Archive for the 'Population' Category

Look to the Future of Vehicles

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

            Last month I wrote about the car accident that has changed Gail’s and my lives. I want to thank the engineers who designed the Prius; it gave up its life to save ours.

            To review, we were driving on Highway 160 when we were hit by a pickup truck that had crossed into our lane of traffic. Our worst injury is a bad fracture of Gail’s left knee. One person’s carelessness has left her with months of pain and a long recovery. We have hiked and skied together for years; we don’t know if Gail will be able to even walk without pain in the future.

            What does our personal tragedy have to do with overpopulation? Killing more than the current 37,000 people who die on our nation’s highways each year would be a terribleway of reducing human population. Fortunately this number is decreasing. I am happy that we were not among this sad number of fatalities.

            The number of people Earth can sustain is not absolute, but rather related to our individual impact. Living more efficiently can reduce our impact, and technology can help. Technology can increase or decrease impact, and part of my goal in choosing a new vehicle was to minimize impact.

            The Plug-in Prius was only 5 years old and I hadn’t planned on replacing it, but it’s junk now. Several people who saw the wreck told me they thought whoever had been in it must have been killed. We are indeed lucky.

            We installed solar panels on our carport to generate electricity to charge the Prius’s battery, and I was anxious to replace the wrecked Prius with another Electric Vehicle (EV)—if not one that totally ran on electricity, at least another plug-in hybrid. Of course another criterion is safety. There was time pressure, too, since federal tax benefits for purchasing an EV decreased at the end of June.

            We drive to Denver occasionally since one of our sons lives there. An all-electric vehicle would need a battery that could take us 300+ miles, or have a way to recharge quickly on the way. Teslas can be recharged with superchargers in Poncha Springs in only a few minutes, but that is the only brand that can recharge there so rapidly. Teslas are the sole battery-only EV for a practical trip to Denver, but their price is 2 or 3 times what I can pay. Therefore I concentrated on what’s available in plug-in hybrids. With them, when the battery is discharged, the gas engine takes over.

            There are dozens of EVs now, including many plug-in hybrids, according to the listing at www.plugincars.com. Some are exotic (e.g. the Lucid Air), many are way too expensive and most will only travel a short distance on their battery. I narrowed down the choice to just a few, and started investigating by visiting local car dealers. My former front contender, the Chevy Volt, is no longer made. Although Kia makes plug-in hybrids, they cannot be sold in Durango. The same is true for the Subaru Crosstrek, leaving the Toyota Prius Prime as the only plug-in hybrid available in town. Unfortunately, the battery range of the Prime is only 25 miles.

            I selected a vehicle I’d previously never heard of, the Honda plug-in hybrid Clarity. It touts a longer range battery—48 miles, which is one of the reasons that I chose it. Its safety features also helped sell it.

            I’ve driven the Clarity over 1200 miles now, mainly back and forth to the rehabilitation unit where Gail has been recovering. It still has a half of the original tank of gas—that’s about 300 miles per gallon! Of course it also consumes electricity, which we get from the sun. I’ve clocked it driving 60 miles on a single charge of the battery, significantly better than Honda’s claim.

            Electric vehicles are more efficient than regular vehicles, and they are less polluting—even if powered by non-renewable electricity. Fortunately Colorado is recognizing the growing wave of EVs and has benefits for EV purchasers, and promises to build more recharging stations. However, we have far to go before we can catch up with Norway, where almost half of new cars sold so far this year were fully electric.

            The most effective action that an individual can take to minimize their carbon footprint is to have a small family. However, there are other actions that can help slow climate change, including minimizing driving—but doing it in an EV.

© Richard Grossman, MD, 2019

Respect “The Population Bomb”

Monday, May 27th, 2019
The cover of a book that made a big difference

            A friend sent me a copy of Paul Ehrlich’s classic “The Population Bomb”. I had never read it although it helped to launch concern about human population in the USA. It was different and better than I expected. This little book sold over 2 million copies and introduced many people to the hazards of overpopulation.

            First a little background about Dr. Ehrlich. He is a biologist specializing in butterflies and moths. He has been studying a species of butterfly, a checkerspot, for longer than any other species has been studied by a single person. He has published over a thousand scientific papers and 50 books, which range from “The Birders’ Handbook”, which describes the natural history of all the birds of North America, to “Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic” about orthodontia, breast feeding and diet). My favorite “Conservation Biology for All” which Ehrlich edited. It is available free, online.

            I had known about Ehrlich’s population activism after “The Population Bomb” was published in 1968. Indeed, I joined ZPG (Zero Population Growth, later renamed “Population Connection”), the organization he helped to found that same year. When I finally read the “Bomb” I was surprised—it wasn’t the diatribe on population that I expected; the book has a much broader view of life on Earth. Much of what is predicted in the book has happened, although not necessarily in the way expected.

            The “Bomb” is much more than a rant about human population. Indeed, it touches upon many concerns that were not commonly discussed 50 years ago, but which now have become major causes of worry. Foremost is climate change. “The Bomb” lists problems that the world was facing in 1968, including “…too much carbon dioxide—all can be traced easily totoo many people.”Does that theme sound familiar?

