Durango Herald Population Reproductive Health

About Population Matters!

         I started writing these essays in 1995 with certain goals in mind. For those of you who didn’t start reading Population Matters! (this is the title of the Durango Herald column) back then, here’s a little background.

            Gail, my wife, and I drove to hear Paul Ehrlich speak in Gothic, a bit north of Crested Butte, Colorado, in the fall of 1994. On the way home I pulled the car over and parked.

            “Why are you stopping?” Gail asked.

            “I’ve got an idea,” I replied.

            I wanted to emulate the best-selling book, “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth”, by writing a similar one on human population. After drafting a few chapters I realized that it would be necessary to find a publisher. Ballantine Books had published some environmental paperbacks, so I asked Morley Ballantine (then the editor of the Herald) if she could help.

            I was disappointed when she told me that she no longer had connections that would help, but accepted her offer to serialize my proposed masterpiece in the Herald. In retrospect, there is no way that I could write a book while working 60 to 80 hours each week at my day (and night) job of obstetrics and gynecology.

            The mission of these monthly essays was to keep population issues in people’s minds. I would try to be optimistic, provide information and also suggest ways that readers could slow population growth. Those goals haven’t changed.

            Bill Roberts, who still writes occasional editorials for the Herald, was my initial editor. He was gentle in his efforts to keep me in line. The initial word limit was 750, but sometimes I would go hundreds of words beyond that maximum before Bill reined me in. Once he sent me a terse message “Stick to the subject” when I got off into the weeds. I was pleased, however, when he published stories I wrote about some of my favorite Durango people, including Linda Mack and the late Sister Sharon.

            A dozen years ago I had a realization: if someone else had written a book such as what I had envisioned, I probably wouldn’t bother buying it, let alone read it. Furthermore, Gail had gently told I was too “preachy”. Somehow, I was missing the mark.

            I tried new ideas. Do you remember the tire made from condoms that was exhibited in the Durango Art Center? It illustrates the punchline of the joke “What do you do with 365 used condoms?” Answer: “Make them into a tire, and call it a Goodyear.” I also collaborated in making a documentary film about overpopulation in the Four Corners area.

            A friend recently commented that people don’t like to be told what to do, and suggested that using imperative verbs in the title might be a bad idea. This is my first essay that doesn’t start with a command.

            One of Bill Robert’s successors at the Herald, Hollis Walker, came up with a great idea: my book should be stories rather than essays. Rather than selecting, revising and compiling the over 200 essays that I’ve written through the ages, I’m having fun writing people-centered stories. These accounts are based on my memories of people I’ve encountered during my medical career. Of course, I’ve changed the names, and sometimes I’ve tried to obfuscate details to further prevent identifying characters in the stories. Many of the stories include information about reproductive health, of course.

            I just turned 80. I’m hoping to be able to finish this book-writing project before another 28 years goes by. In the meantime, thank you for reading Population Matters! Past essays and a few other features are available on my blog: Please help spread the word that population, indeed, matters.

©Richard Grossman MD, 2023

Consumption Durango Herald

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         I have been criticized because I don’t write much about consumption. It is true that almost all of my essays are about is population, although consumption is as big a factor for impact as population.

            You probably remember the formula: I=PAT. It means that the human impact on our environment of a group of people is determined by the group’s Population, their average Affluence (or consumption) and by Technology. Technology seems to be a small player in this formula. As soon as we get a technology to save energy (and thus decrease our impact) we find other ways to spend our money.

We in the USA consume much more than people in most other countries. Does that make us happier? I don’t think so. The average annual income in the 5 happiest countries is about $57,000. Although our income is higher at $70,000, we’re only rated #15 for happiness.

            Why focus on population? Globally, according to the UN, there are 121 million unintended pregnancies. This is because there are millions of women who don’t have access to effective contraception, or because their partners won’t allow them to use contraception, or because their birth control failed.  My hope is that this number of unplanned pregnancies can be decreased by making highly effective contraception more available, and by shifting societies away from pronatalism and away from male domination.

There is another reason I do not focus on consumption. We are surrounded by media urging us to spend, buy and consume. We know that our consumption increases our impact, climate change for example. Although it is difficult to ignore advertisements, it is possible. One really doesn’t need so much stuff! You can learn to keep your eyes on what you are reading and forget the ads; think of them as injurious.

            In March the UN wrote a warning that we need to decrease consumption. I did a quick survey of 8 major US online newspapers, looking for examples of ads that contrast with our need to decrease consumption, On the same pages where the UN warning appeared, each newspaper had advertisements accompanying the stories urging us to consume more! The average number of ads was more than 8, and the maximum was 11. To make things worse, in many cases it was difficult to distinguish what is an ad and what is the news. I am glad the Durango Herald online has few ads! 

            Although the media depend on advertising to bring us the news and to pay their bills, the number of advertisements one is exposed to is as appalling as it is distracting. Fortunately, you can learn to ignore most of the forces that want you to spend your money. One way is to pay extra on many websites to get ad-free service. Another is to just ask yourself if you really need all that stuff.

            When I was in elementary school, I read an ad for an intriguing gadget to broadcast my voice over the radio. I was excited that I could have my own radio station, but didn’t have enough money to purchase the device—my allowance was just 35 cents a week. I begged my mother for enough money to buy one of those transmitters.

            “Do you really need it, or is it just a passing fancy?” was her reply—prescient of the saying “is it need or greed” that would become popular years later. What she said then is even more important than 70 years ago; we need to consume less. Ignoring advertisements is a step in the correct direction.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2023