Categories
Population

Letter to the Editor to be published in the journal Contraception

Coming soon to Contraception and ContraceptionX!

Below is a Letter to the Editor that has been accepted and will be published soon in Contraception. It is in response to an editorial that appeared in March, which broke a long silence about the importance of voluntary contraception and abortion to the environment, among many people who are involved in family planning.

The publisher, Elsevier, allows a final draft to be published–here it is. Please let me know if you would like a .pdf, once it has been published. I can share it with peers, but don’t think I can post it on my website.

Richard

Thank you for recognizing the importance of family planning to our environment

Richard Grossman MD, MPH

Affiliated Faculty, Biology Department

Fort Lewis College

800 Heartwood Lane

Bayfield, CO  81122

U.S.A.

richard@population-matters.org

Keywords: Family planning; Population growth; Environment

Corresponding Author: Richard Grossman

Highlights:

  • Voluntary family planning has successfully slowed population growth
  • Larger population means more impact on our environment
  • The Commentary “Family planning, population growth and the environment” is welcome

To the Editors:

I was delighted to read the March, 2020 Commentary, “Family planning, population growth, and the environment” by Jeffrey Jensen and Mitchell Crenin. It connects the increase in human population, and our consumption, to the environmental problems, such as climate change, we are facing. Although I have been reading Contraception for almost all of its 50 years of publication, I cannot remember an article in the past that makes this connection.

The Commentary celebrates the work that family planning workers have done over the past decades. Without access to contraception and abortion, our human population would be much larger than it already is, and environmental problems even worse. We tend to be most aware of and stress the importance of voluntary family planning to individuals. However, other species and the overall health of the planet also have benefitted greatly from our efforts.

Because of our services, the patients we serve are healthier—and so are their families. Empowered by our services, women are able to continue their education, live up to their potential and take leadership positions in our society. We also have made huge positive impacts on society.

I agree with the Commentary when it states: “As family planning specialists, we should devote part of our effort to educating policy leaders and the public about the importance of our work from an environmental standpoint.” Indeed, several of us have, but not enough. My contribution has been monthly essays on aspects of human population.1 Warren Hern, another Fellow of the Society, has written on this subject for decades.2, 3

Many others have studied the interrelationship between human population and the environment, often commenting on the value of family planning. O’Neill et al. estimate the potential of family planning to decrease carbon emissions.4Bongaarts & O’Neill lament that the IPCC doesn’t pay more attention to population.5 Population, health and environment programs that incorporate family planning may help to save biodiversity hotspots.6 The Center for Biological Diversity uses Endangered Species Condoms, which it gives away, to inform people about the connection between human population and endangered species.7

In the past some family planning providers have been shy about acknowledging the connection between family planning and the state of the environment. I performed an (unpublished) survey of the Society’s Fellows in 2014. Some of the responses recognized the importance of family planning to the environment, while others seemed to take offense at this idea.

I look forward to reading more in Contraception about the importance of voluntary family planning to the state of our environment.

References:

[1]       Grossman R. Population Matters-USA. www.population-matters.org Accessed 5-2-2020.

[2]       Hern, W. Is human culture carcinogenic for uncontrolled population growth and ecological destruction? BioScience 1993; 43(11):768-773. https://doi.org/10.2307/1312321

[3] Hern, W. Choose between candidates who understand global ecological realities, and those who don’t. The Colorado Statesman 2012; 113(9):1535. https://www.coloradopolitics.com/opinion/choose-between-candidates-who-understand-global-ecological-realities-and-those-who-don-t/article_2933b6c0-5791-5c05-889e-bc5bf0751a99.html accessed 4-30-2020

Also available at: https://tinyurl.com/yd7m5xuj

[4]       O’Neill BC, Dalton M, Fuchs R, Jiang L, Pachauri S, Zigova K. Global demographic trends and future carbon emissions. 2010; www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1004581107

[5]       Bongaarts, J & BC O’Neill. Global warming policy: Is population left out in the cold?  Science  17 Aug 2018: 361(6403):650-652 DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8680

[6]       Blue Ventures. https://discover.blueventures.org/madagascar-health-environment/ Accessed 5-2-2020.

