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World Population Awareness

News Digest

May 17, 2017

Africa: A Wake Up Call for Conservationists?

May 6, 2017, PopulationGrowth.org   By: Suzanne York

Conservationists attending the African Great Lakes Conference (AGLC) this past week learned that there is an integrated development model that can help make their environmental efforts successful for the long-term.

This model, which connects population, health and environment issues, will empower people with healthcare, livelihoods and education, and nature will gain greater protections.

The African Great Lakes region is incredibly biodiverse, blessed with numerous natural resources. But it is also facing deforestation, overfishing, pollution, and droughts - all exacerbated by a rapidly growing population.

Yet this crucial issue of population growth was never adequately addressed in fora such as this conference in Entebbe, Uganda.

Here's a quick snapshot of population growth in the countries in the Lake Victoria basin:

Uganda's population in 2016 was 36.6 million. It's projected population for 2050 is 101.5 million.

Kenya's population in 2016 was 101.5 million. It's projected population for 2050 is 88.2 million.

Tanzania's population in 2016 was 54.2 million. It's projected population for 2050 is 134.8 million.

Uganda is the size of the state of Oregon and has numerous national parks teeming with wildlife. More than 4 in ten births in the country are unplanned, and nearly half of the population is under the age of 15.

A group of experts on population issues called participants to "embrace the PHE approach." PHE (Population, Health and Environment), is a a rights-based integrated development model that recognizes the interconnection between protecting and managing natural resources, family planning and reproductive health, sustainable livelihoods and more.

The PHE model supports people and helps nature thrive.

PHE expert Dr. Doreen Othero, with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Kenya, said that population dynamics is the major challenge to conservation; therefore, conservation needs to address issues of population growth. She believes this can be done "if conservation projects integrate family planning, maternal health, child health, and prevention of diseases." Dr. Othero said that the gains they make in conservation will be eroded if they don't address the needs of people.

Any reluctance to tackle family planning and reproductive health issues must be overcome. Parents will do whatever is necessary for their children. If that means cutting down trees for fuel, overfishing lakes, or poaching wild animals in a national park, so be it.

Climate change, Dr. Othero noted, is caused by human activities exacerbated by an "overgrowing human population." The PHE model can help create resilient families and communities that can better adapt to climate impacts. Smaller, healthy, knowledgeable families can better demand rights and make better decisions, and thereby can understand and withstand climate change shocks.

The current draft resolution produced by the African Great Lakes Conference includes PHE as a key solution to meet the environmental challenges in the region, as well as access to contraceptives as a basic human right.

Including the PHE approach in future environmental/conservation events will be instrumental to successfully protect the world's biodiversity and cope with increasing climate impacts. doclink

Meet Bill Nye: the Population Control Guy

April 26, 2017, Conservative Review   By: Nate Madden

One may have thought that Bill Nye's new Netflix show had reached its lowest point with a crude and anti-science song about genitals and gender theory, but beyond the nonsense, Nye is also floating the theory that bringing children into this world ought to come with government-imposed penalties because of climate change.

On the season finale of "Bill Nye Saves the World," entitled "Earth's People Problem," Nye discusses overpopulation, asking a panel whether or not "we should have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?"

While one panelist said that he was slightly in favor of the idea, others took issue with the idea of telling a person how many or how few children they were allowed to have. One pointed out (likely correctly) that poorer women and/or minority women would likely be the ones penalized for this "crime."

It's spooky and chilling to say that parents should be "penalized" for daring to expand their families.

Why would we want climate alarmists - a crowd that has proposed "solutions" like these - in government positions to have this sort of power over our families?

In America, we're approaching our own depopulation problem, with a small number of younger Americans who simply will not be able to care for our aging Baby Boomers.

Such theories as Nye's are predicated on the idea of a long-discussed population bomb - a theory that says humans will overpopulate the Earth and there will not be enough resources to sustain our growth.

