Categories
Hope Population

Heed this Warning

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists published the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. Twenty-five years later it has just been updated.

Most of the Nobel Prize winners then alive and 1575 senior scientists signed the original warning. It started with the words: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

After this powerful introduction there are several headings. The heading titled “Population” states what many people (especially economists) are still denying. It starts with: “The earth is finite.”

Later in the “Population” heading you can read: “Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future.” I find it remarkable that those who write about “sustainable development” so often ignore this obvious fact.

This 1992 Warning had 5 points under the title “What We Must Do”. Point #3 states: “We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.” Unfortunately this was all but ignored. In fact, just 2 years later, at the UN’s International Conference on Population and Development, delegates decided to turn the focus away from population and toward HIV and reproductive rights. This had an unfortunate effect on support for family planning programs.

So much for the past. Not too many people were aware of the 1992 document, and fewer took it to heart. Scientists have updated the Warning on its 25th anniversary in a remarkable fashion. “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” was published last month in BioScience, a well-known journal. Although eight authors appear on the title page, the total number of signatories is huge—15,364 scientists from 184 countries! It is not too late to join this elite crew if, indeed, you are a scientist. Go to http://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu to find out more and to endorse the article. Over 3,000 people have done added their names.

The current Warning is not optimistic. Of the 9 issues treated 25 years ago, only one shows improvement. The good news is that ozone-depleting emissions (chlorofluorocarbons) are decreasing. They jeopardize the atmospheric ozone that guards us against dangerous ultraviolet radiation. The other 8 trends are all bad; these include fresh water supplies, total forest area, vertebrate species abundance and ocean dead zones. Need I also mention that the CO2 level is rising and the climate is heating up?

It comes down to two factors—population and consumption. The authors put it this way: “We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense… material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.”

Slowing population growth seems much more attainable than decreasing consumption, however. So many people want to manage their fertility but don’t have access to effective contraception—we must expand access to birth control here and abroad.

There is hope. The new Warning points out that pressure on politicians, especially from scientists and concerned citizens, can create change. The authors also cite the importance of changing individual behaviors such as choosing to have small families and to consume less—including moving toward a plant-based diet. They celebrate the decrease in family size throughout most of the world and praise the decrease in world hunger. They use the example of the decrease in chlorofluorocarbons as an example of what can be done when there is political will.

The Warning gives 13 steps to take in order to move in the correct direction to save our life support systems. The 12th is to revise our economy to reduce inequality of wealth and to take into account the externalities that harm our planet. The last proposes a revolutionary idea—to determine what a long-term sustainable human population might be, then to rally support to reach that goal.

Can more than 18,000 scientists make a difference in a positive direction? We have seen how much damage one person, the president of the USA, can do by moving us away from sustainability. It is time for us to heed the far-sighted Warning for our progeny’s sake.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Categories
children Hope

Give Children Every Advantage

dislexia

            New parents hope that their children will be perfect. Unfortunately, there is often disappointment when reality sets in.

We have always cared about the welfare of our children, but now each child seems to matter more as family size is decreasing. Fortunately much can be done now to help children with disabilities. Difficulty with reading, dyslexia, is a good example.

Dyslexia is estimated to affect as many as 20% of people—that is one in five! Reading is an amazingly complex skill, so it is no wonder so many people have difficulty. As many females have dyslexia as males, but girls tend to stand out less. Dyslexic boys often act out in school, while girls with the same problem tend to become quiet and not call attention to themselves.

Teachers are recognizing dyslexia more now than when I was in school. I remember struggling with reading in first grade. I envied one of my classmates who read much better than I. Many years later at a reunion when I mentioned this to her, she replied “Didn’t you know I was repeating first grade?”

Probably both she and I suffered from dyslexia. I managed to squeak by until 7th grade when my English teacher realized that something was wrong. Mr. Johnson focused on the spelling part of the problem. I’m a pretty good speller now, but unfortunately I am still a slow reader.

My freshman year in college was rough. I was faced with large volumes of reading that I couldn’t plough through at my slow pace of 200 words-per-minute. Once again coaching helped me. Only recently have I realized that the basic problem is that I have mild dyslexia.

Unfortunately dyslexia is ignored frequently, as it was with me. Its treatment is time consuming and expensive, and it is best to start early. Although some adults are successful despite dyslexia, many are not so fortunate because they get off to a bad start in school. This can lead to poor self-esteem, dropping out of school and perhaps even to criminal activity. Two thirds of prisoners have poor reading skills, and many of these have been found to be dyslexic.

Research on dyslexia is ongoing, but two doctors developed an effective method of treating it. The Orton-Gillingham method employs multiple senses in its approach, including visual, auditory and kinesthetic pathways. A student will see a word, say the same word and write it at the same time so it gets firmly implanted in her brain. This is very intensive of teachers’ time since it involves one-on-one interaction, but amazingly successful in improving reading ability.

It is wonderful that our community has a school that offers education for dyslexics. In fact, it is so good and so well known that it has attracted families to move here. The Liberty School provides state-of-the-art instruction for kids from 1st through 8th grades. It also has programs to challenge children who are exceptionally bright. Often children will spend only a year or two at the school, to get an educational boost.

A friend sent two of her children to the Liberty School, not because they were doing poorly in the public schools but because she thought that they could do better. Indeed, they improved markedly! Her daughter went from performing at a 5th grade level in math to 12th grade—in just one year! The son hadn’t been writing well, but at Liberty wrote a great play together with classmates.

My friend couldn’t say enough good things about Liberty and the influence it had on her kids. She is a school psychologist as well as being an excellent, involved mother.

One of the keys of Liberty is integration: the older kids help the younger, and those who read well help the ones who don’t. I observed this when I visited the school recently. I interviewed several of the students; all were enthusiastic about their school and the progress they were making. I saw lots of smiling faces.

The Liberty School is building a new facility up Junction Creek Road. It will not only be state-of-the-art but also have wonderful land for recreation and nature studies. There was an excellent story about their campaign on the front page of the Herald 12 days ago.

            Being able to help a child afflicted with dyslexia succeed in life is just one advantage of a small family. Fortunately we live in a society that does not judge people by the number of children they have.

© Richard Grossman 2016