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World Population Awareness

News Digest

February 05, 2018

Scientists Just Presented a Sweeping New Estimate of How Much Humans Have Transformed the Planet

December 20, 2017, Washington Post   By: Chris Mooney

Just as buried fossil fuels are filled with carbon from ancient plant and animal life, so too are living trees and vegetation on Earth's surface today. Razing forests or plowing grasslands puts carbon in the atmosphere just like burning fossil fuels does.

Karl-Heinz Erb, the lead study author and a researcher with the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, and his colleagues estimated that 450 billion tons of carbon - a massive amount - is contained in Earth's current vegetation. If it were to somehow arrive in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it would amount to over a trillion tons of the gas.

They also found that, if humans somehow entirely ceased all uses of land and allowed it to return to its natural state, the Earth's vegetation would contain 916 billion tons of carbon. This would infer that current human use of land is responsible for roughly halving the potential storage of carbon by that land.

The research was published in the journal Nature by Erb and 12 colleagues from institutions in Austria, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Deforestation accounted for about half of the loss of potential vegetation. The other half is attributed to the combination of large-scale grazing and other uses of grasslands and forest "management." With the latter, the forests as a whole don't disappear. They were just highly thinned out.

The findings are in line with the thesis of University of Virginia professor William Ruddiman, that humans have been changing the surface of the planet and putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through land use for millennia.

"Our finding is in line with the statement that the impact of humans on the climate was quite considerable also before the industrial times," Erb said.

The research showed that so-called degraded land - not fully deforested but not "natural” or whole, either - must be restored. Tom Lovejoy, an ecologist at George Mason University who was not involved in the work, said "That means the restoration agenda is even more important than previously thought and highlights the enormous amount of degraded land in the world.”

Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center said: "Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees require not only rapid cessation of greenhouse gas emissions but also removal of somewhere between about 100 and 300 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.” ... "This paper suggests that restoring vegetation around the world could in principle achieve that,” Duffy continued, noting that if all the potential vegetation were restored it would offset some 50 years of global carbon emissions.

Erb was skeptical about the strategy called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, or BECCS, which it was claimed to remove carbon from the atmosphere. doclink

Why Marching for Life Now Means Attacking Contraception

Poor Women Are Vulnerable as GOP Turns Up the Heat
January 19, 2018, Who.What.Why   By: Kirsty Vitarelli

Anti-abortion activists, emboldened by conservatives controlling the White House and Congress, and courts stacked with like-minded judges, are setting their sights on a new target: The elimination of federal funding for family planning services.

For 45 years, the "pro-life" movement has gathered in Washington around the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision to protest the legalization of most abortions in the US.

Recently the Trump administration announced that it was strengthening protections for medical providers whose religious beliefs prompt them to refuse to perform abortions or to offer other contraceptive services.

Title X, a provision in the Public Health Service Act of 1970 - is federal grant legislation that secures federal funding for family planning services. It is the only grant legislation approved annually, and is constantly under threat of defunding because of this status. Of the 38 million American women who use contraception, over half - 20 million - rely on publicly funded contraceptive care.

"Without contraceptive coverage, many women would need to pay more than $1,000 out of pocket to start using a highly effective method such as a intrauterine devices (IUDs), a contraceptive implant or sterilization; that would amount to nearly one month's salary for a woman working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour," reports the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. Other forms of contraception are less costly - as low as $9 a month from Target and Walmart. But, with the exception of emergency contraception, birth control pills require a doctor's prescription, an associated visit and insurance costs.

The theory supporting threats to Title X is that life begins at the moment egg and sperm meet, which increasing numbers of anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers embrace. They equate highly effective, long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) like IUDs and contraceptive implants with abortion itself, believing these methods would dislodge a fertilized egg - a view which is not scientifically accurate.

IUDs and implants primarily prevent fertilization, not implantation - there is no zygote, so there is nothing to abort. However, buoyed by the Supreme Court's ruling upholding Hobby Lobby's religious right to deny access to LARCs, and President Trump's seeming eagerness to please his base, anti-abortion advocates are seeking to promote their ideology in a number of ways, including going after Title X funding.

Title X in the beginning was championed by both sides of the House - its main sponsor was George H.W. Bush and was signed into law by President Nixon." The idea was that women and couples - regardless of their employment or insurance status - should have the opportunity to plan whether and when they would start a family.

However during Ronald Reagan's presidency, there was more anti-abortion ideology involved in the politics and policies of family planning.

Three-quarters of all women in the US who underwent abortions in 2014 were either living in poverty or had low incomes of roughly between $11,000 and $22,000. If federal funding is removed, these low-income households would suffer the most, physically and financially.

An amendment to the recent tax bill fostered the idea that personhood begins at conception by proposing that unborn children could be beneficiaries of college savings plans. The language was cut before the tax bill passed.

House appropriators agreed to defund Title X entirely, eliminating the program - $286 million - from the 2018 budget, but Senate appropriators did not cut the program from their spending bill.

