Monday, November 23, 2009

Female Bison on the Pill

Stop the presses! Contraception is being introduced to a bison herd on Catalina Island, California (,0,1351086.story). The goal is to control the size of the herd at about 150 head so the animals and the environment will be healthier. When the herd was about 350 in size, the bison’s health was deteriorating and they were trampling native plant communities, altering tree canopies by rubbing against trees, and undermining weed management efforts.

This raises questions, deep and important questions. First, how can family planning be acceptable for bison, yet be a taboo subject for humans, whose vast numbers are making a mess of the entire planet? How can such a vitally important issue be ignored? Why are we so blind?

Second, if an optimal population number can be determined for bison, then surely one can also be calculated for humans. In fact, similar studies suggest the earth can sustainably support no more than about four billion humans. But there is no discussion how this number might be achieved. Just an overwhelming silence .

Third, if a contraception method can be used for bison, which does not harm them nor change their social structure, can we not devise similar, humane methods for humans?

Fourth, why have the religious right, the Catholic Church and other pro-lifers not intervened in this case? After all, they get their moral knickers in a knot at even the hint of contraception, family planning or anything related to controlling human numbers. Human life is sacrosanct, they argue. But why is a bison’s life not sacrosanct? Humans and bison are both animals, two species that are genetically very similar (just look at the DNA structures). The arguments of the religious right are steeped in elitism: humans are the superior race.

Finally, the religious right fights vigorously to save the lives of those yet unborn. Yet their actions condemn future populations to lives that will be significantly inferior to what we enjoy (more elitism), just as the health and environment of the bison herd on Catalina Island degraded when their numbers became too large. Religious zealotary cannot reverse this unassailable fact.

Let’s recognize that human population is a serious problem, and let’s start talking about it. Maybe we can answer some of these questions.

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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Steady-State Economy and Population

A movement has been quietly gaining momentum. More and more people are recognizing that a continuously growing economy is no longer feasible in this finite world. The worldwide economy has grown so immense that we are now pushing against the very boundaries of nature. Peak oil, depleting fisheries, water shortages and food riots are wake-up calls. It’s insanity, suicide, to proceed like this.

Last week, Professor Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the most distinguished and respected biologists in the world, joined an elite and respected group of thinkers in signing the position on economic growth developed by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. The statement points out the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection and proposes a steady state economy as an alternative. A steady-state economy aims for stability in population and consumption of energy and materials -- it is a truly green economy that meets people's needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.

Other distinguished scientists who share this view include David Suzuki (biology, media), Herman Daly (economics), Vandana Shiva (agriculture), Wendell Berry (agriculture), Chris Matthews (media), and Douglas Tompkins (business). These individuals believe that a steady-state economy is necessary to conserve planetary resources and ensure well being for future generations.

A vital and necessary part of a steady-state economy is a steady-state population. The former is not possible without the latter; it’s impossible. So we have some of the world’s most intelligent people advocating a steady-state population. Yet politicians, religious leaders and many others pay no heed. The topic of population, crucial as it is, is not even on the agenda. If we want to save the future, it’s time we paid heed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One-Stop Overpopulation Resource

I’ve wanted to list some good reference material on overpopulation on this blogsite for quite a while. But somehow, I just haven’t got around to it. Sure, I had plenty of excuses: my procrastination gene, the topic is too boring, I’d rather be tackling specific issues, etc., etc.

But wait no longer. I just read a superb article on the web by Frosty Wooldridge. Not only does he slam politicians and others for ignoring the vitally important issue of overpopulation but he provides references to a ton of useful information on this topic including books, movies, web sites, organizations and where to get pre-written letters to e-mail or FAX to your political representatives.

And I love Wooldridge’s bombastic style. The title -- Most Americans stupid as a box of rocks as to overpopulation -- sets the tone and lets you know he’s not pulling any punches. For example, Wooldridge says the Pope is “probably the most out of touch human being on the planet.”

Here’s the link. I urge you to read it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Busting a Myth

Perhaps it’s coincidence, but in the past week I’ve seen the same myth trumpeted no less than three times. Two web articles and a colleague announced that a major threat to the world is not the growing human population, but instead is a declining population such as we’re seeing in some European countries. “Why?” I asked. “Because we need young people to work, pay taxes and, thus, support the aging population,” they responded.

