World Population Grows Daily by the Population of Akron, OH . . . Oh!

      We’re always reading about how many billions of tons of carbon dioxide are spit into the atmosphere each year. The concept is difficult to wrap our heads around because, let’s face it, carbon dioxide is a gas (as in soda bubbles), so how do scientists weigh it? In any case, the seven-billion-plus humans on the planet are causing nine-billion-plus tons of CO2 to contribute to global warming annually. CO2  output has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years.

     According to Jake Abrahamson, writing in the May/June issue of Sierra magazine, CO2 levels are likely to double again over the next half century. At that point the Greenland ice sheet will start caving in. What, you may ask, is the Greenland ice sheet? It is a sheet of thick ice that covers most of Greenland. If it melts, the world’s oceans would likely rise about 22 feet. If that happens, people will be buying beachfront property in Tennessee.

     What, pray tell, could we do to stop this headlong drive to crash ourselves into an environmental brick wall? How about, say, family planning? Right now the world grows by more than the population of Akron, Ohio each day. Akron has about 218,000 people. Put another way, we need to accommodate the equivalent of another mid-size city – population-wise – each day! Housing, schools, transportation, roads, food, waste disposal, consumer supplies, the whole shebang . . . every day!

     Abrahamson contends that a concerted, worldwide family planning campaign can do as much to reduce emissions as conserving electricity, trapping carbon, or using alternative fuels. What if we were to initiate five strategies to slow population growth?

The Pill
Photo: Marie Stopes International

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates there are 215 million women who would like access to contraceptives but cannot get them for various reasons. Contraceptives for these women would reduce unintended pregnancies from the current 76 million to 22 million, annually.

  • Women who benefit from literacy tend to have smaller families (with the bonus of lower child mortality rates). They are also less likely to bear children before they can afford to.
  • Comprehensive sex education would limit teen pregnancy rates. We have discussed the impact of consumer consumption frequently in this venue. Nearly half of the world’s population is under age 25. The reproductive decisions and behaviors of the current generation of young adults will reverberate for decades. According to Abrahamson, by having a child, an American woman increases her CO2 footprint sixfold.
  • Where women lack essential human rights, they lack control over their own fecundity. Gender equality, including suffrage, education and control over women’s own bodies, has to be taught to cultures that value male dominance. This is no easy task, but it has happened all over the globe.
  • “Where welfare is tied directly to the land, aid groups are promoting a development approach called population, health and environment (PHE), which integrates improved access to health services, with models for sustainable resource use.” This dynamic development is most important for societies in tropical wilderness area.

     The Sierra article compares these population efforts with eight other CO2-reducing goals:

  • Replacing oil and gas with renewable energy sources;
  • Cut consumer power use by 25 percent;
  • Run cars on clean hydrogen;
  • Double vehicle fuel economy;
  • Replace coal with solar energy;
  • Replace coal with wind;
  • Practice conservation tillage;
  • Stop deforestation.

     In our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we direct our case at the United States. But as far as worldwide reform goes, we see little chance of wholesale reform without America taking the lead. We must lead both by example and by reaching out to people all over the globe, with both education and money. Even while our own economy is struggling mightily, we must make the effort or future generations will suffer the consequences of our lack of foresight.

     We Americans have the knowledge and the means. Now we must muster the will. At seven billion, there are lots more than enough of us.

Palm Oil, Orangutans, and What the Heck are you Eating?

     Palm oil has become a scourge that humans have inflicted upon this planet. And its fallout is due as much to human overpopulation as it is to pure greed. What, you may ask, is palm oil? It is a cooking oil. It’s also used in many processed foods. Palm oil comes from the fruit of a very specific palm tree. And it’s cheap. It is also high in saturated fat. So why is it spreading like a bad rumor? Let us repeat. It’s cheap. Oh, one other thing; it’s evil.

     It grows in tropical areas. So do rainforests. So do animals that live in the rainforests. And so, worldwide, do human populations. Palm oil producers like to make money. Indigenous peoples who live in the rainforests are not worth much money. Neither are the animals. As for the forests themselves, their wood is worth a lot. It’s a perfect fit. Clear cut the trees, plant the oil palms, screw the local peoples, orangutans, rhinos, horn bills, and proboscis and red langur monkeys.