Trump has appointed prominent anti-contraception advocates to his Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in an attempt to keep a promise to his evangelical followers. Valerie Huber, an advocate of abstinence over contraception will continue the push to defund Title X.

A rider in the House Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies spending bill would block Planned Parenthood from any federal money in 2018, and effectively "end the nation's family planning program.”

President Trump signed a law last spring allowing states to withhold federal money from organizations that offer abortion services. Many of these organizations also provide important contraceptive services to the poorest in society, services which would also be threatened.

60% of Americans believe abortion should remain legal. Some physicians remember the time before Roe v. Wade and worry that overturning it would slide the country back to the days when more than 200 women a year died from septic shock due to "back alley” abortions, or became infertile after suffering permanent injury inflicted by barbaric tools.

45% of pregnancies in the US are unintended, and about 4 in 10 of those end in abortion, according to Guttmacher. Three-quarters of all women in the US who underwent abortions in 2014 were either living in poverty or had low incomes of roughly between $11,000 and $22,000. If federal funding is removed, these low-income households would suffer the most, physically and financially.

Title X funding is intact - for now. But "the Trump administration in its first year and Congress under its current leadership have very openly hostile views and agendas against reproductive health and rights. doclink

China's Birthrate Dropped Despite Allowing 2-child Families

January 19, 2018, Associated Press

The birthrate in China fell last year even though the country has changed its One Child policy to allow two children. Reasons given for the low birth rate were the trend toward later marriage, the desire for smaller families and concerns about the high cost of raising children.

With almost 1.4 billion people, China has the world's largest population but it is aging fast even before reaching its expected peak of 1.45 billion in 2029.

China's policy was changed in 2015 in an attempt to increase the size of the younger working population that will eventually have to support their elders. The number of births rose nearly 8% in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child. But that appears to have been a one-time increase.

Experts have recommended the country increase its retirement age to address an expected labor shortage and declining economic vitality.

One woman, a housewife in Beijing, pointed out that the burden of looking after aging parents is one reason not to have a second child. "They helped us look after one child, but we would have to babysit the second one ourselves."

"Until the young one is 2, mother won't be able to work which means a big loss of income that we're not prepared for," another person said.

China enacted its one-child policy in 1979, enforced with fines and in some cases state-mandated abortions.

The expected future reduction in the working-age population is exacerbated by a skewed male-female birth ratio resulting from the traditional preference for male offspring. doclink

Karen Gaia said: apparently China started its One-Child policy after it already started a successful family planning program. It is my belief that family planning would be far more widely supported if China had not imposed its oppressive policy.

Losing the Wilderness: a 10th Has Gone Since 1992 - and Gone for Good

A new study warns if the degradation rate continues, all wilderness areas will be at risk over the next 50 years
December 20, 2017, Guardian   By: Susan Chenery

Ten percent of the earth's wilderness has been lost due to human pressure, according to a mapping study by the University of Queensland. .. 52% of the earth's ecosystems have seen a major degradation since the beginning of human history, while the remaining 48% is being increasingly eroded. Since the 1992 Rio convention on biological diversity, three million square kilometres of wilderness have been lost.

James Watson, senior author on the study and director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society stated: "If this rate continues, we will have lost all wilderness within the next 50 years." He said there is no scientific evidence that degraded eco-systems could ever return to their original condition.

The water cycle (the ability of the area to create rain), biodiversity (loss of wildlife habitat), the nitrogen cycle and pollination are being degraded. Logging, oil and gas exploration, mining, roads and agriculture are the culprits.

These pristine wild places exist in the deserts of Central Australia; the Amazon rainforest in South America; Africa; the Tibetan plateau in central Asia; and the boreal forests of Canada and Russia.

PhD student James Allan, who also worked on the study said: The moment you put a road in, you get people moving in to farm, hunt, and it undermines the wilderness. The risk is that a lot of these systems could collapse. The Amazon is the best example of where you need the whole forest, or a huge portion of the forest, protected for the hydrological cycle to function." One third of the Amazon wilderness region has been lost since 1992.

The UQ study found that conservation efforts are being rapidly outpaced by the acceleration of the decline, thanks to massive global population growth and the associated economic growth that demands ever-increasing natural resources.

The problem is profound. "Intact functioning ecosystems" says Watson, "are critical not only for biodiversity but for the huge amounts of carbon they store and sequester. They provide a direct defence against climate-related hazards like storms, floods, fires and cyclones. They are the most resilient and effective defence against ongoing climate change.”

Loss of wilderness also affects Indigenous communities . "You have got people living in the Amazon, Congo and New Guinea who have been there for thousands of years subsisting through hunting - just sustainable use of the resources,” says Allan.

In 2016, Watson and his team released maps of the global human footprint, using eight data layersof roads, agriculture, grazing land, human population density, urbanisation and navigable waterways.

