April 27, 2011


The Unnameable Crisis: Overpopulation

by Lorna Salzman

The initial and most severe consequences of overpopulation will be felt by those countries and regions that are the most overpopulated. This is a point that the deniers overlook. Overpumping of aquifers, drought, floods, desertification, etc., which are clustered in Africa, Pakistan and India, are due to the clearing of forests for firewood, which in turn prevents soils from retaining rainwater, and to agricultural practices that necessitate maximum food production to feed local populations (and often primarily for export). The overpumping of deep aquifers and the threat to food supplies is one of the most important topics in World on the Edge by Lester Brown, and is clearly a response to overpopulation.

Dozens of countries are now dependent on the World Food Program because disastrous policies have drastically reduced their ability to produce sufficient food. But the WFP itself is dependent on secure, plentiful food supplies, primarily wheat and rice, and as exporting nations' supplies dwindle, where will these supplies come from? Brown's figures on the loss of self-sufficiency in many exporting countries are dismal and frightening. So while the poor nations will suffer first and worst, in fact the whole world is interconnected in terms of food. China is now a chief importer of American wheat. Some southeast Asian countries are now importers instead of exporters. Brown's figures on these are truly scary.

But Brown does not downplay the impact of overpopulation in these cases. . He has not written a book solely on the overpopulation crisis. Instead, he has taken a comprehensive look at the intersection of these things, of cause and effect, of unintended consequences, and has come up with a book that, to my eyes, will be far more convincing to many people, especially those on the left who are still in denial about population and consider any discussion of it to be racist. Brown has constructed a far stronger case against overpopulation than he would have had he changed his emphasis in the book. Perhaps his tone lacks the urgency that some believe is needed. But overall his discussion of the numerous other problems connected to overpopulation, overconsumption and climate change provide a far more credible picture precisely because he gives an integrated comprehensive explanation of the interconnections.

The main issue at hand seems to be the question of time frame. I don't think that Brown or anyone would disagree, if asked in private, with the premise that anything short of immediate stabilization (i.e. zero population growth) of population will save us. His use of the phrase "stabilization" is to me the problematic one. The word means STOP RIGHT NOW AND DON'T ADD ONE MORE PERSON TO THE EARTH beyond replacement. But that is not what most people think it means. When Jim Hansen talks of stabilizing CO2 emissions, he means DO NOT ADD ANY MORE EMISSIONS TO THE ATMOSPHERE NOW. But again, this may not be clear to many people.

The ethical problem raised by this issue and others such as food supply, water resources, deforestation and habitat destruction is finding a process that

is not coercive, like China's one-child policy. But short of immediate adoption of drastic coercive measures we have nothing efficacious or timely enough to head off collapse.

Most scientists agree that we must act before we exceed the carrying capacity of the earth but if you accept Brown's figures, we have ALREADY exceeded this by 50%. And he also discusses the conflicts and catastrophes we have already reaped because of this: Russia, Pakistan, Somalia, New Orleans (Brazil and Australia were too recent to get into his book). I think he is perfectly aware that failure to adopt all of his prescriptions is dooming the world to disease, famines, and wars.

I don't think that failure to stabilize population is the only or first thing that will doom us, because all of the problems we face such as oil depletion, deforestation, food shortages, loss of freshwater supplies, epidemics, and economic recessions are equally likely (though Brown and others have strong evidence that the food crisis will hit first) and any one of them will take more time to resolve, if that is the right word, than we have left. The extra problem of overpopulation is the demographic overshoot problem: that we presently have billions of people of reproductive age who are now reproducing or will shortly. They are already born. This is what the various projections of population growth are based on. The only things that could restrain these numbers are the OTHER factors that are operative: disease, famine, war.

Social factors such as women's education and economic empowerment are effective and necessary in slowing population but this will take a long time, and possibly no less time than even forceable sterilization or birth control coercion would take. Those on the left who rely solely on policy changes - all of which have extensive political and economic implications in any given country - are blind to reality.