Let me put an end to this preposterous myth. In isolation this argument might make sense. Yes, there will be a need for extra tax funds for the pensions and increased medical care of the increasing numbers of seniors. But, this will be covered by the tax dollars saved by having less children and young people, who are very expensive. Government will spend less on child benefits, day cares, schools and universities. In addition, most crime occurs amongst young people so the costs of police, court systems—we all know the exorbitant fees that lawyers charge— and prisons will decrease. Ditto with car accidents, where savings will occur with insurance, hospitals and medical care. I could go on.

Funny, how these savings are never mentioned by the pro-lifers, neo-cons and all those who want the economy to continue ahead at full steam. Their arguments are simply a myth-stake.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Asimov on Human Dignity

The immense number of humans in the world (approaching 7 billion) is causing many problems including peak oil, global warming, declining fisheries and loss of species. However, there is something far less sensational—but just as important—that is quietly eroding away. It is quality of life, a constant diminishing of our dignity and self worth.

Isaac Asimov was a brilliant science-fiction writer and a prescient thinker on the future. Here’s what he said in 1989: “... democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive. Convenience and decency cannot survive. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears ... the more people there are, the less one person matters.”

One example is government. The twin growths of technology and population call for more regulations. After all, synthetic chemicals, assault rifles, genetically modified foods and cell phones need to be controlled to ensure safety and the orderly functioning of society. Governments, in turn, must become larger and spend more time dealing with a morass of details. The increasing regulations hem us in and increase our taxes. And as our numbers increase we get less input to government decisions.

Perhaps saddest is that as our numbers increase the sense of community declines. We lose the feeling of belonging, of helping one another, of friendships. Personal liberty and dignity quietly disappear. Virtually every facet of our lives is degraded. It’s a tragic situation. Yet politicians and economists will not take action. They continue to ignore the fundamental problem of overpopulation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Light from the Christian Right

Recently I suffered a perplexing and, frankly, difficult situation. I asked a lady acquaintance how she justifies having six children in this age of degrading environment and dwindling resources. “Think of the stress it places on an already over-crowded world,” I stated.

“Jesus guides my life. He wants me to have children,” she countered. “I’d like to have even more,” she smiled, gently patting her tummy and looking at me with pitying disdain as though I was a piece of flotsam adrift without a moral compass.

I was floored. “Jesus told you to have six children?” I asked.

“The Bible says we should go forth and multiply,” she responded with the smug sanctimony of one who has multiplied more than average.

I pointed out that religion teaches that we should love and help our neighbours. But when we in the rich nations over-multiply and over-consume it causes our “neighbours” in the poor nations to starve, live in squalid conditions and suffer desperate wars over resources.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter, they’re not Christians,” she responded righteously.

“What about global warming and energy and water shortages?” I asked desperately. “Your grandchildren will face horrible conditions.”

“Not to worry, the Lord will look after them,” she smiled beatifically.

As I spluttered, trying to find a response, she said, “Sorry, I’d love to stay and help show you the light but I’ve got to run to the ‘Ban Teaching of Evolution’ meeting.” With that she climbed into her Hummer and roared off.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When Environmental Writers Are Part of the Problem

Many thanks to guest blogger, John C. Feeney, Ph.D., a psychologist turned environmental activist and writer. The full article can be viewed at


