Facebook Twitter

Overpopulation: Why ingenuity alone won’t save us

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Overpopulation: Why ingenuity alone won’t save us
We are running out of tricks to squeeze more from a planet already bursting its seams
See: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-weisman-population-hunger-climate-20130922,0,90687.story

It’s easy to grasp that in a national park, balance must be maintained between predators and prey, lest the ecosystem crash. But when we’re talking about our own species, it gets harder. The notion that there are limits to how much humanity this parkland called Earth can bear doesn’t sit easy with us.

The “nature” part of human nature includes making more copies of ourselves, to ensure our genetic and cultural survival. As that instinct comes in handy for building mighty nations and dominant religions, we’ve set about filling the Earth, rarely worrying that it might one day overfill. Even after population quadrupled in the 20th century, placing unprecedented stress on the planet, it’s hard for some to accept that there might be too many of us for our own good.

A recent essay in the New York Times by University of Maryland geographer Erle C. Ellis, argued that population growth is actually the mother of invention, that it inspires new technologies to sustain ever more humans and to coax more from the land. And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” “On this Earth there is room for everyone … through hard work and creativity.”

In 2011, I visited the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which had warned in 1994 that it was “unthinkable to sustain indefinitely a birthrate beyond 2.3 children per couple…. The contrary demographic consequences would be unsustainable to the point of absurdity.” Nevertheless, the church still encouraged population growth.

With a billion humans already malnourished, I asked the academy’s director where would we get food for nearly 10 billion by midcentury? Clearing more forests for farming would be disastrous. Beset by floods and erosion, China alone has been spending $40 billion to put trees back. And force-feeding crops with chemistry has backfired on us, with nitrogen runoff that fouls rivers, deadens New Jersey-sized chunks of the oceans and emits large quantities of two greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

To read the full Op-Ed, please click here: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-weisman-population-hunger-climate-20130922,0,90687.story

Book Review: Alan Weisman’s ‘Countdown’

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Alan Weisman’s ‘Countdown’ points to Earth’s population explosion
Alan Weisman, the author of bestseller ‘The World Without Us,’ says population is going in the wrong direction to let us achieve ecological sustainability. How many people can the planet support?
See: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-alan-weisman-countdown-20130922,0,1576351.story

In “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman took readers for a romp through the misty primeval forest in Poland and splashed into gin-clear waters to gaze upon one the most remote and intact coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. Besides highlighting a few of the world’s last remaining pristine places, the bestseller engaged in a thought experiment: If human beings were suddenly wiped off the face of Earth, how fast would nature overgrow cities with vegetation, reclaim the land, and demonstrate its remarkable resilience? For nature lovers, this fanciful future offered hope and irresistible images of Earth returning to a wild and happy place.

Now, six years later, Weisman has produced a sequel of sorts that adds humans back into the equation. And the place doesn’t look so happy.

In “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?,” Weisman explains that population is going in the wrong direction – by adding 1 million more people to the planet every 41/2 days – if we want to achieve some semblance of ecological sustainability. It’s not just this century’s projected growth to 11 billion that troubles him. Weisman is concerned about how the 7 billion of us already here are straining natural limits, from the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to the decline of available fresh water.

“Our numbers have reached a point where we’ve essentially redefined the concept of original sin,” Weisman writes. “From the instant we’re born, even the humblest among us compounds the world’s mounting problems by needing food, firewood, and a roof, for starters. Literally and figuratively, we’re all exhaling CO2 and pushing other species over the edge.”

To read the full review, please click here: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-alan-weisman-countdown-20130922,0,1576351.story

Rogue Demographer: “Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High”

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High
See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/business/uns-forecast-of-population-growth-may-be-too-high.html

DEMOGRAPHY may, as they say, be destiny. But demography is anything but a sure thing.

The United Nations population division said this summer that fertility rates in many developing countries had not slowed as the U.N. had expected. As a result, it revised its forecast of the world population in 2100 upward by 700 million people, to 10.9 billion.

Two years earlier, the U.N. had made an even larger revision, raising the forecast from 9 billion. And in its 2008 forecasts, global population was set to peak around 2070 and then begin to fall. In the latest forecast, there is no peak in sight.

“What we have been finding, when we have looked at all of the data,” said Barney Cohen, the chief of the U.N.’s populations studies branch, “is that our previous projections were a little too optimistic. Fertility in Africa is not coming down as rapidly as we thought it would.”

