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Posts Tagged ‘population growth’

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760]

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760%5D

Here’s a disturbing fact about the state of the world’s Bengal tigers:

One of the world’s largest populations of tigers exists not in the wild—but in captivity in the United States. With an estimated 5,000 tigers, the U.S. captive tiger population exceeds the approximately 3,200 tigers in the wild.

Is this the future of our beloved wild animals? If animals aren’t being poached or crowded out of natural habitat, too many are being hunted for trophies or to keep as “pets,” with often disastrous consequences.

Many people may love animals, but as a species, humans are doing a terrible job protecting them. The New York Times recently ran an op-ed that noted that an elephant is killed every 14 minutes.

As for tigers, with July 29 noted as International Tiger Day, their outlook is becoming bleaker and bleaker. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds. Today, there are at best 3,200, most of them in India, which will soon be the most populous nation in the world. And it is intent, understandably so, on developing its economy, which means less habitat for tigers and other animals.

The United Nations just reported that the current global population of 7.3 billion is forecast to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, slightly above the last set of U.N. projections. Most growth will happen in developing regions, particularly Africa, where many species are at great risk.

 

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Global society should be doing everything possible to protect tigers. If this majestic animal cannot withstand the human onslaught, what species can?   Certainly elephants, rhinos, giraffes, chimpanzees, and gorillas are losing the battle in Africa, as are orangutans in Indonesia, pandas in China and lemurs in Madagascar.

It makes one shudder to think of Earth without these creatures in the wild, yet we continue with business as usual, plundering the planet for the last remaining bits of coal and drops of oil, searching for rare earth metals to power our lives, oblivious to the true cost of the way we live.

There are efforts that can be taken to change course. At the top is stabilizing human population growth – which can be done voluntarily with investments in maternal and newborn health, providing health care for families – especially contraception, supporting girl’s education, ending child marriage, and promoting women’s empowerment.   This is the “low-hanging fruit” – things that should be done and can be, at a relatively low cost.

Protecting tigers and other species also calls for changing a global economic system dependent upon constant and unsustainable growth.   This is definitely a more difficult task, but there are numerous organizations, academics, and other experts working on alternatives. And now we have Pope Francis calling for an economic system that supports the poor and protects the environment.

Of course there is much to be done. It really boils down to a paradigm shift – recognizing that nature has rights and that it isn’t here for humans to use and abuse and to provide us entertainment. There are consequences to our actions, and if we as a global society allow species that are an important part of the web of life to disappear in the wild, we might be changing it to our detriment.

We need to rethink/re-envision our relationship with Nature.

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[Note: This is slightly off-topic, but it applies to how we call structure our societies and address human well-being.

Just released, Enough is Enough is a visionary and actionable blueprint to transition from a global economic system dependent upon unsustainable and endless growth to a steady-state economy.

I hope you find it as interesting as I did!]

 

[H]ere’s the deal: forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done. ~Paul Hawken

 

This quote by Paul Hawken epitomizes the ideas and initiatives reflected in the new book Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, which lays out a path for overcoming so-called impossibilities in our world. The book constructs a realistic and actionable plan that should guide all of us as we confront increasingly dire and critical issues facing the planet. There will always be naysayers yelling out “impossible!”, but clearly we are way past listening to them.

 

The basic question that Enough is Enough asks is how we can transition from a global economic system dependent upon unsustainable and endless growth to a steady-state economy. According to authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, the purpose of the book is to show “how to establish a prosperous yet nongrowing economy.”

EnoughIsEnough

 

A steady-state economy is defined as an economy which “aims for stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and material.” Even Adam Smith realized there were limits to economic growth. He predicted that eventually natural resources would become more scarce, population growth would depress wages, and division of labor would approach the limits of its effectiveness.

 

For some people, a steady-state economy is a radical idea. For others, it makes perfect sense in a world of finite resources with gross inequalities and a lot people stuck in the daily grind and not so happy, despite the latest got-to-have-it technology.

 

Enough is Enough actually builds the groundwork for moving towards a society that lives within its means and focuses on the things people want – happiness, well-being, economic security, food security, good health, clean environment, strong communities, and so on. Perhaps most importantly, it does so in an straightforward and reader-friendly manner.