When talking about causes and proposed solutions for our ecological plight, few environmental writers tell us more than half the story. There is a near universal tendency to focus on the importance of cutting fossil fuel use while staying mum on the topic of population growth.
That the size and growth of the global population is a root cause of ecological degradation is well known to scientists who recognize, for example, that the ecological footprint for the world is the product of population times per capita consumption. Yet we hear all about the need to save energy by switching to florescent light bulbs. We read about the ethanol debate and carbon trading schemes. But in all the talk of ways of reducing per person consumption, how often does anyone mention the need to address the other factor in the equation?
Why the silence? Population growth received a good deal of attention in the 1960s and 1970s. But then came China’s draconian one child policy, right-wing groups pushing free market capitalism by cheerleading growth and dismissing the need to limit our numbers, and political wrangling among environmental and social justice groups. The result was the demotion of population from its status as social and environmental issue number one.
Indeed, many writers avoid the subject of population despite recognizing its importance. For instance, David Roberts, environmental writer at Grist, acknowledges he never writes on the subject. His reason? “Talking about population alienates a large swathe of the general public. It carries vague connotations of totalitarianism and misanthropy and eugenics. It has been used quite effectively to slander and marginalize the environmental movement. It is political poison.”
Is Roberts’ view wise? I don’t believe the subject of population is, in fact, “political poison.” Though they do so too infrequently, a variety of groups and writers do grapple with it. And there’s no evidence their work has set back the environmental cause. They identify population growth as a problem because it’s the truth, and they know bringing people the truth is productive while avoiding it is ultimately damaging.
Addressing population growth means taking humane measures to assist with the social and economic issues which drive it. That means improving education for girls and economic opportunities for women in developing countries. It means increasing access to family planning and reproductive health care services, and encouraging positive attitudes toward smaller families. And it means reducing infant mortality rates. Any notion that it need involve involuntary measures such as “totalitarianism and misanthropy and eugenics” is simply wrong.
True, some have tried to use the population topic to try to slander and marginalize the environmental movement. But these groups presenting irrational arguments from such vantage points as the Christian right and the libertarian right have had, at best, a marginal impact. Their attacks are best dealt with head on, exposing their agenda-driven illogic.
I frequently raise the population issue with people and have encountered almost universal recognition that it is a problem needing more attention.
Environmental writers who have avoided the subject of population should rethink their stance. Let’s embrace truth, not avoidance.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Factory Farming, Population and Human Values

The previous post looked at how the enormous human population has created equally immense numbers of domesticated animals. They are so numerous (many billions) that they can no longer range on pasture lands but must be confined in horrid, cramped “factory farms.” (OK, OK, so they also make more profit, which justifies anything.) These factories, which will only get larger and more inhumane with human numbers increasing by over 70 million a year, may be the death of us yet, for they are perfect incubators for deadly viruses, and are just waiting for the right conditions to unleash a world-wide pandemic (the recent Mexican swine flu came close).
But what worries me even more is the loss of ethics, the loss of decency. We turn a blind eye to the fact that pigs, cattle, chickens and goats are also sentient creatures. We are all animals and share a common evolutionary heritage. Animals have feelings, emotions and sensitivity just like humans. The young of all animals want to be nourished and loved. The adults of all animals want security, to care for their young and to be loved. Farley Mowat summed it up nicely, “life itself – not human life – is the ultimate miracle upon this earth.”
The saddest part of all this is the loss of our own dignity and any shred of decency. If we don’t approve of Abu Ghraib prison and human torture, how can we possibly approve of factory farms? Humans may be all-powerful on this earth, but we are pathetic, sadistic, murderous bullies. We should be ashamed. We need to put our house in order. Let’s start by bringing our populations down to levels that are in harmony with the earth and the creatures on it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Population and Frightening Factory Farming

The growing human population has put two diametrically opposite pressures on the fellow creatures that inhabit the earth with us. Wild animals are being slowly but surely wiped out. This is called the Sixth Great Extinction. The populations of domesticated animals, that is, the ones whose body parts we place on the dinner table, however, are skyrocketing in parallel with human population.
Here are some numbers. World meat consumption went from 40 million tonnes in 1950 to 218 million tonnes in 2005 (a 5.5-fold increase!). The population of cattle in the world is over one billion. 70 billion chickens are slaughtered annually. The number of pigs and sheep are one billion and 1.2 billion, respectively.
There is no free lunch (sorry, couldn’t resist), thus, the impact of these gigantic numbers of animals is enormous. They require food, land and energy. At the same time they create methane (hello, global warming) and waste (hello, Walkerton tragedy).
But most frightening is that the crowded factory farms are perfect incubators of disease and mutant viruses (hello, mad cow disease and avian flu). The latest swine flu (A/H1N1) from Mexico, which had world health authorities in a panic, is but one of many outbreaks associated with pig farms. As human population continues to soar, so will the numbers of domesticated animals. That even more deadly diseases and viruses will follow is inevitable and unavoidable. Our children and grandchildren will face some ugly threats.
All this because there are too many humans on this planet. Let’s change our ways. Let’s leave our children animals they can love.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Population, Prudence and the Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle states that if an action might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, the action should not proceed until the advocates have provided scientific consensus that harm would not ensue. This statement, which is only common sense after all, has been adopted by the European Union and is promoted by the United Nations.

Unfortunately, society’s commitment to constant economic and population growth has trampled this fine tenet underfoot. There is no time for caution or common sense.

