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

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