The onset of any given crisis - water, food, population, energy, disease, famine - is equally likely, and the time to address and mitigate these problems is insufficient. Population experts might well argue that it will take much longer to control population even by force than it would be to mitigate the water and food crises. These are simply matters of judgement and I don't think anyone can prove that any one solution would be enough to save the world, population control included. Zero population growth is nowhere in sight, except through natural forces and events. But climate stabilization is not in sight either, and one could make a valid argument that the impact of the continued rise in global temperature, compounded by positive feedback mechanisms and events, will doom civilization long before overpopulation does.

Let's look at some of the conditions that allow and encourage overpopulation.

--immigration into the USA. Millions of people each year, legal and illegal, possibly equal in number to the increase in annual births. All of these will eventually form households, have children and then grandchildren, purchase homes and cars, become over-consumers like the rest of us and add to the sprawl, overdevelopment and environmental problems already caused by our affluent society, a society whose impact on the earth exceeds that of undeveloped countries by orders of magnitude. Under the circumstances is quite legitimate to question America's role as a pressure relief valve for Latin American countries who refuse to house, feed and provide decent jobs for their own citizens. By not curbing immigration we are letting these countries off the hook. Only desperation forces men with families to leave them behind for the promise or illusion of jobs thousands of miles away.

--patriarchy. In Africa particularly, machismo makes men refuse to use condoms and force their wives to have children; families with six or more children are common. In Latin America large families are also the norm, especially in Brazil. Polygamy in Africa and the Muslim world, widespread prostitution, child slavery, poor disempowered women without rights and no education or job capability all put women at the mercy of men and repugnant ancient customs.

--Islam. Like orthodox Judaism, it bans contraception, and gives men the right to force sex on their wives, otherwise known as rape. Girls are married before their teens and thus start breeding early. Women are denied education and basic freedoms and thus have no future or sustenance outside of their husband's home.

--the Catholic church. If condoms are OK to prevent AIDS, as the pope says, then they should be OK to prevent pregnancy but this logic does not seem to have occurred to the church. A campaign in Latin America and parts of Africa against the Church's ban on birth control is imperative (and of course against the American Christians who want to ban funds for family planning abroad).

We treasure individual freedom and rights, but we also proscribe and often penalize anti-social behavior. Having more than one or two children is

anti-social today. It should be penalized.

Here are some possible solutions that are minimally coercive and deserve discussion and consideration.

1. Reverse Welfare: remove benefits to families with each successive birth after one child.

2. Ban new immigrants of breeding age (except to reunite

separated families) until we have reached no more than 1.2 replacement rate.

3.Track down and expel polygamist families, some of which now collect multiple welfare

benefits (yes, indeed, this is a fact, both here and in the UK but authorities look the other way).

4. Require all new immigrants to speak and read English.

5. End foreign aid except in cases of natural disaster and epidemics, and except for providing information on and access to birth control.

Remember Garrett Hardin's book The Tragedy of the Commons? In that case, those who took more than their share of the commons benefitted and

the rest of the community suffered as the commons disappeared. Today, overpopulated countries are demanding more than their share of the commons, that is, of the earth's space and resources. This is no less reprehensible than the overconsuming countries like the US taking more than their fair share and also

contributing more to climate change. Neither overpopulation nor overconsumption are socially responsible. Both need to be curbed drastically.

April 26, 2011


Religious Leaders See No Evil, Hear No Evil

by Lorna Salzman

Religious leaders are not alone in ignoring evil. Our mass media do it as a matter of course. In this month's Harper's magazine, in their famous Harper's Index, you can find the following two statistics:

Confirmed number of terrorist plots against the U.S. perpetrated by Muslims in 2010: 10

By nonMuslims: 25

Now look at an ad in the same issue placed by Negative Population Growth: present U.S. population 308.7 million.

Of these a generous estimate of American Muslims is usually given as 5 million.

Conclusion: while Muslims constitute about 1.6% of the U.S. population, they account for about 35% of total terrorist plots.

Harper's didn't see fit to comment on its own terrorist plot figures.