"The environment footprint of humanity is truly massive,” Watson wrote of his findings in Time. "No other species has ever come close to us in terms of consuming so much of the world's energy, resources and land area. In this Anthropocene era, where the human footprint is now altering many of the Earth systems processes, wilderness areas serve as natural observatories where we can study the ecological and evolutionary impacts of global change.” doclink

About Half of U.S. Abortion Patients Report Using Contraception in the Month They Became Pregnant

Postabortion Contraceptive Counseling Can Help Individuals Prevent Future Unintended Pregnancies
January 11, 2018, Guttmacher Institute

The Guttmacher Institute conducted a survey of U.S. abortion patients in 2014, which showed that 51% (half) of those surveyed reported that they had used a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant. This was a slight decrease from 54% of abortion patients in 2000. The methods most commonly used by abortion patients in 2014 were condoms (24% of patients) and the pill (13%).

"Contraceptive methods are highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancies, but no method -- and no user -- is perfect," says Rachel Jones, author of the analysis. "Abortion patients should have access to the full range of contraceptive counseling and services to support them in preventing future unintended pregnancies."

The share of abortion patients relying on condoms decreased from 28% to 24% between 2000 and 2014, but there was a small but significant increase -- 7% to 9% -- in the share of patients who relied on withdrawal. Use of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods among abortion patients increased from 0.1% in 2000 to 1% in 2014. It is also possible that some abortion patients became pregnant shortly after they stopped using LARCs or other contraceptive methods.

In 2014, about 37.8 million U.S. women aged 15-44 were using a contraceptive method. But only 471,000 abortions were provided to patients who reported they were using contraception in the month they became pregnant. Between 2000 and 2014, the overall number of abortions in the United States declined significantly, and available evidence suggests that improvements in contraceptive use contributed to the abortion decline.

Contraception has been found to be effective at pregnancy prevention and it has numerous health, social and economic benefits. Abortion patients who were not using contraception at the time they became pregnant may benefit from receiving information during postabortion counseling about their risk of pregnancy, and about the full range of contraceptive options available to them and how to use those methods consistently and correctly. doclink

Karen Gaia says: condoms and withdrawal are much less effective than the pill in preventing pregnancy, and even with the pill, the chances of becoming pregnant is 60% over 10 years of use. LARCs are much more effective at preventing pregnancy.

Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People?

Humanity has 30 years to find out.
January 22, 2018, Atlantic Monthly   By: Charles C. Mann

In 1970 about one out of every four people was undernourished. Today the proportion has fallen to roughly one out of 10. In those four-plus decades, the global average life span has risen by more than 11 years. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have lifted themselves from destitution into something like the middle class. But millions upon millions are not prosperous. No one knows whether the rise can continue, or whether our current affluence can be sustained.

The world is expected to rise from about 7.6 billion inhabitants today to 10 billion by about 2050. Then population is expected to begin to level off. On average, each couple will have just enough children to replace themselves. In the meantime, economists say, the world's development should continue, however unevenly. The implication is that a sizable percentage of the world's 10 billion people will be middle-class.

By 2050 we will have ten billion mouths and three billion more middle-class appetites. How can we provide for everyone without making the planet uninhabitable?

In search of the answer we look at the contrasting viewpoints of two individuals largely responsible for the creation of the basic intellectual blueprints that institutions around the world use today for understanding our environmental dilemmas.

William Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic ideas for the modern environmental movement. He believed that, unless humankind drastically reduces consumption and limits population, it will ravage global ecosystems. Affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem. If we continue taking more than the Earth can give, he said, the unavoidable result will be devastation on a global scale.

Borlaug, born 12 years after Vogt, believed that science and technology, properly applied, will let us produce a way out of our predicament. He was the best-known figure in the research that in the 1960s created the Green Revolution, the combination of high-yielding crop varieties and agronomic techniques that increased grain harvests around the world, helping to avert tens of millions of deaths from hunger. Only by getting richer and more knowledgeable can humankind create the science that will resolve our environmental dilemmas, he claimed.

Borlaug's solution was to find a way to increase per-acre yields. Vogt's solution was to use ecological knowledge to get smaller. He recommended that we "eat lower on the food chain," to lighten the burden on Earth's ecosystems. Vogt's predecessor, Robert Malthus, predicted that societies would inevitably run out of food because they would always have too many children. Vogt said that we may be able to grow enough food, but at the cost of wrecking the world's ecosystems.

Followers of Borlaug view Vogt's emphasis on cutting back as intellectually dishonest, indifferent to the poor, even racist. Following Vogt, they say, is a path toward regression, narrowness, poverty, and hunger -- toward a world where billions live in misery despite the scientific knowledge that could free them. Followers of Vogt sneer that the Borlaug's faith in human resourcefulness is unthinking, ignorant, even driven by greed (because refusing to push beyond ecological limits will cut into corporate profits). High-intensity, industrial farming may pay off in the short run, but in the long run will make the day of ecological reckoning hit harder. The ruination of soil and water by heedless overuse will lead to environmental collapse, which will in turn create worldwide social convulsion.

