The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room! It is loud and it stinks, but no one wants to talk about it. I refer, of course to the explosion of human population since the turn of the nineteenth century that is threatening to overwhelm the planet. No one wants to talk about overpopulation, of course, because in the minds of a great many people overpopulation is closely tied to the issue of abortion — a topic that is very emotional and produces much more heat than light. But the two issues are not necessarily conjoined at all. Population control does not entail abortion; it can be accomplished in a great many ways that don’t conflict with deeply held beliefs.

Having said that, I would like to take a quick look at the issue because I would argue that the population explosion is the root cause of many of the problems facing humankind today — problems such as pollution of air and water, contamination and depletion of our water supply, nuclear proliferation, desertification, deforestation, world-wide violence, eradication of numerous animal species, and increasing numbers of  poor and destitute humans. These problems are almost certainly exacerbated by, if not ultimately caused by, the fact that there are simply too many humans on the planet. It is a problem that demands our attention whether we want to think about it or not.

Consider:  It is estimated that it wasn’t until 1804 that human populations on earth reached one billion. The human population then began to “explode” and was doubled by 1927. By 1960 it was three billion and is now at seven billion. It is projected to reach eight billion by 2025-2030. Human numbers on earth have grown by a billion people since 1999! Estimates by such groups as the Club of Rome have concluded that the earth may have already reached its carrying capacity, which raises the specter of increasing starvation especially when coupled with global warming that is causing widespread drought.  The Inter Academy Panel Statement on Population Growth, ratified by 58 countries in 1994, noted that the growth in human population at that time was “unprecedented,” which strikes me as an understatement. We are already unable to feed everyone on earth, even if we could solve the logistical problems of getting food from warehouses where it is stored to places where it is desperately needed.

The really curious thing about this problem is that its solution is so simple: family planning. It is something that is ready at hand and available to all, or nearly all. In fact, this country was very much involved in funding family planning efforts in Third World countries, and the project was making real progress, until a certain Republican president (who shall remain nameless) put a stop to it — on the mistaken grounds, once again, that it fostered abortion. One of the simple actions that was proving effective at the time was the production of TV shows in Third World countries that focused on the benefits of small families, with accompanying information about birth control. Those shows were discontinued when the funding from the United States was cut off.

In this country, even today, our popular TV shows like to focus on large families and the birth of a baby to a woman whose “biological clock” is ticking — even is she happens to be unmarried and has no means of raising the child once it is born — is sure to raise the ratings. Not long ago we made a hero out of a man who had just fathered his twentieth child by placing his picture on the front page of our newspapers, and applauding his manliness. In fact, his lack of social conscience does not warrant applause, it warrants derision. In this case more is not better. We need to be sending different messages at home and abroad. Even though the problem is not as great in this country as it is elsewhere, it affects us all and we need to reflect on the obligations we have to future generations. The elephant is getting restless.

The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room! It is loud and it stinks, but no one wants to talk about it. I refer, of course to the explosion of human population since the turn of the nineteenth century that is threatening to overwhelm the planet. No one wants to talk about overpopulation, of course, because in the minds of a great many people overpopulation is closely tied to the issue of abortion — a topic that is very emotional and produces much more heat than light. But the two issues are not necessarily conjoined at all. Population control does not entail abortion; it can be accomplished in a great many ways that don’t conflict with deeply held beliefs.

Having said that, I would like to take a quick look at the issue because it has been said that the population explosion is the root cause of many of the problems facing humankind today — problems such as pollution of air and water, nuclear proliferation, desertification, deforestation, world-wide violence, eradication of numerous animal species, and increasing numbers of the poor and destitute humans. These problems are almost certainly exacerbated by, if not ultimately caused by, the fact that there are simply too many humans on the planet. It is a problem that demands our attention whether we want to think about it or not.

Consider:  It is estimated that it wasn’t until 1804 that human populations on earth reached one billion. The human population then began to “explode” and was doubled by 1927. By 1960 it was three billion and is now at seven billion. It is projected to reach eight billion by 2025-2030. Human numbers on earth have grown by a billion people since 1999! Estimates by such groups as the Club of Rome have concluded that the earth may have already reached its carrying capacity, which raises the specter of widespread starvation especially when coupled with global warming that is causing widespread drought.  The Inter Academy Panel Statement on Population Growth, ratified by 58 countries in 1994, noted that the growth in human population at that time was “unprecedented,” which strikes me as an understatement. At some point we will be unable to feed everyone on earth, even if we could solve the logistical problems of getting food from warehouses where it is stored to places where it is desperately needed.

The really curious thing about this problem is that its solution is so simple: family planning. It is something that is ready at hand and available to all, or nearly all. In fact, this country was very much involved in funding family planning efforts in Third World countries, and the project was making real progress, until a certain Republican president (who shall remain nameless) put a stop to it — on the mistaken grounds, once again, that it fostered abortion. Even now, our popular TV shows like to focus on large families and the birth of a baby to a woman whose “biological clock” is ticking — even is she happens to be unmarried and has no means of raising the child once it is born — is sure to raise the ratings. Not long ago we made a hero out of a man who had just fathered his twentieth child by placing his picture on the front page of our newspapers, and applauding his manliness. In fact, his lack of social conscience does not warrant applause, it warrants derision. In this case more is not better. We need to be sending different messages. Even though the problem is not as great in this country as it is elsewhere, it affects us all and we need to reflect on the obligations we have to future generations. The elephant is getting restless.

The Best and the Brightest

I have commented before that the founders of this nation must be flip-flopping in their graves when numbers of citizens in this country vote for the President on the basis of brief TV debates that are little more than tailored entertainment that must compete for viewers with more popular programs such as Monday Night Football. But if they were disturbed about that they must be even more agitated to think about the quality of persons running for the highest political offices in this land. I am thinking primarily of the “rape experts,” like Todd Akin a Republican from Missouri, who have been making news insisting that there is such a thing as “legitimate” rape in which “the female reproductive system is able to block conception from an unwanted pregnancy” —  a theory based on what shall hereafter be known as the “New Biology.” Tina Fey got it right recently when she said, “If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar hair cut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind.”

But, speaking of gray-faced men, a more recent comment may take the proverbial cake. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, also a Republican, has declared in public that when a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is “God’s Will.” A recent ABC News story quotes the man as follows:

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said during Tuesday’s Senate debate, choking up. Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

Both of these men were speaking out against abortion, of course, and should never have ventured into the treacherous realm of female anatomy and certainly should have avoided entirely the general subject of pregnancy where their credentials would never pass muster. But then perhaps they shouldn’t have been speaking about abortion at all because the founders were quite clear about wanting to separate religious from political issues and abortion is clearly a religious issue.

The founders also wanted what Jefferson liked to think of as the “best and brightest” people in the country to be elected by a carefully controlled process that would guarantee that the people at large, whom they didn’t really trust, were unable to elect others like themselves. If that ship didn’t sink soon after launch, it is assuredly at the bottom of the lagoon by this time.

But I also recall when President Richard Nixon, who once bragged that he had never had a course in political science, nominated G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. When confronted by the charge that the man was “mediocre” and not fit to be on the highest court in the land, Nebraska’s U.S. Senator Roman Hruska famously said “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” Well, we know that “mediocre” was a euphemism for “stupid,” and it was clear at the time that the mediocre citizens already had someone who represented them in the highest office in the country, not to mention the Senate, and furthermore the Supreme Court is not supposed to be a representative body in the first place. Perhaps Messers Nixon and Hruska both should have taken that course in political science.

In any case, pity the poor founders: they can get no rest in their graves for all the leaping and spinning they must be doing these days given the mess we have made of their great experiment.

Family Planning

It has always astonished me that people fail to realize the connection between the lack of family planning and the destruction humans are doing to the planet. In fact, as I have said in a previous blog, the exploding human population is almost certainly responsible for many (most?) of the problems we confront as we attempt to survive on this planet. And yet, we continue to ignore the problem because in the minds of many “family planning” equates to “abortion.” This is absurd.

Consider the effect expanding human populations have on the environment, as reported in a recent issue of the Sierra Club magazine.  The number of humans increases by about 220,000 per day.  We hit the 7 billion mark last October, as noted in an earlier blog. Humans emit 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. At the present rate of human expansion, that output of carbon dioxide will double by 2062, pushing our planet beyond the 560 parts-per-million threshold — which is when the Greenland ice sheet will cave in.

There are, of course things we can do to control human population which do not involve the dreaded “A” word that makes discussion of the problem well-nigh impossible. We can support world-wide efforts to get contraceptives into the hands of women who want them but are unable to get them as things now stand — estimated to be about 215 million women world-wide. We can support efforts to increase literacy around the world so more people understand what expanding human populations mean to the survival of the planet. Literate women tend to have smaller families and drastically decreased infant-mortality rates. Literate women also have increased access to economic opportunities and are less likely to bear children before they can afford to support them. We can support sex information programs (misnamed “sex education” in this country), which will help reduce teen pregnancy, among other benefits. We can help support gender equity efforts which would increase women’s decision-making power which is essential to slowing human population growth.

There are also steps we can take that have nothing whatever to do with family planning but will also help reduce our “carbon footprint” on this planet. These things are fairly obvious, but largely ignored in our pursuit of fun and profit. We can replace oil and gas with renewables; cut our power usage by turning down the thermostat in the Winter and up in the Summer; run our cars on hydrogen — or at least buy the most fuel-efficient cars available that we can afford; we can displace coal with solar and wind energy, so-called “clean energy”; farmers can practice conservation tillage, which has already expanded to 35% of the farms in this country; and we can stop deforestation which removes trees from the earth which are essential in providing the world with oxygen.

Needless to say, these steps require some sort of sacrifice on our part and humans have not shown much of a desire in recent history to deny themselves anything. But the alternative is clear: if we continue on our present course, we will destroy the earth on which our lives depend.

