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Consumerism & population - Oct 17

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


The Cure for Affluence

Chris Tenove, The Tyee
Book review: Consumption by Kevin Patterson. Random House (2006)

...Patterson, who lives on Saltspring Island, is a doctor of internal medicine at Nanaimo General Hospital.

...His latest book, Consumption, was inspired by his experiences as a doctor in the Arctic, where he has spent part of every year since 1994. Consumption began as a non-fiction account of the abrupt transformation of Inuit communities. In a short period of time, the Inuit have changed from suffering the diseases of deprivation -- particularly starvation -- to the diseases of affluence, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But as Patterson wrote about the medical and psychological impact of acculturation, he kept returning to the underlying issues of loneliness, fear and social dislocation. These, he realized, would be better probed using fictional characters, and so Consumption became his first novel.

...Consumption begins in the early 1960s when Victoria, an Inuit girl, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and evacuated to the south. When she rejoins her family six years later, she is healthy but culturally estranged. In her new home of Rankin Inlet no one really fits in, however. The community is in the midst of wrenching change as the latest technologies, diamond fever and new patterns of consumption all arrive from the south.

"This novel is not about the problems of the Inuit, it is about our problems examined partly through the lens of the Inuit," Patterson told me...

...When I first went up north in 1994 there was no diabetes. As late as the 1960s, people were travelling to Cree villages in the northern boreal forests to find out why they are immune to diabetes. Now, in a place like Norway House (a Cree community in northern Manitoba), the prevalence of diabetes in adults is 40 per cent.

...The prevalence of obesity [in the world] was stable between World War Two and 1980, despite the car culture and the McDonald's golden arches everywhere. At about 1980 there was an abrupt uptick in obesity...all over the world this is happening. In Malaysia, childhood obesity is up 1000 per cent in 20 years. Some people call this the globesity epidemic.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a piece last year that proposed that for the first time in history, politically stable and prosperous nations are looking at a sustained drop in life expectancy. And this is a consequence of the explosion of diabetes and obesity.

...I think what we need to do is re-engineer our cities. It's not about more gyms, because there are lots of gyms. We have to walk to work. We have to live in cities that require us to move to get through our days. There should be as many square feet of bicycle lanes in Vancouver as car lanes. It should just be such a pain in the ass to drive a car that most people don't. We need oil to cost $200 a barrel, for health reasons.
(17 Oct 2006)
Fascinating article. Again we see the side-effects of fossil fuel civilization on health. -BA


Albert Bartlett and the 300 million
(original: Milestone math adds up to trouble)

Diane Carman, Denver Post
When the new American is born or arrives across the border sometime today to push the U.S. population to 300 million, don't expect 83-year-old Albert Bartlett to party like it's 1967.

For one thing, he's pretty sure the Census Bureau's estimate for when the population ticker hit the 300 million mark is late by a year or more. For another, he's watched what has happened since the population hit 200 million 39 years ago, and he sees no cause to celebrate.

Never mind what the get-rich-quick crowd says, he said. "Growth never pays for itself." By every measure - environmental, economic, quality of life - it is a costly proposition.

It all comes down to arithmetic, said the retired professor of physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Those who equate growth with prosperity have sold our math-phobic culture a dangerous lie.

He offers the commonly held solution to the problem of a burgeoning number of retirees as an example.

Increasing immigration rates and birthrates to provide additional young workers to support the elderly only exacerbates that problem in the future, he said. "It's like a Ponzi scheme."

...But in his view, the scariest deficit looms in the natural world.

Among the unsustainable policies sneaking up on Americans is the depletion of global oil reserves.

The concept of peak oil - when the production of oil worldwide reaches its maximum and begins its inevitable decline - "has been in the literature since 1956," said Bartlett. Scientists predict peak oil will occur this decade, and "this is serious."

It's only the non-scientists in the government who have ignored it, he said. The U.S. Department of Energy "has been headed by hacks.

"What we need in this country is a conservative policy on energy," Bartlett insisted. "We need to save the world's oil for future generations. But instead, we've had a profoundly liberal policy" of unrestrained consumption.

The same irresponsible approach has been applied to managing water resources, land and natural gas, he said.
(16 Oct 2006)


The next 100 million and the face of America

Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor
The one sure thing about US population as it moves past 300 million - expected to happen in the next few days - is that there will be more Americans. A lot more.

Everything else is informed speculation. Still, much will turn on how big the United States becomes and how fast it grows - from its use of natural resources to its settlement patterns to shifts in political clout.

There will be 400 million Americans in 2043, climbing to 420 million by midcentury, the US Census Bureau estimates. The added numbers will change the nature of the populace, reflecting trends already begun.
(10 Oct 2006)
Comments and links at WorldChanging. Related article at The Independent.


An Elephant Crackup?

Charles Siebert, New York Times
Matt Savinar on LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net writes: This is a truly amazing story. First on how elephants behave in the wild:

When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull�s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use. In close proximity they employ a range of vocalizations, from low-frequency rumbles to higher-pitched screams and trumpets, along with a variety of visual signals, from the waving of their trunks to subtle anglings of the head, body, feet and tail. When communicating over long distances � in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member � they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet.

On the effects of poaching:

. . . in "Elephant Breakdown," a 2005 essay in the journal Nature, Bradshaw and several colleagues argued that today�s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

(8 Oct 2006)
It's hard to know under what category to put this long, moving article. Parallels are drawn between the dissolution of elephant communities and the breakdown of human societies. Highly recommended. -BA

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