Thursday, May 8, 2014

Earth Day Portland 2014

Earth Day 2014

Earth Day Celebration in Portland

Portland’s Earth Day celebration is in a large park with a long, curving asphalt path running through it. Booths are lined up along either side of the 10-foot path, facing each other. As we’re setting up, I realize I’m directly across from a midwife’s booth. Twenty photos of freshly born humans grace the top of their canopy. In the same place on my canopy, the “Thank you for not breeding” banner normally hangs, but I placed it on the back side, so it can be seen from a wider area. Bumper stickers on my table with that slogan were enough of a contrast.

I talk with the midwives and we joke about our ironic placement. I find our common ground: if they’re going to breed, they may as well do it right.
“If I strike out, I’ll send them over to you.”

I explain VHEMT to a midwife and her husband, who had stopped by. They’d decided to not procreate and are delighted to receive the Meritorious Service Award. Two other midwives had also decided against breeding, one coming to that conclusion half way through midwife school. Another was wrestling with the decision: giving birth is something she really wants to experience, but she knows what the ecological implications are.
“Well, you’re thinking about it, that’s the main thing. If the only children who are born are wanted it would be a huge improvement.”

To get a photo of their booth with two midwives posing, one has to back up into my booth. I suggest holding the “Thank you for not breeding” bumper sticker in front of them.
“Oh, you’re bad for business,” she half-jokes.

Many visitors fully agree that there are too many of us, if not that we should go extinct. The idea of us not existing is troubling to a few, and they aren’t comforted by my suggesting that thousands of other species are going extinct because of us—we’re just one more.

People who had chosen to not procreate are happy to find someone they can tell their story to and be congratulated instead of the usual negative reactions. The 20 acres of potential wildlife habitat they saved for 78 years by not creating another US resident is useful information.

A man tells me that he’d come to the VHEMT booth on Earth Day in 2008 and our conversation prompted him to stop waffling about getting fixed. I ceremoniously present him with the Meritorious Service Award.

I usually get one really negative reaction and this time it’s also one of the strangest. A young man and woman with a child about nine, too old to be theirs and of mixed ethnicity, look quite seriously at the Why Breed? chart. By their expressions, I can tell they don’t like what they’re reading. Admittedly, it’s not the best introduction to the VHEMT concept for most people. I’m busy with others and don’t get a chance to engage them in conversation. They leave, and return later with controlled righteous anger and semi-prepared confrontation. The girl gives me a folded note and I thank her as I drop it into the cash box, assuming it’s meant to be read later. I still haven’t read it because I’m afraid it will reveal that she was erroneously made to feel badly about me and the VHEMT message—maybe that I think she shouldn’t have been born.

The trio fronts the table and the guy begins his speech while the girl and young woman glare at me.
“As an identified white male, I have to ask, how can you... I mean, this comes from a position of privilege. What about all the minorities who don’t... who are struggling every day just to by? I’m just asking the question.”
This is taking a lot of courage on his part and his voice wavers slightly. He’s shaking barely perceptibly and I’m trying not to internalize his feelings. I can tell he’s not ready for an answer, so I nod and don’t interrupt.
“What about the woman who gets raped and now has a baby, or the trans woman?”
He goes on a little while defending the defenseless against the tyranny he perceives I represent. Whatever they had read at the table triggered some deep feelings, perhaps reinforced in group-think while they were gone.
“I’m just putting the question out there.”
“Yes, but your question comes out of misconceptions.”
“I’m just asking what makes you think you have the right to present this information?”
“I have an obligation to present this information.”
He allows me to explain that we’re voluntary and stand for reproductive freedom. That when there are fewer of us we can take better care of everyone who’s already here.
It’s the woman’s turn, and the girl’s glare is holding strong. I feel sorry for her more than the adults, who seem to have acquired a heavy dose of honky guilt for their white privilege.
“There are people who are aware and intelligent, good people who should be having kids.”
“Eugenics? Are you saying that some people have more right to breed than others?” I try to not sound judgmental.
“No...” I don’t think she had thought of it in those terms.
I speak calmly, presenting VHEMT in social justice terms, and rejecting thoughts like, “It’s ’cuz I’m white, isn’t it?” I allow breaks for them to talk but I may have defused their hostility and they’re quiet. They don’t decide to become VHEMT Volunteers, but at least they aren’t angry as they leave.
It’s true that we’re privileged and the two billion humans who are barely scraping by aren’t likely to think about Homo sapiens ceasing procreation to go extinct for the good of Earth’s biosphere.

