Use More Renewable Electricity

February 13th, 2019
Photo of a solar array image from Wikipedia

While our government in Washington is struggling to deny climate change, we can take action locally. Our electric coop, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), offers easy ways to do this by purchasing renewable power.

Isn’t all electricity the same? Yes, it is, if it comes through wires attached to the electrical grid. Let’s look at reasons you might want to use electricity generated in a renewable way. Do you have asthma like I do? Millions of other people in our country suffer from this and other respiratory afflictions. Breathing is made more difficult by the fine particles that escape from coal fired power plants and by smog that comes from the ozone generated by natural gas development. Those tiny particles are invisible but cause atmospheric haze. Worse is that they are also responsible for loss of life due to cancer and heart attacks.

We are already suffering the effects of climate change. Despite the welcome snow this month, southwest Colorado is still at the worst level of drought. The huge 416 wild fire last summer was much too close to home. Climate change has prolonged the forest fire season and has helped to create many more mega-fires. We are seeing the effects of anthropocentric climate disruption already! One action that we can take to slow climate change is to use less electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.

In addition to fouling the air, power plants are some of the biggest users of fresh water, which they use for cooling. Although some of the water is returned to streams or rivers, it is hotter, which can be fatal for fish and other animals. Some think that nuclear is the safest source since it is less polluting.

Every source of electricity has its drawbacks, unfortunately. This is why I sometimes write about energy in columns that focus on human population. Almost everything that people do has detrimental effects to the natural world. We can decrease that impact by decreasing the number of people, by consuming less and by technology. Using renewable power is one way of minimizing our impact.

LPEA has 2 voluntary programs to promote renewable or “green” power generated by solar, wind or hydro. Our electrical cooperative can provide part or all of your electricity from these renewable sources. The extra cost is minimal, only about 50¢ a month for the average LPEA member. A call to their friendly office staff can give you more information. They also have a program to fund local solar arrays. This Renewable Generation Fund is currently helping to support 4 projects at nonprofits. 

Your first step should be to look for ways to use less energy. That saves money and diminishes one’s impact. Turn off lights you don’t need, and install dimmers if you don’t always need to run lights at full brightness. Our local 4CORE specializes in home energy efficiency. It offers ideas to decrease waste of electricity and rebates for Energy Star® appliances.

LPEA has a great program to reimburse you for half of the cost of certain efficient LED bulbs. These use only a fraction of the “juice” of traditional incandescent bulbs and are more efficient, and safer than compact fluorescents. I’ve taken advantage of this program in the past, buying a few LEDs at a time, but I went hog-wild this year since it is the last year of the program. Soon almost all the light in our home will come from the sun or LED bulbs! LEDs are much improved and the price has come down dramatically. To find out more about this rebate program go to www.LPEA.coop—but be careful to follow the instructions carefully.

We are tied to Tri-State Generation and Transmission for all of our electricity except what is generated locally. Despite the decreasing costs of solar panels, soon people won’t be able to install solar arrays because the contract with Tri-State, which limits the amount of power that can be generated locally. Because so much of their energy comes from burning coal, they are rumored to be the most polluting power supplier in the country. Tri-State has been slow to convert to renewable sources but it appears that they are finally seeing the light; they are installing a huge solar array north of Trinidad, Colorado.

We can be proud of our electric coop for its support of renewable power, especially with its new policy to cut its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030, while keeping rates low. We need to keep pressure on Tri-State to increase their low limit on locally generated renewable power.

©Richard Grossman MD 2019

Inspire the United Nations

December 23rd, 2018

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done wonders by motivating individuals and nations to take action to slow climate change. What could happen if the United Nations formed a similar organization to slow population growth?

I probably don’t need to remind you that far and away the most effective way of slowing climate change is with small families. Indeed, of all the actions that an individual can take, having one fewer child is 14 times more effective than avoiding air travel, being a vegetarian, changing light bulbs and recycling—combined! Fortunately people all over the world are choosing to have fewer children, although I imagine that few are doing this for environmental reasons.

A friend, Rob Harding, has been working tirelessly to form a Framework Convention on Population Growth. The UN states a framework convention: “…describes a type of legally binding treaty which establishes broader commitments for its parties and leaves the setting of specific targets either to subsequent more detailed agreements… or to national legislation.” The IPCC was established by the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Harding recently attended COP24 (the annual international UN meeting to work on climate change) in Poland in order to witness how the IPCC works and to make contact with UN officials. He has written a description of his proposal for Scientists Warning, available at: https://tinyurl.com/UN-Pop-Proposal.

Harding proposes that the UN take 3 routes to slow population growth. The first is education, which is already well known to have many benefits, including a decrease in family size. Indeed, educating girls and women is one of the most effective means to do this, for several reasons. Educated women are more likely to get married later, to be more independent of their husbands and to use contraception effectively. A further benefit of education is that the offspring of educated parents are more likely to live through childhood. The mother and father will know more about sanitation, will have better incomes and will seek medical care when their kids need it. There is another advantage that might seem paradoxical: parents choose smaller families if they know that their kids will survive to adulthood.