But the sky is not falling. Nevertheless, the bad idea persists, leading to never-ending parade of proposals like Nye's.

Saying that Earth has a "people problem" is the same thinking that treats preborn babies like burdens to be aborted instead of blessings to be supported, but applied on a much wider scale.

This is indeed dark and impoverished, but not surprising from a guy whose show peddles junk science with people dressed up colorfully as - well - "junk." doclink

Karen Gaia says: if Mr. Madden had seen the entire episode, he would have realized that Nye was not proposing that extra kids be penalized; he was merely floating the idea as devils advocate to get a response from the panel. There was much more to the show than this. Women's empowerment and ability to chose their own family size was the theme of the rest of the show.

About 'America's depopulation problem': Having children who will take care of 'our aging Baby Boomers' is terribly idiotic. Having kids while taking care of elders means a double burden for those able to earn a living. And who is going to take care of those 'extra kids' when they become Baby Boomers? Sounds like a pyramid scheme to me.

I wish these people would quit repeating the same old myths to each other. They take the word 'population', change it to 'population control' to get a knee jerk reaction, whether or not there is any control or not. The only control that works (and population-concerned people know this) is the control a woman needs over her own body to determine the reproductive destiny of her choosing.

But then Mr. Madden is anti-Planned Parenthood, so he doesn't believe in a woman's choice about her own reproduction.

Why We Should Be Concerned About Low Oil Prices

May 5, 2017, Our Finite World   By: Gail Tverberg

Gail Tverberg, in her talk "Elephants in the Room Regarding Energy and the Economy," tried to explain how the energy-economy system works at a recent workshop in Brussels.

Most people think that oil prices and other energy prices will rise as we reach limits. But oil prices can be expected to fall too low as we reach limits.

Over the last several years, oil prices in the $50 per barrel may be high enough to get "oil out of the ground," but they are not high enough to encourage necessary reinvestment, and they are not high enough to provide the tax revenue that oil exporters depend on.

Most people don't stop to think that the adverse impacts of low oil prices don't necessarily appear immediately. They can temporarily be hidden by more debt.

If wages were to rise as oil prices rise, or if there were an easily substitutable source of cheap energy, there would be no problem. The problem becomes an affordability problem.

The economists' word "demand" is confusing. A person cannot simply demand to buy a car, or demand to go on a vacation trip. The person needs some way to pay for these things.

Many people think that the increasing use of tools (technology) can save us, because of the possibility of increased productivity. But using more tools leads to the need for an increasing amount of debt.

In a growing economy we combine increasing quantities of resources, workers, and tools, to produce a growing quantity of goods and services. But if we can only use previously produced goods to pay workers and other contributors to the system, we will never have enough. Except that, with the benefit of debt, we can promise some participants "future goods and services,” and thus have enough goods and services to pay everyone.

But if we try to decrease the debt, the shrinkage acts to decrease the amount of goods and services available for distribution as pay. This is why moving from deficit spending to a balanced budget, or a budget that reduces debt, is so painful.

Falling resources per capita (i.e. growing population, limited resources) makes it harder to earn an adequate living. Think of farmers trying to subsist on ever-smaller farms. It would become increasingly difficult for them to earn a living, unless there were to be a big improvement in technology.

Also when resources are extracted from the earth, the best quality ore is extracted first, thus the metal content of the ore will drop, from, for example, 5% metal, to 2% metal, to 1% metal content, and so on. The miner needs to work an increasing number of hours to produce the ore needed for 100 kilograms of the metal. The economy is becoming in some sense "worse off,” because the worker is becoming "inefficient” through no fault of his own. This 'falling productivity per worker" tends to lower wages. And lower wages put downward pressure on commodity prices, because of affordability problems.

Today we are seeing increased specialization and falling relative wages of non-elite workers.

