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World Population Awareness

News Digest

January 14, 2018

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

William Rees: What's Driving the Planet's Accelerating Species Collapse?

November 16, 2017, ValueWalk   By: Peakprosperity

At the dawn of agriculture, just ten thousand years ago, human beings accounted for less than 1% of the total mammalian biomass on the planet. Today, human beings account for about 32 - 35%of the total biomass of mammals. So, humans have gone from less than 1% of the total biomass to over 98.5% of an increased biomass. doclink

The Great Nutrient Collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.
September 13, 2017, Politico   By: Helena Bottemiller Evich

Irakli Loladze, a mathematician with an interest in biology, discovered in 1998 that zooplankton -- microscopic animals that float in the world's oceans and lakes -- were getting less nutrients when the algae that they were feeding on got more lot, even though the additional light caused the algae to grow more. In other words, the zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic and published a paper in 2000. But he soon discovered that the application of his model was wider than he imagined, and he started to think about human nutrition.

The problem with crops, isn't that crops are suddenly getting more light: It's that for years, they've been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae -- junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack -- then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same.

For the next 17 years Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. He found that "Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising." ... "We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history -- injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply."

In agricultural research it's been understood for some time that many of our most important foods have been getting less nutritious. Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years.

We've been breeding and choosing crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition, and higher-yielding crops tend to be less nutrient-packed.

In 2004, a landmark study of fruits and vegetables found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops since 1950.

The researchers concluded this could mostly be explained by the varieties we were choosing to grow.

Before the industrial revolution, the earth's atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century -- essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn't be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it's good for plants, and what's good for plants is good for us.

An experiment in which researchers create large open-air structures that blow CO2 onto the plants in a given area has shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they're grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as "C3" -- which includes approximately 95% of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes -- elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have show these important minerals drop by 8%, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of the same crops, with wheat and rice dropping 6% and 8%, respectively.

Now new studies are coming out that attempt to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

Recently Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service (USDA) headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, decided to look at golden rod, a wildflower considered an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter.

Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven't bred it into new strains, it hasn't changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive -- which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution -- and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska's paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

In 2014, Samuel Myers, a doctor turned climate researcher at Harvard University who leads the Planetary Health Alliance, a new global effort to connect the dots between climate science and human health published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States that also found rising CO2 led to a drop in protein, iron and zinc.

Also in 2014, Loladze published his own paper, the result of more than 15 years of gathering data on the same subject. It was the largest study in the world on rising CO2 and its impact on plant nutrients. He had found that his 2002 theory -- or, rather, the strong suspicion he had articulated back then -- appeared to be borne out. Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8% on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

What that means for humans -- *whose main food intake is plants -- is only just starting to be investigated. Researchers who dive into it will have to surmount obstacles like its low profile and slow pace, and a political environment where the word "climateā€¯ is enough to derail a funding conversation. It will also require entirely new bridges to be built in the world of science -- a problem that Loladze himself wryly acknowledges in his own research. When his paper was finally published in 2014, Loladze listed his grant rejections in the acknowledgements. doclink

Extremely Endangered Tiger Losing Habitat -- and Fast

A new study renews fears that oil palm plantations could drive the legendary cats extinct
December 10, 2017, National Geographic magazine   By: Stephen Leahy

Despite successful anti-poaching efforts, the Sumatran tiger population has declined about 17% since 2000, to just 600 animals left in the wild. Between 2000 and 2012, some 17% of prime tiger habitat was torn down, mainly for oil palm plantations, which covers nearly 30 million acres of the country. Sixty years ago Sumatra likely had a dozen of these secure source populations across the island. Today there are just two. doclink

New Evidence Confirms Risk That Mideast May Become Uninhabitable

March 13, 2017, IPS Inter Press Service   By: Baher Kamal

In the Middle East and North Africa fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years and per capita availability of fresh water in the region is now 10 times less than the world average, reports the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

This sharp water scarcity not only affects the provision of drinking water for most of the region's 22 countries, home to nearly 400 million inhabitants, but also the availability of water for agriculture and food production for a fast growing population.

