On this Martin Luther King Day, it is fitting to reprint below Martin Luther King Jr.’s acceptance speech upon receiving one of the four 1966 Margaret Sanger Awards given by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to honor the woman who founded America’s family planning movement.
1966 was the first year of the award. The other recipients that year were Dr. Carl G. Hartman, General William H. Draper Jr., and President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.
There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.
What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.
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, 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
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.”
If the Earth were tiny, much smaller than it is, and contained a reasonably small population, say a few hundred people, and were faced with a threat, we can envision how the people of the world would face it: Ten to twenty proven leaders of that population might get together as a group, ask for facts and evidence from the scientists, scholars, and experienced business and other informed people in the population, then put together an action plan they hope will avoid the danger, and finally rally the whole population around the plan and its execution. That is the rational, reasonable, logical way to deal with a crisis.
However, with an Earth as large and diverse as the current one, with huge populations separated by oceans, by races, by tribes, by cultures, and by language, plus variations in natural resource abundance, such a reasonable course of action seems fruitless. The United Nations was created to overcome that difficulty. But it lacks the teeth and coherence to carry out such a plan. It has prepared some good plans, but they don’t go anywhere close to the scale needed to solve the problem. Continue reading
Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: A Tribute to Dr. Albert A. “Al” Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
As Al Bartlett nears the end of his life, I wish to honor him with this posting.
If you have not already encountered the indomitable teachings of physics professor Bartlett on the arithmetic of human population, or in his classes, below are some quotes from his work, a link to his first and most important contribution, and a few additional links.
I encourage you to share this posting and his teachings with anyone you think might be receptive and who might not already know of his work.
Text: Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
In honor of Earth Day 2013, the award winning film, Mother: Caring for 7 Billion is available for free internet viewing from now until the end of May. Some of you may be familiar with this film, but the current temporarily free streaming offers a golden opportunity to see it and to urge your friends and colleagues to watch a remarkable, modern engagement with the global population issue. I strongly urge you to see this film. –RM
News Release from “Mother: Caring for 7 Billion”
Denver, CO – Even though sex and global warming are rarely discussed in the same sentence, much less in the same film, the long ignored connection was recently explored in the award-winning environmental documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.
In celebration of Earth Day, the filmmakers of Mother announced the Internet release of their “Director’s Cut” that will stream online for free from April 19 until the end of May. To view the free online streaming of Mother go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdEspxlq3bo
Christophe Fauchere, director and co-producer of Mother stated, “We want Mother to be viewed by as many people as possible for Earth Day because Mother holds up a mirror and shows people a very different way to look at their role on this planet.”
Lisa Hymas, co-founder of Grist.org says “This is not your father’s population documentary… Mother takes a feminist/humanist view as it explores the issues of our exploding numbers.”
Recently I was reading Andrew Revkin’s “DOT EARTH BLOG” on the NYT web site dated 18 February 2013 and came across a link to a remarkable lecture by the late Dr. Richard Smalley, physicist, chemist, and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Smalley’s talk, titled “Our Energy Challenge,” was presented by him at Columbia University in 2003, apparently having been delivered on multiple occasions around that time, as Smalley struggled with the cancer that ended his life in 2005.
His thesis was very interesting. He began by showing a slide on “Humanity’s Top Ten Problems for the next 50 years” and explained that during the Q & A at his previous Lectures, he had asked his audiences to contribute their suggestions for the list and wrote them down.
The Population Media Center’s Daily Email of June 15th reported* on the work of an interdisciplinary group of 22 scientists, which combined paleontological evidence with ecological modeling, and concluded that the earth appears headed toward catastrophic and irreversible environmental changes.
Below is a somewhat more pleasing item, a report on the Brazilian success in lowering their fertility rate to below replacement level.
If you would like to see the Brazilian article, click here.
*PMC also provided the following sobering look at the myth of economics by Paul Farrell of MarketWatch: