Durango Herald Environment Population

Drive Gently

We Americans are in love with our cars. We use them for transportation, courtship and entertainment. They mean power, independence and beauty. Unfortunately, they deplete fossil fuels and cause pollution. The car, which has helped to form American culture, may also speed its decay.

Remember, environmental deterioration is determined both by the number of people and by the resources each person uses. Americans tend to use much more than our share of resources. Therefore, we ought to limit the assets we consume as well as limit the growth of our population.

When gasoline explodes in a car’s engine, it releases water vapor and carbon dioxide. Although harmless in the shortrun, the gradual buildup of CO2 over the past century has been a major cause of global warming. Since few people are willing to give up driving completely, we should look at ways to limit its bad effects.

There are many steps that you can take to decrease your use of gasoline. This can begin when choosing a place to live. A home close to work will save time, money and gas in commuting. When buying a car, give thought to saving fuel. Don’t get the largest vehicle that you will ever need, but plan on the most practical one that will serve most of your needs. For those rare trips you can borrow or rent a larger vehicle. Look at the mileage figures and think of long-term savings.

You can minimize the amount that you need to drive. Plan errands with efficiency in mind. Drive to a central parking lot then walk to each store. Work at home when possible to save a lot of gas.

Biking and walking are the ideal. Remember, the bicycle is the most efficient way to transport a person—and always wear your helmet! Not only do walking and biking reduce fossil fuel use, they are also excellent exercise.

Public transportation is much more efficient than everyone driving in separate vehicles. Many cities have inexpensive conveyances that allow efficient use of time by reading or working while travelling. Carpooling is another way of increasing efficiency, both of your time and of the Earth’s resources.

When you do need to drive, there are actions you can take to reduce your fuel use. First of all, don’t warm up the engine. It doesn’t need to be warmed up, and doing so wastes gas and pollutes the air. When you stop for more than a minute, like at a drive-in window, turn off the engine. In the summer, use the air conditioner for higher-speed driving only. You can usually stay cool at lower speeds by opening the windows.

Driving smoothly really helps increase efficiency. Avoid rapid starts and sudden stops—both take a toll on your mileage. The less you need to use the brakes the more efficiently you are driving. It helps to anticipate traffic lights and stop signs so you can speed up and slow down more gradually to match traffic and signals.

At the pump select the lowest octane gas that is safe for your car. Higher than necessary octane won’t give you better performance. Be careful to not spill any gas. A gallon spilled leaks as much hydrocarbons into the atmosphere as driving 7500 miles.

Maintenance also affects your vehicle’s efficiency. Probably most important is to keep tires inflated properly. To get the most out of every gallon of gas be sure that the engine is properly tuned and has clean air and fuel filters. Finally, recycle all used oil, batteries and tires. Improper disposal hurts us all—did you know that the leading source of oil pollution of our waterways is used motor oil?

What does the future hold? Toyota and Honda already sell cars with wonderful mileage. The Prius and Insight both use light construction, smooth aerodynamic design and an innovative hybrid power train. A relatively small gas engine turns a generator. Electricity powers motors connected to the wheels. A small bank of batteries provides a power reservoir for bursts of speed. Much of the energy from braking can be stored in the batteries for later use. This hybrid technology and other improvements promise to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.

It is hard to imagine life without our vehicles. We should use them carefully, however, remembering that they turn valuable resources into pollution. Driving more efficiently will allow more people to live on the planet with less impact.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2005

Durango Herald Hope Population

Don’t Lose Hope

“What a terrible mess we are in!” I hear people say. “The only way overpopulation will be controlled is by the horror of war, famine, or a terrible epidemic.” Do you feel despair about the world’s population? Believe it or not, there is reason to be optimistic.

“The size of the family is shrinking all over the world because women in most countries want fewer children….” reports the Alan Guttmacher Institute. This desire for smaller families is because people have realized their advantages.

Let’s look at the facts. Thirty-five years ago only one in seven women worldwide used contraception. The number of children borne by the average woman (the total fertility rate or TFR) then was 6.1 in developing countries.

The good news is that growth has slowed. The TFR has dropped to 3.0 in developing countries, and worldwide the average is just 2.7. More than half of women in developing countries use contraception now. Many developed countries, especially in Europe, are actually shrinking in population.

Remember that a TFR of about 2.1 leads to a stable population. This is one child to replace each parent, and a fraction more to make up for kids who die in childhood. Unfortunately, a small difference in TFR can make a huge difference in population over a number of years. For instance, if we establish an average TFR of 1.96 now, in 50 years the world’s population will decrease to 5 billion. If the TFR is only slightly higher, at 2.18, the earth will have to support over 20 billion people by the year 2050.

Why are people choosing to have smaller families? The reasons vary from culture to culture. Three essential factors are the availability of contraception, reduction of child mortality and empowerment of women.

More and more people have access to family planning. A third of a century ago in many countries birth control clinics were found only in large cities. Modern contraception was unavailable in most parts of the world. Now, thanks to the media as well as to extensive family planning programs, most people have access to basic information on child spacing.

It is paradoxical that improving child survival can decrease the population growth rate. Historically, the population explosion was caused by decreased mortality. When the child mortality rate is high, parents have more children to assure that some will survive. Studies show that if more than 11% of children die before age five, parents choose to have large families. Not only does lowering child mortality result in a lower TFR and lower growth rate—it is the compassionate thing to do.

The status of women has improved thanks to the work of many. This improvement has been most impressive in developing countries. Overall, school enrollment of girls has more than doubled over the last three decades, as has female literacy. Education and literacy are important in part because they raise women’s aspirations and their ability to find employment outside the home. Education also helps mothers learn about contraception and mothering healthy children.
There are other reasons the population growth rate is slowing. Because they don’t need to have many kids to work the fields, people choose to have fewer children as they shift from rural to urban economies.

Older age at marriage is another important factor in slowing growth. Even though teens reach puberty earlier than in the past, people are starting their families later. Moreover, better-educated and more mature mothers are likely to have healthier and smaller families.

More and more couples are relying on surgical contraception when they have completed their families. Surgical contraception is permanent, so there is little chance for an unplanned pregnancy. One in four couples in developing countries have chosen surgery.

A TFR of 2.1 or less is the goal to stop the runaway increase in our population. Just thirty-five years ago that number averaged 6.1 in the developing world, and it has dropped to 3.0. This means that we are more than half way to the objective! It is unlikely that we will reach that goal soon, however. Even if we did, many millions of people would result from the momentum of the huge number of children growing up and having their own children.

Although we have not solved the problem of population, we have made great strides. There is good reason to be optimistic that excess population growth can be restrained if we make it a top priority and devote sufficient resources to the problem.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2006