When I awoke this morning, something simple popped into my head. It was this brief explanation of what Alan Weissman’s book Countdown is all about: How humanity went wrong with the Earth and what we’ve learned to do about it.
As is my want, I decided to elaborate a little.
When humanity first arrived as a distinct species, we were like infants, having to explore our world and learn how to get along in it. This took a very long time, but was successful. We became hunters and gatherers, roaming the countryside, mostly looking for food, and learning how best to find, prepare, and eat it. Life was not that easy for humans and our numbers remained quite low for a long long time.
About 10,000 to 15,000 years ago some of us first learned how to plant seeds, perhaps water them once in a while, and actively grow crops to feed ourselves. We found out which species in different climates were relatively easy to grow, tasted pretty good, and satisfied our hunger. Along the way we learned how to cook our food to make it more delicious, easier to eat, and have greater shelf life. Our numbers started to grow a little more rapidly, but still there were very few of us. Continue reading
I draw your attention to the amazing book Countdown by Alan Weisman. It makes all the connections, anchored by the core reason for the human population’s current unsustainability: unrelenting population growth coupled with humanity’s also unrelenting propensity toward more food, more unsustainable resource use, and more fossil fuel extraction.
On page after page—as Weisman tours the world—he spotlights failed government policy (often going against desires of people to be more rational) and describes the terrible environmental and other consequences of those failures, culture after culture, region after region, and country after country. But he also chronicles, page after page, the experiences of countries and regions whose populations blew up last century now exhibiting substantially lowered fertility levels, in many cases below the replacement level of about 2.1 births per fertile female.
By the end of Chapter 4, seventeen percent of the book, I thought Weissman had written enough. It was comprehensive and overwhelming, but I continued reading anyway. I’m glad I did.
Excerpt of comments to Population Connection’s Board of Directors, originally published in the organization’s magazine POPULATION CONNECTION, Volume 46, Issue 2, June 2014 and reprinted here by permission.
I don’t pull any punches in my new book, Countdown. We’re facing some serious challenges in this century, and much of it may be a wild ride through uncharted territory. The number of humans on this planet is far more than nature ever intended, and our demands are changing the atmosphere, seas, and soils in dangerous ways.
Nevertheless, I came out of writing this book far more encouraged than I was going into it, because I learned that there is an affordable solution that can make a huge difference, and there’s already a lot of momentum and precedence for it in nearly every part of the world.
Among the countries I visited that have discovered non-coercive, completely voluntary ways of bringing their fertility rates down is one that surprises a lot of people, because it’s a Muslim theocracy. The same year as its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran actually applied coercion in the opposite direction, charging every fertile female to do her patriotic duty and get pregnant to help build a Twenty Million Man Army to fight off the invading Iraqis. By some estimates, at one point Iran’s growth rate peaked at 4.2 percent, near the biological limits for fertile women and the highest rate of population increase the world had ever seen.
But once the war was finally over, the director of Iran’s planning and budget office realized they had big problems. All those males born to supply the Twenty Million Man Army would eventually need jobs, and the chances for providing them shrank with each new birth. He and others met with the Supreme Leader to warn of the instability of a nation filled with frustrated, angry, unemployed young men.
Soon thereafter, the country that had told its females to get pregnant for the good of the nation was posting banners across roads reading “One is good, two is enough.” A new Ayatollah—he’s still in power today—issued a fatwa stating that, “When wisdom dictates that you do not need more children, a vasectomy is permissible.”
Quote for the day:
While not “silver bullets” able to guarantee global sustainability on their own,
near term population stabilization and subsequent consolidations are fundamental bio-physical steps in the global behavior change required to move towards a more sustainable future — and perhaps even more importantly,
acquiescence and acceptance of the necessity of these steps is a crucial mental turning point,
wherein a person moves
from allegiance to human-exceptionalism and human-entitlement
to a more humble and self-modest conception of human existence within the planetary whole,
wherein the primary driver of thinking is no longer centered on humans and our needs and wants, but rather is conscious of the entire eco-sphere and the rights of all the species that constitute it to exist.
—Joe Bish, Senior Population Communications Associate, Population Media Center, http://www.populationmedia.org/
Context: Dot Earth blog at the New York Times
In my most recent post to this blog, I pointed out a string of serious statements from scientific organizations and from the U.S. government, warning humanity and the U.S. people about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to planetary warming. To counter this, now certain, danger, I called for what amounts to a planet-scale uprising. We might call it a “Global Spring.”
