Not Having Kids Equals Degenerate Behavior? You Probably Won’t Believe

  Imagine deciding to take a gamble, but if you lose, that is if the bet goes wrong, an innocent party has to pay. In addition, just placing the bet is almost guaranteed to impact the planet negatively. Well, in his column, “More Babies, Please,” in the December 2, 2012 New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut) exposits that by virtue of not making such bets American society is on the road to decadence.

Douthat is worried about America’s declining birthrate. “The retreat from child rearing is, at some level,” he proposes, “ a symptom of late-modern exhaustion – a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich

Ross Douthat, photo- New York Times

societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be.”

This is flip-flop reasoning. And it most certainly is not “conservative” thinking. Douthat’s reasoning would make the Ponzi scheme of population growth the savior of the US economy and quality of life. He feels that because our nation has had a higher fertility rate than France, Japan, China and Brazil it is a superior economic powerhouse.

He takes no notice that our planet is going to an ecological hell in a handbasket, fueled by a population soaring toward 9 billion-plus in this century. Wealthy countries like the United States are the worst offenders because of their profligate consumption of materials and energy.

He makes the case that today’s babies will grow up to be tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers. But with fewer people, we would not need as many entrepreneurs and workers. Douthat is concerned about the worker-to-retiree ratio. He is worried about who will pay taxes in the years ahead. Let’s project this into the distant future. Will we need more babies or immigrants to feed the insatiable retiree hunger, ad infinitum? This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme. The global community of humanity will need to stop growing before we doom our own survival. If not now, when?

Human beings are currently consuming renewable resources like lumber and water at unsustainable rates. Mankind is depleting fossil fuels that will be unavailable for future generations without knowing whether today’s babies will have the know-how to develop non-fossil alternatives for airplanes, ships and a variety of other concentrated energy demands. With climate change wreaking havoc on weather patterns we cannot – at least for now—reliably predict water supplies and shortages.

If we limit our thinking to shortsighted issues like US economic competitiveness and producing future generations for the financial benefit of current retirees, we are doomed to fail. Ideally what would benefit Americans, along with everyone else, is enlightened political leadership that is willing to look the elephant in the room in the eye and ask, “What are we going to do about this thing – this enormous, ever-growing, ever more-consuming mass of humanity that is cannibalizing its own home?”

Certainly there are enough of us. In actuality, there are way too many of us. But let’s go back to that bet that an innocent party has to pay for. We are referring to the very act of procreating. It’s a gamble. One percent of American adults live incarcerated and six times that many spend time behind bars in the course of a lifetime. One percent have disorders on the autism spectrum. Add in mental illnesses, childhood and adult diseases, the expectation that one-third of Americans will have diabetes, and dysfunctional families raising unhappy kids. In other words, parents roll the dice and if the resultant baby comes up craps, it’s the kid who is the primary loser of the bet. We wonder how Douthat can have the chutzpah to call America’s decreasing fertility rate “decadent.” The decision to not reproduce is anything but selfish.

 

The Eastern Orthodox Religion and Procreation

            We continue with our examination of various religions and their views on procreation, this time focusing on the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its separation from the Roman Catholic Church resulted in differences between Catholicism’s and Eastern Orthodoxy’s views of procreation. Eastern Orthodoxy is divided into national subdivisions, including the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Coptic (Egypt and Middle East) and other regional Orthodox churches. 

The famous Russian Orthodox church in Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. Photo – wikipedia

    During the first eight centuries of Christianity there was one Church, which then divided into Eastern and Western divisions. The Church in the western Mediterranean became the Roman Catholic Church, and divided up again with the advent of Protestantism. The Church in the eastern region became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, which sees itself as separate from Western Christianity in that it views the Scriptures as they relate to the Holy Tradition of Apostolic times.

            Unlike the Roman Catholic religion, previously discussed in another essay, the Eastern Orthodox faith does not teach that procreation is the primary function of marriage. Spiritual oneness, the striving for eternal salvation, is.  However, and this is a big “however,” children are considered to be a natural part of being married. So, those who wait before having children, or those who decide never to have children, are in violation of the marriage union. 

            According to retired Orthodox priest Stanley Samuel Harakas, “Orthodox Christians are considered free in making moral choices.” In his essay, “Religious Beliefs and Healthcare Decisions,” Father Harakas states that “the Tradition guides and directs, but does not coerce, though ecclesial consequences can follow what the Church regards as improper decisions.” This is quite a paradox for the Orthodox community – freedom to think for oneself about what is moral, but such thought could occasion religious consequences.