It is striking how reluctant religious leaders are to acknowledge evil in the world, except for the kind that violates their own doctrines. They denounce war (a fatuous denunciation in any case). Catholics denounce abortion and gay marriage. Muslims denounce everything not in conformity with sharia law. Protestant evangelicals denounce the devil. But when it comes to threats to secular society or sexual predation by their clergy they are silent at best and in denial at worst. It was left to the Pope to denounce Muslim violence and terrorism.

The silence of organized religion after 9/11 was deafening. Eventually sounds were made on the left to the effect that the American "imperialist" chickens were coming home to roost. While most Americans genuinely mourned the World Trade Center deaths, some on the left felt compelled to reach out ......to Muslims. Shortly after the attack, one colleague on Long Island went to meet with Muslims in her community as some perverted kind of outreach, presumably to let them know she didn't blame them personally for the atrocity.

As the visibility and influence of Muslims grew, the media felt compelled to print articles on Muslim culture and "moderate" religious leaders and in general sat up to salute Muslims as group in order to demonstrate their liberalism and tolerance. National Public Radio and the New York Times were repeat offenders in this grovelling display that managed to overlook the religious origins and motivation behind the WTC destruction.

As Homeland Security beefed up airport inspections, Muslims decided to fight back. Six imams on an airplane decided to test liberal tolerance on the airplanes and their strange behavior evoked a passenger complaint that led to them being led off the plane for further scrutiny. Result? The airline AND the passenger who complained were sued by the imams for discrimination. Then newspaper photos appeared showing the five imams in the terminal linking hands with Rabbi Arthur Waskow, head of the Shalom Center, as a gesture of interfaith relations.


Meanwhile, back at the liberal blog Tikkun run by ex-radical Michael Lerner, a different kind of X-ray was being deployed against me personally. Lerner asked if I would write a regular environmental blog for Tikkun on line and I agreed. But shortly after, his assistant (and later he himself) notified me that he had looked at my web site and seen articles critical of radical Islam. He said that Tikkun did not want to be attacked for publishing articles (on environment, mind you, not Islam) by someone who had criticized Islam elsewhere. So here is the supposedly brave, tolerant religious leader quaking in fear that he and his blog might be tainted by association with someone whose writings on other topics in other venues might put them in a bad light. So much for principles.

Last summer the Westhampton Beach synagogue sponsored a talk and slide show by a member of the group, Stand With Us. The presentation was powerful and devastating, with videos of Muslims (many of them blacks) delivering virulent tirades against Jews and Israel on American and Canadian campuses. It was as if

Nazi Germany in the 1930s were being revived here in America. I had printed out a handout on the suppression of free speech by Muslims and Muslim groups, and just before the talk started to put them on the attendees' seats, when the friend who had invited me to attend stopped me cold and asked me to not hand them out. I asked why; she said because the rabbi was making outreach efforts to local Muslims and this might offend him or hurt his efforts.

Why are Jewish religious leaders initiating "interfaith dialogue" with Muslims anyway? Shouldn't it be the Muslims reaching out to Jews and rebutting anti-Semitism and terrorism? What is the reluctance of religious leaders to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world?

The answer is simple. If one points out religiously inspired evil, one opens up one's own religion to similar scrutiny and criticism. Each religion has its doctrines, and if religious leaders question those of another religion, this raises the question of its validity...and the validity of other religions as well. Thus, evil can only be described in abstract terms, disconnected from motives and from the perpetrators themselves.

In a New York Times article of April 6th about a French panel discussion of secularism and Islam, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois criticized the debate saying it could feed demagogy and could lead "to a refusal of all religious expression in our society". The Council of Bishops did not participate and the leaders of six major religions (Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists issued a joint statement of concern that it could "add to the confusion in the troubled period we are traversing". No mention of who is causing these troubles was made or why a panel on the relationship of secularism and religion would be "confusing". Unquestionably, organized religions are clustering tightly together for protection; their statement clearly is saying that secularism is a greater enemy than radical Islam.

But Muslim religious leaders do not observe this propriety. Anti-Semitic propaganda and anti-Christian pogroms are widespread throughout the Muslim world. Muslim tracts in mosques have no hesitation in attacking Jews (slickly referred to as "Zionists"). The qu-ran minces no words in telling Muslims how they should treat nonMuslims and apostates and those who "offend" Mohammed: slaughter them. Muslims have no qualms in squashing free speech practiced by nonMuslims while demanding the right to curse and issue fatwas against anyone and anything considered "offensive".

