WHERE YOU LIVE IS WHERE YOU BREATHE

By Paul M. Lewis

There are so many things happening in the political world these days that it’s hard to decide which to highlight. That being so, why not go for the biggest, the most menacing, the one that has the greatest overarching effect on all of us—namely, climate change, the warming of the very globe we all call home?

Yet the topic of climate change, in and of itself, is too vast and complex for any one article. It needs to be broken down into component parts. There are innumerable ways of approaching the myriad of issues related to it. But one that is surely among the most important, and yet which gets far less attention than it should, is that of overpopulation. In 1944, the year I was born, the world had fewer than 2.2 billion people in it. Today there are nearly 7.5 billion, an increase of more than 5 billion in the space of 73 years. Predictably, we will also see that number rise to 8 billion by 2024, and to 9 billion in 2042. What are we to do with all these people? How to feed them? Where to house them? Where to find enough arable land to grow crops for them? How will they make a living for themselves and their families? And what will be the effect of vastly increasing numbers of humans on the environment?

As daunting as these figures and these questions may be, hiding from them is not an option. We must look at them head on and not flinch. Once recognized, we then have to decide what to do about it, how to change what we otherwise know is coming. And, although it may be tempting to go to what seems like the simplest and most direct solution, that is, for people to have fewer children, as true as this may be, that option has not proven to be a particularly feasible one, at least as far as governmental regulations are concerned.

The one exception is China, with its now defunct one child policy. The population increase there has leveled off markedly in the last several decades, since the inception of the policy. For example, there were 33 births per thousand women in 1970, but only 15 births per thousand in 1998. This is an enormous difference, but the decrease comes with its own set of problems. Boys, always more desired in traditional Chinese society, were wanted and kept, while girls were often aborted, or sometimes even abandoned at birth. As a result, there are unnaturally more males in the population today than there are females, a major demographic and societal problem. And the rapidly aging population of China now has far fewer younger citizens to help support their elders in retirement. Additionally, it’s obvious that no western-style democracy would ever be willing, or able, to put into place the kinds of prohibitive restrictions the Chinese government did.

The best control on population growth is, and always has been, education—and education for girls, in particular. Note, for example, that the number of births per woman in Japan is 1.3; that same number for Guinea-Bissau is 5.7 births per woman. According to the Earth Policy Institute, “One of the most effective ways to lower population growth and reduce poverty is to provide adequate education for both girls and boys. Countries in which more children are enrolled in school—even at the primary level—tend to have strikingly lower fertility rates.” Let’s hear it, then, for more education.

But we know that there exist a number of obstacles to the education of children. Many countries are simply too poor to offer adequate teaching facilities for a large majority of their children, and there are others where social, religious and cultural factors prevent girls in particular from receiving an education. All of which points to a substantial likelihood that world population will continue to rise, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s therefore incumbent on us now to do what actually is in our power to help counteract the most deleterious effects of overpopulation.

The Trump Administration has already demonstrated that it does not believe in global climate change, or at least that the warming of the globe has anything to do with human activity. This perhaps should not be all that surprising. According to the Pew Research Foundation, almost three-quarters of Americans don’t trust the consensus of 97% of world scientists, who assert otherwise on climate change.

When it comes to actual numbers, however, and to hard data related to worldwide temperature variances, this is not really a question of belief. To cite one recent example, of the thousands that could be given, this past February was the warmest February on record. If the world really is warming, regardless of whom or what we believe may be responsible, it’s imperative to try to do something to prepare and protect ourselves and our environment from its worst effects. Decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used is what is most frequently suggested. And that must be done. But here, again, we run into corporate, and now governmental, doubters. If you don’t believe in human-induced global warming, why should you do anything about it?

Where, then, does that leave us? Fortunately, we do not have to rely solely on government at the federal level to effect changes. These days, a majority of the work is being done at the state and local level. And while I’m of the opinion that we need more than that, sometimes in the moment we have to take what we can get. Additionally, it’s encouraging that many businesses, and the military, have weighted in on the need for action to address global warming.