Heat Over Health

It was recently announced after considerable brew-ha-ha that Susan Komen for the Cure will continue to provide grant monies to such organizations as Panned Parenthood, though Komen has refused to commit to funding breast screening referrals from that organization. The truly astonishing thing is that Komen reversed a decision made barely three days earlier not to fund projects connected in any way with groups such as Planned Parenthood. Welcome to the age of computer outrage! Thousands of people responded to the “crisis” by email and twitter and the results were almost immediate. But the decision in the first place was instructive and bears scrutiny.

To begin with, Susan Komen for the Cure funds organizations that assist uninsured or underinsured women to seek medical assistance when they suspect they might have  cancer. One would think it should not matter what organization makes a referral for a woman to have a mammogram to determine whether or not she has breast cancer. In an enlightened society such as ours, health should not have a price tag on it, nor should it become a political football. Right!!  In any case, this organization should turn a blind eye toward the source of these referrals and allow that a woman’s health is the only thing that matters in this case.

Moreover, the heat surrounding the very words “Planned Parenthood,” is extreme and has a tendency to cut off all rational discussion. To many it translates into “abortion,” simply. But Planned Parenthood is not all about abortion: it’s mainly about family planning to prevent pregnancies, a course of action that was funded by our Congress and making great headway in Third World countries until the program was cut under Ronald Reagan. Among other things, the program sponsored a series of television shows that promoted the idea of small families and provided information on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The series was beginning to make inroads against burgeoning populations in regions of the world that cannot support them when the program was cut. It has never been restored, which is very sad, given the growth in human population on an earth now straining to feed its inhabitants — especially in parts of the world where children starve to death.

In the end, the difficulty with discussing the issue of exploding human populations is the same as a number of others that need to be fully discussed: feelings run deep and facts and figures are juggled to support the view that is embraced for personal reasons — at times, strong personal reasons. As a rule, the more deeply we feel about an issue the less likely we are to think about it clearly.  And this issue is very cloudy indeed and in much need of clarity of thought, especially when the entire issue of planned parenthood is collapsed into the highly volatile subject of abortion. In this regard, it is sad that this issue has so polarized Americans that civil discourse on the subject is no longer possible. One suspects that there will never be a meeting of the minds and hearts on this topic and the family planning that would prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place will be swallowed up in the melee.

So strong feelings will prevail and there will always be more heat than light. But in the end, one would hope that organizations such as Susan Komen for the Cure will see above the political cloud and continue to grant monies to any organization that can help promote women’s health — leaving aside tangential issues that make the cloud thicker.

The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room! It is loud and it stinks, but no one wants to talk about it. I refer, of course to the explosion of human population since the turn of the nineteenth century that is threatening to overwhelm the planet. No one wants to talk about overpopulation, of course, because in the minds of a great many people overpopulation is closely tied to the issue of abortion — a topic that is very emotional and produces much more heat than light. But the two issues are not necessarily tied to one another at all. Population control does not entail abortion; it can be accomplished in a great many ways that don’t conflict with deeply held beliefs.

Having said that, I would like to take a quick look at the issue, because it has been said that the population explosion is the root cause for many of the problems facing humankind today — problems such as pollution of air and water, nuclear proliferation, desertification, deforestation, world-wide violence, eradication of numerous animal species, and increasing numbers of the poor and destitute humans. These problems are almost certainly exacerbated by, if not reducible to, the fact that there are simply too many humans on the planet. It is a problem that demands our attention, whether we want to think about it or not.

Consider:  It is estimated that it wasn’t until 1804 that human populations on earth reached one billion. The human population then began to “explode” and was doubled by 1927. By 1960 it was three billion and is now at seven billion. It is projected to reach eight billion by 2025-2030. Human numbers on earth have grown by a billion people since 1999! Estimates by such groups as the Club of Rome have concluded that the earth may have already reached its carrying capacity, which raises the specter of widespread starvation. The InterAcademy Panel Statement on Population Growth, ratified by 58 countries in 1994 noted that the growth in human population at that time was “unprecedented,” which strikes me as an understatement. It will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to feed everyone on earth, especially in the face of climate change.

The really curious thing about this problem is that its solution is so simple: family planning. It is something that is ready at hand and available to all, or nearly all. In fact, this country was very much involved in funding family planning efforts in Third World countries, and the project was making real progress, until a certain Republican president (who shall remain nameless) put a stop to it — on the mistaken grounds, once again, that it fostered abortion. Even now, our popular TV shows like to focus on large families and the birth of a baby to a woman whose “biological clock” is ticking — even is she happens to be unmarried and has no means of raising the child once it is born — is sure to raise the ratings. Not long ago we made a hero out of a man who had just fathered his twentieth child by placing his picture on the front page of our newspapers, and applauding his manliness. In fact, his lack of social conscience does not warrant applause, it warrants derision. In this case more is not better. Even though the problem is not as great in this country as it is elsewhere, it affects us all and we need to reflect on the duties we all have to future generations. The elephant is getting restless.