We seem to have already gone through a long period of stagflation since the 1970s. The symptoms we are seeing today look as if we are approaching a steep downslope. If we are approaching a crisis stage, it may be much shorter than the 20 to 50 years observed historically. Earlier civilizations, did not have electricity or the extensive international trade system we have today.

The period since 1998 seems especially flat for wages for US wage earners, in inflation-adjusted terms. This is the period since energy prices started rising, and since globalization started playing a greater role.

What looks to be beneficial -- adding tools and technology -- eventually leads to our downfall. Non-elite workers become too poor to afford the output of the economy. Adding robots to replace workers looks efficient, but leaves many unemployed.

It is easy to assume that tools and technology will allow the economy to grow forever. M. King Hubbert created a model in which the quantity of energy supply and technology are the only issues of importance. He thus missed the impact of the 'waste output' problems. The waste outputs lead to falling prices as limited supply nears, and thus lead to a much steeper drop in production than Hubbert's symmetric model would suggest.

Peak oilers recognized one important point: our use of oil products would at some point have to come to an end. But they thought high prices, not low, would be the problem. Much of the oil that seems to be technologically extractable will really be left in the ground, because of low prices and other problems.

What else, besides low energy prices and too much debt, are likely to be problems as we reach limits?

It is a false assumption that wind turbines and solar turbines produce energy that is equivalent to electricity produced by fossil fuels, or by hydroelectric. But trying to integrate solar panels into an electric grid adds a whole new level of complexity to the electrical system.

Intermittent renewables can only be used on the electric grid if they have a 24/7/365 backup supply that can be ramped up and down as needed. Unfortunately, the pricing system does not provide nearly high enough rates for this service. In South Australia, its last two coal-fired electricity power plants were lost due to inadequate wholesale electricity prices when it added wind and solar. Now the area is experiencing problems with both high electricity prices and too-frequent outages.

Additionally, new long distance transmission makes buying from neighbors optimal. This is a new version of the tragedy of the commons. Once long distance lines are available, and a neighbor has a fairly inexpensive supply of electricity, the temptation is to simply buy the neighbor's electricity, rather than build local electricity generating capacity. The greater demand, without additional supply, then raises electricity prices for all, including the neighbor who originally had the less expensive electricity generation.

It is easy to assume that EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) or some other popular metric tells us something useful about the cost of integrating intermittent renewables into the electric grid, but, in "real life," this really isn't the case.

Wind and solar are not very helpful as stand-alone devices. Yet this is the way they are modeled. Some researchers have included installation costs, but this still misses the many problems that these devices cause for the electrical system, especially as the share of electricity production by these devices rises.

As the economy grows, we tend to need more energy. Growing efficiency can only slightly offset this. Thus, as a practical matter, energy per capita needs to stay at least level for an economy to grow.

If energy prices rise, this will tend to squeeze out discretionary spending on other goods and services. If we cannot obtain energy products sufficiently cheaply, the system of economic growth will stop.

Wind and solar are part of the category at the top called "renewables.” This category also includes energy from wood and from geothermal. Many people do not realize how small this category is. Hydroelectric is also considered a renewable, but it is not growing in supply in the United States or Europe.

It takes energy to operate any kind of government. When there is not enough surplus energy to go around, citizens decide that the benefits of belonging to such organizations are less than the costs involved. That is the reason for the Brexit vote.

If the price of oil isn't high enough, oil-exporting countries generally have to cut back their budgets. Even Saudi Arabia has needed to borrow in order to maintain its programs.

Oil prices have been too low for producers since at least mid-2014. The longer the low-price scenario continues, the more likely a collapse in production is. Also, the tendency of international organizations of government to collapse takes a few years to manifest itself, as does the tendency for civil unrest within oil exporters.

Once an incorrect understanding of our energy problem becomes firmly entrenched, it becomes very difficult for leaders to understand the real problem. doclink

Meet Dr. Willie Parker, a Southern Christian Abortion Provider

May 6, 2017, New York Times   By: Nicholas Kristof

While many feminists see abortion as a matter of choice, some Christians see it as murder.