Meanwhile, Jewish and Christian religious leaders pretend that Muslim prejudice, hatred, violence and misogyny are aberrations, not attitudes embedded in Muslim law and beliefs. They have nothing to say about honor killings right here in this country. They have nothing to say about the growing threats to civil liberties from Muslim leaders. They have nothing to say about Muslim anti-Semitism. For them, evil is disembodied. It has no origin, no perpetrators, no crime scene, and its victims are nameless.

Religion of course was the first recognition by humans of the existence of evil. But at the same time it recognized that violence was an innate characteristic of humans and therefore ineradicable. All it could do was try and discourage it by threatening burning at the stake for heretics and hell fire after death for everyone else.

The beauty of this was that it could justify its grip on human beings in the name of salvation. Today this doesn't wash in nonMuslim religions but it still prevails under Islam. Yet nonMuslim religious leaders refuse to condemn the most atrocious acts committed in the name of Islam because they know that an attack on one religion is an attack on all of them. Best to cover your own ass in these situations than cast a stone.

April 25, 2011

Snickersnee: Cimate Capitalism

Capitalism Trumps Climate

by Lorna Salzman

How many of you actually think that there are sincere and meaningful efforts being made to mitigate climate change? If your answer is yes, then what proof do you offer? What groups, individuals, policies or legislation do you think are making a difference or will in the near future? Why do you think so?

I will wager that more than half of you will answer yes to the first question and will then mention Bill McKibben and 350.org, and perhaps a few other obscure groups here or abroad that you have read about on the internet or in the news. But you will not be able to demonstrate exactly what these groups or individuals have accomplished, what they are doing right now, or what they say they will do in the future. That's because almost none of them actually have real action plans that they believe in and which they are promoting.

The ugly truth is that the most influential and prominent of these groups are planning to do EXACTLY NOTHING. Do you think this is hyperbole? You won't if you will take the time to find out who funds these groups and what their strategies are. I say "strategies" plural but that is incorrect.

There is only one strategy and that is to SAVE CAPITALISM. And they don't even try to hide this or deny it. Let me say it again: these groups and their hidden funders and sponsors have only one objective: to use the climate change issue as a way of preserving markets and, most important, creating NEW ones. In other words, develop new ways of making profits that do not interfere with the present system or restrict economic growth.

You probably think: well, they mean renewable energy so what's wrong with that? But if that were really the case, why was there such a massive campaign in this country not to promote renewable energy but to promote cap and trade? Why have they refused to support the things that would make renewable energy viable such as ending fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks and taxing CO2? The cap and trade campaign was dreamed up by investment houses, brokers, financiers, and the coal industry, with a few big enviros alongside, to accomplish several things:

--delay as long as possible the shutdown of coal burning power plants;

--maintain the oil and natural gas-based economy as long and as cheaply as possible;

--push off indefinitely (to well past the year 2030) any serious efforts at reducing energy consumption through efficiency or other measures;

--avoid at all costs a carbon tax or anything that would increase energy costs and thereby stifle growth;

--keep existing federal subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil and nuclear industry.

This is by default our present national energy policy and no one, including 350.org/1Sky, has proposed anything different: no one in government, no one in industry, and no one in the top echelons of the environmental community, even though one of them, Gus Speth, knows full well what needs to be done.

None of this should be surprising, at least to those who have been paying attention or who have not bought hook, line and sinker the empty words of people like Bill McKibben, who is good at whipping crowds into a green frenzy but incapable of telling them what they should do. There is NO ENERGY AGENDA of any merit being pushed ANYWHERE, and anyone who thinks it is only the Republicans to blame is inhaling from the Big Bong. There is bipartisan and universal agreement that the first order of business is Business and the earth be damned. 350.org even sent out shameless mailings to business to curry favor with them and suck them in to believing that nothing drastic or costly need be done and that only a few nips and tucks at the margins were needed.

