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.

 

Population and the Mormon Church

                In keeping with our continuing series about religion’s influence on procreation, we look at the family, birth control, and abortion beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormonism. 

            There are about 12.2 million Mormons worldwide, which makes it a small religion but one that carries a big-population punch.

            In 1995, the church’s First President and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” that marriage (between a man and a woman), as well as family, is central to God’s plan. The Mormon Church has issued only five proclamationssince the church was established in 1830. This one spoke to the import of God’s commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth.”

Mormonism's governing body

Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, including the First Presidency

            For Mormons, the importance of family has its origins in the Church’s belief in premortal life, i.e., the unborn are God’s spirit children.  Each husband and wife brings these spirits to earth, where they become offspring.  They manifest in human form and “gain earthly experience” in order to fulfill their divine destiny. Mothers are the ones who rear and nurture their children; fathers provide for, protect, and generally preside over the family, from which the relationships of the members extend “beyond the grave,” and fulfill the “divine plan of happiness.”

            Although Latter-day Saints (LDS) celebrate and encourage large families, “Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization,” says Joanna Brooks’ post on the Religion Dispatches.org Web site. “Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members.” Ms. Brooks points to a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Kristine Haglund, who asked the question why insurance plans at LDS institutions do not provide coverage for birth control. The answer, it seems, relates to the present controversy over President Obama’s birth control regulation and “religious freedom.” Even so, Brooks notes that premarital health classes, birth control options and contraception itself is dispensed at Mormon owned Brigham Young University.

            The Church’s position on abortion is clear: it’s only acceptable when pregnancy is a result of a rape that causes severe emotional trauma in the mother (when would it not?) and/or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy.  The decision to undergo an abortion must always involve a competent doctor and confirmation through prayer of the local priesthood authority.

            Because Latter-day Saints believe that having a family is central to their purpose in life, there is little chance that most Mormons would choose to be childfree.  Yet, there are Mormon women who are childfree by choice. For them, receiving understanding within the LDS community is tough, and in some cases, nonexistent.  “I am made to feel worthless in the eyes of the church,” blogged one woman, who is married but clearly does not want children.

            Mormons may well be turning a blind eye to the plight of our planet by making children a spiritual priority. According to George B. Handley, Associate Professor of Humanities at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church does not have an official position related to contemporary environmentalism.  He goes on to write that although the LDS scriptures “clearly announce the centrality of human beings as God’s offspring and declare that all of creation was provided for human enjoyment and use,” this does not mean that abuse of nature is justified.

            As long as Mormonism encourages large families nature will suffer. The only light at the end of the tunnel where the LDS Church is concerned is adoption. If a couple cannot conceive, they can (and many times do) adopt, which is a saving grace for our overpopulated world.  It seems, generally speaking, that Mormons do not accept that making more children creates problems that far outweigh their beliefs about the sacredness of populating earth.

           

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.           

           

 

Women Still Can’t Have It All? Duh! –Part 1

What’s wrong with this picture? Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, and was formerly its Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She is an academic, a foreign policy analyst, and a public commentator. Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from January 2009 until February 2011. She is an international lawyer and political scientist who has taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and is a former president of the American Society of International Law. Anne-Marie has two sons. And while she worked at the State Department in Washington on weekdays, her husband, also a professor, took responsibility for the kids on weekdays. She just wrote an article that appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Evidently, Professor Slaughter doesn’t believe she has it all.

We think that there is a fine line between having it all and having everything. There’s an old joke that goes like this:

A man takes his first-class seat next to a woman on a plane. They engage in conversation. He glances down at her hand for a moment and comments, “That’s some ring!”

“Do you like it?” she responds.

“I’ve never seen a gem that large.”

“That’s the Klopman diamond.”

“Very impressive.”

“But it comes with a curse.”

“Really? What’s the curse?” He asks.

“Klopman.”

While Professor Slaughter worked in Washington for two years, her 14-year-old son, an eighth-grader, skipped homework, was disruptive in class, failed math, and was “tuning out any adult who tried to reach him,” periodically necessitating her dropping everything to hop a train back home to Princeton.