Africa accounts for nearly all the increased forecast for 2100 – about 600 million – and Latin America accounts for 100 million more. The U.N. forecasts for Europe and North America were reduced from previous ones.

But it is possible that the U.N.’s latest forecast is too pessimistic. An analysis of population trends by Sanjeev Sanyal, the global strategist for Deutsche Bank, concludes that population growth is likely to be much slower than the U.N.’s estimate.

To read the full article and review the graphs, please click here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/business/uns-forecast-of-population-growth-may-be-too-high.html

Dubious Proposition: More Growth, Not Less, Best Hope for Averting Mass Extinction

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Hang on
More growth, not less, is the best hope for averting a sixth great extinction
See: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21586346-more-growth-not-less-best-hope-averting-sixth-great-extinction-hang

HAINAN gibbons sing to each other every morning; but these days they do not have much to sing about. The species (pictured) is endemic to a Chinese island that is not just a fruitful producer of rice and rubber but also a golfer’s paradise. Most of its forests have been destroyed to accommodate these activities, and the gibbon population is down to a couple of dozen. If the species disappears, it will be the first ape to go extinct since the beginning of the Holocene era 12,000 years ago.

The Hainan gibbon is only one of 4,224 species listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Attention tends to focus on mammals and birds, but amphibia, such as frogs, are even more at risk.

Over the past few centuries mankind’s economic growth has caused many of the problems that other species face. But as our special report this week argues, greater human prosperity now offers other species their best chance of hanging on.

What did for the dinosaurs

There have been five great extinctions in the history of Earth. One killed off the dinosaurs; another wiped out up to 96% of species on Earth. All were probably caused by geological events or asteroids. Many scientists think a sixth is under way, this one caused by man.

From the time that he first sharpened a spear, technological progress and economic growth have allowed man to dominate the planet. He is reckoned to be responsible for wiping out much of the megafauna-giant elk, aurochs, marsupial lions-that once populated Earth. When he paddled across the Pacific he exterminated 50-90% of the bird life on the islands he colonised. Technology allowed him to kill creatures and chop down forests more efficiently and to produce enough food to sustain 7 billion people. As a result, over the past few centuries extinctions are thought to have been running at around 100 times the rate they would run at in his absence.

Please click here to read the full article:  http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21586346-more-growth-not-less-best-hope-averting-sixth-great-extinction-hang


Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control

September 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment

Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/world/europe/pope-bluntly-faults-churchs-focus-on-gays-and-abortion.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

His surprising comments came in a lengthy interview in which he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized. He articulated his vision of an inclusive church, a “home for all” – which is a striking contrast with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the doctrinal defender who envisioned a smaller, purer church.

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

To read the full article, please click here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/world/europe/pope-bluntly-faults-churchs-focus-on-gays-and-abortion.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style
After Mexico City liberalized its abortion law, a fierce backlash followed. Is its striking resemblance to the US “pro-life” movement a coincidence?

See: http://www.thenation.com/article/175967/mexicos-abortion-wars-american-style?page=0,0

On May 1, a familiar anti-abortion story line played out on Azteca 13, a popular television channel in Mexico. In the opening scenes of an episode of Lo Que Callamos Las Mujeres (What We Women Keep Silent), a Lifetime-like telenovela series about “real-life” stories, a pretty brunette with a heart-shaped face, Alondra, discovers she is pregnant when overtaken by a sudden bout of morning sickness. Her sister Sofía is concerned, but later that night, when Alondra’s boorish boyfriend comes home and she breaks the news, he asks if it’s his, then tells her to abort.

Alondra complies and, in a series of hazy scenes, visits a clandestine abortion provider. But she’s haunted by what she has done, and is awoken at night by phantom baby cries that send her searching throughout her apartment until she collapses on the living room floor, her white pajama bottoms soaked through with blood. Her illegal abortion was botched, it turns out, and by terminating her pregnancy, a doctor tells her sister, she has forfeited her fertility as well. Some weeks later, Alondra’s boyfriend is accosted on the street by another woman, also pregnant by him, who begs him to acknowledge his future child. Sheepishly, he does, shrugging as he tells Alondra, “I’m going to be a papa,” before walking out the door to be with the other woman-the one who didn’t abort.