A growing population and increasing GDP demand ever more products, more services and more resources. How else can we provide jobs and a good standard of living to the growing population? The system requires never-ending innovation and production. Being careful would only slow things down. And heaven forbid that we should slow the train, it must keep chugging forward.

Take synthetic chemicals such as, for example, the organochlorines: PCBs, DDT, dioxins, furans. Only after they are shown to be toxic and have permeated the global environment is removal from the marketplace considered. These chemicals (not to mention nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms) are innocent until proven guilty; forget the precautionary principle. Why? Because we need growth: more, more, more.

Bizarre isn’t it? Not only is growth degrading the environment, destroying biodiversity and depleting resources, but it is also sapping us of the will to manage our affairs properly. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Imagine now a smaller population, say 3 or 4 billion, that is in equilibrium. There would be no pressure for growth, no need to pump out new chemicals and products heedlessly. Of the many benefits, the best is that we could re-establish the precautionary principle. We could act in a prudent, cautious manner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Attenborough, Biodiversity and Plain Stupidity

A small controversy has been stirring in Britain these past few weeks. Well-known naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough spoke out, stating that there are too many people in the world. Furthermore, he became a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, the leading think tank in the UK concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment. The Trust ( campaigns for stabilization and gradual population decrease globally and in the UK.

What astonishes me is that many people can’t — or refuse to — see the simple logic that motivates Attenborough. Author Austin Williams, for example, attacked Attenborough, stating that ``experts can still be stupid when they speak on subjects of which they know little.'' What balderdash! Attenborough is a knowledgeable naturalist and understands that as human numbers increase other animal populations will decrease. More roads, more suburbs, more deforestation, more fishing and more monoculture agriculture will decrease natural habitat. Duh, that’s really hard to understand, isn’t it Mr. Williams?

As large predators disappear, lower forms of life will flourish. Already, we have jellyfish infestations because sea turtle numbers have declined. Many scientists feel that in the future algae, molds, rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes and other ``resilient'' creatures will flourish because all their predators will have disappeared. And there are dozens and dozens of other environmental, pollution and resource problems that are looming ever larger as human population grows.

Thumbs up to Attenborough. Thumbs down to all those who ignore simple logic.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Family Planning in Kenya: Insights from the Field

(This post is contributed by a lady who has donated many months of her time to help rural Kenyans cope with HIV/AIDS.)

Family planning and population control in Kenya deserves critical attention; it is a country whose population, despite being impacted by HIV/Aids, lack of health care and proper nutrition, is growing by 2.75% per year. In 1900 the population in Kenya was 1,352,000. By 2008 the population was 37,000,000. By 2050, Kenya’s population is projected to reach 65,200,000. Today, 32% of Kenyans are malnourished. Drought and climate change are reducing the nation’s ability to feed itself.

I talked to many women of childbearing age in rural Kenya. Almost all wish to limit the size of their families. Their biggest challenge is the strong Kenyan/African cultural belief in the succession of generations and of the strong tradition of ancestral power. In addition, many men measure their manhood in the number of wives and children they have and see condoms and other birth control methods as an affront. Abstinence for women is often not an option in a culture in which spousal rape or non-consensual sex is accepted as an entitlement.

Young people are slowly being educated in family planning and HIV awareness. However access to condoms and other birth control methods is sketchy in rural areas. In addition, approximately 33% of Kenya’s population is Catholic. The Pope’s recent message to Africa that the use of condoms is unacceptable exacerbates not only the issue of HIV but of population growth.

The change in culture that needs to take place for a real decline in population growth in Kenya may simply take too long to prevent a disaster. A basically corrupt and uncaring government has not supported the education and infrastructure needed to promote the need for population control in African. And the idea of negotiating cultural or behavioural change smacks of neo-colonialism if it comes from the international community.

The situation in Kenya is common to many developing nations. When a change in culture is necessary for major change, the process is ponderous and painful. And it must be coordinated and powered by the ruling government and supported by the international community.

Population control, which is a touchy phrase at best, is a political and religious hot potato. Few power structures seem willing to get burned.

