Categories
Population

Watch these Films

            Some people learn well by hearing and others find that seeing works better. Perhaps the best way of learning uses both—video—and there’s a great new film on population.

            I am aware of several videos that have been made to inform people about overpopulation. “Mother Caring for 7 Billion” was the first to have been conceived right here in Durango, and it is excellent. Durango’s second population film, “Ancient People in Overshoot and Collapse in the Four Corners”, is still gestating. More about “Overshoot” later.

Also made in Colorado, “Growthbusters” looks at the bad side of growth with a bit of humor. “Critical Mass” features the rodent experiments by John Calhoun, which demonstrated that rat and mouse societies deteriorated when they were overpopulated. I was intrigued when I read Calhoun’s Scientific American article in 1962.

“Don’t Panic” by the sword-swallowing Hans Rosling takes a different viewpoint—that there’s no problem with population. He is wonderful showman and has some good points in this video. However, he only looks at the effects of increasing population on humans. He disregards our effect on other species—and on Earth, itself. You’ll need to go to another of his videos to see him actually swallowing a sword.

One of my favorite nonprofit organizations, the Population Media Center, demonstrates how effective the media can be. They use soap opera-like programs to deliver messages to people in developing countries with surprisingly good results. The folks get hooked on a serial drama and tune in regularly, absorbing subtle messages about empowerment of women, prevention of disease and choosing to have small families.

The latest film is “8 Billion Angels”. Whereas many documentaries feature experts speaking about the subject at hand, “Angels” starts with stories told by farmers in the fields, by an oyster cultivator and by an environmental activist in India. These everyday people tell stories showing we are experiencing the effects of climate chaos and overpopulation already. 

“Angels” seeks balance. It doesn’t lay the blame for our environmental crises only on increasing population. It also incriminates our consumption. “Angels” also points out that people are unlikely to decrease their affluence in our world of omnipresent media pushing consumption.

In addition to everyday people, several experts present their answers to environmental problems in the “Solutions” section of this film. Zoe Weil, an educator, espouses human rights and environmental preservation. Travis Rieder, a philosophy professor who spoke in Durango a couple of years ago, praises the ethics of small family size. Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center, mentions the success of a radio program in rural Ethiopia in lowering birth rates. They stress the importance of changing the norm from assuming that all women will bear children to giving birth being one of several options.

            They suggest several solutions in addition to changing the norm, including: healthcare for all, with access to effective contraception; education of girls and women; and espousing policies to slow population growth and support family planning.

            Terry Spahr, a retired businessperson, is the energy behind “Angels”. He wrote this about why “Angels” is so important: “We have an instinctive aversion to discussing unsustainable population growth because it can be fraught with emotions across the cultural, political, religious and economic spectrums. But it is a conversation we must have to ensure the future of humanity.”

For more information about “Angels” and to watch the trailer go to: https://8billionangels.org. There are links on the website to stream it, either through a local theater (if you live in the USA) or one which will work in most countries. There is also a stimulating panel discussion of the film here: https://vimeo.com/536090003/027c36e3e0

After writing Population Matters! essays for 2 decades I realized that the written word doesn’t reach everyone. Negative connotations with the word “population” is one concern, and not everyone likes to read. Art is another means to reach people, so I entered several pieces of “contraceptual art” (as opposed to “conceptual art”) in competitions.Recently I ran into Durango filmmaker, Larry Ruiz, who makes prizewinning archeological videos. Why not join forces to make a film on the reason Ancestral Puebloans left the Four Corners? One theory is their population increased to the point that drought caused them to overshoot the carrying capacity of the land. Thus, the movie “Overshoot”—coming soon! Here’s a short introduction to one of the film’s messages: https://vimeo.com/554063877 .

© Richard Grossman MD

Categories
Population

Avoid this Cure for Overpopulation

Stained human sperm

            My wife and I recently watched the dystopic action thriller “Children of Men”, about a future when women cease to give birth because men no longer make sperm. We may be approaching the time when that becomes a reality.

            It has been known for decades that men are producing fewer sperm than they did in the past. What was news to me is that modern men’s penises are getting smaller and are more likely to be malformed. Reading a scientific study on the subject made me very concerned.

            Worldwide, almost all people have tiny traces of “forever chemicals” in their bodies, also called “persistent organic pollutants” (POPs). These chemicals have been tested in animals and found to be safe at much higher levels than we carry. However, animal studies typically look at conventional measures of toxicity, such as death. What animal research may fail to discover is the effects of miniscule amounts on endocrine systems. How small is “miniscule”? Imagine a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool! To make things worse, endocrine disruptors apparently are most damaging before birth.

            POPs are hundreds of manmade substances that have wonderful uses.  Unfortunately, they also have frightening effects on people and other life. One group of POPs has hydrogen atoms replaced by fluorine—PFCs. They are used in firefighting foam and making fabric stain resistant.

            The concerning article focused on young men near Padua, Italy, who grew up in area heavily contaminated with PFCs. Men from a nearby location had not been exposed, and served as normal controls. The men with high levels of PFCs had shorter penises and smaller testicles and the quality of their semen was inferior. 

            What is most interesting is that the scientists looked at the effect of the PFC on testosterone (T) levels in these young men. The higher the PFC, the higher the T. But, you might think, doesn’t T cause men to become more masculine? Shouldn’t the opposite be the case—the higher the T, the bigger a man’s privates? That would make sense, however what happens is a bit more complicated. The shape of the PFC is similar to testosterone, so it blocks the action of the true hormone. The guy’s body tries to compensate by making more T, but its effect is blunted by the blocking action of the PFC. The exposed men had inferior semen, including more abnormal and non-swimming sperm.

            A review of 244 studies found a distinct decrease in the number and quality of sperm over the years. I think that a little skepticism is wise before interpreting those findings, however. Normal men don’t usually get a sperm count done; some of the counts were probably done for couples with fertility problems. The sperm counts were done in different countries in different populations of men so they may not be comparable. Furthermore, the studies don’t point to a cause for the problem, although British observations on dogs may help us understand the cause. The results of 244 human studies are concerning. Overall, between 1973 and 2011 the average sperm count dropped from 93 million per milliliter to just 66 million. 

            A study of guide dogs for the blind in England mirrors what is happening to men. The studs’ sperm quality, motility and number declined from 1988 to 2014. The veterinary scientists tested tissue and semen levels for two POPs— phthalates and polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs). These chemicals have been shown to affect male fertility, and were found at significant levels. They also tested the dogs’ food, finding harmful levels of these contaminants.

            Atrazine, one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals, is a POP and strong endocrine disruptor. In the USA about 70 million pounds are applied to crops yearly. It has been banned in the European Union, but has been found in many water supplies in the USA. Although it affects reproduction in both males and females, Professor Tyrone Hayes found it can turn male amphibians into females. In fact, Dr. Hayes found that atrazine causes demasculinzation and feminization of male gonads in species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

            Like it or not, we live in a sea of manmade chemicals. They were synthesized to improve our lives, but unfortunately, they are harming us and other living beings. This is not a good way to limit population growth!