In 1948 Vogt published Road to Survival, the first modern we're-all-going-to-hell book. He introduced concepts such as carrying capacity -- also known as "ecological limits," or "planetary boundaries" -- which posits that every ecosystem has a limit to what it can produce. As human numbers increase, our demands for food will exceed the Earth's carrying capacity. The results will be catastrophic: erosion, desertification, soil exhaustion, species extinction, and water contamination that will, sooner or later, lead to massive famines. His ideas were embraced by writers like Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring) and Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb).

In the mid-'50s Borlaug created a wheat that produced 10 times as much grain than before, beginning what was call 'The Green Revolution.' In Asia, before Borlaug's new, high-yielding rice varieties were introduced in the 1960s, at least half of Asia lived in hunger and want; farm yields in many places were stagnant or falling. The new high-yielding rice varieties nearly tripled rice harvests. Even though the continent's population has soared, Asian men, women, and children consume an average of 30% more calories than when the high yield rice was introduced.

However, as Vogt had predicted, the enormous jump in productivity led to enormous environmental damage: drained aquifers, fertilizer runoff, aquatic dead zones, and degraded and waterlogged soils. Worse in a human sense, the rapid increase in productivity made rural land more valuable. Suddenly it was worth stealing -- and rural elites in many places did just that, throwing poor farmers off their land.

Also the Green Revolution would merely postpone the hunger crisis; it was a one-time lucky break, rather than a permanent solution. And our rising numbers and wealth mean that our harvests will have to jump again -- a second Green Revolution would be needed.

Even though the global population in 2050 will be just 25% higher than it is now, farmers will have to boost food output by 50% to 100%, due to increased affluence (eating animal products). Growing feed for animals requires much more land, water, and energy than producing food simply by growing and eating plants.

Farmers can't plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use. Nor can the use of fertilizer be increased; it is already being overused everywhere except some parts of Africa, and the runoff is polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. Irrigation, too, cannot be greatly expanded-most land that can be irrigated already is.

Part of the Green Revolution's success was due to the discovery of a method to produce fertilizer from nitrogen. A little more than 1% of the world's industrial energy is devoted to it. "That 1 percent," the futurist Ramez Naam has noted, "roughly doubles the amount of food the world can grow." The environmental scientist Vaclav Smil has estimated that nitrogen fertilizer from the Haber-Bosch process accounts for "the prevailing diets of nearly 45% of the world's population."

But this innovation also damaged the environment. The 40% of the fertilizer applied in the past 60 years that was not absorbed by plants was washed away into rivers or seeped into the air in the form of nitrous oxides. In the water it boosted the growth of algae, weeds, and other aquatic organisms. When these die, they fall to the floor of the river, lake, or ocean, where microbes consume their remains. The respiration of these microbes drains oxygen from the lower depths, killing off most other life. Nitrogen draining off farms along the Mississippi end up in the Gulf of Mexico every summer, creating an oxygen desert. In 2016 the dead zone covered almost 7,000 square miles. Another dead zone of 23,000 square miles was mapped in the Bay of Bengal, off the east coast of India in 2017.

Nitrous oxide from fertilizers is a major cause of pollution. High in the stratosphere, it combines with and neutralizes the planet's ozone, which guards life on the surface by blocking cancer-causing ultraviolet rays.

A landmark 2011 study from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that up to a third of the world's cropland is degraded.

Our story now goes back to the 1940s. Albert Howard and his wife, Gabrielle, bred new varieties of wheat and tobacco in India, developed novel types of plows, and testing the results of providing oxen with a superhealthy diet. By 1943, they were convinced that soil was not simply a base for chemical additives. It was an intricate living system that required a wildly complex mix of nutrients in plant and animal waste: harvest leftovers, manure. Their idea of returning to the soil of all available vegetable, animal, and human wastes became the founding document of the organic movement.

After 1943 scientists discovered that plants need nitrogen chiefly to make a protein called rubisco, an enzyme needed to make roots, stems, leaves, and seeds. Rubisco is an enzyme that takes carbon dioxide from the air, and uses it in the process of photosynthesis.

Rubisco is an inept, inefficient enzyme, so plants make a lot of it to do the job. This requires a lot of nitrogen to do so. However, nature has produced a work-around: C4 photosynthesis. C4 is a four-carbon molecule that turbocharges plant growth. This involves a special adaptation of leaf anatomy.

When carbon dioxide comes into a C4 leaf, it is initially grabbed not by rubisco but by a different enzyme that uses it to form a compound that is then pumped into special, rubisco-filled cells deep in the leaf. These cells have almost no oxygen, so rubisco can't bumblingly grab the wrong molecule. The end result is exactly the same sugars, starches, and cellulose that ordinary photosynthesis produces, except much faster. C4 plants need less water and fertilizer than ordinary plants, because they don't waste water on rubisco's mistakes.