People capture images with their phones of the “Visualize human extinction” cartoon, the stack of books, and footprint information on the “Preserve Wildlife Habitat” board. Fast way to share information.

One of the bumper stickers on display is “Vasectomy prevents Abortion,” which generates conversations. A boy about 10 asks what it means.
“A vasectomy is an operation a man gets so he won’t get a woman pregnant. An abortion is an operation a woman gets if she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be.”

A man with a huge white beard tells me he decided not to get a vasectomy when he saw what it did to the guys he knew who got it. I asked what happened to them.
“They lost all their desire to compete.”
“Wow, I’m going to promote it even more now—side benefit!”
As he moves on, he looks back at me with a puzzled expression.

While talking with a guy in agreement, another man walks up and the conversation turns to vasectomies.
New guy says, “Vasectomies should be given where they’re needed the most.”
“Like, in the balls—that’s best,” I say with as much seriousness as I can feign.
First guy agrees, nodding with a sly smile.
“No, I mean India and South America.”
“We’re the most overpopulated. Our impact is a lot bigger than people living there, so this is where it’s needed the most.”

A middle-aged woman tells me “One of the first things I want to know when I start dating someone new is if they’ve had a vasectomy. So many guys won’t do it.”
“Why should I? She can just take the pill.”
“Yeah, really, isn’t that awful?”
She recounts being told she’s selfish for not having children.
“I’ll be so glad when I stop bleeding.” The change they are a timing.

A Swedish-American woman is surprised by the idea of us going extinct voluntarily.
“It’s so much nicer than the involuntary human extinction we’re working so hard to bring about, don’t you think?”
She’s open to the idea, and introduces her adopted son, who’s about 10. Later she brings her husband, a native Hawai’ian, who understands the concept right off. He tells of the extinctions which befell Hawai’i after Europeans arrived, nearly including the native people. She’s shivering as the temperature drops ahead of the rain, so I offer the propane heater behind the table. While she’s warming, he jokes, “She’s a Viking and she’s cold.”

I’m one of the last ones to break down and load up. Everything is just about ready for me to load when a man and a woman come up, and he tells me “I just got a vasectomy, what do I get?”
“Congratulations! I wish you all the happiness in the world for the rest of your life!”
I bring my car up and as I’m loading, I realize he was expecting the Meritorious Service Award. Word gets around. Too late now. Maybe in 2015 he’ll be back to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement booth.

Okay, I finally feel ready to read the note:

Dear Mr. mean man. I just wanted to say that me and my best friends do not agree with your idiotic idea. What we should do is go on with our normal lives and the earth will survive. You made me feel like it’s a crime that I want to have a kid when I grow up. I have many more things to say but I don’t want to. Thanks for reading.
Sincerely,
9 year old.

That’s not as bad as I was prepared for: she wasn’t made to feel badly for her existence, just for her culturally induced desire to follow the default life. In some ways it is a crime to create another of us today, or more than ten years from today in her case. It’s a crime against Nature, against the existing children who need care, and a case could be made that it’s de facto child abuse to sentence someone to life in the world we’re leaving for them. I would have presented it less harshly, of course. I hope she takes a different path with her intelligence and writing ability as she grows older.

Monday, September 10, 2012

“There’s No Tomorrow”

Animated video explaining peak everything, how it came about, and what we should do about it.

After 31 minutes patiently detailing why none of our available alternatives are adequate, the video concludes:

The issues of energy sources, resource depletion, top soil loss, and pollution are all symptoms of a single larger problem: growth.

Exactly! Unfortunately, this is where a natalist blind spot prevents an obvious conclusion.

As long as our financial system demands endless growth, reform is unlikely to succeed.
Reform? What reform? We just spent half an hour learning how no reforms can succeed. Our dire situation is caused by the way we count our money? Financial systems are artificial—life support systems are based on reality. Blaming economics for our overshoot of carrying capacity ignores the root cause, perhaps because the subsequent solution is unthinkable.