 

The book suggest an actual blueprint of policies that could create a sustainable economy. Proposed solutions include: establishing more worker-owned companies, prohibiting banks from issuing money as debt (essentially preventing banks from creating money “out of thin air”), local currencies, and work-time reduction (to help reduce unemployment and improve citizen well-being).

 

Dietz and O’Neill believe the following policy directions would serve as pillars of a steady-state economy:

  • Limit the use of materials and energy to sustainable levels;
  • Stabilize population through compassionate and non-coercive means;
  • Achieve a fair distribution of income and wealth;
  • Reform monetary and financial systems for stability;
  • Change the way we measure progress;
  • Secure meaningful jobs and full employment;
  • Reconfigure the way businesses create value.

 

Enough is Enough also positively and pro-actively deals with the often taboo subject of population growth. Just as with the economy, a steady population is needed in a world of finite resources. Most importantly, Dietz and O’Neill recognize that “hidden in population numbers are real people”, something that often gets lost in the discussion of a world of 7 billion people, and likely to grow to between 8 to 10 billion by 2050. Unless compassionate, non-coercive policies are devised, any population policy will ultimately not work. Successful policies include actions such as educating girls, empowering women, and providing family planning services.

 

The two authors bravely wade into the immigration debate, also a tumultuous issue. They are in favor of honoring current U.S. immigration policy of accepting refugees and reuniting families. As for admitting workers with specific skills to fill jobs (also U.S policy), they suggest that the U.S and other wealthy countries are tapping the best educated and skilled foreign workers, which results in a “brain drain” for the developing countries from which these workers mainly come. Developed countries want top talent to spur more economic growth. Yet in doing so, the wealthy (and high-consuming) countries increase population growth to the detriment of less wealthy nations.

 

It’s a sensitive subject, yet if you look past the emotional arguments around immigration, as the authors do, you’ll see that their position is one where, in their words, “Instead of recruiting educated and entrepreneurial people from abroad, wealthy nations should cultivate talent at home and encourage nations abroad to retain their most capable workers.” In a sense, it’s localizing the workforce, for the good of societies in both developed and developing countries.

 

The world is facing many critical issues, yet for the most part stubbornly continues with business as usual, to the detriment of society and the planet. Enough is Enough effectively tackles issues too many people want to ignore. Moreover, it not only provides fodder for lively discussions, but practical ideas for achieving a sustainable economy and healthy communities.

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In 2012 I was very fortunate to attend several prominent international conferences where population issues – including human rights, the environment, and the global economic reality – were discussed. These events were the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Rio+20 Earth Summit and the Montreal International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas.

iStock_000014852074XSmall Earth

My current work is writing on many issues related to population, especially rights and the environment. We live in a world with 7 billion people that is predicted to be between 8 to 10 billion by 2050.  And we face many pressing problems that need solutions grounded in fairness, equality, and respect for life.

After attending these conferences, along with other events, experiences, and research, I decided to write a report on inclusive, holistic approaches to covering this subject. The result is People’s Rights, Planet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population. It recommends focusing on the following issues to create a path to a sustainable population:

  • Women’s Rights – providing voluntary family planning services to the 222 million women in developing countries who want access to family planning services but do not have access to contraceptives;
  • Youth Rights – providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to the nearly 3 billion young adults under the age of 25;
  • Rights of Nature – recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist;
  • Rethinking the Economy – accepting that endless economic growth is unsustainable and more efficient global indicators of human and environmental well-being should be adopted.

While there has been much focus, and rightly so, of the need to empower women as the answer to stabilizing population numbers, I think that other issues are sometimes overlooked. One is recognizing the rights of youth to reproductive health and education. Another – the need to reassess our endless growth economy – isn’t often mentioned as a solution in conjunction with human rights. Lastly, the concept of rights of nature is barely mentioned at all.

This report is my attempt to bring these issues together as a way to craft policies to better our communities and our world. Certainly it could have a big impact on India, which is soon to have the world’s biggest population. Balancing human rights with nature’s rights would help tigers and other endangered species. Creating local, sustainable economies with quality livelihoods would help people and the environment.

The same applies for the U.S. and developed countries. The situations might be slightly different, but in the end, they are not really so different; after all, we all share the same planet.

In my opinion, implementing policies based on the points above are worth undertaking and we have nothing to lose by doing so. It just might make the world a better place, which is what most of us want.

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