C4 photosynthesis has been found in more than 60 plants. Corn, tumbleweed, crabgrass, sugarcane, and Bermuda grass -- all of these very different plants evolved C4 photosynthesis.

Scientists from around the world are trying to convert rice into a C4 plant-- one that would grow faster, require less water and fertilizer, and produce more grain. Rice is the world's most important foodstuff, the staple crop for more than half the global population. An estimated 40% increase rice production is needed to satisfy increasing population numbers and increasing affluence. Meanwhile, the land available to plant rice is shrinking as cities expand into the countryside, thirsty people drain rivers, farmers switch to more-profitable crops, and climate change creates deserts from farmland.

The C4 Rice Consortium is a genetic-engineering project funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This genetic engineering is NOT like Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean, which contains a snippet of DNA from a bacterium that was found in a Louisiana waste pond. That snippet makes the plant assemble a chemical compound in its leaves and stems that blocks the effects of Roundup, Monsanto's widely used herbicide. The foreign gene lets farmers spray Roundup on their soy fields, killing weeds but leaving the crop unharmed.

The C4 Rice Consortium scientists are trying to refashion photosynthesis, one of the most fundamental processes of life. Because C4 has evolved in so many different species, scientists believe that most plants must have precursor C4 genes. The hope is that rice is one of these, and that the consortium can identify and awaken its dormant C4 genes-following a path evolution has taken many times before. No company will profit from the result; the International Rice Research Institute, where much of the research takes place, will give away seeds for the modified grain, as it did with Green Revolution rice.

In addition to C4 rice, other projects are attempting self-fertilizing maize, wheat that can grow in salt water, and enhanced soil-microbial ecosystems.

All attempts to compare organic farming with new technology has shown that organic farms yield fewer calories per acre than techonology-enhanced farms -- sometimes by a little, sometimes by quite a lot.

But evaluating farm systems wholly in terms of calories per acre is folly. It doesn't include the sort of costs identified by Vogt: fertilizer runoff, watershed degradation, soil erosion and compaction, and pesticide and antibiotic overuse. It doesn't account for the destruction of rural communities. It doesn't consider whether the food is tasty and nutritious.

Organic farmers have their own innovations: planting perennials that come back summer after summer, for as long as a decade. Perennial grasses build up root systems that reach deep into the ground, they hold on to soil better and are less dependent on surface rainwater and nutrients than annual grasses. Many of them are also more disease-resistant. Perennials emerge from the soil earlier in the spring and keep photosynthesizing longer in the fall, they have a longer growing season. They produce food year after year with much less plowing-caused erosion. They could be just as productive as Green Revolution-style grain, but without ruining land, sucking up scarce water, or requiring heavy doses of polluting, energy-intensive fertilizer.

A perennial cousin to bread wheat, wheatgrass was introduced to the Western Hemisphere from Asia in the 1930s as fodder for farm animals. This wheatgrass has been crossbred among the best performers in an attempt to make a commercially viable perennial. The Land Institute, a nonprofit agricultural-research center dedicated to replacing conventional agriculture with processes akin to those that occur in natural ecosystems has been developing wheatgrass since 2002. Its new variety of intermediate wheatgrass is named Kernza. The Land Institute hopes to have field-ready, bread-worthy wheatgrass with kernels that are twice their current size (if still half the size of wheat's) in the 2020s, though nothing is guaranteed.

Other attempts to feed people are being made: creating a hybrid of bread wheat and wheatgrass; focus on tubers and trees, both of which are generally more productive than cereals. The point is to have multiple ways to meet tomorrow's needs.

And then there is to consider the kind of society tied to each of these two ideologies: The Borlaugians (followers of Borlaug) ideal for society is that the drudgery of agriculture should be eased and reduced as much as possible to maximize individual liberty. National governments (except for China) have directed labor away from agriculture. The goal was to consolidate and mechanize farms, which would increase harvests and reduce costs, especially for labor. Farmworkers, no longer needed, would move to the cities, where they could get better-paying jobs in factories. Both the remaining farm owners and the factory workers would earn more, the former by growing more and better crops, the latter by obtaining better-paying jobs in industry. The nation as a whole would benefit: increased exports from industry and agriculture, cheaper food in the cities, a plentiful labor supply.

There were downsides: Cities in developing nations acquired entire slums full of displaced families. And in many areas, including most of the developed world, the countryside was emptied -- exactly what Borlaugians intended, as part of the goal of freeing agriculture workers to pursue their dreams.

To Vogtians, agriculture is about maintaining a set of communities, ecological and human, that have cradled life since the first agricultural revolution, 10,000-plus years ago. It can be drudgery, but it is also work that reinforces the human connection to the Earth. doclink

Karen Gaia says: more food means more people survive, and affluent lives means people live longer, both of these add to population growth.