Then there are people like Dr. Willie Parker. "I am protecting women's rights, their human right to decide their futures for themselves, and to live their lives as they see fit," says Parker.

Dr. Parker is black, feminist and driven by his Christian faith to provide abortions in the South, where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy have few options.

Since childhood, Parker had been taught that abortion was wrong, and for the first half of his career as an OB-GYN, he refused to perform abortions. But then he had an epiphany that his calling was to help women who wanted to end their pregnancies.

Christianity's ferocious opposition to abortion is relatively new in historical terms.

The Bible does not explicitly discuss abortion, and there's no evidence that Christians traditionally believed that life begins at conception. St. Thomas Aquinas, the father of much of Catholic theology, believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.

One common view was that life begins at quickening, when the mother can feel the baby's kicks, at about 20 weeks. When America was founded, abortion was legal everywhere until quickening, and it wasn't until the 19th century that states began enacting laws prohibiting abortions, beginning with Connecticut in 1821.

Even in the modern era, religion has taken a more complex view of abortion than is generally realized. In the 1960s, ministers and rabbis formed the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, advising pregnant women how to obtain abortions. More than 100,000 women sought their services.

In 1968, a symposium held by Christianity Today suggested that "family welfare" concerns were good enough reasons for an abortion. The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions in 1971, 1974 and 1976 calling on church members to work for the legalization of abortion in some situations.

In 1972, a Gallup survey found that Republicans were more likely (68%) than Democrats (59%) to say abortion should be "a decision between a woman and her physician." That's partly because abortion was seen as a Catholic issue but not a Protestant one, and most Catholics were Democrats.

"I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” the Rev. W. A. Criswell, one of America's Southern Baptist leaders, said.

Yet today it's taken as self-evident among conservative Christians that life begins at fertilization. Parker accepts that a fetus is alive - but says that life doesn't begin at conception, because an egg is alive as well, and so is a sperm. "Life is a process,” he writes. "It is not a switch that turns on in an instant, like an electric light.”

Parker objects that much of the critique of abortion is based on bad science - yet doctors are sometimes legally obliged to provide incorrect information to patients. Medical opinion is that a fetus cannot feel anything like pain until about 29 weeks, long after most abortions occur, he notes.

Parker tells of seeing a woman whose fetus had Potter syndrome, in which the lungs do not develop. The woman declined an abortion for religious reasons, and the baby was born at full term and then died a painful death because she couldn't breathe.

"In this case, an absolute reverence for life led to a situation that, to my eyes, consisted of nothing less than pure cruelty,” he writes. doclink

Karen Gaia says: One out of three pregnancies end in abortion. About one-third of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Perhaps as many as one-half of fertilized zygotes are malformed and are absorbed into the body, the mother never knowing she is pregnant.

6.2 Million U.S. Women Obtained Contraceptive Services from Publicly Funded Clinics in 2015

April 24, 2017, Guttmacher Institute

In 2015, publicly funded contraceptive services helped women prevent 1.9 million unintended pregnancies; 876,100 of these would have resulted in unplanned births and 628,600 in abortions. Without these services, the rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion in the United States would all have been 67% higher, and the corresponding rates for women aged 15-19 would have been 102% higher.

Contraceptive services provided by clinics that received Title X funding helped women avert 822,300 unintended pregnancies in 2015, preventing 387,200 unplanned births and 277,800 abortions. Without the services provided by Title X-funded clinics, the U.S. unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion rates would each have been 31% higher, and the rate for women aged 15-19 would have been 44% higher. doclink

Contraceptive Usage: Bangladesh 8th, China Top in Asia

April 1, 2017, The Daily Star

China has the highest contraceptive prevalence in Asia, at 83% usage, followed by South Korea and Thailand, both at 78%.

Next comes Vietnam 76%, Sri Lanka 71%, Bhutan 67%, Singapore 66% and Bangladesh 64%.