The second effort is to make it easy for people to have access to effective contraception. Harding is careful to specify that there mustn’t be coercion. the 1994 UN’s International Conference on Population and Development turned away from family planning because of the bad experience with coercion in places such as India and China. I feel that it is very important that all family planning programs be voluntary.

I am pleased that Rob decries coercion. The most valid concern that anyone has expressed over his proposal is that the panel might be set up similar to the structure of the IPCC, where each country has a goal to reduce emissions. Goals for the number of people who used contraception (especially sterilization) are blamed for the coercive policies in India and China.

Finally, Harding’s proposal recommends promotion of smaller family size. One of the most remarkable examples of a way to influence family size influence is accidental. In Brazil apparently everyone watches TV, and soap operas are particularly popular. The families in the “soaps” are all small. This is not because the producers want to influence family size choices, but because it is difficult to manage children on a TV set. The average woman had 6 or more children 60 years ago but now the average is less than 2! One of my favorite nonprofit organizations, the Population Media Center, has worked to influence family size choices in many countries using radio and TV shows. Their methodology is very effective, including in Africa where men often want larger families than their wives, according to studies.

Although Harding is employed by a nonprofit organization that is concerned about population, he has been doing this proposal to the UN on his own time. He has already garnered support from several thousand people and about 50 organizations! His hope is to expand the network of people who are interested in the proposal, and perhaps even to find an organization that would take it over as one of its programs.

My impression, when talking with Harding after he returned home from Poland, was that the climate talks were not very productive. I also sensed that he got a dose of the complexity of the United Nations—but he is not discouraged from persisting with his important task of inspiring the UN to recognize and tackle the population problem.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2018

Give Thanks

November 24th, 2018

 

Map of Total Fertility Rates courtesy of M. Tracy Hunter

At the risk of seeming overly optimistic, I would like to make a list of good things that are happening in the world of family planning and demography. Here goes:

My perception is that people are starting to realize the advantages of having small families. Their motivation is two-fold. Many people are realizing that it is possible to be married and have a good life with just one child, or with no children at all. In the USA and in many other rich countries this is practical because we have old age benefits, but more difficult where these benefits don’t exist so people have to rely on their children. There is another, altruistic reason a few are limiting their fertility. They see that the world is already overpopulated and don’t want to contribute further to the problems we are causing.

There are better, safer and more effective contraceptive methods than 52 years ago when Gail and I got married. The number of women using highly effective methods is rising, and (thanks to some good people running altruistic organizations) some are more affordable. An example is Medicines 360 which makes the Liletta™ IUD available to nonprofit clinics for just $50.

Colorado was chosen several years ago for a 5 year experiment. Women were able to receive LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives, such as IUDs and implants) at no cost, even if they didn’t have insurance. The result was phenomenal—the unplanned pregnancy rate in our state dropped dramatically, and so did the abortion rate. I like to think of all the young people who were able to finish high school and go on to college because of this experiment. That experiment is over, but funding has continued thanks to private and state funding.

Emergency Contraceptive pills are now available without a prescription. This medication is so safe that there are essentially no cases of serious harm from taking it. It is not the best solution, because it is used after a failure—failure of a man to respect a woman, failure of a couple to use contraception or failure of a condom. Nevertheless, EC pills have prevented thousands of unplanned pregnancies.

There is also a movement to make birth control pills available without prescription (www.freethepill.org), or with a prescription from a pharmacist. Now a woman can purchase “the pill” over the internet, and in some states (including Colorado and New Mexico) pharmacists can prescribe hormonal contraceptives by following a protocol. Planned Parenthood has been doing something similar for years. A woman can purchase pills there, if all is ok, after answering a health questionnaire and having her blood pressure checked.

Although the need for abortion is decreasing, there are still all-too-many unplanned pregnancies. Access to abortion services is being curtailed in many parts of this country, causing women to have unsafe abortions. This is similar to what happened before Roe v. Wade in the USA, and is common in countries where abortion is illegal. The good news is that mifepristone and misoprostol, the pills used for a medical abortion, are available over the internet.

There are problems with internet-aided abortions. Most of these pills come from India, are expensive, some are of low quality, and they can take weeks to arrive. Unfortunately, medical care by internet has some inherent issues that will be difficult to resolve. It lacks the personal support that is so important when making an important decision. Also, there are two possible complications. Unless a woman has an ultrasound she might not know that the pregnancy is ectopic. These medications won’t cure a tubal pregnancy, which can rupture and cause serious internal bleeding. And the medications aren’t always effective in ending a pregnancy, so follow-up pregnancy tests are important.

Many countries now have Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) below the replacement rate—the number of children needed to replace the two parents. Replacement rate is slightly more than 2 because some kids die before they reach the age of parenting. This means that the countries’ populations will eventually decrease. Don’t be fooled, however—with few exceptions, all countries have increasing populations due to population momentum and increasing longevity. Of the CIA’s list of countries, only 105 have a TFR above 2.1, and 119 are less. The average TFR for the world is 2.4. We are getting closer to slowing population growth, but still adding about 80 million people to the already overcrowded planet each year.

I’ll be attending the International Conference on Family Planning this month and hopefully will have more good news for you soon!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2018

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.