Overpopulation and War

Aerial view of a residential section of the Gaza Strip

When I was in high school, I read an advertisement in Scientific American magazine. It said, in part: “…unless a favorable balance of population and resources is achieved with a minimum of delay, there is in prospect a Dark Age of human misery, famine and unrest;”

This statement, which was signed by 34 Nobel Laureates (among other dignitaries) went on to say: “We believe that widespread, effective and voluntary use of medically sound and individually acceptable birth control is an essential factor in any humane design to raise world living standards and achieve world peace.”
To me, this is as true now as it was in 1960.
I give thanks that so many people recognize the importance of family planning, and that we have so many options for medically sound, voluntary family planning..
Thank you for reading.

            Can high population density lead to war? Recent events suggest that it can.

            You are probably aware that, on October 7th, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (also called “Hamas”) launched a surprise attack on its neighbor, Israel. Israel has retaliated with most of the terrible devices of modern warfare and thousands of deaths.

Although Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, Gaza is not an independent entity. It is surrounded on 3 sides by Israel. Israel has surrounded Gaza with an almost impenetrable wall to control the passage of people and goods. Israelis guard the handful of gates through the wall, and have watch towers and other means of controlling Palestinians’ passage.

Israel also controls access to Gaza from the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Much of Gaza’s potable water comes from Israel, as does their electric power. Both of these necessities are now severely restricted, causing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Because Israel controls Gaza Strip’s airspace, territorial waters and also controls the movement of people and goods in or out of Gaza by air or sea, Human Rights Watch has advised the UN Human Rights Council that it considers Israel to be occupying the Gaza Strip.

            From what I can discern, there are several reasons for high levels of aggression in the Palestinian Territories. The population density in the Strip is one of the highest in the world. Because of this, homes are crowded together with little room for parks or even an occasional tree. Living in close proximity, with little access to nature, increases stress. Hot conditions have been shown to increase aggression. Finally, the unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world, at 45%. For young people, it is even higher, at 70%! Unemployed young men are the most likely group to be belligerent. 

            Despite its crowded conditions, people in the Palestinian Territories have high fertility. It is commonly thought that this is a consequence of their embattled position—that more people will give the Palestinians more strength. Although slightly lower, the Israeli fertility is also high, especially for a relatively rich country.

            The Palestinians in Gaza are in a terrible situation, and Hamas made it worse by their aggression against their neighbor. Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escalated the aggression by quoting 1 Samuel 15:2, 3 from the Bible, likening Hamas to the ancient Amalekites:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

            Despite the fact that Palestinians occupied the land before Israel was created, they have had a terrible deal. There are similarities with the American Natives, with several differences: we European settlers killed off a huge percentage of the indigenous people; North America is larger and less crowded than the Levant, and our land is more productive; and Israel has had significant international financial support.

I have two personal conclusions about this conflict. Amongst other issues, the high population density in Gaza may be a contributing factor to the war with Israel. This factor is not mentioned in most media reports on the conflict. Furthermore, for all its benefits, religion can be terribly destructive, especially if it fails to reflect current, more peaceful, ethics.

©Richard Grossman MD, 2023

Climate heating Population Reproductive Health

Denial is not just a River in Egypt

Image courtesy of NASA

            It’s been unmistakably hot outside, but some people have different ways of dealing with what most of us recognize as anthropogenic climate change.

            I asked one acquaintance what he thought about climate change. We had met when I was selling beer with our Bayfield Rotary Club on the 4th of July. He had come back several times for more beer. When I commented on this, he responded with “Those cans must have holes in them—the beer just seemed to leak away!”

            At a chance encounter, I asked him if he thought that climate change was real. “Oh yes, it’s real. Remember that explosion in the power plant in Japan? Well, it knocked the planet 3 degrees off its axis. That’s why the climate is all screwed up!” I think that is as rational as his reason for getting so many cans of beer.

            Gail and I were eating dinner with friends recently. I cannot remember how the subject came up, but I asked the person sitting next to me what they thought was making the climate so hot.

            “I think it’s a cycle.”

            I know this person to be intelligent and responsible. However, I was too flabbergasted to respond, so I changed the subject. The last time Earth’s climate was so hot as it is now was 125,000 years ago. That’s one loonngg cycle!

The way ancient temperatures are estimated is amazing. Scientists measure stable isotopes of oxygen and of hydrogen in air bubbles in Antarctic ice cores. There are known relationships between isotopes and atmospheric temperatures.

            We are very good at finding excuses for, or denying completely, what is incompatible with preconceived notions. This is especially true with facts that might interfere with our income or religious beliefs. Misinformation is rampant on Internet, in churches and from politicians.

            Let’s look at the facts of climate change. First, is it real?

            Yes, climate change is real. There are indications that humans have changed the planet’s climate for millennia, but previous to now, in insignificant ways. The human effect on climate increased after the Industrial Revolution. Then temperatures started to skyrocket about 1950.

            What is causing our climate to get hotter? We’ve all sat in a parked car in the summer and know how hot it gets from the greenhouse effect. The energy of the sun gets trapped in the closed environment. We also know that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing from human use of fossil fuels. However, it may be difficult for people to accept that COis as effective as a car in holding in heat. Other gases, such as methane in natural gas, are even more effective than CO2 as greenhouse gases. 

            Is climate change just in the future? NO! Severe storms, melting glaciers, enormous fires, the high temperature and drought we’ve experienced are all caused by, or worsened by, what we have done to the climate. Despite good snows last winter, the mega-drought of southwestern North America has been partly caused by the greenhouse gases we have wrapped around our planet. 

            How can we slow climate chaos? Driving electric is good, but less travel is even better. Increasing efficiency with LEDs helps, so does eating less meat. However, still the best way to reduce your individual carbon footprint is by having a small family—and by encouraging others to do the same. Global population has more than tripled since I was born 80 years ago. The more people, the more CO2 is emitted.

            We need to admit that we humans are responsible for climate change before we can conquer it.

©Richard Grossman MD, 2023