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Population: Bomb or Bullshit?

Just a quick little thing to think about: you might want to read it in correlation with my previous post on population growth.

Two opposing viewpoints on population growth:

1. I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids by Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish)

2. Top ten reasons the “Population Bomb” is bullshit by Jason Blum at phenotypical.com

Which do you agree with, if either? Personally, I’ve seen a lot more written supporting the first one, but there’s a little itty bitty part of me that thinks some of what’s in the second one is common sense. If a little alarmist… maybe. But I’m not really sure it’s alarmist. See my Apocalypse Soon post for more on my perspective on that.

My point is… what’re your thoughts? Cos clearly I’m not sure.

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I Hate Cars

The title says it all. Please take into consideration the following points as you read this:

  • I don’t have a license and people give me shit about it all the time. Sometimes I think I should get one for convenience or to get people off my back, but I don’t like driving, it’s not good for the planet and I have no inclination to learn. Despite that, I probably will learn one day…. for the above reasons.
  • My partner drives a lot for work, although both of us wish she didn’t have to, and today she had a significant car accident. She’s not home yet and I am feeling all sensitive and paranoid and I just want to see her even though we’ve been texting and she has assured me she is alright.
  • My good mates had a major (car written off) accident last week, by a stupid drunk driver. They’re lucky to be alive.
  • I regularly feel terrified when in the car amongst traffic. It just gives me the heebie jeebies.
front of a ford laser, smushed in.

Our smushed car. 😦

I hate cars.

no cars sign

Here’s why:

Car maintenance. You spend a fortune maintaining an object you don’t really care about (well, I don’t), which ultimately depreciates in value until it hits rock bottom. Petrol and services and new tyres and oil and brake fluid and power steering fluid and windscreen wiper blades and cleaning and fixing broken air conditioners and rebuilding stupid broken motors. We bought our last car for $3500 and sold it two years later for $120 (including quite nice stereo, replaced tyres and a replaced motor which cost $2000).

Car insurance. It’s expensive. You pay a fortune in premiums or pay an excess. If you haven’t been driving without incident for ages it costs more. If you’re a young male it costs more. The insurance companies try to get out of paying for anything if at all possible. But you have to have it because what if something happens?

Petrol. It costs lots, is the root of many wars and conflicts and causes massive environmental damage. Petrol (oil, gasoline… whatever you call it) is super sucky.

It’s dangerous to drive. Lots of people die or are injured driving. I’m paranoid to drive. I’m paranoid to be in the car while other people are driving. People drive like maniacs sometimes. Anyone with a license can get on the road. There’s no law against driving tired, which can be just as bad as driving drunk. People drive drunk! I know they do. People speed. People get road rage and are impatient and drive in a hurry and are affected by their moods.

It’s dangerous to be a pedestrian/cyclist when you’re on or near a road. See the above reason. Car drivers tend not to be fond of pedestrians or cyclists… unless the pedestrian is pressing the crossing button so the traffic lights change in their favour. Then they praise the pedestrian. But they never give them a courtesy wave. They save that for other drivers. Cos some drivers (not all) think they are a cut above.

Cars have allowed for the proliferation of stupid car-based infrastructure, like enormous highways and oodles of roads roads roads and urban sprawl and jobs where you have to travel between sites, instead of hiring one person for one place, and another person for another place. Small community lifestyle – even amidst urban villages – is dwindling because no-one works near home anymore.

Cars have been so integrated into our culture that not driving or wanting to drive makes you appear to be a freak. When starting my new job, I downplayed it. ‘Oh, I prefer to take public transport. It’s better for the planet, for my health, you don’t have to worry about finding a park or paying for parking…’. Some folks thought that was fine. But on the days where I have to travel further afield, people suggest using a company car. I often end up car-pooling, which is fine, but I’d rather catch the bus or train. People talk to me like they feel sorry for me though, and offer me a lift. If I try to suggest that I’m ok, they steamroll the issue. My dad suggested they might just want to be able to use the T2 lane, but I don’t think so. I think they feel like they’re doing their civic duty by offering the poor public transport girl a ride.

Ok, maybe some of them are being nice. Maybe it’s my own internalised feelings that make the offers seem a tad condescending. Sometimes it feels like I’m the kid that my parents have to drop off places cos I’m not old enough to drive.