           Birth control is allowed as long as it’s not “artificial,” such as birth control pills or condoms. (There are exceptions to this discussed in the next paragraph). Natural methods are acceptable if the circumstances are valid. A plus here for the pious is that these methods involve self-denial and self-control, and require a priest’s blessing.  The three acceptable ways to practice birth control in the Orthodox way of life are:

  • Limit sexual relations – this is a frequent choice when couples observe the traditions of fasting days and periods
  •  Total abstinence – when a couple has given birth to a number of children, and no longer feel that sexual relations must be part of their marriage
  •  Rhythm method (Natural Family Planning)

             The Orthodox Church does not subscribe to the dogmatism of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the birth control pill. In other words, there are circumstances where artificial birth control may be used, but this is largely a “pastoral issue where there may be multiple considerations.”

            Because the Orthodox Church considers the embryo to be human from conception, abortion is generally verboten. If a mother’s life is threatened or she has an ectopic pregnancy, the Church allows for some choice, and in these cases, preserving life is essential to the decision-making process.

            Orthodox religions disapprove of aborting pregnancy due to a physical abnormality in the child. These children are seen as “human beings in their own right, deserving of care and love.”

            Those who decide on a childfree lifestyle are considered sinners. Sterilization and birth control, other than for health reasons, is morally unacceptable. Couples of child-bearing age should “be prepared and expect to have as many children as God will send,” taking into consideration the health of the mother and the family as a whole.

            In our book, Enough of Us: why we should think twice before making children, we refer to a 1997 statement by Bartholomew I, patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, who passionately maintained that the ruination of the earth is against God’s will. To bear as many children as possible does not take into account that there already are enough of us. Seven billion strong and counting causes the degradation of the earth. This is a conundrum that all anti-family-planning dogmas must deal with.           

           

 

The Affordable Care Act and Baby-making

How will American society pay for births to mothers who cannot afford to have children?

The current health-care “system” (hah!) is inefficient. That’s like saying heating your house with candles in January is merely inefficient. First, there is no system, at least not “a” system. We have lots of insurance companies skimming profits off the top and lots of people who can’t afford insurance premiums going to hospitals. That’s because hospitals provide services paid for by federal, state and county governments, meaning taxpayers.

Since doctors and hospitals like income, they frequently order tests that may be only marginally appropriate and then collect insurance fees. For instance, Ellis’s urologist likes to have him take a prostate PSA blood test and then come into the office so the doc can tell Ellis that it looks fine. Ka-ching! He could tell Ellis the news over the phone and not charge for an office visit.

One of the biggest criticisms of the current non-system is that rather than encouraging good health and illness prevention, it encourages procedures and visits. Health-care costs have risen 100 percent in the last decade.

"Obamacare"

Photo – law.upenn.edu

For the approximately 17 million folks who cannot afford insurance at all, the Affordable Care Act will expand Medicaid coverage starting in 2014 at a cost to the federal government of about $116 billion per year.

The cost controls built into the legislation are theoretical and experimental. These controls are based on the premise that about 30 percent of health-care costs are wasteful. In light of that, the law empowers a panel of medical experts to recommend reimbursements cuts to doctors and hospitals. There is also provision for evaluation of the effectiveness of various types of care.

It’s common knowledge that prenatal women should see their doctors to monitor the health of both the  mother and embryo/fetus. But lots of pregnant women are very young and/or poor. This frequently means they depend on the generosity of the state to pay for their care. Add to that the cost of birth and postnatal care. And if the baby is not well . . . well, you get the idea.

 Unfortunately for many families, policies frequently exclude maternity care for anyone other than the policy holder and spouse. That means a child of an insured individual may have to foot the bill herself. For more details on this click to the PBS News Hour site.

 According to the March of Dimes, the average cost for uncomplicated maternity care including prenatal care, a routine delivery, and three months postpartum care was $10,652 in 2007.

Teenagers, the report noted, are less likely to get early prenatal care, more likely to smoke and less likely to gain enough weight during pregnancy. Thus, they’re more likely to deliver prematurely, resulting in more complications, including a higher incidence of low-birth-weight babies. The medical costs for such an infant is nearly 10 times higher than for a baby of normal weight, the report found ($32,325 vs. $3,325, citing March of Dimes data from 2009).