FAO predicts that by the end of this century higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields a further 27% to 55% less by the end of this century. Fresh water resources in this region are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050.

90% of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45% of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion.

Agriculture in the region uses around 85% of the total available freshwater. Moreover, over 60% of water resources in the region flows from outside national and regional boundaries.

FAO's director general Jose Graziano da Silva said that access to water is a "fundamental need for food security, human health and agriculture", and its looming scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an "urgent and massive response".

In the Nile Delta -which hosts the most fertile lands in Egypt- almost 100 million people will be exposed to the danger of losing substantial parts of the most productive agriculture land due to salinization.

A study published in the journal Nature concludes that conditions in the Persian Gulf region, including its shallow water and intense sun, make it "a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future." doclink

When a Woman Can Control When She Has Children, She Can Control Her Future

In Australia we often take the access to contraception for granted. We have to talk about the right to reproductive choice for women globally
November 27, 2017, Guardian   By: Chris Turner

The author, who works for the NGO Marie Stopes, tells us that reproductive rights are not guaranteed anywhere.

In urban areas people come to Marie Stopes clinics and in rural or remote settings Marie Stopes take their services to the people. In Papua New Guinea the author has spoken to women who were afraid for their lives because they knew someone who had died during childbirth. One woman had been told by a local health worker she would "probably die" if she became pregnant again. The author has met men who worried deeply about conflict in their villages as the population grew and land became scarce. In Cambodia he has met young factory workers who can only afford to keep their children in school as long as they can keep working. In Myanmar he has met aspirational students who are the first in their families to go to university and are not at all ready to get married. The need to control their own fertility, and the challenge to do so, binds this diverse group together.

In Australia, senator Cory Bernardi recently introduced a motion intended to undermine abortion rights for Australian women. His series of proposals covered abortion funding, greater scrutiny of the activist group GetUp, and White Ribbon Australia's support for abortion, including late-term terminations. In the US, employee rights to contraception in their healthcare coverage have been rolled back and support to family planning programs in developing countries slashed.

We need to fight to keep our current rights but should also fight to extend that franchise to others. Family planning is fundamental to both individual empowerment and national development and yet is somehow regularly overlooked by bureaucracies or targeted for elimination by conservative forces. There are 214 million women in the developing world who don't want to have a child right now but don't have access to family planning. As a result they are less able to control their futures. Their health, education, employment prospects and very standing in society will all be impacted by something Australians so often take for granted - the ability to choose. doclink

World Vasectomy Day: How to Engage Men in Family Planning Efforts

November 15, 2017, Devex   By: Ana Karina De La Vega Millor, Jonathan Stack

It is appropriate that we focus on women and girls because of the persistent and debilitating gaps in global access to education, health care, and economic opportunity between the genders.

However, there is also a gap in funding and research to engage men, which not only makes overall family planning objectives more elusive, but puts even greater stress and pressure on women to shoulder the burden of contraception on their own.

The majority of family planning options are designed for women, and options for men are limited to condoms, vasectomies, and the withdrawal method of contraception.

However, World Vasectomy Day has shown that. when provided thorough information through compelling stories, men will, in fact, participate in family planning, including opting for a vasectomy.

DKT International, DKT Mexico, the National Center for Gender Equity and Reproductive Health and the Mexico City Ministry of Health, have joined forces to celebrate World Vasectomy Day on its fifth anniversary.

With 1,200 vasectomists in 50-plus countries participating, World Vasectomy Day is the largest male-focused family planning event ever, using creative media to dispel vasectomy myths, raise awareness, and promote broader positive masculinity.

The government has embraced this anniversary in tandem with their 40th anniversary celebrations of Mexico's Family Planning Program.

Investing limited family planning resources in male options is not only good for family planning, but it is necessary for a healthy society. When men are involved in family planning and sexual health programs, men are more likely to participate in household work and childcare, financial resources are more readily allocated for female contraceptives, and domestic violence decreases.

Research has shown that bringing men into the family planning conversation actually increases overall contraceptive use while making broader and critical strides toward increasing gender equality.

Here are three tips for involving men.