One plan that has gotten recent press (see “Housing is key factor in climate goals” in the Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2017) puts the emphasis on greater collectivity within cities—in other words, population density—as a way of drastically reducing commuting and the consequent use of gasoline. The idea, obvious enough, though not necessarily easy to accomplish, is to create urban spaces where people can both live and work in their own neighborhood. This eliminates the need for long commutes by car, and it allows people to get to jobs and places to eat and shop and play that are either within walking or biking distance, or that can be readily reached via fast, clean, affordable and reliable public transportation.

What’s being suggested is not so different from the kind of city I grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s. My family did not have a car, and that fact never felt to me like a burden. My father walked to work every morning; my mother took the bus to the department store where she worked; and my brother and sister and I all either walked or took the bus to school. The local grocery—a literal corner store—was a block away, and we lived across the street from our parish church. Sometimes, it may be that what was good was mistakenly discarded in the pursuit of what we like to think of as progress.

This new, or not so new, concept of closely packed housing near places of work and shopping and worship may not be welcomed by all. We have grown accustomed to driving in our private cars, sometimes long distances, to work and elsewhere. The concept of the soccer mom has become so acceptable as to even go unnoticed. Meanwhile, she drives her children hither and yon to team practice, to sporting events, and even to parent-arranged “play dates.” What ever happened to kids playing with others in the neighborhood? Some of the most affordable and desirable housing has been put up in sprawling suburbs with few amenities within easy reach. It is not uncommon in places like Los Angeles for an individual to drive an hour, even an hour and a half, each way to and from work.

As much as we may wish for a house in the suburbs with three bedrooms and two baths, it may be that we have to face the fact that it is, in the long run, unsustainable. And if it is difficult to maintain now, with the population we currently have, what will happen in 2042, when there are 9 billion people on the planet? The idea of attempting to reduce some of the excesses of overpopulation through the encouragement of urban population density is of course not a panacea. Indeed, like most things, it falls far short of a complete solution, and it brings with it its own pluses and minuses. It is, though, one of the many factors about which humans will have to make choices in the coming years, if we are to hope that our children, and their children, will be able to live on a healthy planet.

The truth is that change is coming, whether we like it or not, and whether we acknowledge it or not. Surely, it is better to look directly at what will be, and to make the adjustments needed now, in order to help diminish some of the worst effects of these eventualities. What is needed is a willing coalition of ordinary citizens, of city and county government officials, of the private sector, of state leadership, and eventually (or so we can hope) support and encouragement at the federal—and the international—level, to make the kinds of changes that are needed.

This is a tall order, especially in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere. But in the end, the consequences of doing nothing may be too terrible not to contemplate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

POPULATION EXPLOSION + CLIMATE CHANGE = THE END

by Kevin

Paul’s recent essay here at Two Old Liberals regarding our mass denial about the devastating consequences of overpopulation is excellent and very sobering indeed, but as he points out, this is a solvable problem. We can do something about this, and we must do so now.

When we add our mass denial regarding the apocalyptic consequences of unchecked Global Climate Change on top of the Population Explosion, we have a perfect storm. Population Explosion + Climate Change = The End, UNLESS we act now to curb the population and stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, by corporations and national governments.

Evidence is mounting fast that time is running out. On July 24, 2012, PHYS.org published a chilling report and photo (above,)provided by NASA’s Godard Space Flight Center, showing four days of unprecedented Greenland ice sheet surface melt from July 8 to 12. The July 8 photo (above left) shows 40% of the ice sheet thawing at or near the surface. By July 12, the NASA satellite photo shows that 97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed (above right.) This rapid flash thawing has alarmed scientists, who report that nothing like this has been seen since 1889. They are working to verify the causes of Greenland’s flash melt now. The leading hypothesis points directly to Global Climate Change caused by human activity, of course. Read the entire article, “Satellites see unprecedented Greenland ice sheet surface melt,” July 24, 2012 at http://phys.org/news/2012-07-satellites-unprecedented-greenland-ice-sheet.html