There are many politicians who are trying to kill Roe vs. Wade, making low-cost or free abortions difficult, if not impossible, to obtain for the poorest among us. That would mean additional government expenses for the care and feeding of many unwanted children brought to term.

So how does the Affordable Care Act fit into this proposition? Bear with us. The act requires that beginning in 2014 anyone not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid must pay for some kind of insurance policy of their choice (from a select list on what are called insurance exchanges) or opt out of buying insurance and pay one percent of their taxable income as a penalty, and live without insurance. Those who opt out would be in the position of paying their own medical costs or “freeloading” off the government when an urgent situation necessitates their going to a hospital emergency room.

There is a quote circulating all over the news media from a self-employed woman in Texas: “I could much more easily afford a dadgum penalty than be saddled month after month after month with this kind of premium.” The woman, Laurie Tirmenstein, would only have to pay $250 annually instead of paying $1,800 for an insurance policy. Good luck to her if one of her kids comes down with a traumatic illness.

One way or another, the burden of low-income people bearing infants at the expense of our healthcare programs is scary. Some will get lots of care at almost no expense. Others will get very poor care, leading to the hazards of producing at-risk babies.

Right now the economy is depressing the birthrate somewhat. But sooner or later that is likely to change . . . big time! If and when the economy recovers, low-cost health care could provide incentives for Americans to get back onto the birthrate bandwagon.

The question for us is, considering there are already enough of us, should we be creating a healthcare program that encourages people to procreate, who might not otherwise be able to afford pregnancy and postnatal care?

We would like to see some funds be made available to teach high-school students the benefits of waiting and acceptability of not having children at all.

 

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?

Risks of Becoming Older Parents Affect the Famous as Well as the Rest of Us

      You may have heard about recent presidential aspirant Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella, and her battle with a rare birth defect. That defect goes by the name of trisomy 18 (pronounced TRY-so-mee 18), also known as Edwards syndrome. It is similar in its genesis to defects like Down syndrome in that it means the person who has it has three of a particular chromosome instead of the usual pair.

          As you may know, Rick Santorum has spoken out against the widespread use of contraceptives. And he delights in all that Bella has given the family. Nevertheless, the poor girl has been in and out of hospitals for various ailments that accompany her condition. In fact, it is rare for Edwards babies to survive to their first birthday. Their symptoms include:

  • Severe developmental delays including mental retardation
  • Heart defects
  • Kidney problems
  • The esophagus doesn’t connect to the stomach (esophageal artesia)
  • Clenched hands
  • Pocket of fluid on the brain (choroid plexus cysts)
  • Rocker bottom feet
  • Delayed growth
  • Small jaw (mycrognathia)
  • Small head (microcephaly)
  • Low-set ears
  • Strawberry-shaped head

          Bella just got out of the hospital on Monday after being treated for double pneumonia, which she battled in January as well. The long-term outlook for anyone with trisomy 18 is poor. In any case, she will never be self-sufficient.

Let’s move on to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. They have been famous for churning out almost one child per year since they married.

They even have a reality TV show about their profligacy. The Today show does irregular updates on how fantastic they are. But none of the media outlets seem to give a rat’s ass about the example they are setting by saying, in effect, “ecology be damned.”

          But Michelle’s last two pregnancies have been disastrous. Michelle was 42 when her 19th child was born 15 weeks premature via an emergency C-section that almost killed Michelle and the baby, who weighed less than two pounds. Michelle’s 20th pregnancy, at age 45, ended in a miscarriage. While the Duggars believe that God has wanted all these pregnancies, we wonder whether they believe that God wanted them to take the risks associated with older mothers? But they’d better get back to the horizontal mambo if they want to match the gamblin’ Santorums.        

Sarah and Trig Palin

 

That brings  us to Sarah and Todd Palin and their brood. And if you think we’re ganging up on Republicans, hold onto your hat. Wait until we get to our final subject our final subject. Sarah Palin gave birth to their son Trig when she was 44. Trig was born with Down syndrome. The statistical odds of a Down pregnancy in a 44-year-old woman are greater than three percent.

 

          The point here is that people are willing to assume the risks involved in bringing kids into the world for purely selfish reasons. In fact, there are no unselfish reasons for having kids. It’s certainly not done as a favor to someone who has not yet been born. And even when aware folks like the Santorums, Duggars and Palins know that advanced age raises the stakes substantially, they jumped right in without regard to what may happen as a result. It’s like gambling using someone else’s well-being as collateral.

