Roles of Population and Consumption in Overshoot
The second in the GrowthBusters webinar series, Solving Overshoot: End Overpopulation or Stop Overconsumption, went by too quickly. At the end of the hour there were 26 questions we hadn’t had a chance to address. Our panelists, Paul Ehrlich and Madeleine Somerville, were kind enough to provide written responses to these. I will share these here on the GrowthBusters blog over the next several days.
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If you didn’t attend the webinar, here is a very brief introduction of our two panelists:
Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich: the Stanford University biologist most known for co-authoring, with his wife, Ann, The Population Bomb, in 1968. Paul gained fame appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 20 times, discussing environmental concerns. Paul is very well respected in the scientific community, and his resume is impressive. He and his wife have authored many fine books in the decades since that landmark work.
Madeleine Somerville: author, blogger and columnist. She wrote the book, All You Need Is Less: A Guilt-Free Guide to Eco-Friendly Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. Madeleine wrote a column for the UK Guardian for a time, also called All You Need is Less.
Today I’ll share four questions from the webinar, along with responses from Madeleine and Paul:
1. Benjamin Dancer asked: “Can we solve this problem with human rights and contraception or do we need coercion?”
Paul Ehrlich: Let’s try full rights/opportunities for women, and access to modern contraception and abortion for all first.
Madeleine Somerville: I think the best option is focusing on human rights and safe, legal, affordable (or free!) access to contraception and abortion, paired with educating and raising awareness.
2. Karen Shragg directed this question to Madeleine: “for Madeline – overpopulation is also a relationship.. even if a person in a developing country has very little and doesn’t contribute to carbon footprint.. if they grow their population beyond the limits of the water in their well, they will die. And they will have died of overpopulation. SO can we say that overpopulation impacts the developed world and developing world very differently? One being local and one being more global?“
Madeleine Somerville: We in the developed world are able to ignore the effects of overpopulation in a way that is almost impossible in the developing world. If we run out of food here, there are grocery stores, markets, food banks and shelters. If food runs out in an area where, as you say, they’ve grown their population beyond the limits of the environment they must relocate or will suffer almost immediately.
This is why this issue is such a challenge to discuss, especially in somewhere like North America (and especially in Canada). Space is abundant, food is plentiful, stores are full – we can – and do – ignore what it costs our earth and those living half a world away to keep it that way.
Paul Ehrlich: Pretty much true.
3. Chris Bystroff asked Madeline: “When women are asked their desired family size they universally give a number far lower than their actually family size. Why? Who is in control? (data from Guttmacher Inst)”
Madeleine Somerville: It’s hard to answer without knowing the parameters of the study, but my guesses would be:
– Unexpected pregnancies and/or beliefs that prohibit contraception/abortion
– Pressure from partners/family/culture
– Regret/stress? Kids are hard work! It’s easy to want four kids until you actually have four kids and realize how much it requires of you.
Paul Ehrlich: Men play a major role in family-size preferences in many countries.
4. Karen Pitts asked Paul Ehrlich: “Paul Ehrlich, how much money do we need each year to meet the worldwide unmet need for contraception? How much are we spending?”
Paul Ehrlich: Haven’t time to look up, but it would be a trivial bit of the U.S. arms budget.
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