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Population - Dec 24

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Fertility rate in USA on upswing

Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY
The fertility rate among Americans has climbed to its highest level since 1971, setting the country apart from most industrialized nations that are struggling with low birthrates and aging populations.

The fertility rate hit 2.1 in 2006, according to preliminary estimates released by the National Center for Health Statistics. It's a milestone: the first time since shortly after the baby boom ended that the nation has reached the rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself, an average 2.1 per woman.

"What matters is that the U.S. is probably one of very few industrialized countries that have a fertility rate close to or at replacement level," says José Antonio Ortega, head of the fertility section at the United Nations' Population Division.

A high fertility rate is important to industrialized nations. When birthrates are low, there are fewer people to fill jobs and support the elderly.
(20 December 2007)


Humanity is the greatest challenge

John Feeney, BBC (Viewpoint)
We humans face two problems of desperate importance. The first is our global ecological plight. The second is our difficulty acknowledging the first.

Despite increasing climate change coverage, environmental writers remain reluctant to discuss the full scope and severity of the global dilemma we've created. Many fear sounding alarmist, but there is an alarm to sound and the time for reticence is over.

We've outgrown the planet and need radical action to avert unspeakable consequences. This - by a huge margin - has become humanity's greatest challenge.

If we've altered the climate, it should come as no surprise that we have damaged other natural systems. From deforestation to collapsing fisheries, desertification, the global spread of chemical toxins, ocean dead zones, and the death of coral reefs, an array of interrelated declines is evidence of the breadth of our impact.

Add the depletion of finite resources such as oil and ground-water, and the whole of the challenge upon us emerges.

... Scientists point to the population-environment link. But today's environmentalists avoid the subject more than any other ecological truth. Their motives range from the political to a misunderstanding of the issue.

Neither justifies hiding the truth because total resource use is the product of population size and per capita consumption. We have no chance of solving our environmental predicament without reducing both factors in the equation.

Fortunately, expert consensus tells us we can address population humanely by solving the social problems that fuel it.

John Feeney PhD is an environmental writer and activist in Boulder, Colorado, US. His online project is growthmadness.org
(5 November 2007)
Author John Feeney expands on his ideas in the long discussion that follows a recent Gristmill post: The truth everyone knows, but no one says


Driving the human ecological footprint
(PDF)
Thomas Dietz, Eugene A Rosa, and Richard York, Frontiers of Environmental
This comparative analysis shows that population size and affluence are the principal drivers of anthropogenic environmental stressors, while other widely postulated drivers (eg urbanization, economic structure, age distribution) have little effect. Similarly, increased education and life expectancy do not increase environmental stressors, suggesting that some aspects of human well-being can be improved with minimal environmental impact. Projecting to 2015, we suggest that increases in population and affluence will likely expand human impact on the environment by over one-third. Countering these driving forces would require increases in the efficiency of resource use of about 2% per year.
(February 2007)
Also see a readable summary of this scientific paper. Recommended by John Feeney (see above)


Who Knew? Albert Bartlett interview
(Audio)
George Kenney, Electric Politics
It's an enormous conceit to think that population increases are everywhere and always a good thing. In the blessed tradition, however, of neo-classical economic theory (aka 'free markets') such is the miracle of rational choice that left to themselves people will 'optimize' the rate of population growth: no natural limit on population exists.

Nevertheless, in reality the unacknowledged costs of population growth mostly shift to future generations. Call it the ultimate Ponzi scheme. And if you think about it, population growth is the main driver of all our planetary scale problems, from warming to Peak Oil to food production, right down the list. Locally as well, even to diluted democratic practices of governance.

Although it makes no sense whatsoever to tackle any of these without due consideration of the population factor most of the time population doesn't get mentioned — the implications are so politically controversial.

To help put population and its derivatives into perspective I turned to a man who's been sounding the alarm about sustainability [.doc] for decades, Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett. It was a real privilege to talk with Al, who's as close to being a prophet as anybody can be these days. Listen, and pass the word! Total runtime an hour and sixteen minutes.
(14 December 2007)
George Kenney who runs the site, is a retired foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department. His interviews are usually thoughtful and of high quality. -BA


Population Growth: the crisis that dares not say its name

Sam Smith, Progressive Review (Ecology & Nature Undernews)
ELECTRIC POLITICS recently featured a low keyed discussion of an extremely hot button subject: population growth. The guest was Al Bartlett, professor of physics emeritus at the University of Colorado, who has been working on sustainability issues for decades.

It is an issue that we raise from time to time, get a few letters accusing us of being racists or eugenicists and then move on to easier topics. But if what people like Bartlett are saying is true? Then much of we believe about economics and the environment may eventually seem extraordinarily short-sighted or just plain wrong.

Nothing we do about the environment, for example, will matter if the world population continues to grow because that presumes an ever larger depletion of the natural resources of the earth. Interestingly, we avoid the issue even more than we did 35 years ago when a national commission issued some important suggestions on dealing with the matter. Some insights follow.
(17 December 2007)

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