Palm oil plantation
Indonesian palm oil plantation. Photo: Indonesianpalmoil.com

     Big oil (no, not that “big oil”) companies, like BW Plantations, are especially fond of Asian Pacific locales like Borneo and Java in Indonesia to plant their palms. Indigenous tribes that depend on the forests are left out in the cold, free to look for menial work where they can find it. The plantations are so insidious that they can even threaten protected national parks.

     The winter 2012 edition of Panther, the periodical of the Rainforest Action Network, reports that Tantung Puting National Park in Borneo is being traumatized by encroachment of palm oil plantations as well as illegal mining and logging operations. With little or no buffer left around parts of the park, “The drainage canals along the edge of the plantations were filled with the dark black water of dissolved peat soil – highlighting the troubling reality that much of this plantation is on carbon-rich peat soils and thus emitting massive amounts of CO2 as it rots . . . It seemed the Indonesian law prohibiting conversion of deep peatlands was being violated.”

     In one instance, when BW Plantations cut down a community’s native rubber trees last year, it triggered a demonstration. Police arrested no one in spite of the fact that the company co-opted 5,300 acres of community land. The local community sent formal letters of complaint to the company, as well as the district, provincial and national governments. At the time of Panther’s publication there was no response and demonstration resumed..

     So, you may ask, how does this relate to overpopulation? There are more people than ever on the earth. Most of them use edible oils. Palm oil is now the most widely used. Other popular oils include soybean and corn. They are much less unhealthful than palm oil. Several Latin American countries, including powerhouse Brazil, have jumped into the soybean market, exporting their soy oil to Europe, China and other countries. But these Latin American countries don’t have clean hands in this process. Brazil is well along in decimating its own rainforests, savanna and jungle habitats with farms of various types, often displacing its indigenous communities with both lawful and unlawful development.

     In other words, these countries are doing what the United States did a long time ago when it displaced the Midwestern forests, prairies and Native Americans with large-scale corn and soybean farms.

     As a recent article on Slate.com put the question, “So should food processors use palm oil from Southeast Asia or soybean oil from Brazil?” While soybean oil is much less detrimental to health than is palm oil, the destruction of native habitat and indigenous human environment can be equally tragic.

     The most immediate need, of course, is for developing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil to wake up and protect their primitive habitats. But as long as the world does not get the concept that there are way more than enough of us, we will continue to foul our own home. How sensible is that?

Overpopulation and Rampant Consumerism Stress Water Supplies, Which Will, in Turn, Stress Population

          Let’s start with a quote from the spring issue of Catalyst magazine: “Take the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls in a minute. Now triple it. That’s almost how much water U.S. power plants take in for cooling purposes every minute, on average. (If you have never seen Niagara, that’s a lot of H2O. Here, take a live look at the part known as Horseshoe Falls: http://www.niagarafallslive.com/niagara_falls_webcam.htm. The other part of Niagara is American Falls.)  At the same time, water demand is increasing and heat waves and drought are compounding the strain placed on vital freshwater supplies – a problem that global warming is projected to worsen.”

          The article is written by Climate and Energy Program analysts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In a nutshell, what it says is that our ever-increasing demand for electricity is stressing America’s fresh water supplies. Plants that burn fuel and use that heat to create steam, which in turn spin turbines to produce electricity, need water to boil and/or to cool the plants. But fresh water is not a limitless commodity. Tens of billions of gallons of water come from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers. Much of that water is lost to evaporation. Almost half of the country’s electric power comes from coal. Coal sucks up two-thirds of that water. It also consumes (evaporation) two-thirds of the water lost to power generation.

          A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. It is where much of humanity derives its water supplies. When we add municipal, agricultural and power plant demand together, 400 of the country’s 2,106 watersheds (in 2008) experienced water supply stress; the point at which demand for water exceeds a critical threshold of the available supply.

Manatee Power Plant. Photo – Florida Power & Light

          Think about this. The water that leaves power plants and is returned to its sources is considerably warmer than the water that left those same sites. That’s because the water was used to cool the plants. And if the water is warm enough, it can devastate fish and other wildlife.

          Here is the good news. Some states, on average, do a much better job of managing water stresses than others. That means, within certain bounds, that there are ways of reducing power plant impacts. For example, plants in Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia withdrew 40 to 55 times as much freshwater as those in California, Nevada and Utah.