In addition, both polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. Sea levels are rising. If we have some sudden cataclysmic events, like the rapid disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica’s ice shelves into massive icebergs floating in the oceans, sea levels will rise very quickly, inundating low-lying areas and forcing populations to relocate. Many of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities are located on the coasts at sea level. As the population of the world continues to rise, greater numbers will be dislocated by sea levels rising. And as Paul pointed out in his Population Explosion essay, food production for the hungry masses will become more and more problematic. Already, here in the U.S. this summer the crops are dead and the corn is aborting in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Nebraska and other states, and food prices are expected to rise significantly and quickly.

The twin challenges of Overpopulation and Climate Change compound one another, but it can be argued that Overpopulation is the root cause of Climate Change, since it is human activity that is rapidly warming the planet. What can we do? We will have more to say about how to respond in the near future, but it is fundamentally essential to promote birth control and to bring major pressure to bear upon fossil fuel companies and national governments to shift rapidly away from extracting and burning carbon in favor of safe, clean, renewable energy.

Anyone and everyone who is concerned about saving the Earth as an environment that can support life must ask herself/himself: 1. What can I do to help? 2. What am I willing to do to help? 3. What am I qualified to do to help? I believe in miracles. If we all apply our particular talents and energies in creative ways to waking the world up and sounding the alarm and demanding a reversal of Overpopulation and Climate Change, we can save ourselves and the planet as a habitat that will support future generations. If not… The End.

DARWIN’S DILEMMA, OR HOW DID THERE GET TO BE SO MANY OF US?

Darwin’s theory of evolution posits that natural variation occurs within groups, and that those individuals who turn out in some important manner to be better suited to their environment, that is, more fit in one way or another, are also better able to reproduce, thus ensuring that their genes (and the traits attached) get passed on to future generations. Over the decades, the theory has certainly proven itself in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of populations, including humans. In this manner, for example, homo sapiens won out over several other groups of hominoids, including homo neanderthalensis, an otherwise perfectly well adapted branch of the human tree, at least until their overbearing cousins arrived on the scene. But what of homo sapiens today? Are we still evolving? The answer can only be “yes,” but I wonder if the ways in which we are evolving are ultimately of benefit to us or to the planet on which we live.

This brings up a closely related question, one that I think is of supreme importance these days, namely, are we as a race reproducing ourselves out of existence? A case could be made that many, if not most, of the major problems we are facing today on a global scale can trace their source to one basic issue: there are too many of us on the planet. We are now at seven billion, and counting. What if each of these people reproduced at a simple ration of one to two? That is, suppose each couple, each pair of two people, were to produce four offspring. Although I am not a specialist in demography, or statistics for that matter, the simple math involved predicts that it will not be long, certainly in geological terms, before our population doubles. Can any of us really imagine a world in which there are fourteen billion people? And yet, it could happen, all the more so as humans find better ways of fighting germs and disease, in times past the killer of large swaths of the population.

Now, in case you may be wondering, I am not advocating for reduced food or medicine for anybody. Indeed, all those who “here,” that is, those of us already born deserve every benefit that human technology and medicine can possibly provide in order to give each person the opportunity for a healthy and productive life. That is because, at their core, no person is intrinsically better than any other person. However, what I AM advocating for is a little bit of common sense when it comes to procreation. There’s no mystery about it. At this time in history we know how NOT to have children. And those who elect to have no children at all, or only one, or at most the strict replacement value of two, are probably doing the world the greatest service. On the other hand, those who preach the value of more and more children are ensuring the depletion of necessary resources, the further degradation of the planet, and the probable future decline of humanity itself. Churches in particular that say that the only legitimate purpose of sex is for procreative purposes are therefore doing us, and the planet on which we live, a tremendous disservice.