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Connecting the Dots Between Global Warming and Human Population

Global warming continues to dominate the news, and the news is grim. The world is heating up faster than scientists predicted. Global ice sheets are melting, hot smoggy days are increasing and severe weather hammers us more frequently. And, in spite of dire warnings , we continue to party on. Yes, the recession is helping, but we’ll be out of that in a year or two. And yes we are embracing more fuel-efficient vehicles, compact fluorescent light bulbs and other conservation measures. But these are too little, too late.
Let’s connect the dots. A growing population leads to greater consumption which requires more energy which uses fossil fuels which leads to global warming. The first and primary factor is population. But all the solutions being proposed attack subsequent, secondary factors. And none of these solutions will be nearly enough. Take, for example, the environmentalists favourite proposal: dumping coal and using wind and solar. This won’t make a significant contribution for at least 50 years, if then. Why? Because the infrastructure involved with coal-fired electricity is gigantic. There are over 5000 coal plants in the world with more being built every day. Utilities don’t have the resources to scrap the plants that still have many years of useful life left and replace them with expensive solar plants. I don’t see people rushing out to scrap their one-year-old SUVs and buying hybrids.
Like all complex problems, global warming has no simple solution. We need to employ many strategies including conservation, more efficient technologies and renewable energy. But all that won’t work unless we also slow and stop human population growth. It’s vital that we recognize this crucial fact. Let’s connect the dots.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Popes as Mass Murderers

Since 1980 when the AIDS epidemic first struck, 22 million people have died, the large majority in Africa. And with 40 million more HIV-infected, the future looks grim.
So what is the Roman Catholic Church, the supposed protector of the weak and poor, doing to help the situation? In 1990, Pope John Paul II visited several countries in Africa. Some villages consisted only of the very young and the very old. All the rest lay under rows of wooden crosses. Facing such human devastation and misery, the Pope message was unequivocal: condoms, the only solution to reducing AIDS infections, were a sin. Simply put, Africans were not to use condoms in any circumstances.
As might be expected, the Papal visit helped the AIDS pandemic gather steam. In his zealotry to prevent any form of family planning, i.e. to protect life and birth, the Pope sentenced millions to death. What incredible arrogance, not to mention stupidity!
This week Pope Benedict is visiting Africa. Has the Vatican changed its tune, now that it has witnessed the carnage since the 1990 papal tour? Not a whit. Benedict promptly stuck his head in the sand and glibly stated that AIDS "cannot be overcome by distributing condoms – it only increases the problem." What utter rubbish!
In Africa condoms are an absolute necessity. They will not only help control the ravages of AIDS but will also help reduce population growth in a humane manner. A win-win situation for a continent that desperately needs good news.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Incoherent Policies

While visiting in Australia three headlines caught my eye. They were reported as completely independent issues; one did not affect the other. The first stated that the baby bonuses of $5000 per child, which were started in 2004, are working: there has been a measurable increase in births. The second reported that the water supply for Adelaide and the surrounding region of South Australia was in crisis and unless drastic action is taken serious water shortages will start soon. The third stated that immigration, after holding steady for decades, would be cut by 14 percent (from 135,000 to 115,000) to help protect Australian workers in this recession.
Australia is a large country with a low population (about 20 million). Nevertheless, population should be a national issue that is addressed in a coherent and integrated manner. These newspaper reports clearly show that this is not the case. The baby-bonus and immigration policies are in direct conflict with each other. For the Adelaide water shortage, it is not even recognized that the large and growing population contributes to the problem. All the blame is placed on the drought and non of the proposed solutions suggests curbing population growth.
I am not picking on Australia for most nations are in the same boat. For example, the US southwest, notably Phoenix and Las Vegas, are suffering similar troubles as Adelaide. With human population approaching seven billion, the globe is experiencing severe shortages in many resources including fisheries, oil and gas, water and more. I won’t even touch on global warming.
It is time to recognize that human population is a serious, if not the most serious, problem the world faces. National and international policies are needed to address this issue. These policies must be coherent and integrated with all the relevant issues.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Will Human Numbers Ever Decrease?