What then will the future look like? Optimists believe growth will continue forever without limits. Pessimists think that we’re headed toward a new stone age or extinction. The truth may lie between these extremes.
Is it possible that society might fall back to a simpler state, one in which energy use is a lot less? This would mean a harder life for most, more manual labor, more farm work, and local production of goods, food, and services.

It could also mean a massive dieoff, but never mind what those pessimists think.

What should a person do to prepare for such a possible future? Expect a decrease in supplies of food and goods from far away places. Start walking or cycling. Get used to using less electricity. Get out of debt. Try to avoid banks. Instead of shopping at big box stores, support a local business. Buy food grown locally at farmers’ markets. Instead of a lawn, consider gardening to grow your own food. Learn how to preserve it. Consider the use of local currencies, should the larger economy cease to function, and develop greater self-sufficiency. None of these steps will prevent collapse, but they might improve your chances in a low energy future, one in which we will have to be more self-reliant, as our ancestors once were.

How quaint. Seven billion of us will roll up our sleeves and live as one billion did back in our ancestors’ day. In keeping with the moderate, even euphemistic tone of the video, they could have concluded, “Because none of these steps will prevent collapse, consider carefully before increasing your family size.”

Instead, we are given a few good-but-admittedly-inadequate steps from one of the popular “100 easy things you can do” lists.

Either the evidence failed to convince its own makers, or they had to pander to natalist misconceptions to get it approved by the producers. Imagine ending with, “And so, creating even one more of us can’t be justified at this time. Let’s take care of everyone who’s already here, and make the most of our unfortunate future together.”

Perhaps the video would have been rejected by most as anti-baby and anti-human, but there’s too much at stake for us to continue ignoring the effects of our redundant breeding. The luxury of time for incremental advancements in awareness is running out with the rest of our resources.

My advice for the coming weird times

Advice for benefit of individuals and their community:
Don’t create more offspring.
Downsize possessions, but increase storage of long-lasting necessities.
Develop a support community—especially among your neighbors if possible.
Increase alternative transportation choices and use motor vehicles efficiently if at all.
Gain useful skills and the tools for them, specializing in personal aptitudes.
Retrofit dwelling unit for conservation and efficiency—perhaps for security
Grow and preserve food.
Reduce throughput of money. Avoid debt.
Have fun and enjoy life.

Advice for the benefit of society and biosphere:
Don’t create more offspring.
Reduce consumption and environmental impact in whatever ways seem best for your situation.
Mitigate negative human impacts in whatever way your situation allows and inclination leads.
Move toward a plant-based diet.
Avoid acquiring more companion animals.

I welcome your additions to the above advice, as well as feedback on my analysis of this outstanding video’s conclusions.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why do so many deny that human population density is a critical issue for Earth’s biosphere?

In TED Conversations, Hans Rosling, professor of International Health and co-founder of the outstanding interactive website Gapminder, asks, “Why do so many think that population growth is an important issue for the environment? Don’t they know the facts of demographics?” He partially answers his questions:

We face many environmental challenges, but the foremost is the risk for a severe climate change due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

I meet so many that think population growth is a major problem in regard to climate change. But the number of children born per year in the world has stopped growing since 1990. The total number of children below 15 years of age in the world are now relatively stable around 2 billion. The populations with an increasing amount of children born are fully compensated by other populations with a decreasing number of children born. A final increase of 2 billion people is expected until the world population peaks at about 9 billion in 2050. But the increase with 2 billion is comprised by already existing persons growing up to become adults, and old people like me (+60 years). So when I hear people saying that population growth has to be stopped before reaching 9 billion, I get really scared, because the only way to achieve that is by killing.

So the addition of another 2 billion in number constitutes a final increase of less than 30%, and it is inevitable. Beyond 2050 the world population may start to decrease if women across the world will have, on average, less than 2 children. But that decrease will be slow.

So the fact is that we have to plan for a common life on Earth with 7-9 billion fellow human beings, and the environmental challenge must be met by a more effective use of energy and a much more green production of energy.

The only thing that can change this is if the last 1-2 poorest billion do not get access to school, electricity, basic health services and family planning. Only if the horror of poverty remains will we become more than 9 billion.