[7 ]      Endangered Species Condoms. https://www.endangeredspeciescondoms.com Accessed 5-2-2020.

Categories
Population

Consider the Gaia Hypothesis

 “… nature is sending us a message.” 

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Program

Wet market in Shenzhen’s Luohu District, China Photo by Daniel Case

      

            We all depend on our bodies’ regulatory systems to keep us healthy and active. Without any effort on our part, many important parameters are closely controlled.

            This control of physiologic processes is called “homeostasis”, defined as “a process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions.” Homeostatic mechanisms use feedback loops. One example involves temperature regulation. When you get cold, the thermostat in the hypothalamus of your brain notices that your blood is a tiny bit colder than it likes. It sends out messages to start shivering. When muscle action stokes your furnace enough to warm your blood, the shivering stops. Similarly, if you get too hot, your cooling system—sweat glands—go into action.

            The Gaia hypothesis holds that all living and non-living components on Earth work together to sustain life by homeostatic mechanisms. It proposes that organisms, and their inorganic surroundings on Earth, are closely integrated to form a single, self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions necessary for life.

            Whether or not the Gaia hypothesis is correct, it seems as though the planet is fighting back against human overpopulation with covid-19. There are several factors that have made a pandemic likely, in addition to political incompetence. They include crowded conditions, shortage of food and our amazing ability to travel.

            Most likely the novel coronavirus came from an animal in a Wuhan, China, wildlife market. These markets, selling animals for eating, are common in Asia. Even though they are illegal in some places, they still flourish because people are hungry for protein. People eat anything that can be caught, including bats, and some carry viruses that are new to humans. There have been many other zoonoses (human diseases caused by infectious agents from animals) including the “Black Plague” and Ebola. Somehow the novel coronavirus jumped from animal to human host, where it has found a receptive niche.

            This coronavirus has all the characteristics of a killer. It can be spread before, during and after illness. It is stealthy; some people shed it with few or no symptoms. Before people (especially politicians) understood how dangerous it was, it was traveling like wildfire. Wuhan is densely packed with 11 million people, crowded 15,000 per square mile. A commercial and economic center, there were plenty of visitors who spread coronavirus as they traveled. Although modern transportation helped to broadcast the disease (Covid-19), fortunately modern communication helped us recognize the problem and modern technology has helped to diagnose and treat people who get it.

            Aside from the fear and horror that we hear in the media, some people have the viewpoint that humans are at least partially responsible for causing it. Pope Francis wrote: There is an expression in Spanish: ‘God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.’ We did not respond to the partial catastrophes… I don’t know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature’s responses.” David Attenborough (of BBC nature film fame) stated in 2013: “We are a plague on Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change…. Either we limit our population growth, or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.” This month a Harvard study found that COVID-19 victims are more likely to die if they lived where the air was more polluted, as from coal fired power plants. The Hindustani Times ran an article titled “The world is paying a price for the illegal wildlife trade”. Perhaps the best way to prevent the next pandemic is to protect wildlife.

            Let’s look at the bright side. The Lancet, the preeminent British medical journal, opines that the pandemic may save more lives than it kills: “Interestingly some of the health impacts of the normally functioning global economy, in particular air pollution, are so severe that the disruption caused by COVID-19 countermeasures and associated reductions in economic activity may be saving many more lives than have been lost to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Both the pandemic and climate chaos are exacerbated by overpopulation.

            Thank you for observing physical distancing! I hope that the pandemic will not end up killing too many—it is an appalling way to fight overpopulation. It is also ineffective, since the people most likely to die are too old to reproduce, and sadly, the pandemic is hitting poor people the worst.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2020