1. Instead of opening conversations by asking men whether they want to get a vasectomy, shoot for the big-picture: How important is it that the quality of life of your children be better than your own? From there, conversations naturally cover the impact of large family sizes on ability to provide, and their desire to be part of the decision-making process. When vasectomies are seen as a tool to achieve desired family sizes and a way to care for the children they already have, men are extremely receptive.

2. DKT has found that using dynamic, open, and fun social marketing techniques dramatically increases the uptake of the nonprofit condom brand, Prudence, in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Emphasizing that good sex and being responsible lovers are not mutually exclusive might be considered scandalous by some - but it works.

The makers of Prudence have eroticized their condom messaging, celebrated sexuality, and used humorous vernacular without any medical jargon. DKT also offers resources to men for questions about sexual health through major events such as concerts, school functions, and health care fairs, and through its social media, Red-DKT call center, and Whatsapp mobile chat service.

3. The strategy of asking men to get a vasectomy as part of a public ritual celebrated globally transforms the common fear that a vasectomy leads to a loss of manhood into an increased sense of heroic purpose, all the while demystifying the procedure itself. World Vasectomy Day uses videos and media products to dispel myths while cultivating community through shared stories of real patients before, during, and after their vasectomies. Since adopting the World Vasectomy Day program, Mexico has seen an 18.1% increase in vasectomy acceptance.

By involving men in family planning programs, raising awareness of vasectomies as a simple and effective method, and celebrating the men who take part, we can truly shake up the stagnant growth in contraceptive use and global gender equality. doclink

Human Population Through Time

November 4, 2016, American Museum of Natural History

It took 200,000 years for our human population to reach 1 billion-and only 200 years to reach 7 billion. But growth has begun slowing, as women have fewer babies on average. When will our global population peak? And how can we minimize our impact on Earth's resources, even as we approach 11 billion? doclink

Karen Gaia says: The thing to remember is that population did not grow because people were having more children, but because fewer babies and people were dying.

Also, some people cling to the claim that contraception is unnatural, but so is the lengthening of the human lifespan.

A New Study Finds IUDs Dramatically Reduce the Risk of Cervical Cancer

November 7, 2017, PRI - Public Radio International   By: Agence France-presse

Women who get intra-uterine devices (IUDs) for birth control appear to face a one-third lower risk of getting cervical cancer, the third most common cancer in women worldwide, said the review in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, which included 16 previous studies spanning more than 12,000 women around the globe.

Lead author Victoria Cortessis, associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, part of the University of Southern California said: "The possibility that a woman could experience some help with cancer control at the same time she is making contraception decisions could potentially be very, very impactful."

One theory as to why the risk of cervical cancer drops so much, is that the devices stimulate an immune response that helps fight off cancer-causing infections like the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Another possibility is that when women have the devices removed, precancerous cells are scraped away that might otherwise grow into tumors.

Cervical cancer kills about 270,000 women per year and infects more than 528,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

By 2035, those numbers are expected to rise to more than 756,000 infections and 416,000 deaths, the UN health agency warns. doclink

Hormonal Birth Control Is Linked to a Higher Risk of Suicide, Study Says

November 21, 2017, Time magazine   By: Alice Park

In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers in Denmark report that women taking hormonal contraceptives - like birth control pills, the patch, the ring and hormonal IUDs - have up to triple the risk of suicide as women who never took hormonal birth control., and last year these same researches suggested that hormonal contraceptives were linked to a 70% higher risk of depression, which itself is associated with suicide.

However, the absolute risk of suicide associated with hormonal contraceptives is still extremely low, say the researchers.

They agree that the findings aren't robust enough to discourage women from using hormonal contraceptives. But they say the results should prompt doctors to discuss the potential side effects of contraceptives and to pay more attention to women who might be at higher risk, like those who have a history of depression or mood disorders.

But some scientists say the study may not have accounted for all of the potential reasons why women who use contraceptives differ from those who do not. For example, women using contraceptives are more likely to be in relationships, and that may predispose them to a higher likelihood of emotional challenges - especially for younger women, "For them, they are still more insecure in relationships and may suffer more from breakups, unhappy events and things like that," speculates Karin Michels, professor and chair of epidemiology at University of California Los Angeles. doclink