So my question is: Are these facts known? If not, why?

It is important because placing emphasis on population diverts attention from what has to be done to limit the climate crisis.


Rosling’s perspective above is shared by others and, considering his stature, is likely to be accepted at face value. It deserves deconstruction:
We face many environmental challenges, but the foremost is the risk for a severe climate change due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.
It might be, though one could argue that toxins and habitat loss may be equally challenging. Regardless of which man-made problem(s) we choose as foremost, population growth is indeed a major driver: the more of us there are the greater our total impact.
I meet so many that think population growth is a major problem in regard to climate change. But the number of children born per year in the world has stopped growing since 1990.
The fact that our natural increase peaked in 1989 at 87 million doesn’t mean that the 76 million more of us born than die each year have no significant impact.
The total number of children below 15 years of age in the world are now relatively stable around 2 billion.
And they will be creating more of us over the next 15 years, many against their wishes or unintentionally. Our goal shouldn’t be to maintain a stable number of people under 15—we need a steadily decreasing number. A relatively stable number of children are dying each day, but stability in this situation is likewise less than ideal.
The populations with an increasing amount of children born are fully compensated by other populations with a decreasing number of children born. A final increase of 2 billion people is expected until the world population peaks at about 9 billion in 2050.
One might ask how we will increase by 2 billion if populations with “increasing amounts of children born are fully compensated by other populations with a decreasing number of children born.” This incongruity is caused by using “increasing” and “decreasing” as determinant factors without quantifying them: how much?

Like most attempts to show that we have nothing to fear about human population density, demographic facts that birth rates are decreasing, our growth rate is decreasing, and the sheer number of humans added each year is decreasing are presented. There’s one fact which negates all three of those decreasing rates, and it’s usually left out: our population density is steadily increasing. World population charts.
But the increase with 2 billion is comprised by already existing persons growing up to become adults, and old people like me (+60 years).
No, the increase of 2 billion will come from the excess of births over deaths, same as it always has. Humans of all ages are included in the global census, so the increase doesn’t come from existing persons, rather from those who don’t yet exist. They won’t exist in the future if their conceptions are prevented.
So when I hear people saying that population growth has to be stopped before reaching 9 billion, I get really scared, because the only way to achieve that is by killing.

What’s even scarier is hearing prominent people whose opinions are well-respected saying that the only way we can improve our population density is by killing. Many people understandably forget that breeding adds to our population: it’s a mental blind spot. But we would expect a statistician and professor of international health to be aware of both factors determining population increase or decrease, as well as the significant ecological impact each new human will add.

So the addition of another 2 billion in number constitutes a final increase of less than 30%, and it is inevitable.

Twenty-nine percent more of us when we’re already into overshoot by 50% isn’t inevitable because both our birth and death rates are uncertain.

We’ve exploited Earth’s resources to the breaking point. Wringing out an additional 29% isn’t likely, and that would be needed just to maintain our dreadful status quo: a billion hungry and two billion without potable water. Continuing to increase demands on exhausted supplies, whether due to more people, increased standards of living, or both, is likely to increase death rates—possibly massively. We may not succeed in preventing increased deaths due to famines and conflicts over resources, but we have a moral obligation to try.

Birth rates may be voluntarily improved in many ways, so an increase of two billion isn’t inevitable. Further lowering birth rates among wealthy populations will conserve resources, with the potential for improving standards of living among the poorest in our human family. Lowering birth rates among the poor will help them live better on what they have.

Beyond 2050 the world population may start to decrease if women across the world will have, on average, less than 2 children. But that decrease will be slow.

Quite slow, and also delayed: even with a global fertility rate of 2.0 starting now, our numbers would continue to increase for decades due to momentum. China’s TFR has been well below 2.0 for over 20 years and they’re still growing by 6.6 million a year.

