Monday, October 26, 2009

European Values

To save the world we need to slow birthing in poor nations and slow consumption in rich countries. It sounds so simple, yet it’s incredibly complex and difficult. This post looks at slowing consumption, and at the United States in particular.

The American dream is built on: unfettered growth, every man for himself, the rights of the individual, and the belief that anyone can become rich or famous. When there are unlimited resources, this attitude works for there is plenty of wealth to go around.

But now the U.S. population is over 300 million, national oil is long past its peak, other resources are dwindling, smog and pollution are ubiquitous, space in the big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago is cramped, there is a large chasm between the rich and poor, and the US has the highest murder rate of the developed countries. Then there's the current economic crisis, a slap in the face, a sure sign that times have changed and that the American way no longer works. There’s a desperate need for a change of attitude, a fresh approah. But how to change?

Jeremy Rifkin in his book, The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, provides some valuable guidance. Europeans value: the common good rather than individualism; quality of life over accumulated wealth; sustainable development over unlimited material growth; deep play over unrelenting toil; the rights of nature over the rights of individual property rights; and global cooperation over unilateral flexing of military power. Furthermore, most western European nations have slowed their population growth to equilibrium, or even lower, rates.

If we want to save the future we need, more than anything else, to change our mindset. Europe has set a fine example; let’s follow it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abortions, Family Planning & Respect for Women

An abortion isn’t a pretty thing. Not only does it take the life of the fetus, but all too often the mother dies as well. This is especially the case in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, as recently reported by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute.

First the good news. The Guttmacher report shows that the number of abortions worldwide fell about 8.6% from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003. The reason: more women are using contraception, which increased to 63% in 2003 from 54% in 1990. However, contraceptive use lags badly in Africa where it is used by only 28% of married women.

Now the bad news. Shockingly, the report estimated that almost half of the abortions in 2003 were unsafe, that is, self-induced, performed by unskilled people or done in unhygienic settings. About 70,000 women died and another 8 million suffered complications. Almost all of the unsafe abortions were performed in less-developed countries with restrictive abortion laws. The most restrictive laws are found in Africa and Latin America where birth rates are also the highest. The report concluded that legal restrictions do not stop abortions from happening, they just make the procedure much more dangerous. Is there a lesson here for the Vatican and far right Christians?

The future for the world and human society looks grim. The basic causes for our woes can be summarized as over-consumption by the wealthy and over-birthing by the poor.

How simple this sounds. Yet how difficult to find solutions. The Guttmacher report presents one step we can take. The report urges rich nations like the U.S. to sharply increase financial support to poor countries for family-planning programs. This would also save a lot of women from suffering. Africa needs our help and giving women respect and dignity is a good place to start.