          UCS makes five recommendations for reducing power demands’ impacts on fresh water supplies:

  • Plans for new generating plants should aim for low-water options including air-cooled (using fans for cooling) wind and solar. The latter two, however, have their own environmental drawbacks, including impacts on birds and wilderness wildlife, respectively.
  • Owners and operators of existing plants in water-stressed areas could consider retrofitting to low-water-use cooling. Plant Yates in Georgia added cooling towers, cutting water withdrawals by 93 percent and eliminating large fish kills. Harrington Station in Amarillo, Texas switched to treated wastewater cooling.
  • Engage a variety of stakeholders in power generation decisions. Fishermen, water resource managers, and mayors can all have input that leads to better outcomes for their constituents.
  • Reduce power plant carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases greenhouse effects which alter climates. Increased heat, changing rain patterns, and droughts could have devastating effects.

           Research shows that water temperatures are rising in many lakes, streams and rivers. This makes water-cooled plants work even harder and use more water for cooling. And while adding cooling towers to coal plants, for example, reduces water use, it does not reduce carbon emissions.

          We feel, however, that UCS’s recommendations fall short. Once again, no one is talking about the elephant in the room. And it’s one mammoth pachyderm. That would be us humans. Our existence on this earth is what’s screwing everything up. But so few are willing to discuss it, either on a personal, political or societal level. When it comes to reproduction we need to cut back or cut it out. As we continue to proliferate and as we become addicted to gadgets, gizmos and garbage that suck power like electronic vampires, we are rushing headlong into an environmental future for which yet-unborn generations will pay the price. There are, after all, enough of us.

CLIMATE CHANGE CAN INCLUDE UNHEALTHFUL ENVIRONMENT

            We are magazine hoarders. Well, not really. We hold onto them unread until they become so out of date that we dump them. But a few days ago, Ellis was about to toss the fall 2011 issue of Catalyst, the magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists, when he noticed the cover story, “Global Warming and Health.”

            For the moment let’s assume that the climate change deniers are right and that human behaviors and air pollution do not cause climate change. But what about their effects on our collective health? According to Liz Perera, the article’s author, there are currently 3.2 million children and three times as many adults who suffer from asthma in areas with poor air quality. Add to that the 2.3 million with emphysema and more than twice as many with chronic bronchitis.

            Much of the country experienced record and near-record warm weather. It was enough to make us forget how hot the previous summer was for much of the United States. That hot spell led to dangerous levels of ground-level ozone.     

John Klossner – 2012 Scientific Integrity Cartoon Calendar – Union of Concerned Scientists

       Now let’s get back to the idea of global warming for the foreseeable future. Let’s pretend that the general forecasts from climate scientists are in the ballpark. If ozone (a harmful form of oxygen molecules) levels increase by a mere two parts per billion (ppb) by 2020, respiratory ailments like asthma attacks, severe coughing, wheezing and chest tightness could increase by 2.8 million. Add to that, 944,000 missed school days, and 3,700 senior citizens and 1,400 hospitalized infants. Now let’s project out to 2050. If an anticipated increase of seven parts of ozone per billion in the atmosphere were to reach fruition, we would likely crank up the numbers to more than 4 million missed school days and the hospitalizations of 24,000 seniors and 5,700 infants.

Think of how those numbers would affect family finances, whether the impact comes from medical bills or some type of government financed healthcare. Just the 2020 figures could result in an additional $5.4 billion in additional expenses (2008 dollars). Ozone increases, as well as global warming, are at least partly due to  power generation involving fossil fuels like petroleum and coal.

Those most affected by ozone pollution are seniors, outdoor workers (e.g. police, farmers, lifeguards, amateur and professional athletes), and infants and children, who themselves will be the source of the subsequent generation of victims.

While the Catalyst article proposes solutions to the predicament that include Environmental Protection Agency regulations that limit the production of nitrogen oxides (NOx) which lead to ozone formation, President Obama has delayed such implementation until at least next year. Catalyst also supports President Obama’s rules that require passenger vehicles to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and the generation of electricity from renewable resources.

However, we believe that such measures, while important, fall far short of the most important choices we need to make. As long as human population rushes headlong past eight, nine and probably 10 billion of us by century’s end, can we realistically afford to think locally – meaning just the United States – while we humans infect our global atmosphere? As long as Third World populations proliferate while transmuting into consumer societies – along with the Asian mega-nations – U.S. efforts to become less polluting will produce modest global results at best.

In addition to the efforts described above, the U.S. must act like a world leader in the realm of family planning. While global population balloons willy-nilly, the challenge to not poison ourselves with the air we breathe must involve open, loud and persistent dialog about the need to think twice before making children. We must set an example in our own house and then proselytize to the rest of the world. Wind farms, 54.5 mpg, solar generation, and fluorescent bulbs alone just ain’t going to do it.