Limits to growth will force families or society to make the unhappy choice between shorter life spans, one child families and poverty.

China before industrialism and Cuba are two examples of agriculturally-organized societies that we might look to. Cuba was, at one time, called the most sustainable country in the world.

When Does Human Life Begin? Aristotle and Ensoulment

WOA website   By: Karen Gaia

Pro-life proponents claim that human life begins at conception, which could lead to the conclusion that abortion is murder. However, 'life' is a quality that plants, bacteria, dogs, termites, humans, and other living entities have. Life is described as "A distinctive characteristic of a living organism from dead organism or non-living thing, as specifically distinguished by the capacity to grow, metabolize, respond (to stimuli), adapt, and reproduce." .. Biology Online Dictionary https://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Life

The Catholic Church uses ensoulment as a criteria to determine if a fetus is worthy of protection from abortion. The determination of when this ensoulment occurs during the development stages of a human -- from conception to birth -- has changed over the last several centuries.

Catholics claim they have been anti-abortion pretty much forever. While it is true that they considered it was a sin, they did not always treat it as the crime of murder.

From the time of Aristotle and up until the 19th century, Catholics based their timing of ensoulment in the human zygote on the embryology of Aristotle.

Aristotle's On the Generation of Animals was produced in the latter part of the fourth century B.C. It was the first work to provide a comprehensive theory of how generation works and the first scientific work on embryology. https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/generation-animals-aristotle

Chapter 3 of Book II defines the degree of "aliveness" at various stages of embryological development. This is the section in which Aristotle discusses three different types of human souls: a nutritive soul, imbued from the very beginning; a sensitive soul, imbued later; and finally the intellective soul, imbued forty days after conception for a male embryo and eighty days for a female embryo. The nutritive soul, also called the vegetative soul, is the essence possessed by all living things , including plants, and can be considered the lowest level of soul. The sensitive soul is what separates plants from animals, and provides animals the ability to move and to interact with the world around them. The intellective soul is what separates humans from all other animals, and allows humans to think and reason.

Until the late 19th century, most popes and Catholic's alike did not believe that the soul was infused at conception. Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) said that an embryo wasn't human until it was 40 days old and therefore was not homicide to kill an embryo less than 40 days from conception. His successor, Sixtus V, disagreed completely. Sixtus V's successor, Gregory XIV (1590-1591), said to pretend that Sixtus V's were never issued. For centuries Catholic leaders varied in their beliefs on if the soul was infused at conception or not, and if abortion was allowed, especially when it threatened the husband's marriage/honor and/or the women's life.

An article which claims to prove that ensoulment occurs at conception is at http://catholicism.org/ensoulment-theories-and-the-abortion-debate.html . Its claim is based on modern understanding of the development of the human from conception to birth, but it did not seem it very convincing. "Having all the necessary genetic information and immanent activity heading towards full maturation, the full development of the human body is already in dynamic process; therefore, the human soul must be there."

Doesn't this same argument apply to the egg and the sperm before they unite? After all, they are the two essential parts of a human 'person'.

But once an egg is fertilized, the pregnancy has a 31% chance of ending in a miscarriage. Often this happens even before woman knows she is pregnant. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/27/us/study-finds-31-rate-of-miscarriage.html . Does this sound like "heading for full maturation"?

Up to 70% of first-trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal anomalies. Examples inclulde blighted ovum: where no embryo forms; intrauterine fetal demise: where an embryo forms but stops developing and dies before any symptoms of pregnancy loss occur; and molar pregnancy: where both sets of chromosomes come from the father - there is usually no fetal development. These do not sound like "heading for full maturation".

Is the notion that ensoulment occurs at conception believable when there are so many miscarriages? The potential to become human does not exist for these products of conception.

Every woman should have the right to do what they want with their body. About 30% of women will have had at least one abortion in their life if current abortion rates continue.

Why should the religious beliefs of a patriarchal church outweigh the beliefs of women that they have the right to terminate a pregnancy they don't want or that would be a threat to their life, or that would interfere with the well-being of her family? doclink

What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?

January 20, 2018, Christian Bible Reference Site

Prior to 1973, abortion was legal in some of the 50 states of the U.S., usually with restrictions. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade decision, ruled that a woman has a right to an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. However, the states are still allowed to regulate abortion during the second trimester and prohibit it during the third trimester. Since that time, abortion has become one of the most controversial and divisive issues within society.

Pro-life activists represent one extreme of opinion. They believe life begins at the instant of conception. Therefore, abortion is murder and is prohibited by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). They strongly support laws banning all or almost all abortions.

Abortion is never mentioned in the Bible, despite the fact that it has been practiced since ancient times by a variety of means. However, a number of Bible passages have been cited as evidence that a fetus is truly a living human being and deserves the same protection. They may well state some general principles that are relevant, but none of them were originally intended as statements about abortion.

The following three passages and others are sometimes cited as evidence that abortion is wrong. However, when read in context, it seems clear that was not the intended message.