Indonesia and India, both are among the fastest growing economies in the region and have 62% and 59% contraceptive users respectively.

Laos, Nepal and Myanmar have the next-to lowest number of contraceptive users in Asia. All three countries have just over 50% contraception usage. Pakistan, though, has just 38% contraceptive prevalence.

Growth in the number of contraceptive users is projected to be specifically high for south Asia. doclink

Karen Gaia says: it is worth noting that Laos, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan are mountainous countries, with many hard-to-reach roadless areas. Bhutan is similar, so it is amazing that its contraceptive prevalance is so high. I was also surprised that Myanmar had such a low ranking in view of its fertility rate of 2.15. Fertilty rates (2016) for these Asian countries in order of fertility rate are: Pakistan 3.8, Laos 2.76, Bhutan 2.5, India 2.45, Bangladesh 2.19, Nepal 2.18, Myanmar 2.15, Indonesia 2.13, Sri Lanka 2.1, Vietnam 2.1, Thailand 1.51, Singapore 1.2.

New Study Finds Misinformation About Abortion Pervades Across Television

Study By ANSIRH Found That Depictions Of Abortion in Popular Culture Likely Plays A Role in Promoting Inaccurate Information
April 24, 2017, Media Matters for America   By: Julie Tulbert

While abortion is a safe procedure undergone for many different personal reasons, cable news and television often depicts it as dangerous and morally bankrupt based on misinformation from discredited and biased anti-abortion groups.

Depictions like these could be a contributing factor in the political erosion of abortion rights.

A study by Media Matters found that 64% of cable news segments about abortion contained inaccurate information. Also, cable news reported inaccurate information about late-term abortion 88% of the time. The study examined segments about abortion or reproductive rights on evening cable news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from March 7, 2016 through March 1, 2017.

Television plotlines often depict abortion in inaccurate and stigmatizing ways. In a new study from the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) researched plotlines on American television from 2005 and 2016 where a character underwent an abortion or referred to having obtained an abortion. ANSIRH identified 80 abortion plotlines during this time period and found that 37.5% of them depicted abortion procedures with complications, medical interventions, or other negative health consequences. In real life, only 2.1% of abortion procedures involve these issues.

The most egregious abortion plotlines involved the supposed long-term consequences characters faced after having an abortion. Of the 80 stories, 23.85 depicted negative long-term consequences for characters who had an abortion. For example, 4% of characters who had an abortion were shown to have committed suicide, 11% were rendered infertile, and even 5% of characters were shown dying. As ANSIRH and Media Matters have pointed out, other studies have definitively shown that mental health is not substantially impacted following an abortion. In addition, having an abortion -- even multiple abortions -- is not likely to have a negative impact on fertility.

Abortion is a common and safe medical procedure. Although some of the plotlines examined by ANSIRH were set in time periods or places where abortion was illegal (procedures that have higher rates of complications and death), ANSIRH explained that television exaggerates these dangers, which can negatively impact audience's views on contemporary, legal abortion. Even in instances where the storylines depicted legal abortion, ANSIRH still found that a "markedly high" percentage misrepresented the long-term health consequences.

Right-wing media and anti-choice organizations have worked relentlessly to stigmatize abortion and vilify abortion providers -- resulting in medically unnecessary, harmful laws and decreased abortion access. Television shows ought to stop helping them spread lies and discourage public dialogue about a safe, legal, and common medical procedure. doclink

Urbanization Costs Five Billion Years of Evolutionary History

April 26, 2017, Science Daily

60% of the earth's unbuilt land surface is expected to be urban by 2030. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) have studied how plant diversity in the region of Halle an der Saale has changed in over 300 years of urbanization and have also made predictions about the future.