But – and here’s a catch 22 – because cars are so integrated into our culture and society, sometimes it really is more convenient to get a car ride, and I want someone to offer me a lift. So sometimes I resent it and sometimes I want it. Which makes me pissed off at myself and the world. But not at the people who offer me lifts. *sigh*

The integration and proliferation of cars means less walking, riding, running, bussing, training, ferrying… which means less fitness, less health, less wellness. Instead we sit alone, sedentary, inside our cars, stuck for ages in giant traffic jams, idling, as the fumes waft into the atmosphere. While I wait at bus stops, sometimes a play a little game with myself where I count the number of people in the cars that go by. I put them into two teams – the single-person car and the multi-person car. They compete. The single-person car always wins. Most car rides are made alone.

The reason that most closely pertains to this blog is the environmental impact of course. You all know it. Go mad on Google for a while. Stumble around on StumbleUpon, if you’ve got some environmental pages saved (it’ll show you more of the same – check my account out if you want an example). Basically, driving alone – the way the vast majority of Australians travel – is the most polluting, environmentally damaging way to get around.

co2 emissions (pounds per passenger). single car = 1.1. jet = 0.97. carpool with 3 people = 0.37.

single-car driving sucks.

So let’s sum it up:

  • Expensive (maintenance, insurance, repairs, registration)
  • Causes world conflict
  • Dangerous (for the drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians, wildlife)
  • Screwing with society (infrastructure, work-life balance, urban sprawl)
  • Unhealthy (sedentary as compared to physical, plus pollution is bad for the lungs, eyes etc)
  • Environmentally hazardous (pollution, oil collection etc)

And we lovely little human beings stick with it, for all that, because of convenience… or perhaps more to the point, because we believe or have been conditioned to believe that cars are necessary. A requirement. We wouldn’t have one if it wasn’t for Yankee Elv’s job. Or if we did, we wouldn’t use it for anything more than the odd camping trip or visit to my parents. At least, we wouldn’t if there was better infrastructure. Bah.

Cars suck.

I wanna go live in a place without cars, or in a place where those communal car companies make cars available in the suburbs, rather than just in the city. Why do you need them in the city? You’re IN THE CITY with a MILLION BUSES and TRAINS and FERRIES and WALKING PATHS and FOOTBRIDGES…

Yeah, it’s not a great day for me. I’m ticked off. And I hate cars.

The end.

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Eco Sex Ed

I read about issues outside of concerns for the environment (I know, gasp!), and one of the things I’ve been reading about lately is the efficacy of school sex ed programs. Mr Teeny-bop is right around the age where, although he’s so young it scares me, you gotta seriously think about it. Australia is pretty open-minded about sex (legal age is 16, the kids start learning about condoms and stuff in primary school). In America, however, lots of places rely on abstinence-until-marriage type of advice, which is about as effective as paper parasol in a monsoon. Yeah, I just made that analogy (metaphor?) up.

There’s been some discussion recently, on some blogs I read, about moving towards an abstinence-until-ready style message instead, which is in keeping with growing acceptance of de facto families. (Read Alex DiBranco’s post, Could Abstinence-Until-Ready Programs Work? for more detail.) Adding to the confusion is the way the messages can be interpreted for different cultural groups. For example, Whitney Teal’s post on Abstinence Education, Minority Teens and Religion on the Women’s Rights blog indicates that even in areas where safe sex (condoms, birth control pill etc) is advocated, there is still reasonably high numbers of teen pregnancies among Black and Hispanic populations, likely due to the higher importance these groups (typically) place on religion. Safe sex is pre-meditated sex (you have to plan to get a condom or the pill), which means you willfully had sex outside of marriage, and didn’t just get caught up in the heat of the moment. The latter is considered more acceptable.

So when I saw this post on Endangered Species condoms on ecorazzi, it occurred to me that the environment might just be the one thing that crosses cultural, religious and socio-economic divides. I wonder if anyone has thought about using eco-consciousness as a motivator for safe sex?