Luke Chapter 1 tells about God's intervention in the miraculous births of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(NIV, Luke 1:39-44) At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

Jeremiah Chapter 1 is about Jeremiah's call as a prophet.

(NAS, Jeremiah 1:4-5) Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Job Chapter 10 is Job's plea to God to relieve his unfair suffering.

(NIV, Job 10:2, 8-9) I will say to God: ... "Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?

The passage below from Genesis Chapter seems to suggest that a person is not living until he or she takes a first breath after birth. Life is equated with breath throughout the Bible.

(NIV, Genesis 2:7) The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

However, Genesis Chapter 2 is actually about God's creation of mankind as special and spiritually-aware beings.

The passage below seems to say that causing death to a fetus is not as serious a crime as causing death to a person, but it is actually just part of a long section specifying the punishments for various crimes.

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (NAS, Exodus 21:22-24)

However, the belief that life begins at conception does not have clear support from medical science, the Bible, religious tradition or legal tradition.

Abortion, infanticide and child abandonment were permitted under Roman law at the time of Jesus.

Some early Church fathers (e.g., Tertullian) wrote against abortion, and it has been considered sinful throughout Church history. However, early Christians apparently did not view abortion as murder until well beyond conception. In the thirteenth century, Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that a soul enters the body at 40 days after conception for males and 80 days for females. That became church doctrine for many centuries, and abortion before that time of ensoulment was not considered a mortal sin. The belief that life begins at conception apparently has its origins in an 1869 decree by Pope Pius IX that abortion at any point in pregnancy was cause for excommunication.

English common law apparently tolerated abortion until "quickening," the first detectable fetal movements, around the fifth month. Similarly, abortion was largely unregulated in the U.S. until the mid 1800s. Laws against abortion were passed around 1900, but the primary reasons had to do with the injuries and deaths resulting from unskilled abortions and a struggle between opposing factions for control of medical practice.

Polls typically show that about 28% of people in the U.S. say abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Another 17% say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. A majority, 54%, favor legal abortion in some circumstances. The Roman Catholic Church is strongly associated with the movement to outlaw abortion, but the polls actually show that the views of Catholics on this issue do not differ from the rest of the population.

Many people have deep and serious doubts about the morality of abortion. At the same time, they believe abortion may be the lesser of evils in some cases. Situations thought to justify abortion include, with varying degrees of acceptance, danger to the mother's life, defective fetus, rape, incest, teen pregnancy, risk to the mother's physical or emotional health, unstable family situations, mental retardation of the mother, etc.

Before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion throughout the U.S., many women living in areas where abortion was not allowed simply traveled to states or countries where abortion was legal to terminate their pregnancies. Those who could not afford that option often sought out someone to perform the procedure illegally. Some sympathetic doctors were willing to help. But many illegal abortions were performed by unqualified practitioners, and many women suffered exploitation, sexual abuse, injury, infection, sterility and even death at the hands of these "back alley" practitioners. Despite some claims to the contrary, the mainstream of medical opinion is that legal abortions are very safe, with less risk to a woman's physical and mental health than continuing a pregnancy.

Some politicians exploit the abortion issue for political gain by inflaming people's passions and fears. A very small number of activists have harassed and deceived women seeking abortions, illegally blockaded clinics, harassed doctors and committed acts of violence, including murder. Such actions are clearly against Bible teachings and are not condoned by mainstream Christian denominations. However, the actions of a few have created an unfavorable view of the pro-life movement in the minds of many.

There is no general agreement among Christians, Christian theologians or Christian churches about what situations could make terminating a pregnancy the right and moral choice. However, most would agree that it is not a step to be taken if satisfactory alternatives are available. A woman or couple faced with the choice is left with medical counseling, pastoral counseling, advice of family and friends, and prayer to help with the decision.

The strong emotions surrounding the abortion issue may lead those on both sides of the issue into the sin of self-righteousness. But Jesus and other New Testament leaders taught by word and example not to condemn or shun or discriminate against those we consider to be "sinners" (Matthew 7:1-2, 9:10-13, Luke 7:36-48, 18:9-14, John 8:1-11).

A number of churches, including United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist, do not approve of abortion as a means of birth control. However, they support the right of a woman to obtain an abortion, if she deems that is the best choice in her circumstances, and they favor keeping abortion legal. Other churches, including Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist, oppose all abortions and favor making abortion illegal.

The Roman Catholic says: 2270. Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

2271. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. ... From Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., http://www.nccbuscc.org/catechism/text/index.htm

Southern Baptist: Procreation is a gift from God, a precious trust reserved for marriage. At the moment of conception, a new being enters the universe, a human being, a being created in God's image. This human being deserves our protection, whatever the circumstances of conception. From Position Statements, Copyright (c) 1999 - 2001, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, http://sbc.net/default.asp?url=position-statements.html

United Methodist: The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. doclink

How Did Half of the Great Florida Coral Reef System Disappear?

