Archive for October, 2011


Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

How will this Halloween be different from any other Halloween? A singular event will happen this October 31st.

That is the day demographers predict a very special baby will be born—the Earth’s 7 billionth citizen! She will probably arrive in a developing country, because that is where most of the planet’s babies are born.

What else can we say about this unique, but unidentifiable person? Let’s assume she is a girl. However, in the world’s two largest countries, China and India, girls are selected against because people value boys more than girls. Early in pregnancy some women pay for illegal ultrasounds done to determine if they are carrying a boy or a girl. If a girl, she is likely to be aborted.

And, as incredible as it may seem, femicide (selective killing of baby girls shortly after birth) is still practiced.

If the seven billionth baby is a girl born in a poor country, she will probably go to school for only a few years. Even if she finishes the elementary grades, it is unlikely that she will graduate from high school. Her lack of education is partially due to difficulty paying tuition and for the books, shoes and school uniform she would need. She will also be needed at home. Her chores will include helping her mother cook, caring for younger kids, and gathering firewood and water. It is common for women and girls to walk miles every day just to fetch water.

She may be held down and have her genitals mutilated if she lives in certain areas of Africa or the Middle East. This girl also may be promised to her future husband as a child, and be forced to marry even before she reaches puberty. It is likely that she will become pregnant as a teen, knowing little of family planning. If she is lucky, she will have a healthy baby, but too many of these young brides grow a baby larger than their bones can accommodate, with disastrous results.

She will probably stay at home when she goes into labor. If she is lucky her attendant will be a trained midwife. Too often traditional birth attendants have no formal training and rely on old wives’ tales to welcome new life. Women in labor in poor countries die at alarming rates from hemorrhage, infection and toxemia.

What can this person look forward to? I expect that the world she will join will be very different from the world that we have enjoyed. When she is a teen petroleum will be less plentiful and very pricey. As a result we in the USA will go back to many aspects of the lifestyle of our great-grandparents. We will travel less, since fuel will be very expensive.  We will live close to work to save fuel. And our homes will be smaller to save on heating and cooling.

Food will become a much larger portion of everyone’s budget. Remember the reason that food is relatively inexpensive is that much of the work to raise it depends on petroleum, and petroleum is used to make the chemicals that boost production. The world’s population has grown at a record rate in the last century largely due to the availability of inexpensive food.

Can we look 20 years into this special young lady’s future? She may be the mother of young children, and perhaps already had a child die from lack of safe water and adequate food. Her responsibilities will include cooking and caring for her family and helping her husband in the fields. If she is lucky, she may have her own small microenterprise, selling food or wares.

Past traditions will not have prepared her well for the future, since the world is changing very rapidly. In 2031 it would take two planets Earth to support our burgeoning population sustainably, unless we make enormous changes. We can alter our lifestyles to consume less; indeed, we may be forced to make substantial change. Less travel, more efficient use of energy resources and more renewable energy will become the norm.

Enabling smaller family size will be the key to continued existence. Family planning will help both survival of humans and also survival of other members of the web of life upon which we are so dependent.

This Halloween you can look forward to the usual spooks and demons at your doorstep. In addition, however, glimpse into the future and you will see the specter of human overpopulation.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2011

Volunteer for Durango Nature Studies–9-2011

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I spent five minutes pulling the starter cord and adjusting the choke and throttle on the little pump without a whimper of a start. Then I realized that it would help to turn the switch to “on”.

In addition to the Four Corners Folk Festival, I spent much of this past Labor Day weekend at the Durango Nature Center. It was calm there. The shrill cry of a red tailed hawk made me look up. Once I was buzzed by a great blue heron, and another time I saw her waiting in the shallow water of the Florida River, upstream from the footbridge. My constant companions were lizards, including several “horny toads”. Occasionally I caught the perfume of sagebrush.

The meadow where kids play and learn suffered from drought and the grass was drying up. The only hope was to pump water out of the Florida River. Thanks to Ted’s Rental for loaning the pump and some hose borrowed from neighbors, I was able to rig up a sprinkler.

The pump ran for an hour or two—not nearly enough time to deep water the parched soil—thus the need for multiple trips. Hopefully there will be more green for the Children Discovering Nature program this fall.

Except for the dry meadow, Durango Nature Studies is thriving with the imaginative leadership of Sally Shuffield. Most notable is a new contract with the 9R School District to develop and implement innovative curricula for all kids in grades kindergarten through five. Along with the Discovery Museum, DNS will provide both classroom and field trips with hands-on experiences for these lucky children. They will learn about nature through Children Discovering Nature, and Surviving and Thriving in Winter. Students from other school districts can still attend.

There are many other programs, too! New ones include the New Moon hikes at the Nature Center and the After School Nature Club. Full Moon hikes and Wee Walkabouts are still popular. Kids love the summer camp, and older kids can enjoy a backpacking camp. For information about other DNS doings, consult the website:

Most exciting is the news that we will soon have a welcome building at the Nature Center! Thanks to generous contributions from BP and many other businesses and individuals in the community, there will be a small log cabin next to the parking lot. Although rustic, it will provide shelter and a place to greet visitors, and perhaps to sell books and souvenirs.