Concerned scientists such as Paul Ehrlich argue that the ever-increasing human population is looting the planet. Most economists and politicians refuse to accept this. Often they respond that population growth is slowing and is actually decreasing in some countries, notably western Europe, and is slowing in most developed nations. In a few more decades human population will peak and then slowly decline, they claim.
Recent evidence from Australia indicates that this slow down in population growth rate may be temporary. In 2005, Australian treasurer Peter Costello made his famous plea, "Have one (child) for mum, one for dad, and one for the country." In 2004, to encourage fecundity he offered a $3000 bonus for every new baby. Recent data shows that Australia’s strategy has worked. The birth rate, which had been in a rut for years, rose in 2005 and again in 2006. The baby-bonus cost for the two years was $1.7 billion, resulting in 37,000 extra babies. The province of Quebec, Russia and other jurisdictions are offering similar incentives.
It’s too early to tell, but it appears that projections for human population growth will likely be at the high end of United Nations predictions. After all, Australia and others don’t seem to care about peak oil, fisheries depletion, water shortages and global warming. Instead they’re paying big bucks to keep the population, that is, the economy, expanding. Is there any hope?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Octuplets and More

On January 26, 2009, eight little children popped into the world, all from the same womb. Historic perhaps, but I can’t stop laughing at the incredible, beyond-belief stupidity of the event. The California mother, Nadya Suleman, already had six children of which three have disabilities. Furthermore, she is single, unemployed, in debt, lives with her parents and relies on food stamps and other government handouts. And this was before the octuplets!

Using in-vitro fertilization Suleman was impregnated with six frozen embryos, two of which split. A 50-person medical team delivered the eight babies. Not only will the brood be much more susceptible to diseases and disabilities that require expensive medical attention, but their quality of life promises to be dreadful.

But hold on, Suleman has a solution! No, she isn’t going to get a job. Instead, she has opened a website to solicit donations. You’ve got to love American entrepreneurship. I’m sure the Catholic Church and right-wing pro-lifers like Sarah Palin are busy clicking on Suleman’s website and making huge contributions.

With the world’s environment and resources stressed beyond capacity and with the US economy on life support, the last thing needed is more children, especially one who will be reliant on welfare. It’s high time that the United States (and Canada) change its reproductive laws to prohibit the emplacement of multiple embryos, in line with other nations.

I can already hear the contrarians: “But this sweet young lady should have the freedom to choose the size of her family. And the poor fertility doctor needs to make a living.” It’s the American way: Everyone for themselves and to hell with the common good.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shout Out About Population

Twenty years ago everyone worried about, and talked about, the exploding human population. It was frightening, a problem that threatened global well being. Since then, the population has increased by two billion, a whopping 40% growth. So are we panicking?
Just the opposite. Population has fallen off the map. It’s a taboo topic. Media coverage of population is woefully lacking and, when it does happen, is often met with hostility or apathy. This in spite of many signs of approaching crisis: global warming, failing fish stocks, food riots, water shortages, loss of forests, and much more.
But there’s hope. This month a group of scientists initiated Global Population Speak Out, a project which is mobilizing scientists, writers and knowledgeable individuals to speak and write about population over the next month. It’s a simple idea. If a large number of qualified voices speak out on overpopulation all at once, perhaps people will listen. Interestingly, one of the first to add his support was Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb, the best seller that fuelled much of the concern about population in the 1970s.
Add your voice to the movement. Visit the Global Population Speak Out website at gpso.wordpress .com and pledge your support – it’s free.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Escalator to the Abyss

My thesis is simple and unassailable: In the face of constant growth (population and economy combined) it is impossible to prevent environmental degradation and resource loss. We’re heading toward an abyss.

Consider the automobile. Over the past three decades some of the brightest minds in the world have worked to make cars cleaner and more efficient. Catalytic converters and positive crankcase ventilation have been introduced; lead has been removed, sulphur greatly reduced in fuel and vehicle fuel-efficiency has been improved.

In spite of all this, there has been no meaningful improvement in vehicle-created air pollution with all major cities still sitting under poisonous domes of smog, and more oil is being burned than ever before. Why? Because the number of cars and the distance travelled have increased faster than improvements. It’s simple: There’s more of us and we’re wealthier than in 1973.

Same thing for vehicle accidents. In spite of air bags, improved braking systems and better highways, the carnage on the roads gets bloodier each year. Today, about 3,000 people are killed worldwide in traffic accidents each day.