          So while Rick Santorum talks about all that Bella has given his family emotionally, we don’t wonder why he doesn’t speak of what he and Karen have given Bella.

          You may not be familiar with Robert Kennedy, Jr. He is the son of the late attorney general, U.S. senator and presidential hopeful

Robert Kennedy. However, Kennedy, a devoted environmentalist and former candidate for the Democratic nomination for New York governor, has six kids. It escapes us how anyone who has devoted his life to protecting the environment can justify having that many children, both on the grounds of overpopulation and the gamble involved in creating children.

          The Kennedy family history is rife with tragedy, from violent calamities, to scandal, to severe emotional issues, to mental disabilities. Robert, Jr. himself is a one-time felon who was a heroin addict.

          We question the ethical and moral decisions of these families who don’t seem to consider the emotional and environmental hazards involved in their indulgences. Evidently, when planning more Santorums, Duggars, Palins and Kennedys, they are just not very conservative –  various interpretations of that word – about deciding there are enough of us. And they certainly haven’t thought twice about it.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Should This be the Last Generation?

Peter Singer,- photo -Wikipedia.org

Last year, bioethicist Peter Singer wrote an essay for the New York Times web site that asked the title question. Who is Singer? He has written many books on issues of human treatment of animals, both domesticated and wild. Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. He published his seminal book, Animal Liberation, in 1975. This and other of Singer’s works has led to him being referred to as one of the leaders of the animal liberation movement.

In his Times essay, Singer makes the point that “we think it is wrong to bring into the world a child whose prospects for a happy, healthy life are poor, but we don’t usually think the fact that a child is likely to have a happy, healthy life is a reason for bringing a child into existence (italics added). This has come to be known to philosophers as ‘the asymmetry’ and it is not easy to justify.” To put this another way, if there is a likelihood that most children brought into the world will be happy, does that justify procreation in light of the fact that many of the children who would be created would be profoundly unhappy?

At this point Singer raises the question of how good an anticipated life must be in order to justify bringing a child into existence. To put it another way, is the life that most people in developed countries lead good enough to justify creating it?

Singer refers to the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s belief that the best life we can ever hope for is one in which we reach a goal that brings us satisfaction. However, that satisfaction is fleeting. We then set our sites on new ends, bringing us a cycle of futile struggles. It’s hard for us to believe that Schopenhauer’s pessimistic point of view holds up across the board. You might have a hard time convincing Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Cosby, Mohandas Gandhi, Jimmy Carter or Oprah Winfrey of that argument. We use famous folks here only because they are the ones we all know in common. But these examples are the exception – by a long shot.

Professor Singer refers to South African philosopher David Benatar. Benatar’s argument is that to bring a person who will suffer into the world is to harm that person. And most people will suffer. He also makes the case that a child brought into the world who will have a good life is not done for the benefit of that child. In all, reproduction will harm some children severely and benefit none.

Benatar’s argument, Peter Singer explains, is that most of our lives are filled with unmet desires. The occasional satisfactions are not enough to outweigh the prolonged negative states of mind. “This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nevertheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we could see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone,” declares Singer.

The solution? Singer makes the case that the most conscientious of us do things like reducing driving, not flying, or not eating meat, in order to reduce our carbon footprint. The ever-expanding carbon footprint will damage future generations. But why are we creating future generations? In our own book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss that even American slaves kept reproducing themselves without any hope that their offspring would have happy lives.

Singer presents us with this question: Why don’t we all agree to get sterilized? That way we won’t create any new unhappy generations. The current generation would not have to worry about what we’re doing to the planet. We could thereby rid ourselves of all guilt about our impact on the earth.

In practicality, Professor Singer acknowledges that agreement on universal sterilization is just an idea with no chance of actualization. Here is the remaining question: Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence? He believes that eventually mankind will get “it” right simply by learning from its mistakes, and thereby reduce suffering (he is more optimistic than we are). But, he asks, is that enough to determine that life is worth living?

Are the interests of a future child enough of a reason for bringing that child into existence, knowing that the survival of our species will almost certainly bring suffering to future innocents?

There is a lot to ponder here. The toughest part of considering these questions involves admitting that for most people, on balance, life is not the relatively happy existence we perceive from observing the outward demeanors of others. We must, to boil it down, decide whether gambling on bringing new lives into the world is worth the risk.