Anne-Marie Slaughter. Photo: Princeton University

Slaughter appeared on last Tuesday’s PBS News Hour with two other guests, discussing the issues raised in her piece. And while she admits the article is aimed at a particular demographic – namely, “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place,” she acknowledges that millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. These include single mothers, those trying to find work, and those whose spouses are unable to find jobs.

Ms. Slaughter makes the case that she wants women to have the opportunities for having it all the way men do. What she fails to understand is that men, too, rarely get to have it all. Let’s put the Brad Pittses and Angelina Jolies aside for the moment. They have it all, at least apparently, for the time being. What “normal” man gets to follow the career path he wants and have a wife who brings in an adequate income and gets to spend all the time he would like with his kids, hmmm?

Having kids is a choice. The world, as we point out in our book Enough of Us, does not need more of them. They threaten the ecology of our fragile globe as well as their very own sustainability. And for the most part, parents are not even sure why they wanted the kids they have. So if the people in Slaughter’s demographic decide to reproduce, work out the game plan before you go out on the field. Make sure you have a husband with an open mind. And whatever you do, don’t ever get divorced. Because if you do split, it’s going to throw both a monkey wrench and chewing gum into the works.

In the second installment of this post we will explore some of the criticisms of Professor Slaughter’s article.

ISLAM’S VIEWS ON BEING CHILDFREE

            In recent articles we have looked at some of the pressures from religions to reproduce. Procreation is embedded in the Islamic religion. Although, as a researcher at Harvard University states in her article, “Female Leadership in Islam,” www.irfi.org/articles/articles_401_450/female_leadership_in_islam.htm,  “there is no term in the Quran which indicates that childbearing is ‘primary’ to a woman,” having children is nevertheless central to a Muslim couple’s life. 

            An English translation of the Quran (Koran)www.us.singlemuslim.com./marriage_articles/birth_control.php is a site that “provides the best possible help for our brothers and sisters to find their ideal Muslim marriage partner and complete their faith within a happy and successful Islamic marriage.” Muslims can discuss matrimony there as well as read articles designed to help them succeed in marriage. “As procreation is the main objective of marriage, and Islam encourages having many children,” birth control is a subject with various rules attached and is “permitted for valid reasons only:”

  • If pregnancy or delivery would threaten the mother’s life
  • To allow appropriate gaps between having children
  • If the married couple is not mature enough to start a family
  • If members of the couple are students and having children would create difficulties

            The use of birth control is prohibited or limited if:

  • It leads to permanent sterility that is not medically necessary
  • The couple uses it due to fear of being unable to afford to bear a child (suggests a lack of faith in Allah)
  • Although not prohibited, Islam does not approve of spouses who put off bearing children in order to take the time to enjoy each other. 

            In our research, we found nothing that expressly allows for a childfree lifestyle within the Islamic community. But what if a couple simply can’t bear children?  Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin, Consultant Pediatrician and Neonatologist in Damansara Specialist Hospital, Malaysia, wrote an essay titled “An Islamic Perspective of Assisted Reproductive Technologies.” Dr. Nordin points to Old Testament prophet Abraham, and his barren wife Sarah who prayed to God for rectification of her infertility, which did result in a child. However, if a couple’s prayers do not bring success in this endeavor, Allah has probably decreed it:  “To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what he wills. He bestows (children) male or female according to His will. Or He bestows both males and females, and He leaves barren whom He wills, for he is full of knowledge and power.”

            Along with the complete acceptance of Allah’s will, assisted reproductive technology is acceptable in Islam, only if “it is practiced within the husband and wife dyad during the span of the marital contract.” This means that artificial insemination is permissible, as long as the sperm belongs to the husband. 

            Adoption of a son or daughter, which would be an avenue to raising offspring without making more children, is prohibited in Islam. The reasons range from issues regarding natural paternity to claims on inheritance. Muslims may foster children, but the children must be called by “(the names of) their fathers; that is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their fathers, they [the children] are your brothers-in-faith and your wards,”  (33:4-5) of the Qur’an.

            According to the web site www.us.singlemuslim.com/marriage_articles/introduction.php, “one of the main purposes of marriage is to raise pious children, who are faithful to Islam, in order to continue the Muslim Ummah,” (community or nation). About one in four people is Muslim – the second largest religion behind Christianity.  In spite of these numbers, which point to an already sizeable nation of Islam, a childfree lifestyle may not, if ever, be accepted by Islam for generations to come.