Ditto for waste. In spite of blue-box collection, in-vessel composting and phasing out of plastic bags in stores (finally!) and more, the amount of waste going to landfills increases each year.
And the list goes on and on.
That’s why I laugh when environmental organizations naively proclaim that if we all conserved 10% energy it would prevent dozens even hundreds of coal-fired power plants. No, no, no! It would take many years to make conservation changes. During this time the growth in population and economy would wipe out the gains made by conseration.
Yes, conservation is essential, but we’re running up a down escalator whose speed is constantly increasing. No matter how fast we run, use better running shoes and improve our running technique, the accelerating escalator soon outpaces us. There’s no escape. It’s simple, no-brainer, grade-one logic.
Wait! Here’s a revolutionary thought. Perhaps we should slow down the escalator. We need to slow population (and hence economic) growth before we reach the abyss.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama Turfs Out Gag rule

Great news from the White House. Within days of taking office, President Obama repealed the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City policy— named for the city in which the Reagan Administration first announced it at the 1984 United Nations International Conference on Population.

This rule prohibited foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from receiving U.S. funds if they provided abortions or even lobbied for abortion rights in their own countries. It went further and even denied foreign aid to NGOs who helped provide contraceptives and other much-needed family-planning services. At least 16 developing nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have been affected.

Thank goodness for the new broom sweeping out old dirt. The Gag Rule flew in the face of logic and reason. Instead of helping developing nations, where over 90% of future global population growth will take place, it made poor nations poorer, increased the stress on global resources such as food, water and oil, ratcheted up enmity toward the United States and fostered terrorism.

Well done President Obama!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nay-Sayers and Population

Fact: a smoothly-oiled, well-funded propaganda steamroller, which is sponsored by big oil, coal and other vested interests, continues to obfuscate, delay and deny global warming.
Fact: the conservative right believes that environmentalists are pinkos, a menace to society.
Fact: this same crowd also is dead against curbing population growth. The world, they believe, can support billions more people.

To support these beliefs, they often turn to Bjorn Lomborg the Dane who, using a tidal wave of statistics, professes that all is sunshine and roses, that the world is only getting better and better.

Wrong! I remember the long hot summer days of my youth in Niagara. My buddies and I would often bicycle to the lake, sweating past miles of orchards with trees hanging heavy with cherries, peaches, and plums. Our reward was a golden beach and sparkling clean water, where we swam for hours. Or we would lie on the beach, soaking up the sun and listening to the rhythm of waves lapping against the sandy shore.

These days kids don’t spend time at the lake anymore. The bicycle ride is a long stretch of simmering, car-clogged pavement lined with rows of uninspiring suburban homes. The water is polluted from a nearby sewage treatment plant with frequent beach closures. Furthermore, the summers are marred by periods of dense, humid, lung-damaging smog when the health department issues warnings to stay indoors.

Fact: the environment of Niagara has deteriorated; my children cannot enjoy the simple pleasures of my youth. And the cause? It’s very simple, undeniable, so straight-forward: too many people!

Yes Bjorn, there is prosperity in this land; we inhabitants live well, too well in fact. But the environment is wilting and the cause is too many people. Let’s wake up and address this issue.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Frightened? Why?

I’m confused. For a recent article I interviewed two environmental experts, William Rees and David Suzuki. “The era of exuberant consumption is over,” said Rees pointing out that the human ecofootprint is 30-40% larger than what the planet can support. Both Suzuki and Rees feel North Americans need to reduce their environmental footprint by 80%. That’s a deep cut that can’t be achieved without also decreasing population growth.

Here are two typical responses I received from readers:
“It almost sounds as if Rees is advocating a form of genocide.”“The recommended solutions frighten me.”

I lie awake at night trying to understand what frightens these people. Are they worried about giving up the good life and having to be more frugal? Do they come from large families and feel they and their children should have the same right? Have they been brainwashed by the conservative right’s propaganda that global warming and the environmental movement are a fraud? Do they really think that Gestapo methods would be used? (Although the security measures implemented since 9/11 are worrisome.) Is it a religious thing, a worry that abortion would be involved? Or is it a fear of change, a disruption to the comfortable status quo?

I simply don’t understand. Can’t these people see that human population has surpassed the world’s ability to provide resources? We need to seek solutions … and none of them require draconian measures. Population can be restrained by totally volunteer and humane means. The most important step is to encourage couples to have no more than two children. This can be achieved through education, improved family planning and tax incentives/disincentives.

In third world countries, where the large majority of future population growth will occur, the same methods will be effective. But it needs help, encouragement and foreign aid from developed nations.

I’m still confused, but hopeful that by working together we can chase away these mythical monsters.