So the fact is that we have to plan for a common life on Earth with 7-9 billion fellow human beings, and the environmental challenge must be met by a more effective use of energy and a much more green production of energy.
Energy is a significant resource feeding our industrial civilization and oil companies forecast we’ll use 40 percent more energy by 2030 . But let’s imagine we somehow pull off that technological feat—what about our more basic needs: food and the water needed to grow it? Our present agricultural land use is the size of South America and we’ve already put most farms on performance enhancing drugs. Consider depleted fish stocks and aquifers, desertification and top soil loss—the list goes on and is ignored at our peril.
The only thing that can change this is if the last 1-2 poorest billion do not get access to school, electricity, basic health services and family planning. Only if the horror of poverty remains will we become more than 9 billion.
Ameliorating the horror of poverty by increasing living standards will be easier if there are fewer people in poverty. Don’t be scared, killing isn’t necessary. In fact, that’s already happening on a large scale and it’s not reducing the number of poor people. Gender equality and the reproductive freedom which follows will greatly reduce unwanted pregnancies and subsequent deaths from malnutrition and maternity. The basic human right to not breed is being denied with tragic consequences.
So my question is: Are these facts known? If not, why?
As Rosling demonstrates, facts alone are not enough. Even among those of us with the data at hand and the intelligence to apply it, our emotionally-embedded worldviews can overrule logic.
It is important because placing emphasis on population diverts attention from what has to be done to limit the climate crisis.
Accepting that increasing overshoot is inevitable, and pretending it doesn’t matter much anyway, diverts attention away from the human suffering that those born today are likely to experience. It also ignores the environmental degradation each of us, particularly in over-industrialized regions, is responsible for when we choose to create another human being.

The TED “conversation has closed,” so my analysis can’t be added there. A few comments countered Rosling’s dismissal of population growth and his human-centered concerns, but most agreed and many found his perspective reassuring:
With all the misguided talk of world population explosion even my own children are embarrassed by the fact that I had five kids.

Well, the data is there. Its been there for a while now. The interpretation of this data has really sucked till now! But thanks to you, we have a much better understanding of what’s really happening.

Thanks Hans, before I read your question I thought population was a very big problem, but seeing as your a world expert and reading the statements you have read. Why do so many people think this?... The important thing here is that you as an expert on this can enlighten people on what aspects of the worlds problems are most important, and help eradicate any environmental dogma. It is amazing how easily the meme of the “Malthusian Catastrophe” spreads... I wonder what instinctive fears it is touching that makes people believe it, almost religiously, so very quickly. In any case, it seem to take an inordinate amount of time and work to dislodge it!!
One shares my opinion:
I think, the reason for this false perception about population growth may also be linked to psychological factors and not merely to the facts.
However, the “false perception about population growth” they refer to is that it’s a problem. While there’s renewed awareness of the consequences of our excessive breeding, there’s also considerable opposition voiced by influential people. The idea that creating more of us, commonly called “having children,” could be detrimental to people and planet is naturally resisted by those who have already done so and especially by those who plan to.

The single most effective way we as individuals can conserve resources and benefit Earth’s biosphere is to forego creating another of ourselves. In the USA, each new human we don’t create preserves 22 acres (9 ha) of potential wildlife habitat and avoids adding 9,441 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Thank you for not breeding.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Top 10 Myths about Sustainability"

"Even advocates for more responsible, environmentally benign ways of life harbor misunderstandings of what 'sustainability' is all about," writes Michael D. Lemonick in Scientific American's March 2009 issue.

Naturally, the myth of population caught my eye.

"Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem.
This is not a myth, but it represents a false solution. Every environmental problem is ultimately a population problem. If the world’s population were only 100 million people, we would be hard-pressed to generate enough waste to overwhelm nature’s cleanup systems. We could dump all our trash in a landfill in some remote area, and nobody would notice."

Pretty hard to disagree with that, although we were able to cause many extinctions with smaller populations. We could live sustainably at 100 million if we were conscious of our actions: no fair setting fire to the forests to make it easier to hunt. We would also have to somehow keep from increasing in number as our food supplies increased.

Lemonick continues: "Population experts agree that the best way to limit population is to educate women and raise the standard of living generally in developing countries. But that strategy cannot possibly happen quickly enough to put a dent in the population on any useful timescale. The U.N. projects that the planet will have to sustain another 2.6 billion people by 2050. But even at the current population level of 6.5 billion, we’re using up resources at an unsustainable rate. There is no way to reduce the population significantly without trampling egregiously on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy), encouraging mass suicide or worse. None of those proposals seems preferable to focusing directly on less wasteful use of resources."