            Later, Paul Ehrlich was one of the founders of the Society for Conservation Biology, the professional group of scientists working to slow extinction of species. “The Bomb” touches on the importance of nonhuman species, and how our increasing numbers causes increasing extinctions. It uses DDT as an example of toxins in our environment and the lack of governmental control of the millions of available chemicals. Malnutrition and starvation were great concerns in the late 1960s, and “The Bomb” predicted that there would be more hunger as people increased—but also foresaw the possibility of improved agricultural technology that would give some time to slow population growth. Other subjects touched on in this readable book include the value of sex-ed, the importance of avoiding coercion, the promise of using the media to educate about population, and the impact that some religions have in encouraging large families.

            Some people feel that our planet has unlimited resources, and that our greatest resource is people—thus, the more humans, the better. A professor of economics, Julian Simon, was a spokesman for these cornucopians. Simon maintained some absurdities. He stated: “We now have in our hands—really, in our libraries—the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years.” Let’s say that the population grew at a slow 1% each year. In seven billion years it would have increased by 3 x 1030249616. This number is a lot larger than a google (10100), and much, much larger than the estimated number of atoms in the universe, which is only 1080! It is difficult to have much faith in someone who would make such an absurd statement.

            “The Bomb” educated readers and catalyzed a huge change in our attitudes about population and family size. I remember reading an article in Life Magazine on ZPG, but never saw any of Dr. Ehrlich’s many appearances on the Johnny Carson show—I was in medical school. The world would be a lot better off now if we had all heeded the book’s message.

            In an article on the 40thanniversary of the publication of The Population Bomb, Anne and Paul Ehrlich wrote of two regrets. Their choice of title was: “Population, Resources, and Environment”, but the publisher chose otherwise. The other concern had to do with authorship. Anne and Paul wrote the book together and consulted many other experts to be certain of the factuality of their statements. The publisher, however, insisted on having just one author. Since Anne has been cited as coauthor of much of the couple’s work, I had wondered whether Paul wrote this bestseller alone. Now I know that it was our chauvinistic society that caused Anne’s name to be left out.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2019

See how Rwanda has Changed

Monday, March 25th, 2019

     A friend told me about the International Conference on Family Planning to be held in Rwanda, and asked if I planned to go. I responded: “I am ambivalent about Rwanda; the country has a bad emotional feeling for me, despite what the Rwandans have done to deal with their genocide.”

     Nevertheless, Gail and I found ourselves in Kigali last November. We had a pleasant stay at a modest hotel near the beautiful modern convention center. The city’s lack of litter amazed us! While most cities we have visited have trash in the streets, there was none in Kigali. We learned about one of the reasons for this: the government has mandated that every Rwandan donate their labor to the country on the last Saturday morning of each month. After the community work there is a community meeting with community leaders to discuss problems. This service is called “Umuganda”.            Umuganda dates back hundreds of years but has been resurrected to become a tool for reconciliation. In the local Kinyarwanda language this word means “coming together in common purpose” and is just one way the Rwandan government promotes peace in the country. Another policy was a benefit to us. Whereas French used to be the prevailing European language (the country was a Belgian colony), now English is the primary language of instruction.            The article “Remember Rwanda” was one of the reasons that I had not felt good about visiting Rwanda. It suggests that one of the causes of the genocide there was overpopulation. People in many parts of the country in 1994 had too little ground to grow food and too little to eat. They became violent because they were starving.
            The Rwandans have made an amazing turn-around! People are no longer labeled as either by ethnicity (largely artificial distinctions)—they are all Rwandans. School children visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn about their country’s history and ways to promote peace—so did we.
The healthcare system has improved markedly. Recall how important it is for a country to have a low under-five mortality rate if it is trying to slow its growth. Well, this important measure of child health in Rwanda is just a fifth of what it was just 15 years ago! As Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr. Diane Gashumba said “Investing in Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is one of the smartest investments a country can make.” The number of doctors in the country is low, but they are well distributed. Each village has a small clinic which is often attended by a nurse or community health worker. Almost all Rwandans have inexpensive health insurance, making it easy for the people to access primary health care. Unexpectedly, Rwanda has a unique system to deliver family planning.
            Notice that the Minister of Health is a woman! There are many women in the Rwandan government, including half of the cabinet ministers. Their parliament is also dominantly female, with 60% of the seats of the lower house held by women—the highest percentage in the world! People in the government are young, with the youngest cabinet minister just 31 years old.
            Education has taken a turn for the better, too. Whereas most African countries charge tuition for even elementary students, Rwanda abolished school fees for basic education in 2003. Enrollment soared! Recall that education of girls and women is one of the best ways of empowering women and increasing the use of family planning.
About half of Rwandans are Roman Catholic and are supposed to not use “artificial” contraception. The Church runs many of the Rwandan hospitals and clinics, so they cannot distribute contraception. However, the government has found a way around this limitation. Near each Catholic facility is a small family planning clinic that compliments the care of the Catholic facility.
            FamilyPlanning2020, the organization that is delivering family planning care in 69 countries, collaborates with the Rwandan governmental programs. They have provided an additional quarter million men and women with contraception since 2012. The most popular method is the “Depo” shot that is quite effective and lasts 3 months. Unfortunately, few men participate—only 1 in 12 couples uses condoms and vasectomy is rare.
            People in Rwanda are still poor—the average annual per capita income is less than $2000. However the government is making great strides to improve the lives of its people. They are strengthening the 3 most important things to help slow population growth: increase access to family planning, educate and empower girls and women, and promote the heath of children.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2019

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