The researchers drew on lists of species published by botanists since the 17th century as well as data from herbaria. In the 1680s, for example, physician Christoph Knauth recorded a complete list of plant species that occurred in the area of the modern city of Halle. In the centuries that followed, during which the city's population increased more than tenfold, more than 20 botanists recorded the flora of Halle.

Using this comprehensive data, the team led by UFZ geoecologist Dr. Sonja Knapp demonstrated that the number of plant species in Halle has risen considerably between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 21st -- from 711 to 860 species. At the same time, however, the evolutionary diversity of plants has declined: native species from a wide range of plant families have died out regionally and been replaced by more closely related species. These include both common native species and non-native species introduced from other parts of the world. Overall, 4.7 billion years of evolutionary history have therefore been lost in the Halle region, so great is the loss of evolutionary diversity -- calculated on the basis of plant pedigrees.

The team calculated how the current evolutionary diversity of Halle's flora would change if, firstly, the plants found in Halle listed on the Red List of endangered species disappeared and, secondly, the most common introduced species in Germany which are not yet found in Halle were to migrate there. "Evolutionary diversity will very probably continue to fall," concluded Dr. Marten Winter from iDiv, a participant in the study.

The evolutionary diversity of plants is considered to be an important foundation for the stability of ecosystems. It stimulates the diversity of other organisms and can increase biomass production. How many millions of years of evolutionary history would need to be lost to make an ecosystem unstable is however not yet known. Researchers are therefore appealing for the precautionary protection of biological diversity. doclink

U.S.: Look Where We Need Family Planning the Most

April 21, 2017, Durango Herald   By: Richard Grossman

Note: this article was first published in the Durango Herald

"As we crawled through the city, we encountered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people."

- Ann and Paul Ehrlich, Population Bomb, 1968

Impact = Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology

- Ehrlich and Holdren, 1971

Close your eyes for a moment and conjure up an image of overpopulation. Did you picture hundreds of people hanging off a train in India, or dark-skinned crowds in a street in a poor country?

Yes, family planning is important in those scenarios. Voluntary access to modern contraception is important for humanitarian reasons in the global south.

You probably know the litany of its benefits: decreased maternal mortality, healthier children, economic savings, progress in standard of living and education, local environmental protection.

However, the need for effective, universal access to family planning and to safe, legal abortion is much more important in rich countries in the global north. This is because of the issue of consumption.

What? you might be asking. The average woman in many African countries has five or more children. Niger tops the list; the total fertility rate there is over seven!

Surely the population explosion there must be causing problems. Yes, Niger is one of the lowest ranked countries in the U.N.'s Human Development Index. Repeated drought has caused famine and population pressure and overgrazing causes environmental degradation.

Let's compare two countries in the Western Hemisphere - the U.S. and Haiti. They are, respectively, one of the richest and one of the poorest in the world. The carbon footprint of an average person in the U.S. is about 20 tons of CO2 per year, while that of a Haitian is 0.2 tons - one hundredth of ours!

Thus, it would take 100 Haitians to equal the climate damage done by one of us.

Another way to compare the impact of a single person in the two countries is with ecological footprint. The ratio between the two countries is 16:1. Thus, 16 kids of a really large Haitian family would have the same impact of a single-child family in the U.S.

I have to admit that there are several problems with this comparison: It doesn't include the two parents, the average Haitian family size is just a little over three, so I doubt that there are many as large as 16. The legacy of a large family grows over generations.

In Niger, if each generation has seven children, the number of grandchildren would be 49!

The two measures of impact are different. The carbon footprint is global because carbon emissions into the atmosphere spread over the whole planet. The ecological footprint includes carbon emissions, but it also includes effects that are localized, such as damage to the local environment.

In any case, the impact of a person in the U.S. is much greater than one in Haiti or Niger, and it is spread over the planet.

There is good news. The unintended pregnancy rate (this includes mis-timed and unwanted pregnancies) has dropped significantly in the U.S. Whereas this rate has hovered at about 50 percent for years, the latest information is that it has dropped to 45 percent.

