Bad News, Good News

As I have done in the previous blogs, I want to pass along several bits and pieces of environmental news culled from the pages of the monthly Sierra magazine. I will begin with the bad news first, because there is always some of that, and end with the news that provides a glimmer of hope for the planet.

Under the heading of “so what else is new” we find that 55 percent of the Republicans in Congress still deny climate change — and those people are all heavily supported by Big Oil. In the House, there are 128 climate deniers out of the 233 Republicans; in the Senate there are 30 climate deniers out of the 46 Republicans. Those deniers in the House collect $231,000 in contributions from Big Oil (as contrasted with $69,000 for the non-deniers). In the Senate, the deniers collect $699,000 whereas the non-deniers collect $171,000. I suppose we should be grateful that there are some who collect contributions from Big Oil who are willing to admit the truth that stares them in the face. But the correlation between the amount of money from Big Oil and the denial of the truth about our planet is stunning when seen in such detail.

To continue with the bad news for the moment, I shall simply list some of the items Sierra tells us will bring us “Up To Speed” about what’s going on in the world the past couple of months.

Ecuador has abandoned its pledge not to drill for oil in remote Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rain forest.

Fracking is now linked to an increase in U.S. earthquakes — as is geothermal power production.

High fertility rates in Africa have led demographers to revise their estimates of peak world population upwards. They now expect there to be 11 billion people by the end of the century — up from 7.1 billion. (I find this particularly unsettling since, as I have said in the past, I consider the population explosion the fundamental problem facing humankind, and the root of most of our other problems.)

Tons of radioactive water from Japan’s crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant have leaked into the Pacific Ocean.

And now for some Good News!

The United States has installed 10 gigawatts of solar capacity, though it still trails Germany, Italy, and China.

The White House has re-installed solar panels put in place by Jimmy Carter and removed by Ronald Reagan.

The World Bank has declared that it will sharply restrict funding for the new coal-fired power plants in developing countries.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has declined to fund a huge new coal plant in Vietnam on environmental grounds.

The Bureau of Land Management lease sale for 149 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin failed to garner a single bid!

So, just when we are about to tear out what little hair we have left, we see faint signs that all humans have not lost their minds. Just remember what Red Green says: “we’re all in this together.” And “Keep your stick on the ice”!

Self-Restraint

A recent article in Yahoo news is disturbing for several reasons. It reads, in part,

. . .a Tennessee man who has fathered 30 children is asking the courts for a break on child support. Desmond Hatchett, 33, of Knoxville has children with 11 different women, reports WREG-TV. The state already takes half his paycheck and divides it up, which doesn’t amount to much when Hatchett is making only minimum wage. Some of the moms receive as little as $1.49 a month. The oldest child is 14 years old.

One hesitates to open a discussion on this topic for fear of the charge of “racism,” since Hatchett is black. However, it would be racist for me to ignore the problem simply because of the man’s race. In any event, I will risk it because the wrongs in this case have nothing whatever to do with race: they are a result of a lack of restraint and downright stupidity. The man has 30 kids and cannot afford to support them or the women who had them. In 2009 he promised the court that he would have no more because of the financial strain it put on him (and them), yet in the interim he fathered 9 more.

The lack of restraint is clear, and since self-restraint is a major feature of virtue as we know it (though the word itself sounds very “old-fashioned” these days), one can conclude that fathering that many children when the man lacks the funds necessary to feed and clothe them is simply wrong. But it is wrong on a larger scale as well, given the plight of the world and the fact that the earth will soon be unable to produce enough food to keep humans alive. Indeed, there are people starving all over the world as I write this. But the problem will become much worse, given the present addition of 200,000 humans each day to an increasingly crowded world. Predictions are dire, as we can read in Wikipedia: David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, estimates that the sustainable agricultural carrying capacity for the United States is about 200 million people; its population as of 2011 is over 310 million. In 2009, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor, Professor John Beddington, warned that growing populations, falling energy reserves and food shortages would create a “perfect storm” by 2030. Beddington claimed that food reserves were at a fifty-year low, and that the world would require 50% more energy, food and water by 2030. According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people

And yet even in the face of these facts our culture still applauds the parents who produce scores of children and we flock to movies about mothers and fathers who are having more children or courageous single women who want to have a baby because their “biological clock” is ticking.  Our TV programs always show increased audience numbers when the main characters are (a) getting married and/or (b) having babies. The messages we read and hear on all sides are that large families — which are no longer necessary — are not only acceptable, they are praiseworthy. We seem to be fixated on the subject of children and without thinking, simply insist that more is better — whether or not “more” can be supported. There is serious cultural myopia here: can we not see that those who have children have a moral responsibility to raise them in a healthy world that can provide them with adequate food and clothing? But our present myopic view about marriage and family is in fact a kind of moral blindness.  It is reprehensible and irresponsible. And it will come back to haunt us in the not-so-long run.

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.