Short version: The only two acceptable ways to improve population density are too slow, so let's ignore population and "focus directly on less wasteful use of resources."

First inadequate method: "educate women." This has been repeated so many times I doubt people think about what it means -- just nod in agreement.

It could mean that women are ignorant about ways to avoid pregnancy and need to be educated, which would be condescending and untrue in the vast majority of regions.

It could also be a remnant of the mentality generated by a historically male-dominated field: "Those baby-making machines -- women -- need to be controlled, or at least tinkered with, for desired demographic results." "Educating women" contains an element of control: it's something done to them.

Alternately, it could mean that because statistics show that the higher a woman's level of education, the smaller her family, education will improve birth rates. However, correlation doesn't prove causation.

If it were that easy, the UN could confer an honorary college degree on every woman on earth. Better yet, make it a doctorate because women with doctorates often don't have any offspring. Of course it wouldn't work because a degree is useless without opportunities to use it. Higher education can't lift all people out of poverty: it actually helps keep societies economically stratified.

Rather than education causing lower birth rates, they're both results of the same social improvement: increased status of women in a society. Gender equality allows opportunities for life choices beyond wife and mother, and subsequently brings the contraceptive services essential for taking advantage of those opportunities. When women's basic human right to determine how many offspring they produce is respected, they usually produce fewer.

Second inadequate method: "raise the standard of living generally in developing countries." It's reasoned that because regions with higher standards of living have lower birth rates than regions with lower standards of living, it must mean that higher standards of living, by our standards, automatically lead to lower birth rates. However, this Demographic Transition Theory doesn't hold true within a country -- just the opposite. Birth rates go up and down as couples' perception of their economic future goes up and down, relative to existing standards.

A couple billion people desperately need to raise their standards of living just to be on the level of livable. Another couple billion seek to improve theirs to a level that's merely modest by wealthy regions' standards. The rest of us simply want more even if we don't really need it. How many people want less than they have?

Nonetheless, according to Lemonick, it's preferable to reduce consumption than to reduce population density, and this can be achieved with "less wasteful use of resources."

This brings us to Lemonick's Myth 6: "Sustainability means lowering our standard of living. Not at all true. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Hawken argues, 'Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set, the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.'"

All we have to do is start innovating ways to do more with less and we'll have "superior rates of resource productivity." I assume he's trying to say, "more efficient resource use." Then all seven billion humans will live well without increasing resource extraction. Make that eight billion. Oops, better innovate faster -- got another billion coming.

Actually, we're already 25% into overshoot of resource usage, so to be sustainable we have to figure out how to do much more with 75% of what we're using now. I propose sustainability myth number 11: We can raise everyone's standard of living without increasing resource use.

"Moreover, [Hawken] and others maintain that the innovation at the heart of sustainable living will be a powerful economic engine. 'Addressing climate change,' he says, 'is the biggest job creation program there is.'"

There's no shortage of work that needs to be done, but if it doesn't earn a profit, it's not going to happen significantly. "Addressing climate change" through alternative energy development could be the next "bubble" which investors work their pyramid scheme on, and that will create jobs with its "powerful economic engine," temporarily. We are to assume the people made prosperous by those jobs will breed less, and that this economic growth will be ecologically sustainable, unlike past growth.

This is the same cornucopian fantasy future promulgated by The Enlightenment which prompted Malthus to write An Essay on the Principle of Population. Thinkers of the day envisioned a world of plenty based on advances in technology and society. Not so fast, the Rev. cautioned. When life is good, people breed more and pretty soon we're right back where we started. His gloomy prediction has held true, although the scale is way beyond what he could have imagined. Today there are twice as many people living in poverty than the total world population in Malthus' time. We're always up against the limits of Earth's carrying capacity, though we've been able to temporarily increase it and even exceed it. This is not sustainable.

Times have changed since Malthus. We now have a wide-range of contraceptives potentially available, which allow couples to avoid creating more offspring than they want. Women's rights are more respected now in most regions, though progress has stalled in some. But, as Lemonick's article demonstrates, an obsolete mindset remains from Malthus' day: not much can be done about population growth.