So, in one sense, we have to wonder whether Darwin had it right or not, at least when it comes to us humans. There is, of course, no way he could have predicted, even as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, that human reproduction would run so drastically and so dangerously amuck. But let us remember that human beings are not the same as creatures that reproduce with no ability to think about or predict the consequences of their actions. In theory at least, we can and should plan, and calculate, and make reasonable and responsible choices.

Maybe it could even be said that this ability to reason and understand where the results of our actions will take us might in fact be the selected trait among humans that could in the end save us, along with the planet. If that’s the case, it could be that Darwin was right about us after all. Reason and logic, even pity for the planet, could save us by helping us choose not to reproduce, or to limit ourselves to only one or two children, or better still to adopt already born but unwanted children. Wouldn’t this in fact be one of the best possible uses of our human reason? And wouldn’t it make Darwin proud to know that we – his offspring – selected, in this case consciously, not just what is best for ourselves and our children, but ultimately what in the end is needed for our very survival, as well as for that of the earth itself?

Paul

Introducing Kevin…

Kevin will post political cartoons and other art occasionally, along with his comments.

I’m Kevin

We “Two Old Liberals” welcome you to our blog about life, love, politics, the arts, ecology, personal habits, philosophy, humor, labor, ethics, religion, sex, our  planet and the universe, gossip, the economy, human rights, diet and exercise, and anything else that might cross our minds. Paul and I have known each other for nearly 40 years. We were roommates a lifetime ago when he was a grad student and I was an administrative assistant at the University of Michigan. We both lived in L.A. for a long time in the 70s and 80s, and we used to get together for breakfast once a week to sort out the affairs of the world and our own young lives. Since 1997 we’ve lived on opposite coasts and written long email letters to each other almost daily. Just recently we decided to open our communications, cartoons and complaints to the rest of the world.

I’m Kevin – a fat old bald old guy with the glasses, goatee, and comb-over. For 22 years I’ve made a pretty good living prostituting my talents to Fortune 500 corporations as a business consultant, creative ideation facilitator and artist. I still do that, with increasing cognitive dissonance, and it allows me to paint and create any kind of art I want to make in my free time, without requiring it to sell to support me. I photographed the masthead image and drew the “Nude Gingrich” cartoon for this 2OL blog launch. Right now Robert and I (Robert is an artist, too, and my lover of 15 years) have about 60 large paintings and installations in our art gallery downtown, as well as 30 more big paintings in the beautiful, opulent new library, and in a week we will install 18 of our canvases in a fancy restaurant in the center of the city for a two-month exhibit. In 19 months we will both have tandem one-man shows at my alma mater – a small college in the Midwest.

It sounds like Robert and I live in the city, doesn’t it? But, in fact, we live at the dead end of a remote dirt road, deep in the woods where satellite dishes are required to get TV and Internet service. It’s really quiet and beautiful out here. We used to own a big 5-bedroom, 3-bath show home in the suburbs. We poured all our creative energies into it. People came by the hundreds every year to tour our home and gardens. But we sensed that the real estate bubble was about to burst, followed by the entire economy, so we sold it for a great price just weeks before the crash. Selling that house felt like cutting off a leg. But we would have been foreclosure victims, and instead we got out of debt and bought a shabby old trailerhouse in the woods, with a collapsing ancient barn and a half-acre pond and stream on 7 acres. That was 5 years ago. Since then we’ve added four more acres with a hunting cabin that we are expanding into a nice little cottage where we intend to make our last stand together until we cannot stand any longer.

As well as being an incredible and prolific abstract expressionist painter, Robert is a phenomenal woodworker and a handsome 45-year-old postal worker. Before that, he was in the US Marine Corps for eight years. He adores animals and they love him back. We have lots of animals. But Robert isn’t a vegetarian. He’s a regular guy – a hard worker and builder. He can solve any Rubik’s Cube in two minutes flat and install entire plumbing and electrical systems in our new cottage. He knows how to fix and construct anything. And I have personally seen wild baby rabbits and frogs approach my beefy, bearded husband and climb into his hands and arms. Animals just know and trust him.