Even if They’re Right, Climate Change Deniers Aren’t Doing us any Favors

   During the Republican presidential candidate debate on Monday night, ultra-conservative Rick Santorum expressed his disdain for the concept of global warming and advocated for the construction of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the oil sands regions of Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
   Santorum advocated for Keystone and has done so for coal burning as well, along with calling manmade global warming a hoax. That’s fine. But the ex-Pennsylvania senator – both for himself and as an avatar for the “denier” movement – seems oblivious to consequences of spewing toxins, allergens, and assorted chemical flotsam into the atmosphere and water supply, regardless of the issue of global warming. As we produce more Americans, who in turn make more demands for energy and chemical consumption, we are compounding our own potential for disease.
   In the fall 2011 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Catalyst magazine, Liz Parera asserts that, “In the United States today, 3.2 million children and more than 9.5 million adults who suffer from asthma live in areas with bad air quality.”

   Ground level ozone is a byproduct of nitrous oxides (NOx) combining with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The former are produced by burning fossil fuels, the latter by paints and solvents.
    UCS combined projections of climate-induced temperature increases with a measurable variable that indicates the relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations. For each degree of warming, UCS determined, there could be an increase by 2020 in ground-level ozone of up to two parts per billion (ppb) over current levels, and seven ppb in 2050. These outwardly-appearing miniscule numbers actually translate to significant public health impacts for most of the continental United States.
   But what do these numbers mean in practical terms? In eight years a two ppb increase could lead to an additional 2.8 million respiratory ailments, like asthma, severe coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. In turn, these events would lead to almost a million missed school days, along with 3,700 senior citizens and 1,400 infants being hospitalized per year.
   If accurate, the 2050 projection would mean almost 12 million respiratory ailments, four million missed school days, and 24,000 seniors and 5,700 infants being hospitalized. Then there are billions of dollars in attached healthcare costs.
   The battles rage in Congress, on campaign stumps, and in the media. It’s renewables versus fossil fuels; spending versus cutbacks, and notorious failures like the Solyndra debacle. But this truth remains: the longer we delay implementing environmental reforms, the less feasible it will be for us Americans to reduce air and water pollution.
   America’s population now stands at almost 313 million, an increase of almost four million since the 2010 census less than two years ago.. It would take dramatic change in family planning, tax code, clean air requirement, and other reforms just to level off the rate of toxin growth, in light of population expansion. Meanwhile, Santorum makes claims that contraception leads to unplanned pregnancies.
   In 2007, a group of independent experts called the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, unanimously recommended to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the government lower the cap on allowable pollution levels. Since then, UCS has been fighting to get those standards in place. But the EPA is under assault from members of Congress who are beholden to the coal industry and other influential business groups.

   Adding insult to injury, last September the Obama administration delayed planned stricter standards for safe ozone levels until at least 2013. And if President Obama doesn’t win the next election, there is no telling how long, if ever, it will take for new standards to be put in place (this is not an endorsement of Obama).
    “The United States has the know-how and the technology to reduce unhealthful pollution while also potentially saving billions of dollars.” says Liz Perera of UCS. “The choices we make today about the way we live, the energy we use, and the pollution we emit will make a difference not only for our own health and well-being, but that of our children and their children as well. The sooner we act, the sooner millions of Americans can breathe easier.”
   Let’s take that quote one step further. The sooner we realize that reducing the number of children, and subsequently, their children – as well as encouraging other nations to do the same, the better the planet we will leave to them. There are, after all, ENOUGH OF US.

 

BP + Shrimp = Drowned Endangered Turtles

Ever-increasing numbers of Homo sapiens are indirectly inflicting dire impacts on the most innocent of creatures, often threatening the respective species’ very survival. We think it is safe to say most of us are oblivious to the pending catastrophes.
The BP oil spill (“spill,” to us, is what you do accidentally with a cup of coffee, not a drilling rig) of April 2010 had more ramifications than we can go into here. But one innocent and helpless creature has become a profound bellwether of what humanity is inadvertently doing to the planet’s ecosystems.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles began washing up on Gulf shores last year. According to Defenders of Wildlife (www.defenders.org), there were so many that an investigation by the National Marine  Fisheries Service (NMFS – www. nmfs.noaa.gov) determined that both the BP oil disaster and shrimp trawling were likely to blame. By last May, things had gotten so bad that Defenders and other conservation groups threatened to sue the NMFS unless it took action.
Scientists studying the impacts of the oil disaster have found shrimp inside the stomachs of many of the turtles. Shrimp are not normally part of a sea turtle’s diet. This anomaly indicates that these turtles died while caught up in shrimp gear and held underwater beyond their ability to survive without oxygen.
“To allow critically endangered sea turtles – which survived the biggest environmental disaster this country has ever faced – to now drown at unprecedented rates in fishing gear is tragic and unacceptable,” says Sierra Weaver, an attorney for Defenders, quoted in the fall 2011 Defenders magazine.
 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles breed and nest exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists rescued them from extinction after the nesting population dropped to fewer than 400 females in the early 1980s. During the first seven months of last year, 1,130 sea turtles were “stranded” – more than half of which were Kemp’s ridleys.

Flotsam on turtle nesting beach – Costa Rica

Exactly two years ago we visited Costa Rica. Our tour took us for a two-day visit to a remote area of the country called Tortuguero (loosely, “Turtle”) National Park. It is so named because loggerhead, green, leatherback and hawksbill females nest on its beaches. As the accompanying photographs show, the beaches are strewn with trash washed up with the tides from the gulf. Of course all this detritus of human activity makes it difficult for the nesting females to enter motherhood. So while we humans have too many mothers, these five species of turtles – which are all protected under the Endangered Species Act – have to fight human carelessness in order to minimally maintain their own species.
While visiting the Tortuguero beaches we were amazed to see how much crap makes it to the western shores of the gulf. It got us wondering how much of this junk is still floating around out there.

Debris on Costa Rica gulf coast
More of the same

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Sea Food Watch” program (www.seafoodwatch.org) provides a semi-annual pocket-size Sustainable Seafood Guide that categorizes fish as “best choices,” “good alternatives” and “avoid.” Gulf shrimp fall into the good alternatives category. Using five criteria, Seafood Watch staff evaluates each type of consumable fish. They are very aware of the sea turtle dilemma and are concerned about whether to reclassify gulf shrimp into the “avoid” category. According to Seafood Watch spokesperson Alison Barrett, one of the criteria, “is looking at the actual bycatch – are you catching endangered or threatened species and what’s the impact on the population?”
The aquarium must evaluate every species and determine which human impacts are impacting which species within their relative ecological webs.
Comparing stats in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the month of April between 1997 and 2011, the number of strandings has gone up about six-fold. As you would expect, the spike occurred in 2010 and 2011.
Here is what is most alarming: According to Defenders, scientists have determined that turtles that wash ashore represent only five percent of those that die. Because of this, spikes in the numbers killed usually indicate a dire situation.
Turtle excluder devices, commonly referred to as TEDs, effectively help turtles escape from fishing nets. Defenders of Wildlife is urging NMFS to expand the requirement for TEDs in the shrimp fishery. Defenders also wants to ban trawling altogether from turtle hotspots.
TED requirements are often not enforced, however. Louisiana, for example, prohibits its officials from enforcing the federal requirements, presumably because it wants to protect its important shrimping industry. Our guess is that Louisiana would do an about face if demand for turtle soup were to skyrocket, in which case the “Sportsmen’s Paradise” would be growing turtles like weeds and protecting them like fine art.
NMFS “Has known it’s had a problem for quite some time now,” says Defenders attorney Sierra Weaver. “Its answer has been to avoid action by continuing to study the problem. We now know that turtles need help. There simply is no justification for further delay.”
Demand for oil and subsequent “spills,” reckless and unrestrained fishing, and trash, are all contributing to the demise of endangered species. Yet we continue to over-reproduce. And as we work hard to move the less-fortunate among us out of poverty, we create ever greater demand for pricier foods, like shrimp, that consequently wreak havoc on sea life. Sea turtles are emblematic of what we are doing – and will continue to do – to our natural legacy, unless we think twice and decide there are enough of us.

What are the Countries at the Climate Conference Thinking? Oops! There’s an Assumption.

Imagine that you are morbidly obese and that you are diabetic. You go to the doctor and she tells you what medications to take and what surgeries are available. But she never mentions what you can do stop and eventually reverse your symptoms. No mention of cutting calories, good nutrition, exercise or any of the other healthful habits that could stop the downward spiral or even reverse the problem.