Overfishing, development and pollution have all contributed to the reef's decline, but climate change is its biggest threat. UN targets must be met to stop ocean acidification
December 27, 2017, Guardian   By: John Vidal

Along the eastern coast of Florida stretches a coral reef system hundreds of miles long - the third largest in the world. Nearly 1,400 species of plants and animals and 500 species of fish have been recorded there.

But scientists compared the latest satellite images with precisely drawn 250-year-old British admiralty charts and found nearly half the reef was missing. Only sea grasses and mud were left. Except for the missing pieces, the charts and the images were nearly identical.

Extreme rainfall and heatwaves were partly responsible, but much of it was due to the impact of humankind.

During those 250 years, fishing off the Florida Keys intensified, causeways and cities were built, pollution increased and the flow of freshwater, sediments and nutrients from the land all changed. A combination of all these factors probably killed off half the corals.

These human activities are occurring in other places where there are reefs, and the impact is now accelerating across reefs around the world as natural and new anthropogenic threats emerge and combine with deadly effect.

It only takes a rise of 1C for a few weeks or extreme rainfall for corals to begin to die. In the past 20 years, extreme weather linked to El Niño events and climate change has hit the world's shallow reefs hard.

Abnormally warm water caused the world's first recorded widespread coral bleaching in 1998. Stretches of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and other reefs off Madagascar, Belize and the Maldives, were left white and seemingly dead.

Even though corals recover and survive if conditions return to normal, widespread bleaching and other events have occurred nearly every year, leaving many of the world's reefs stressed and vulnerable to disease.

From 2008-11, extreme summer temperatures led to major flooding and pollution in Australia which badly damaged the Great Barrier Reef.

2013 saw sea temperatures rise again and the longest global coral bleaching event on record began in 2014 with another exceptionally strong El Niño. The 2016 and 2017 mass-bleaching events may now have affected nearly two-thirds of the world's shallow reefs.

In addition to bleaching, local pollution, overfishing, loss of oxygen and excess nutrient runoff have increased, and now growing acidification of the oceans is a real danger.

In the 1980s overfishing peaked in tropical and subtropical seas, impacting the near pristine Pacific and Indian ocean reefs. Shark fishing and the use of cyanide and explosives to supply fish to Hong Kong, Singapore, and mainland China has wiped out whole fish populations. Fishing gear dragged along the ocean floor has crushed corals, dynamite has shattered colonies and cyanide has killed hosts of living creatures.

The world's reefs may only cover 2% of the ocean floor but they are thought to be home to up to a quarter of the world's 500,000 known species living in the oceans.

Reefs are now recognised as essential to the whole marine ecosystem. Fish spawn and grow around coral, which in turn helps to regulate carbon dioxide levels in the oceans and protects coastal areas from erosion.

Reefs are also important economically. Tourism and fishing on the Great Barrier Reef is estimated to be worth at least $6.4bn Australian dollars (£3.7 billion) a year. Together, the world's coral reefs have been valued at $1 trillion a year.

Protected reserves are urgently needed and fishing must be controlled and policed. Farmers, cities and mining companies must reduce their pollution and prevent the runoff of sediment and nutrients into the seas.

But above all, climate change must be addressed. If the oceans continue to absorb CO2, the increased acidity will be fatal and coral bleaching will worsen. doclink

Will the World Economy Continue to "Roll Along" in 2018?

January 9, 2018, Our Finite World   By: Gail Tverberg

Today we have an oil glut, produced at a very high cost. However, there is also a huge disparity of wealth.

Most consumers cannot really afford high-priced oil products. If consumers could not afford $100+ prices back in 2013, how would it be possible for oil prices to rise to something like $97 per barrel by the end of 2018?

We cannot expect oil prices to rise to the level they did in July 2008, without recession causing oil prices to crash back down.

But low-priced oil products are bad for producers (because they produced it at such high cost).

Equity markets rallied amidst a volatility void in the lead-up to the Great Recession. Markets would make new all-time highs in late 2007 before collapsing in 2008, marking the worst annual returns (-37%) since the infamous 1937 correction.

The S&P 500 rose in 22 of 23 months between April 1935 and February 1937, in response to government spending aimed at jumpstarting the economy. By late 1937, the economy was again back in recession.

After having trillions of dollars spent on them, wind and solar make up only a tiny (1%) share of world energy supply, according to the International Energy Agency. Wind and solar are great disappointments, when total costs, including the cost of mitigating intermittency on the grid, are considered. They do not appear to be solutions on any major scale.

The world economy badly needs rising energy consumption per capita. Plans to raise interest rates and sell QE securities, when the economy is already "at the edge," are playing with fire. If we are to keep the world economy operating, large quantities of additional energy supplies need to be found at very low cost. It is hard to be optimistic about this happening. High-cost energy supplies are worthless when it comes to operating the economy because they are unaffordable. doclink