Sunday, April 26, 2009

Closing the Rich-Poor Divide

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that we all agree that human population growth should be slowed and, yes, even reversed until it reaches a stable, sustainable level. How do we proceed? Where do we place our priorities? Since 95% of future growth is projected to occur in third-world countries, this seems an obvious place to focus.
Developed nations need to re-design their foreign-aid programs so they are built on a foundation of family planning, empowerment of women and education. This not only encourages less children but also helps lift these countries out of poverty, a key goal. In fact, stabilizing population and eradicating poverty go hand in hand. Some positive steps include ensuring at least a primary school education for all children, girls as well as boys, providing rudimentary, village-level health care and helping women gain access to reproductive health care and family-planning services. We desperately need more enlightened foreign aid and organizations that can deliver it.
But it’s not so simple. The poor countries don’t want the rich nations preaching to them. “You caused the environmental problems with your profligate consumerism. You get your house in order first,” they respond. And they are right: Rich nations must work to reduce their eco-footprint. The two sides need to work hand-in-hand in a partnership built on dialogue and mutual respect. One side must work to decrease population growth; the other side to minimize their environmental impact. Only by working together can we achieve these goals.

Let’s close the gap between rich and poor.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Things that Work and Things that Don’t

Suzuki trumpets these solutions for the world’s ailments. The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Greenpeace and other environmental groups swear by them. Here are their recommendations:
- Walk, bike, carpool and use public transportation.
- Recycle and re-use.
- Wash clothes in cold, not hot water.
- Install low-flow shower heads to use less water.
- Use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of standard light bulbs.
- Build high-insulation homes and plug air leaks in windows and doors in older homes.
- Replace old appliances with energy-efficient models.
- Adjust your thermostat—down in winter and up in summer.
- Run dishwasher only when full.
Sure, these are common-sense steps. We should be doing them regardless of the situation. But they miss the point, and definitely won’t solve any long-term problems. With global human population increasing at about 80 million per year (3.1 million in the USA), water supplies, to take but one of many resources, will continue to decline—the US southwest is already facing tremendous shortages— no matter how many low-flow shower heads are installed.
Here are some solutions that get at the root cause and, thus, will actually work.- Help raise public awareness of the importance of putting the brakes on human population growth. Contact your elected officials and demand action. Some good websites:;; Talk with your children, friends and relatives about a proper family size, that is, no more than two children. Check out: Since most population growth will come from third-world countries, it is absolutely essential that we help them with family planning and empowerment of women. Our politicians must make this issue a top priority and put much more intellectual and financial effort into it. Population control in the third world is a complex and difficult issue, but we ignore it at our peril. My next blog will address this topic.
So, are we going to continue to fool ourselves with things that won’t work, or do we tackle the real problem?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


This week I took a break and went surfing. Here’s a collection of population info-morsels from the Net.
- President Obama’s Science & Technology advisor, Nina Fedoroff, stated that human population exceeds earth’s limit of sustainability. What an incredible change of view from the previous administration.
- Ten thousand years ago, humans and our domesticated animals comprised 0.1% of earth’s total mammal biomass. Today we account for 98%. Incredible! We’ve gone from being totally insignificant to ruling the world.
- So what about the other mammals, the other 2%? Is there room for them on the planet too? Not in Plainfield, New Jersey, where the deer population is deemed too high and when sterilization didn’t work, officials organized hunters to shoot deer from trees. Oregon has a cougar management program that sets the minimum number below which hunting, i.e., culling is not allowed. Bizarre, isn’t it, that they can calculate and control appropriate population numbers for cougars, but not humans.
- On the contrarian side, one website stated that earth’s population will stabilize at 10 billion, which the planet can easily sustain. Water, it claimed, could easily and cost-efficiently be gotten by desalination and rain-water collection. Hmmm?
- An Alternet piece stated “The last 200 years of economic growth has been based on a monumental Ponzi scheme ... and we are coming to realize Thomas Malthus was right.”
My board ran ashore.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Environmentalist ignores population -- Why?

“How to achieve sustainability” was the topic, and a large and sympathetic crowd – we tend toward green here – hung on every word. The speaker was Dr Neil Dawe of the Qualicum Institute and the locale was the community hall of the little island where I live.
The message was frighteningly clear: the world is in bad shape. The fundamental problem, Dawe asserted, is the relentlessly growing economy, which does not recognize that humanity is an integral part of, and is wholly dependent upon, nature. Instead the economy is in direct conflict with nature and is remorselessly grinding it down.
Dawe’s proposed solution is a steady-state economy. To achieve this goal, we as individuals need to raise a clamour and make our voices heard until politicians listen. Wonderful stuff!
During the animated discussion period, however, Dawe shocked me to the core. He shrugged off a question about human population growth by admitting it helps make the economy grow, but he feels curbing population is too complex and too wrapped up in religious issues to be dealt with. Therefore, he doesn’t address it.
Encroyable! It is impossible to achieve a steady-state economy if population continues to increase. Not theoretically, not practically, not in any way. After all, it is humans that purchase, consume and strive for a better life. An expanding population is the fundamental factor driving economic growth.
Why do religious leaders, politicians and most environmental organizations ignore this simple and irrefutable fact? One reason is that many religious groups are mired in dogma that defies logic, even sanity. Examples include the Pope’s recent condemnation of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa, and the America’s fundamentalist Christians’ denial of evolution and belief in Armageddon.
Perhaps it goes deeper. Have we entered a dark age where logic and common-sense are worthless commodities? Is gaining wealth and power all that matters? The financial meltdown is but one, albeit a gigantic, indicator that we have entered an era of denial, anti-intellectualism, greed and just plain not caring about the planet or our children’s future.
I tossed and turned long into the night wondering how to get human population on the agenda.