             In our book Enough of Us we consider the ramifications of religious pressures to multiply. We question whether ancient mandates to preserve the faith are still relevant as we face an ever-more overpopulated planet whose human inhabitants threaten to devastate God’s, or nature’s, or the universe’s natural legacy bestowed this tiny, unique orb as it hurtles alone through space.

             We’ll discuss additonal religious principles in upcoming posts.

 

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?

Jewish Thought About Being Childfree by Choice

            Religion has an influential role in the decision to bear children. In Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we examine religious motivations for procreation. In this column we’re going to look at Jewish positions (no pun intended) on choosing whether or not to have children. 

            In Jewish Orthodox tradition, halakhah is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow.  According to these rules, it’s simply not OK for a man to ejaculate outside of the vagina. A man sins if he “spills his seed upon the ground.” Although birth control is permitted under certain circumstances, the use of condoms is not allowed because it will result in destruction and/or blockage of the passage of the seed. Clearly, there is a “halakhic obligation to procreate.” (Judaism 101: Kosher Sex – www.jewfaq.org/sex,htm)

            Birth control is permitted in halakhah, as long as couples are committed to have at least two children, one of each gender. This complies with the oft quoted phrase, “be fruitful and multiply,” because offspring are considered to be blessings. Birth control is not acceptable in order to remain childfree.     

Photo: Tower Books

Given that in Orthodox Judaism bearing offspring is pretty darn mandatory, how do religious couples cope with the possibility of being childfree by choice?  In the March 5, 2012, the “Lady Mama” entry at www.ladymamale.blogspot.com, an orthodox married woman speaks out about reaching age 30 and still waiting “for the desire to have a child.” “In our day and age, I do not think it’s fair to make women like me feel there is something wrong with us just because we don’t have the ‘maternal instinct.’ It’s not fair to tell us we’re ‘overthinking’ the whole having kids thing. How can you not with such an important decision that not only impacts the rest of your life, the lives of all those around you, but most importantly the life of this innocent bystander who did not ask to be born.” Here is a woman who is thinking twice, in spite of her religious influences, however she struggles with the emotional pain of being orthodox and childless.

            Twenty women responded to this post. Several commended the writer on her honesty. These responders wrote statement such as how lucky this writer’s  children will be to have such a “thoughtful mother,” and “I respect you for publicizing your choice and wish more people in the orthodox world could be more open minded.”

            One respondent said that this article spoke to orthodox women who already had a “houseful of kids,” and felt guilty about not wanting to continue to multiply, yet struggled with the halachic obligation to be fruitful. “It will help me with my decision,” she wrote.

            An advocate of having children said “if you don’t have children you will never learn a certain type of giving or love that can only be found between parents and their children. “

            Another dissenting voice said: “True in the end, we don’t know how kids end up.” She cites an ancient king who, “decides not to have children since he knows his son will be wicked. But he is punished for that, since that is not his concern. His job, as a man, is to have children. Everything else is out of his hands.”

            It seems God dictates that couples are simply supposed to procreate without thinking twice about the long-term consequences.  Reform Judaism allows for some opposition to the standard orthodox position on childbearing, but permission to be childfree by choice is not spelled out.  This aspect of Judaism sees scripture as a guide, rather than as rules to be followed without question, and allows for the development of personal beliefs within a caring community.  The reform movement allows females to become rabbis, and for those who intermarry to be part of the Jewish community.

            “Modern” Jews believe that the benefits of birth control (female health, family stability or disease prevention) uphold the commandment to “choose life,” which trumps “Be fruitful and multiply.”

            The Reform Movement’s openness may allow for a sliver of light to shine through partially closed blinds.  It invites less judgment than Orthodox Judaism, and more discussion, about how there already is enough of us, and why we should think twice before making children.

            Since Judaism is the foundation of western religions, we wonder how much influence its laws have had on the compulsion of so many to birth first and ask questions later. As for those who believe we should be fruitful and multiply, we ask, “Until when?”

            After all, we have to stop sooner or later; the Earth is only so big.

           

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.