The crux of the argument is that condoms reduce unplanned pregnancy, which in turn reduces overpopulation. I talked more about why overpopulation is bad here, but the Centre for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona is specifically making a point about how overpopulation is affecting plants and animals, particularly endangered species. Think of the images of the polar bears on shrinking ice caps and all the stories we’ve heard lately of the demise of wild tigers. Think of the orangutans in Indonesia, dying as their forests are cleared to plant palm trees for palm oil. All of these animals, and many more, are dying due to human influence – influence that would be dramatically reduced if we simply had fewer people living on the Earth.

So their solution is to start their own little safe sex ed campaign, complete with pretty pictures and the opportunity to win a lifetime supply of condoms. I think it’s pretty genius.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

I also think schools everywhere, but particularly in those places with a lot of cultural and religious resistance to the use of condoms, could jump on the bandwagon. The choice of whether or not to have sex before marriage and how you’ll do that is a personal one, but the choice of whether or not to damage the environment is one that everyone has a stake in. Maybe this could be another tool to help kids who struggle with the idea of pre-meditated sex, to justify making the decision to stay safe.

Or you could do what I do. Lesbianism* is a great form of birth control.

*There are condoms and dams same-sex couples can and should use too; there are other reasons to have safe sex outside of preventing pregnancy. You know it, I know it, but I gotta say it…

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Spotlight: Population Growth

Population growth is such a dilemma for me… I know that if I have more kids I want to have more than one. I have had the experience of raising an only child and wouldn’t want to do it again – siblings are so important to a child’s social growth. But is it worth giving a kid a sibling if doing so could damage the planet they will have to live on after I’m gone? This is especially relevant if everyone thinks the same way and wants lots of kids too. I’m so unsure about how to move forward with that.

I found the most awesome simulation of population growth/decline, relative to CO2 emissions. Check it out at breathingearth.net.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Basically, it shows how many people are dying and being born, and how much CO2 is being emitted – by country, as you watch. You can hover your mouse pointer over different countries to get statistics at the bottom left. The key at the bottom is pretty easy to follow, and there’s an explanation of where the data came from below the simulator.

This is a stupendous way to really see the impact of population growth and CO2 emissions and how they’re linked. I was surprised to find that even small, apparently eco-friendly countries (like New Zealand, for example) often have something like a birth rate double that of their death rate. And I really thought Australia was at Zero Population Growth (ZPG), but maybe stupid Costello’s 2006 census speech, imploring Australians to have more children – ‘one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country’ – has reversed that. What a twit. Alternatively, maybe I confused ZPG with a downward trending birth rate percentage – it’s still higher than the death rate, but not by as much as it was some years ago.

In fact though, I’ve been hovering over lots of countries in the simulation and Sweden is the only one I’ve found with a ZPG. I’ve found none with a negative growth. It doesn’t seem to matter if the country is rich, poor, at peace or experiencing war, which continent it’s on…

CO2 emissions are consistently high across the board as well, but of course they are higher for larger countries, and particularly larger countries in the west. Although Australia’s seems quite low, when you compare it to the population, it’s actually pretty significant.

This brings me back to the question of what to do about having more children.

  • Do greenies (and ultimately everyone) have to be altruistic and give up their dreams of multi-child families? We’ve seen how that works in China, with the One-child policy. Now there are significantly more boys than girls and impacts such as decreased marriage prospects, increased crime and social difficulties are becoming obvious. I don’t think this is the best choice.
  • Perhaps international adoption needs to be made easier and more socially acceptable. For example, I would love to adopt, but in Queensland, you need to have been married for at least two years to even be eligible, and since gay marriage is illegal, that’s not going to happen for me. Plus, Australia has limited adoption arrangements with other countries, and many of the countries with an abundance of orphans (such as war-torn countries) are also very conservative and against sending children home with same-sex parents. Even so, in an ideal world there would be no war, no illness and thus much fewer orphans, so ideally, this wouldn’t be a long-term solution.
  • Do we need to revisit the idea of a kibbutz, so children get to grow up with ‘siblings’ without the corresponding population increase? I’m not the biggest fan of the way the ‘Children’s Societies’ were managed, but some kind of communal living and financial/social equality appeals to me. A lot of eco-villages work similarly, but based on the experiences of similar living situations in the past, it seems that many of these places work well in theory but not so well in practice.

It’s not an urgent issue for me, but dudes, if you have any ideas, I’m open to suggestions.

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