global warming. Literally.

What Can Conservation Organizations Do?

Back in Mahale, Tanzania, we can see how its remoteness has been a blessing and a curse. Remoteness has helped to protect these special habitats from destructive human development. However, the people have also been virtually forgotten by government health and education programs. Yet even in apparently dire situations like this, education is critical to finding hope, and it’s a hope supported by data.

If you’re mentally jet-lagged after our strange trip from Tanzania to South Korea and back, the idea is simple: a wealth of data suggest that education, in particular educating women, could be one of conservation’s most important and successful strategies.

So what might some of these “education strategies” look like?  Here is one possible pathway to the education frontier tailored to the talents of conservation organizations:

  • Develop education strategies for the countries you work in that have an expansive (youth-heavy) population pyramid. In these countries, 35 percent or more of the population are under the age of 15, and thesepopulation demographics threaten to nullify the potential conservation gains planned for the next 50 years.
  • In each of these countries, team up with respected family planning and reproductive health partners. Together, advance priority projects where population, health, and environment (PHE) actions are developed – collaboratively – from the beginning. Your organization does not have to be the expert here, but you can and should leverage expertise already available. In Mahale, The Nature Conservancy has a partnership with Pathfinder International, the leading human and reproductive health organization in Tanzania.
  • In projects where a PHE approach is adopted, insure that education focuses on strategies that directly target young women. Again, this is why partnerships are important – they should bring knowledge of which strategies have worked best for the socioeconomic situation of each project.
  • Support government funding for primary and secondary education for women. Government relationsefforts in countries where PHE projects are being advanced should support education in its broadest sense. Increased access to education should amplify local conservation benefits.

Still skeptical?

Tim Tear is a senior scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Region and New York program. His recent research focuses on prioritization, air pollution impacts, and carbon sequestration in grasslands. Craig Leisher is a senior social scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Central Science unit, focusing on measuring the impacts on people from conservation initiatives.


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Respect Women’s Choices by Dr Richard Grossman

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

“What does a woman want?” ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud’s question obviously has many answers. Some women are happy with their role as wife and mother, the picture that some men still have of “the perfect woman”.

My mother, who was born in 1903, decided her future when she was just eight. She told me that she asked her third grade teacher what they had just read. “That is a story” was the teacher’s reply.

“No, what is it called when you study all sorts of stories?”

“That’s called ‘literature’.”

“When I grow up, I want to teach literature”. And she did for almost 40 years in the Philadelphia Public Schools.

She graduated from high school at 16. Her father believed that the woman’s place was in the home, so disapproved of higher education for my mother. Nevertheless, she went through teacher training with no support from her family. She had to be top in her class to receive one of only two scholarships. At age 18 she was teaching a class of 40 fourth graders.

During the past century a woman’s role in US society has changed drastically. For instance, when I entered medical school in 1965 there were only six women in my class of 125. Now there are equal numbers of men and women in medical schools. My specialty, OB-GYN, used to be ruled by men but now women make up the preponderance.

More important, women increasingly take leadership roles. Whereas males used to preside over politics, we’re seeing more and more women in Denver and Washington. Many captains of industry and of education are now women. Indeed, it was Dr. Dene Thomas, the first female president of Fort Lewis College, who inspired this column.

In our country the movement for women’s suffrage started in the late 19th century. Colorado was early in recognizing a woman’s right to vote—in 1893! This movement ended in 1920 with passage of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Unfortunately there are still people who think that a woman’s place is at home, and women must be subservient to men. Some candidates in the last election came up with some really stupid statements.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” As a specialist in reproductive health, I am not sure what “that whole thing” refers to, but I suspect that Mr. Todd Akin was referring to a woman’s ability to conceive.

Thirty years ago I investigated a statement in the antiabortion literature. Antiabortion people maintained that women don’t get pregnant from rape. I tracked down this untruth to a statement that 200 women who had been raped were followed and none of them conceived. The man who started this falsehood admitted to me that it had no basis in reality. The reality is that rape often leads to pregnancy.

This fall another Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, said: “When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Was he implying that God intended the rape to happen?

Todd and Murdoch disagree whether rape can result in pregnancy. I cannot agree with either of their attitudes toward women. Neither could 55 % of female voters, according to exit polls at the November election, since a large majority of women voted for Democratic candidates. How could Romney and Ryan tolerate to be associated with these clowns?

Fortunately President Obama has recognized the importance of contraception to America’s women. Starting in 2012 all insurance plans must pay for any birth control without copayment. This mandate has the great promise of decreasing our atrociously high rate of unplanned pregnancies, and of slowing growth of our population.

Why do women value family planning services? They say that access to contraception allows them to take better care of themselves and of their families, helps them support themselves financially, and permits them to complete their education and to be employable. This information is from a recent survey of over 2000 women using family planning clinics across the country.

Barak Obama has just been inaugurated for his second term of office. His popularity confirms that people want a change from archaic concepts of the role of women. We want healthcare for all, freedom to access contraception and, when necessary, safe abortion services.

Source: © Richard Grossman MD, January 2013. First appeared in the Durango (Colorado) Herald. Reprinted with permission.

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