Such a physician would be an unqualified failure at her job. Such is the 194-nation international conference going on right now in Durban, South Africa. The conference is the doctor, but it’s dealing only with the symptoms, not the cause of the problem. According to the Associated Press, the conference has reached the stage where real negotions take place. It’s called backroom negotiations. Big polluters like the United States, China and so-called emerging nations feel each other out.

Durban environmental conferencedemonstrators –           Photo courtesy Greenpeace

Most treaty accords don’t take place in public. The palaver part of the conference in which diplomats make public statements of intention took place last week. The Kyoto Protocol will expire next year. Under that 1997 agreement, nations committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hah!

The task now is to keep Kyoto alive. The European Union is making an effort to get major climate offenders to agree to binding pollution goals in exchange for the EU’s renewing its own commitments under the Kyoto Protocols. The EU – get a load of this – wants a commitment to begin negotiations now that would conclude within four years. The terms of that treaty would take effect five years later, in 2020. This would be one case where the numbers 2020 would indicate shortsightedness.

The doctor in this instance does not seem to discuss – nay,
is apparently not even aware of – the causes of the patient’s illness. Even if we become ever more efficient per capita in our use of polluting energy, we are still growing, adding another billion people to the world’s  opulation by about 2025. Combine that with the growth of consumer societies that increasingly guzzle energy while we continue to destroy oxygen-producing forest land to accommodate grazing livestock, and we wonder how the Durban conference could possibly lead to reduced air pollution.

According to AP report, an EU delegate said that European delegates left disappointed after a private meeting with the Chinese. “Despite public declarations it would participate in a legally binding agreement in the future, China unequivocally told the EU it not accept binding targets for itself, said the delegate, speaking on conditions of anonymity.”

It is not within the purview of this blog to go into the intricacies of international political and diplomatic negotiations. But simply put, China wants firm commitments from the industrialized world, including financial and technological aid to poor countries, before it commits. The U.S. wants equal commitments from all nations to curb pollution. Japan and Russia, despite their declining populations – as well as Canada – have rejected Kyoto’s second commitment period, which will begin in 2013.

The George W. Bush administration withdrew the from the Kyoto accords in 2001. Rumors are circulating in Durban that Canada, too, may withdraw from Kyoto.

Alas, there is no doctor to tell these nations that they are too fat, that they are consuming too much and that they must go on a diet; a
reproduction diet. Instead of menu planning, nations need family planning. And they need to consume fewer calories. If the nations of the world don’t invest in energy efficiency and cut the fat, they will be compelled to suffer the consequences of healthcare bills they cannot pay.

The dilemma is that, if nations can’t agree on something as essential as not destroying our earthly home, how could we ever reach accord on limiting our reproductive “rights”? There are certainly enough of us, but we seem hell bent on driving future generations into a world they didn’t create but one they will have to pay for, in more ways than one.

 

 

Will Demand for Energy Lead to Fouling of Canada’s Wilderness?

There  may be more crude petroleum in Canada’s oil sands than in any other country except Saudi Arabia. In terms of burning of fossil fuels, we’ll sidestep any arguments about whether this is a good thing. We’ll also leave for another day a discussion of the impacts of building gas pipelines through The Mackenzie River Valley. Those pipelines from the northern edge of Canada will cut through the pristine  wilderness of the valley and would fuel the tar sand development in Alberta. There’s  more about this in our forthcoming book, Enough of Us.

Kitimat, BC and Douglas Channel - photo courtesy Kitimat Visitor Information Centre

Tar sands projects are projected to be the largest single addition  to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. A Canadian company, Enbridge, wants to  build a $6 billion pipeline project that would cut west to the town of Kitimat,  just south of the Alaska panhandle. In Kitimat the crude would be pumped aboard  crude-oil carrying ships, each about 1,100 feet long. Since Kitimat is not  directly on the ocean, the tankers would have to navigate down a narrow inlet  and then through a maze of islands to get to the open sea. Exxon Valdez,  anyone?

The First Nations (as in native Canadians) people are not happy.  Environmentalists are not happy. And the unique wildlife in the area won’t be  happy, either.

In March of 2006,  a ferry on a routine run hit a rock on the tip of one of  the islands. It sank. Two people aboard the ferry disappeared. The other 99  were rescued by local residents. While the tanker sits in Davy Jones’s locker,  a bit of its thousands of gallons of diesel fuel leaks out each day. The local  Gitg’at Nation is none too comfortable with the idea of ships more than twice  as long as the ferry plying local waters, laden with two million barrels of  oil. Can you blame them? Check out the August 2011 edition of National Geographic for photos and maps  of this beautiful wilderness, which includes the Great Bear Rainforest. This  forest includes the home of the “Spirit Bear” – the rare white black bear.