Having a welcome building will allow DNS to open up the Nature Center for visitors on weekends. This will probably start next spring and will just be on a limited basis, but will allow visitors to enjoy this beautiful land.

Much of our country has been turned to serve human needs—agriculture, housing, commercial and industrial uses. This becomes a serious problem as our human population rises. Fortunately we have preserved some land relatively intact, and we live close to some of the best wild areas in the country. The Durango Nature Center is 140 acres of beautiful land near Bondad that has been kept natural so people can enjoy and learn. DNS concentrates on young people, but also serves adults.

Despite our proximity to extensive natural beauty, too many kids spend most of their lives in buildings or vehicles. They are more familiar with TVs and Game Boys than with birds and trees. The goal of DNS is to get youngsters outside so they are comfortable and enjoy being out-of-doors. What they enjoy they will also value.

What makes DNS run? Volunteers! Its programs could never exist without the help from dozens of people. In addition to the three DNS staff, there are many unpaid people who lead walks, board members and people in the community who donate time, services and money.

The training sessions for a new group of CDN leaders has just finished. It included Fort Lewis professor Dr. Alane Brown and a handful of her students. Dr. Brown hopes to join the Peace Corps as an environmental educator; her students chose this service as an alternative to writing a term paper.

About 50 volunteers gave a total of 2283 hours of their time last year to teach our children about the natural world. The monetary value of all this time is over $40,000! Remember, nature is in danger of being overwhelmed by our population growth. DNS helps today’s children—our future decision makers—learn about and love the natural world.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2011



Consume Less–8-2011

Monday, October 17th, 2011

There is something you can do that is likely to make you happier, healthier, save money and lessen your impact on the planet. What is it? Consume less by practicing simpler living.
I usually focus on human population growth, but consumption is an issue that affects our impact on the planet just as much.
A child born in a developing country will have only a fraction of the impact that a child would have in the United States. This illustrates that it is not just the numbers of people but also the resources they use (and the pollution they cause) that really matters. Furthermore, consumption is growing faster than population growth. Worldwide our numbers are increasing by 1 % per year while consumption is skyrocketing at 2 to 4 %.
Costa Rica is a good example of a nation that approaches sustainability. We lived in Monteverde for three months recently, giving us personal experience with the differences from the USA.
The income of an average Costa Rican (or “Tico”, to use their nickname) is significantly less than that of an “American”. Our buying power is about $47,000 per person each year, but in Costa Rica it is less than a quarter of that, at $11,000. Obviously Ticos consume less than do norteamericanos.
Yet Ticos appear to be happier than Americans. One measure, the Satisfaction with Life Index, rates Ticos higher (13th in the world) than Americans (just 23rd).
Most Ticos do not own cars, but use their feet or public transportation to travel. When we lived up in Monteverde we walked to do errands. Sometimes we enjoyed the luxury of a taxi if it was pouring or if we had a lot to carry. When we traveled from the Monteverde area we did so by bus. It cost only the equivalent of eight dollars for the four-hour trip to the capital, San José!
Doesn’t relative poverty cause poor health? No! On average, Ticos live a year or two longer than Americans! The emphasis there is on primary and preventative health care. I don’t remember seeing a really obese Tico; people are physically active and fast food is uncommon. Indeed, I lost weight when eating my favorite Costa Rican food, gallo pinto—but that’s another story.
What is the secret of Costa Rica? It is unique in the world in that it emphasizes education and health. It has no military—that’s right, none! Instead it provides free health care to all citizens and free education through high school. In contrast, the USA spends a huge fraction of our finances on the military. Part of our expenditure is to support our extravagant use of petroleum, which largely comes from far away. A large portion of our military might is used to gain and protect sources of petroleum. Furthermore, our military consumes huge amounts of oil.
Contraception is free and available to all Ticos as part of their health care. Funding for family planning in the USA, however, has been shrinking when measured in real dollars, and its very existence has been jeopardized with recent political changes. (Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica, although a few abortions are done surreptitiously.)
The saying “development is the best contraceptive” became popular during Reagan’s presidency. As people get richer, they do tend to have smaller families. Unfortunately, they also consume more and have greater impact. Furthermore, more refined studies have found that really rich people have larger families than moderately rich families.
The Tico lifestyle uses much less of the planet’s resources and adds less pollution to the environment. Costa Rica has also preserved a greater proportion of its land as parks than any other country in the world. Its rain and cloud forests have become a major tourist destination, and a major source of income. Almost all electricity in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources—hydro and wind—but it is affordable for all.
The Ecological Footprint (an excellent measure of an individual’s impact) of the average Tico is 2.8 hectares (6.8 acres). This is close to the average area of productive land available to each person—if we all had this EF we would be using the planet’s resources sustainably.
We cannot all move to Costa Rica. We here in the USA can, however, endeavor to reduce our consumption. People who choose “simple living” (or a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity) work less, spend less, and enjoy life more. Most important is that they are happier and have less impact on the planet.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2011

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