I used to be a vegetarian for 18 years. Now I eat some fish and fowl, but left to my own devices I like to eat piles of green vegetables and whole grains with a bit of cheese or spicy sauce. I’ve been interested in metaphysics and meditation for over 40 years, and in my old age, with our Cairn Terrier Scrappy by my side, I’m actually starting to practice a bit more meditation. Robert calls it “vegetation.” I used to enjoy drinking most evenings, but my old body won’t stand for that anymore, so I’m “vegetating” instead. I am a 63-year-old, totally gay, quasi-vegetarian, meditating, social-democratic liberal, environmentalist, hermit artist, who nevertheless makes a living with occasional forays to serve the corporate world of new product development and market research. How do they put up with me? I have no idea… 

“Bizarro World”

This morning, while Robert was waking up over the morning coffee I always make and serve in bed, I told him that increasingly I feel like we’re living in “Bizarro World.” Do you remember that alternative universe in the Superman comic books in which the whole world had gone cubist and backwards and weird? Well, that’s how our world is looking to me these days. Everything is so distorted and nothing makes sense anymore:

  • In Robert’s work world, the USPS promotes the most incompetent and laziest people into managerial positions where they do not have enough knowledge, expertise or work ethic to do a good job, and excellent workers are abused, enslaved and terribly mistreated. It’s the same everywhere these days… and the Republicans want to deny police, teachers, firefighters and other public servants collective bargaining rights. Indeed they want to kill all the unions and repress middle class workers.
  • Virtually all scientists and climate experts agree that our planet is racing toward the edge of the cliff called Global Climate Change and nobody will acknowledge or discuss the terminal implications of this manmade disaster. There are things we could do to save ourselves, but as a species we choose radical denial instead.
  • The Republican Party is engaged in a truly terrifying circus clown primary contest to select their creepy candidate for the US Presidency. Only in “Bizarro World” could distorted caricatures like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich be serious contenders for that profound honor. I have closely watched all US Presidential contests for over 50 years, and for the first time the list of leading characters who have topped the Republican polls in recent times simply takes my breath away: Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum! It’s a horror movie! What the hell has happened to the Republican Party? Where did all the reasonable conservatives go? Are they hiding? No. Reasonable conservatives are now called mainstream Democrats. President Obama is a right-of-center moderate conservative in my book.
  • In “Bizarro World” everything is upside-down. Billionaires and people like Mitt Romney who make millions every year pay only a 14% or 15% tax on their income, while the middle class is being squeezed and pushed out of existence and paying a 30% or 35% income tax. That’s the reverse of what it should be, isn’t it?! In Bizarro World the top 1% of the populace has more money and power than the other 99%. It’s really unbelievable, but true! They do!
  • We have a Congress that would be more productive if they adjourned and did NOTHING at all, rather than what they are doing now. The Founding Fathers weep.
  • The planet is dangerously overpopulated with 7 billion souls, but the Republican candidates for the US Presidency do not believe in birth control!… Birth control! What year is this?… 1812?!
  • Meanwhile, scores of citizens are being murdered by their own governments while the rest of the world does nothing, but just watches.
  • And, horror of horrors, governors and states are slashing and burning their public education budgets. Forget art and music programs, the Republican governors seem to want to make ALL education a privilege that only the wealthiest can afford. How do they expect the US to remain a superpower if we do not educate our populace? But they are afraid. America is turning brown, and the last thing they want is more educated brown people like President Obama aspiring to leadership and power.

There’s a reason why we live at the dead end of an isolated dirt road deep in the woods. Take a look at the masthead photo, above, of our half-acre pond. Although nature is beginning to show signs of breaking down, it still bears enough resemblance to its former glory that we do not feel like we are living in “Bizarro World” at home here in the woods. There is tremendous comfort in observing what is left of the seasons, the wild animals, and the weather in our 11 woodland acres and on our pond and in the stream that runs through it. We are so deeply fortunate to have a place to get away from “Bizarro World.” I wish everyone could experience the peace and purity of these woods. Nature may yet find a way to speak to us. What will She say?

— Kevin