The news is especially good for young women for whom an unintended pregnancy can be devastating. This decrease is due to increasing use of effective contraception.

It is very concerning that the new administration threatens women's reproductive health and may make contraception and abortion services either unaffordable or totally unavailable. doclink

Old Economics is Based on False 'laws of Physics' - New Economics Can Save Us

It is time to ditch the belief that economies obey rigid mechanical rules, which has widened inequality and polluted our planet. Economics is evolving
April 6, 2017, Guardian   By: Kate Raworth

The world's richest economies - in the OECD countries - have produced the highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, have ecological footprints of a size that would require 4 to 6 planet Earths if all countries had their footprint, and have become divisive and degenerative by default.

In the 1870s, pioneering economists such as William Stanley Jevons and Léon Walras were so awed by Newton's insights on the physical laws of motion which elegantly describe the trajectory of falling apples and orbiting moons - they sought to create an economic theory that matched his legacy. They wrote enthusiastically of the role played by market forces and mechanisms in pulling an economy into equilibrium.

However, since the fragility and contagion of global financial markets was exposed in the 2008 crash, their theory was proven inadequate. People and money are not as obedient as gravity, yet their false discoveries have been used to justify growth-first policymaking.

In 1955, the economist Simon Kuznets used a study with scant data to suggest that, as a nation's GDP grows, inequality first rises, then levels off, and ultimately starts to fall. Even though Kuznets warned that his work was 95% speculation, his findings were immortalized as "the Kuznets Curve"- resembling an upside-down U - and has been taught to every economics student for the past half century. The message of that curve is that, when it comes to inequality, it has to get worse before it can get better, and more growth will make it better. The Kuznets Curve became a justification for trickle-down economics and for enduring austerity today.

In the 1990s, economists Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger developed a theory that applied only to pollution and appeared to follow the very same trajectory as Kuznets' curve on inequality: first rising then falling as the economy grows. This was called the "Environmental Kuznets Curve", and the message was: when it comes to pollution, it has to get worse before it can get better and more growth will make it better.

There is one thing we have learned from the tipping points of climate change and the rise of the 1% to the near-collapse of financial markets - that it's time for economics to ditch the fake physics. Far from being a necessary phase of development, extreme inequality and environmental degradation are the result of policy choices, and these choices can be changed. In the place of laws to be obeyed, there are design decisions to be made.

Economy is like the living world: it's complex, dynamic and ever-evolving. It is time to start to steward the economic garden. Economic gardeners can help to create a thriving economy -- one that is inclusive and sustainable and will help to achieve the sustainable development goals -- by following two core principles: make it regenerative and distributive by design.

Instead of using up Earth's resources, we use them again and again and again. We learn to work with, not against, the cyclical processes of life, including those for carbon, water and nutrients. We can start turning last century's degenerative economy into this century's regenerative one.

Distributive economic design would include employee-owned companies - such as the John Lewis Partnership and Unipart - that reward committed employees rather than short-term shareholders. And community-owned renewable-energy systems that generate electricity along with income for community purpose. And creative commons licensing that enables valuable innovations.

We should mimic nature's process of natural selection, which can be summed up as diversify-select-amplify: set up small-scale policy experiments to test out a variety of interventions, put a stop to the ones that don't work and scale-up those that do. Nobel-prize-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom agreed. "We have never had to deal with problems of the scale facing today's globally interconnected society,” she wrote. "No one knows for sure what will work, so it is important to build a system that can evolve and adapt rapidly.”

Better still, every one of us can have a hand in shaping the economy's evolution. Not just in how we shop, eat and travel, but in how we volunteer, invest and protest. In how we set up new businesses, save for our pensions, license our inventions, and power our homes. doclink

Karen Gaia says: this is something we must do. However, let us not ignore the other side of the problem: growing numbers of people and being able to feed all of them. Population growth can wipe out any gains made by achieving an ideal economy.