Right now, the United States is the only customer for Canada’s  sand oil. That oil is transported south through pipelines. The westbound  oil is for Asian markets. In fact, a Chinese company is helping to fund the  planning and permitting of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

A big political debate in the current presidential campaign is  over dependence on foreign oil. “Let’s use all our coal reserves; our  natural gas; our oil.” What no candidate dares to speak is the phrase, “Let’s  stop encouraging people to have more kids.” While we grant U.S. residents tax  credits, deductions and college benefits, we encourage human reproduction.  Let’s burn up our natural energy legacy. Let’s make it easier for Asian  countries to grow their populations and move them into the consumer class. And  let’s destroy nature’s beautiful legacy in the process.

In  the 1990s First Nations people sold off their timber rights. When clear-cuts  became the norm, bear habitats disappeared, and salmon spawning grounds were  destroyed, environmentalists butted in. The battle raged on for 15 years,  involving the local natives, the tree huggers and the corporations. There is  now ecosystem based management and no logging. Now it’s about the tankers.

The  environmental group Pacific Wild is trying to protect the existing forests and  waterways. “It will become one of the biggest environmental battles Canada has  ever witnessed,” says co-founder Ian McAllister in National Geographic. “It’s going to be a bareknuckle fight.”

And  so it shall be. Sixty-one Canadian First Nations have declared their intent to  not allow the pipeline, although it’s not clear what their aboriginal rights  are in British Columbia. In the meantime, Enbridge is trying to get the nations  to buy into the project. “Buy into what” asks Gitg’at council member Cameron  Hill, “to selling our way of life? We live off food from the land and sea here.  We’ve been taught to respect what we take. That’s sustained us from time  immemorial. No amount of money can get us to change our position.”

We  call your attention to his use of the word “sustain.” As consumer societies  grow in number and wealth, we will sooner or later have to decide whether we  can sustain ourselves. In one month human population will reach seven billion.  To quote Bette Davis in All About Eve, “Fasten   your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Lobsters, Sitcoms and Sustainability

Have you ever heard this argument, “If we don’t keep growing our population, there will be no one to take care of and pay for older generations.”? Presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme. Everyone seems, in their own ways, to be worried about shafting either upcoming or older generations.

Not many, however, seem the least bit concerned about leaving future generations one mess of a planet with all its associated problems, including financial and emotional stress as well as general upheaval.  Ever-increasing population around the world and human-induced climate change present terrible contingencies for the surface of our Earth and for the organisms that dwell on it.

We usually insert this disclaimer here: For those who do not believe that human behavior is a cause of global warming, we respect that opinion. But it is folly to deny that expanding population and increasing numbers of more financially well-off worldwide populations will lead to the
depletion of natural resources, freshwater supplies and biological diversity.

“Anyone who takes these environmental problems seriously has good reason to oppose the efforts of politicians, economists and the media to
promote higher birth rates – as well as those religious leaders, members of extended families, and others who urge pregnancy on women who have not chosen it for themselves,” asserts Worldwatch Institute official Robert Engelman in the institute’s 2010 State of the World edition.

While politicians appropriately worry about reductions in population making it problematic to support aging populations, such risks are more manageable challenges than combating human-induced environmental problems.

Engelman, in his essay, “Environmentally Sustainable Childbearing” evaluates the influences of modern culture on human reproduction. How is it that women in Afghanistan and Uganda average more than six kids each, while those in South Korea and Bosnia and Herzegovina average one? Is it the influence of culture or simply chance pregnancies from unprotected sex? Since China is the only country that discourages parenting large families, and since there is a general worldwide belief that parents have a basic human right to determine the number of children, what is influencing these choices?

Parts of the answer must lie with culture and economics. Worldwide fertility is currently at 2.5 children per woman, which is a bit higher than the 2.3 births per woman that would maintain current population. It’s interesting that those countries that offer potential parents a variety of  contraception along with an abortion option have fertility rates low enough to stop or reverse population growth (not including increases due to immigration in any particular country).

According to Engelman, the higher a woman’s educational level, the lower the number of children she produces. A survey published in the November, 2008 Pediatrics, indicates that the higher the exposure to sexual content on television, the greater the chance of teen pregnancy. (This should make MTV very proud – Jersey Shore anyone?)