Educated and sensible leaders around the world have now, finally, accepted the reality of global warming and the enormous threats it and other Earth-damaging practices have for the future of mankind. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently explained on MSNBC, “Our scientists are telling us to learn how to manage the unavoidable while avoiding the unmanageable.” Because global warming will continue even if we make the reforms, we must work now to accommodate the global warming consequences we cannot escape. We have to stay away from the red lines, the lines humanity might cross that we won’t be able to come back over. Clearly, if we want to “avoid the unmanageable,” those red lines, we have to get really serious about it.
Recently we have seen a string of serious statements from scientific organizations and from the U.S. government, warning humanity and the U.S. people about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to planetary warming. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas).
Other statements have also been issued concerning the larger and more general threats from a variety of additional environmental changes initiated by human civilization. Taken together, these threats indicate what can only be called a systematic taking apart of our life-support system, however unintended. Such statements have been profiled in three recent blog posts on this site: Continue reading
Breaking News – Part 2
The major news media took little note of a dire report from the largest scientific society on the planet, news about which was posted here 18 March, but fortunately, they finally got the message when yesterday the United Nations issued a sweeping report on the same subject. The U.N. announcement took note of a landmark new publication by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The new report is filled with sobering facts about what is happening to our climate now and offers predictions of what is likely to happen in the future. Coverage of the announcement was extensive in the major news media and many announcements and stories were posted on the internet, as can be seen with a web search on “UN Report On Climate Change 2014.” Continue reading
OPINION & REVIEW
Do you wonder how long the mostly fossil fueled electric utility industry can last, given their immense problems with existing nuclear power plants and the rising costs of planned new nukes? It is true that expensive new sources of petroleum have been found, but these are increasingly remote, difficult to find, hard to reach, and very expensive to extract, pump, and deliver. In consequence, the dollar and environmental costs to produce coal, oil, and even natural gas are rising and will continue to do so indefinitely.
If this were not bad enough, world population keeps growing and gigantic populations, which have been largely poor and in poverty, are increasingly better educated and enjoying better living conditions. The trend is certainly not universal, but the growths in India, China, Indonesia, and elsewhere are certainly noticed in board rooms around the world. The wealthy 1% are greedily and happily looking forward to their further rising incomes as demand soars and prices increase, producing greater profits for the fossil fuel industry. Governments may try to impose strict environmental controls but these are minor impediments in the minds of the wealthy industrialists. Plus, huge infusions of money from industry to political super PACS keep strict pollution laws and carbon taxes to a minimum. Continue reading
Two special postings today. First is a link to a major new AAAS statement on the scientific basis of global warming released today, 18 March 2014. This is followed by a 15 March 2014 short review, contributed to The Future of Humanity by Joe Bish of PMC on a NASA funded study of global industrial civilization’s future prospects.
Here’s the link to the AAAS statement: What scientists know about global warming
The largest scientific society in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, has assessed the current state of scientific knowledge on global warming. Due in part to concerns over a widespread lack of understanding and misrepresentations on this topic, AAAS has today released to the public a major statement and video about global warming, what its consequences might be, and what humanity needs to know and do about it.
Here’s the link to an earlier report on the NASA-funded study:
On Industrial Civilization Collapse
Editor Note: Sorry, the above link has become broken. We have to wait until the Elsevier journal Ecological Economics publishes the article described below.
The Joe Bish review follows.The study was done by the Universities of Maryland and Minnesota. The main report has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
From “The Daily Email” of Population Media Center, 15 March 2014, by Joe Bish, Senior Population Communications Associate
Below I offer a hopefully reasoned rant about our current political milieu and request feedback from you, Dear Reader, to help me refine my arguments and correct any misconceptions.
When a person wants to do something that might have unintended or unwanted consequences, or to which someone or some group of people is opposed, one would think that the person should do at least some study of the likely costs and benefits of the action before making the decision.
If it is a relatively small matter affecting only them, then they might be granted some leeway to use more emotion than reason in making the decision. One might like to take a day or two off to have some fun, when it probably would be better to address current tasks that are relatively urgent and important. Perhaps there is a popular entertainer in town for a rare performance, so you decide that takes precedence over gathering your receipts and making a start on your tax return for next year.
When the decision or action brings real monetary or other benefits but might result in harm to people, the environment, or the future safety of civilization, then a serious quandary is presented. What happens next, how the person responds to the quandary, I contend, depends a lot on these factors: Continue reading