Categories
Consumption Public Health Reproductive Health Women's Issues

Recognize Problems in Some African Cultures

Different types of Female Genital Mutilation

            I have often heard that the need to reduce population growth in African countries is less important than in rich countries because consumption is so much lower in Africa. It is true that the impact of a person in Africa is much less than someone in a rich country, however there are important but different reasons for Africans to reduce their fertility.

            Although the average footprint of a person in Africa is small, there are already more feet than the land can bear in some places. Slowing population growth there will help people be healthier, happier and more productive. Traditions exist that are harmful to women and also lead to high fertility. These injurious traditions may have had their function in the past, but they have no place in the 21st century.

            In the past I was a cultural relativist. I believed that the practices in other cultures shouldn’t be evaluated by our standards. When I learned about Female Genital Mutilation, I changed my mind. If one believes that girls and women deserve the same respect as boys and men, one cannot be a cultural relativist.

FMG is practiced by many cultures in Africa. It consists of removing part or most of the external genitalia of girls. It is usually done without anesthesia and often with a dirty blade.When the margins of the vulva are separated by the (brutal) slicing, acacia needles are used to hold them together. Think of the agony FMG survivors suffer! Some victims die from blood loss or infection. The pain returns during intercourse and childbirth if the vaginal opening has been sewn nearly shut. Fortunately, there are many organizations in Africa that are working to get rid of FMG. Often they substitute another, more benign, coming-of-age ritual for girls.

            Child marriage is another damaging custom of some African cultures. Typically, the girl’s arranged marriage is shortly after she starts to menstruate, and she is forced to wed a man many years older than she. A girlchild is considered a burden in many societies, so the best way to get unburdened is to marry her off. Worse, rape of a young girl is not uncommon. Since virginity is a requirement for marriage in many societies, the girl’s parents force their daughter to marry her rapist. The pitiable girl is thus dominated by her husband for the rest of her life.

            The psychological effects on a girl who is married as a young teen must be terrible, however the physical effects can be fatal. Her pelvis may be too small to give birth if she conceives before her bones have finished growing. Obstructed labor may kill the fetus—resulting in a stillbirth. Sometimes pressure of the fetal head against the girl’s pelvis blocks blood flow to the girl’s tissues. The dead flesh dissolves, forming a hole through which pee and/or poop can pour.

            You might think that child marriage and FGM don’t exist in the USA, but that is wrong. Some immigrants practice both. In addition, some non-immigrant groups have allowed early marriage, often in response to early teen pregnancies. Delaware was our first state to ban marriage before age 18, only 4 years ago. Women who marry young tend to have more children and seldom advance far in education.

            Both child marriage and FGM are means of subjugating women; so is cutting short their education. Another way power is taken away from women is the absence of something we take for granted—clean and safe toilet facilities at schools. Many girls quit school after their period starts because their school lacks adequate, private toilet facilities.

            Where girls and women are treated as inferior, they have little control over their lives. They don’t have power over what happens to the most personal parts of their bodies, nor when or whom they marry. They may not say when they have sex, nor limit the number of children they bear, nor use contraception if they want to.

            Many organizations work to empower African women by putting an end to child marriage and FGM. One favorite is the Population Media Center, which has made great advances in education about these evils.

            Although I am not an anthropologist and have spent only a little time in Africa, these seem to be some reasons that the population is growing so rapidly there. In the future I’ll write about religions which encourage large families, and about overpopulation causing famine—one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022

Categories
Consumption Environment Global Climate Change Population

Use More Renewable Electricity

Photo of a solar array image from Wikipedia

While our government in Washington is struggling to deny climate change, we can take action locally. Our electric coop, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), offers easy ways to do this by purchasing renewable power.

Isn’t all electricity the same? Yes, it is, if it comes through wires attached to the electrical grid. Let’s look at reasons you might want to use electricity generated in a renewable way. Do you have asthma like I do? Millions of other people in our country suffer from this and other respiratory afflictions. Breathing is made more difficult by the fine particles that escape from coal fired power plants and by smog that comes from the ozone generated by natural gas development. Those tiny particles are invisible but cause atmospheric haze. Worse is that they are also responsible for loss of life due to cancer and heart attacks.

We are already suffering the effects of climate change. Despite the welcome snow this month, southwest Colorado is still at the worst level of drought. The huge 416 wild fire last summer was much too close to home. Climate change has prolonged the forest fire season and has helped to create many more mega-fires. We are seeing the effects of anthropocentric climate disruption already! One action that we can take to slow climate change is to use less electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.

In addition to fouling the air, power plants are some of the biggest users of fresh water, which they use for cooling. Although some of the water is returned to streams or rivers, it is hotter, which can be fatal for fish and other animals. Some think that nuclear is the safest source since it is less polluting.

Every source of electricity has its drawbacks, unfortunately. This is why I sometimes write about energy in columns that focus on human population. Almost everything that people do has detrimental effects to the natural world. We can decrease that impact by decreasing the number of people, by consuming less and by technology. Using renewable power is one way of minimizing our impact.

LPEA has 2 voluntary programs to promote renewable or “green” power generated by solar, wind or hydro. Our electrical cooperative can provide part or all of your electricity from these renewable sources. The extra cost is minimal, only about 50¢ a month for the average LPEA member. A call to their friendly office staff can give you more information. They also have a program to fund local solar arrays. This Renewable Generation Fund is currently helping to support 4 projects at nonprofits. 

Your first step should be to look for ways to use less energy. That saves money and diminishes one’s impact. Turn off lights you don’t need, and install dimmers if you don’t always need to run lights at full brightness. Our local 4CORE specializes in home energy efficiency. It offers ideas to decrease waste of electricity and rebates for Energy Star® appliances.

LPEA has a great program to reimburse you for half of the cost of certain efficient LED bulbs. These use only a fraction of the “juice” of traditional incandescent bulbs and are more efficient, and safer than compact fluorescents. I’ve taken advantage of this program in the past, buying a few LEDs at a time, but I went hog-wild this year since it is the last year of the program. Soon almost all the light in our home will come from the sun or LED bulbs! LEDs are much improved and the price has come down dramatically. To find out more about this rebate program go to www.LPEA.coop—but be careful to follow the instructions carefully.

We are tied to Tri-State Generation and Transmission for all of our electricity except what is generated locally. Despite the decreasing costs of solar panels, soon people won’t be able to install solar arrays because the contract with Tri-State, which limits the amount of power that can be generated locally. Because so much of their energy comes from burning coal, they are rumored to be the most polluting power supplier in the country. Tri-State has been slow to convert to renewable sources but it appears that they are finally seeing the light; they are installing a huge solar array north of Trinidad, Colorado.

We can be proud of our electric coop for its support of renewable power, especially with its new policy to cut its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030, while keeping rates low. We need to keep pressure on Tri-State to increase their low limit on locally generated renewable power.

©Richard Grossman MD 2019