Further, not much should be done about population growth: "There is no way to reduce the population significantly without trampling egregiously on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy), encouraging mass suicide or worse," Lemonick writes.

We are already "trampling egregiously on individual rights" by denying hundreds of millions of couples their right to not conceive. It's far worse to force couples to breed than to deny them their right to create as many offspring as they wish. By failing to address our unsustainable overshoot of carrying capacity, we are not just "encouraging mass suicide or worse," we are making it inevitable.

It's true that "every environmental problem is ultimately a population problem," so rather than shy away from that sacred cow, let's grab it by the horns. Reproductive freedom, increased status of women, and encouragement to refrain from procreation would go a long way toward achieving that mythical sustainability of human existence.

Friday, March 20, 2009

VHEMT on Italian TV show Tatami

On March 19th, 2009, I was a remote guest via satellite link with a TV program in Rome. The show is edited to give the impression that it's live in real time: air date 22 March 11:30 PM Italian time on on RAITRE channel. It's called Tatami, and is hosted by Camilla Raznovich.
Camilla was about eight months pregnant and she joked about going into labor on the show. The stage had a semicircle of guests sitting facing a runway that made it look like a fashion show set. The runway was for the host to walk in high heels and low-cut maternity dress. I think I heard an audience but the monitor didn't show that, and it wasn't part of my audio. Four rectangular screens for remote guests forming a box hung over the set.
After some technical problems and a false start, the first guest in the studio made his pitch: we have the greatest level of technology ever attained and it will save us. Disaster isn't going to happen. Nature is the biggest polluter because of all the CO2 produced by plants, and so on.
An environmentalist guest on a remote in Milan followed, and they asked what he thought of that. He said he didn't hear a word because all he could hear was the English translation and he doesn't speak English. While stage crew swarmed on and under the set, Camilla recapped his speech so he'd know what to comment on.
It was another half hour before the glitches and crossed wires were adequately straightened out. That won't be on the show, because they'll edit, and viewers won't know that Techno guy was proved wrong mere seconds after praising technology. I wasn't able to hear the Milan guest because it took a little longer to get the translator back in my ear. I could barely hear him due to a louder feed from the show itself. He could see me but not hear me, so I had to nod for yes.
A guest in the Tatami studio grew up in New York and then went to California to sit in a tree to prevent it from being cut down. The host explained to him that she would ask questions in English and then he should wait a moment to answer so they can edit. He was likely receiving the same translation in his ear that I was.
Techno guy said that a tree in the Redwoods had been saved by an actress tree-sitting (Julia Butterfly Hill?) and it blew down the next year. Reforestation replaces more trees than are cut... blah, blah.
Another guest in the studio psychoanalyzed people's motivation for thinking that we aren't treating the environment as we should: we actually feel badly about ourselves.
They showed a scene in Northern Italy of a sustainable homestead making cob houses with solar panels on the roof.
Techno guy said there were too many people for all of us to live that way, a point I returned to when my turn finally came -- an hour later than expected.
Camilla asked about my vasectomy, if it was out of concern for the environment or just to practice free love. I disregarded the latter and said that it was the best way to keep from getting someone pregnant. Regrets, she asked? No, and I still had the opportunity to be a parent. We don't have to reproduce to become parents.
Asked if I had a religion or a belief in a higher power. I said no but others do and that VHEMT is compatible with all religions -- most have a time when humans are not on the planet.
I might have said that, for extinct species, disaster has already happened.
Phycho guy said there must be something in my past that made me take this radical view. I said that I was trying to find a reason for breeding that wasn't pathological. He said something aboout giving love. I said there are nearly seven billion of us already here to love we don't need to make any more of us to love.
Camilla said some things related to her decision to be pregnant, I think, but I couldn't hear the translation well enough. Fortunately, she asked if I had any last thing to add, giving me the opportunity to wish her and her new daughter the best.
I think it went well though I can't remember all of what was said: I wasn't dedicating any brain power to memory functions as circuits were overloaded coping with immediate demands. This was a challenging situation, but at least I had a monitor to watch when I wasn't on camera, which helped a lot.
I hope some Italian VHEMTers will comment on the show, correct any mis-remembering, and let us know what other guests said.