The message seems clear enough, but the story doesn’t end there. Two years later, when Alondra meets a good man who wants a family, she pushes the memory of the abortion out of her mind. In a state of manic delusion, she experiences a hysterical pregnancy, her belly swelling with her hopes, until Sofía forces her to see a doctor and Alondra breaks down, confronted with her unresolved grief. As Alondra again lies in a hospital bed, two years wiser and infinitely sadder, the doctor hands her a pamphlet. On its back cover, facing the camera, is the logo of the Instituto para la Rehabilitación de la Mujer y la Familia, or IRMA, a Mexican Catholic ministry that offers counseling for women suffering “post-abortion syndrome”-the medically unrecognized claim that terminating a pregnancy leads to serious psychological trauma.

The May episode of Lo Que Callamos was one of several instances in which IRMA was invited to suggest a “true-life” story line for the show, broadcasting to millions of viewers its message that abortion causes devastating harm to women and their families. One episode alone had generated some 200 calls and 400 e-mails to IRMA in a single day, said María del Carmen Alva López, IRMA’s president and founder, when I met her last October.

“They take a real story from us, a real history, and then at the end the lady goes to IRMA and receives help,” explained Alva, a cheerful 42-year-old with beauty-pageant poise. In a lush Mexico City suburb full of gated houses, Alva sat me down on a pleather loveseat in IRMA’s small, stucco-walled counseling room. The bookshelves outside were lined with copies of Alva’s book, Y después del aborto, ¿que? (And After the Abortion, What?), and in her hands she held a thick binder containing the results of a survey of 135 clients. Of these 135 “post-abortive” women, said Alva, her smile dimming and her eyes heavy with sympathy, IRMA estimates that 70 percent have clinical depression and 10 percent have attempted suicide. Results like these, she says, prove that post-abortion syndrome is real.

That these numbers are gathered from a self-selecting group of women who have sought out IRMA’s services doesn’t dampen Alva’s conviction that all Mexican women need to hear how abortion can hurt them. They especially need to hear it now, Alva believes. It’s been six years since first-trimester abortions were decriminalized in Mexico’s Distrito Federal, home to Mexico City, and more and more Mexican women are gradually learning about their limited right to choose-although abortion rights advocates fear this message hasn’t yet made its way to provincial, working-class women.

To read the full report, please click here: http://www.thenation.com/article/175967/mexicos-abortion-wars-american-style?page=0,0

Tomgram: Michael T. Klare, 2040 or Bust

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Tomgram: Michael T. Klare, 2040 or Bust
Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 8:00am, September 10, 2013.
See: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175745/

If you’re an oil exec, the world is a rosy place — and I’m not talking about the pink haze of heat that’s been rising from the burning American West all summer. I’m talking about energy consumption where the news just couldn’t be cheerier. Despite declines in North America and Europe, according to a new study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), world consumption of petroleum products in 2012 rose to record heights, a staggering 88.9 million barrels a day. Increases in Asia in particular were impressive, as a snazzy little animated graphic of soaring global oil use, 1980-2012, at the EIA’s website makes clear.

And speaking of upbeat news, there was another rosy record set in 2012 (at least, if you’re an oil exec who could care less about the fate of the planet): carbon dioxide emissions leaped into the atmosphere in record quantities, 31.6 billion tons of CO2, even as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped, in part because utilities were switching from coal to natural gas. Of course, significant amounts of the coal not used in this country get shipped off to places like China where it no longer counts as U.S. emissions when it heads skyward.

Anyway, put the two together and you can practically see the heat haze of an eternal summer rising on the eastern horizon. In fact, these days even the worst news for the rest of us can be good news for the energy industry. For example, the possibility of an American intervention in Syria, a spreading conflict in the region, and chaos in Middle Eastern oil markets has already helped raise the price of a barrel of crude oil above $115. An American air assault on Syrian military facilities in Damascus could send that price over $120 and cause pain at the pump in the U.S. as well. So you and I won’t be happy, but oil execs will be toasting their good fortune.