“Combating such cultural influences thus can play an important role in lowering fertility and contributing to slower population growth. Moreover, there is evidence that media such as television and radio may contribute to lower fertility just as easily as to higher.” A study in St.
Lucia showed that when a radio soap opera advocated family planning, those who listened to the show were more likely to have smaller families. In other words, cultural influences have a meaningful impact on family size.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that economic incentives can influence fertility up or down. In the few years before 2010, American fertility was on the rise while families with kids were getting breaks like tax rebates and credits as well as increased education benefits.

Engelman uses the example of a study done in the Mexican fishing village of Quintana Roo. As lobster harvests declined, contraceptive use became universal in the village. The reason? The people of the village decided to preserve their fishing resource for future generations.

And how’s this for a kicker: villagers ascribed their own reproductive approaches to the influence of U.S. soap operas that depicted small families. Satellite TV, surprisingly, “may play a constructive role by spreading an idea – a small family norm – that contributes to environmental sustainability more powerfully than the messages about (how) wealth and consumption might undermine it.”

Our point is this: If we have leadership in America that is willing to step up and introduce economic incentives to reduce fertility and urge the glorification of sustainability, the United States will help the world make significant first steps to turn around our headlong rush to overpopulation and consequent unsustainability.

We Need Lots of Increased Food Production – and Soon

In the three hours since we first logged into the Population Institute web site, approximately 36,000 babies were born. That, according to P.I.’s population meter.  In other words, allowing for deaths during that period, the Earth’s population increased by about 19,000, the population of Weatherford, Texas, a suburb of Ft. Worth. Hello to the new Weatherford.

Current projections put the world’s human population at 9.1 billion, just 39 years after it reaches seven billion two months from now. With food staples prices now rising sharply, how will the world cope with ever-increasing demand as the population grows by 30 percent?

In an October 2009 report, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), an agency of the U.N., warned a food production increase of 70 percent is necessary by mid-century if humanity is to avoid widespread famine. Why the increase? Demographers expect larger, more urban and richer populations that will demand more food. Add to that the fact that millions of people live hungry now, and you have the formula for a need for much greater food production.

The report advised that there is a need for greater production per unit of land as well as a need to increase the amount of productive land. What’s more, the biofuel market adds competition to food production. Eveery acre used to grow biofuels is not producing food. While output of cereal crops is increasing, the rate of growth has been declining. “What,” you may say, “does this have to do with me?”

Plenty. While America is going through political meltdown and economic debility, there has been clamor in the House of Representatives to cut family planning funding. Evidently, the same factions that opposed funding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and supported the Global Gag Rule – which prohibited family planning funding for any foreign organizations that also provided abortion counseling during the George W. Bush Administration – are back on the warpath. In other words, let family planning and contraception, and other programs that prevent abortion, be damned.

It seems to us that the inmates are trying to run the asylum. There are those who argue that the Bush Administration – due to its upside-down policies – actually caused tens of thousands of abortions by denying those in need in poor countries education and contraception to reduce the number of pregnancies.

Farm Drought in Australia – photo courtesy Australian Government

We cannot depend on our dysfunctional federal government to live up to its once-great potential and assist those in poorer countries in becoming better at family planning and in agricultural efficiency. Add to that, according to the FAO report, while the United States is second only to China in screwing up our atmosphere, it is the people of the Southern Hemisphere who are most likely to get the royal shaft as a result of climate change.

Australia has been suffering through an extraordinarily long severe drought while parts of the country recently had record flood-producing rainfall. Whether it is related to long-term climate change is anyone’s guess at this point.

But is it right that the poorest people of Africa, South America and southern island nations should likely suffer the consequences of climate change and poverty while America – one of the scoundrels in this piece – shies away from its ethical obligations?

We guess that once serious inflation hits and Americans are forced to compete for expensive agricultural commodities, we will suddenly see the light and realize it is to our own benefit to aid those who want their piece of the pie.

So, what can you do? Log onto a search engine. Learn about environmental problems that relate to population issues and support organizations that are knocking on the noggins of the Capitol’s blockheads. Let your senators and representatives know how you feel.

While America’s short-term problems are sad and dismaying, the world’s environmental problems are here for the long run. If you have kids or grandkids, ask yourself this question: “Which is a greater concern for me, leaving my descendants a national debt or leaving them a shadow of the planet we once knew?”

And since we Americans are, pound for pound, the world’s greatest environmental villains, shouldn’t we think about whether there is Enough of Us?