To read the full TomDispatch.com article, please click here: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175745/

Low Consumption Lifestyle? What a laugh…

September 23rd, 2013 | Add a Comment

Low Consumption Lifestyle? What a laugh…
See: http://www.nationofchange.org/low-consumption-lifestyle-what-laugh-1379340378

Problems of conservation and population have at least one thing in common-they are often ignored and almost always grossly underestimated as causes of other problems we can’t ignore: traffic congestion, air pollution, deforestation, water issues (availability; quality) and sundry diseases attributed to anomalies of environment, nutrition and modern life in general. It’s a relatively small step to a connect-the-dots recognition that many of the burning issues of the day-including actual conflagrations (raging forest fires in Colorado, for example)-are part of a larger fabric that has people everywhere, the global 99 percent, now living in increasingly overcrowded cities, driving to work on congested highways, cramming into chock-a-bloc buses and trams and enjoying less-and-less private space.

Mention conservation in a conversation and you’re likely to get a lot of blank stares. Suggest the need for Americans to consume less and the reaction is likely to be more demonstrative: sneers or guffaws. We’re fat and happy and this is America. The world is a mess but it’s not our fault and, anyway, we’re bullet proof.

Just two years ago, in October 2011, the world population clock struck 7 billion. The event hardly caused a ripple in the mainstream news media, but many of us can think back to a time in our lives when the world was much, much less crowded. One of my neighbors, Dorothy, recently celebrated her 90th birthday. When Dorothy was born, there were fewer than 2 billion inhabitants making claims on the Earth’s finite resources.

Think about it: 2 billion versus 7 billion. And that’s not a temporary condition. Barring a catastrophe like another Ice Age or a giant asteroid colliding with Planet Earth, this teeming mass of humanity is here to stay, and, worse news for the environment, the population balloon is still inflating.

To read the full article, please click here: http://www.nationofchange.org/low-consumption-lifestyle-what-laugh-1379340378

More Population Denial in the Grey Lady

September 16th, 2013 | Add a Comment

Overpopulation Is Not the Problem
Published: September 13, 2013
See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html?_r=0

BALTIMORE – MANY scientists believe that by transforming the earth’s natural landscapes, we are undermining the very life support systems that sustain us. Like bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Disaster looms as humans exceed the earth’s natural carrying capacity. Clearly, this could not be sustainable.

This is nonsense. Even today, I hear some of my scientific colleagues repeat these and similar claims – often unchallenged. And once, I too believed them. Yet these claims demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the ecology of human systems. The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystems.

The evidence from archaeology is clear. Our predecessors in the genus Homo used social hunting strategies and tools of stone and fire to extract more sustenance from landscapes than would otherwise be possible. And, of course, Homo sapiens went much further, learning over generations, once their preferred big game became rare or extinct, to make use of a far broader spectrum of species. They did this by extracting more nutrients from these species by cooking and grinding them, by propagating the most useful species and by burning woodlands to enhance hunting and foraging success.

Click here to read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html?_r=0

The Nineteenth Century Beginnings of Birth Control Advocacy

September 16th, 2013 | Add a Comment

“If Only We Knew Something…” The Nineteenth Century Beginnings of Birth Control Advocacy
See: http://www.pathfinder.org/blog/if-only-we-knew-something.html

In 1839, ads began appearing in New York papers advertising “Female Pills,” which claimed to be an “infallible regulator of ******.” This medicine-also advertised as “French Lunar Pills,” or “Tablets for the Relief of Female Complaint”-was understood as something that would cause a miscarriage. The enormous popularity of such “remedies” was one of the first signs that birth control was widely desired by couples seeking to limit the size of their family, eagerly sought by women who did not wish to become or stay pregnant.

Ann Lohman, and her husband, Charles, were among the earliest purveyors of these concoctions, compounded of substances like tansy oil, ergot, opium, Spanish fly, and even turpentine. They posed extraordinary hazards to women’s health, but often had the desired effect, and sold in such quantities that the Lohmans built a Fifth Avenue mansion on the profits. If the pills didn’t work, Ann Lohman, also known as Madame Restell, also performed abortions. She was so notorious that “Restellism” was once a common euphemism for abortion.

During forty years as midwife and “females” physician, Lohman was arrested several times. She attracted sensational headlines, and went to prison on misdemeanor charges. Though no patient was ever proven to have died or suffered injury at her hands, she was known as a “Hag of Misery,” called “evil,” “thug,” and “strangler.” While it is clear that she may have been as motivated by profit as she was by mercy and politics, her advertisements were often the first and only information women had about birth control. She ran a lying-in hospital, and helped put infants up for adoption. She occasionally held informational talks for women in her parlor.

Please click here for the full article: http://www.pathfinder.org/blog/if-only-we-knew-something.html