We are therefore being lied to, big time, by those who actually believe that climate change can be mitigated with minimal effort and cost, and that there need be no hardship or sacrifice at all. This is the latest in Comfort Food for the masses and reassurance for industry and the financial community. The only problem is that it comes with no guarantee that climate catastrophe will NOT happen. It is no better than the reassurances of the nuclear industry that a Fukushima-size disaster could never happen in this country. It is the ultimate in Happy Faces, in wishful thinking, and in calming the public's fears.

But it is leading us over the cliff.

In case you think this is exaggeration, here is a promotional piece for Hunter Lovins, Amory Lovin's ex-wife and an energy consultant in her own right.





Hardcover • 400 pp. • $27.95

ISBN 978-0-8090-3473-4

Read More

Sign Up for the April 29th Teleforum

Read a preview excerpt from Climate Capitalism (PDF)



“A must-read for entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts, and corporations interested in capitalizing on the greatest wealth-creation opportunity of our lifetime: solving climate change.” —Jigar Shah, founder, SunEdison, and CEO, Carbon War Room

Whether you believe in climate change or not, it doesn’t matter. If your goal is profitability, you’ll act as if you do. As CLIMATE CAPITALISM shows, climate-protection efforts have failed because we have ignored the most powerful tool for unleashing the low-energy future: the business case. In their book, L. Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions and coauthor of Natural Capitalism, and Boyd Cohen, CEO of CO2IMPACT, draw on case studies of international corporations, small businesses, NGOs, and municipalities to demonstrate that efficiency and renewable energy equal the path to greater profitability and enhanced economic prosperity. Through addressing business opportunities across a range of sectors, including energy, buildings, transportation, and agriculture technologies, Lovins and Cohen powerfully address the future of capitalism in a carbon-constrained world and prove that climate change policy will promote, not hinder, the growth of our global economy.

Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and concerned citizens will all find CLIMATE CAPITALISM a feisty, opportunity-rich read—one that offers a compelling road map for a new energy economy.

“A highly persuasive demonstration of how profitable economic choices can take us a long way toward dealing with climate disruption, the misguided aspects of our agriculture, oil’s strategically catastrophic monopoly over transportation, the poverty of the bottom billion, and much else. Creative and deftly crafted.”—Jim Woolsey, Former Director of CIA, Booz Allen Hamilton

“L. Hunter Lovins' latest book should be on every CEO’s reading list and required in every corporate board room.”—Bill Becker, Executive Director, Presidential Climate Action Project

“One of the fastest growing areas in business schools today is entrepreneurship, and more specifically social entrepreneurship . . . . Climate Capitalism provides both direction and inspiration for these students who do not accept the artificial tradeoff between doing well and doing good.”—R. Bruce Hutton, dean emeritus, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver

“Nobody does a better job of laying out the business case for pursuing a cleaner, more profitable form of capitalism than Hunter Lovins.”—Andrew Winston, founder, Winston Eco-Strategies and author of Green Recovery

Note the claim that the "best case" for a low-energy future is "the business case", stressing "the future of capitalism in a carbon-constrained world" followed by the promise that the global economy will GROW, not contract. Well, one might believe in this growth but what they don't consider is the likelihood of a complete collapse of the global economy. If you start from a collapse, i.e. from nothing, then anything after that can be considered growth.

"Profitable economic choices" is the reward held out for not taking drastic action now in reducing energy use and mandating stringent energy efficiency measures....both of which would of course constrain growth. Having your cake and eating it too....

I do not doubt that Hunter Lovins and her associates truly believe and want a renewable energy economy. What I do doubt is whether they have read up on the science of climate change and the narrowing window of time left to us to get our house in order. Anyone who has read this knows full well that many scientists believe we are already past several tipping points and that we will be forced into adaptation and defensive measures. Where money will be found for these gigantic projects, "earth works", to protect urban infrastructure is by no means clear. Will the budget cutters change their minds and dole out billions of dollars to the states to protect water supplies, power grids, sewage systems and transportation


April 22, 2011


For Sale: One Used Sandpiper

by Lorna Salzman

I was googling the other day and came across a letter from someone complaining about how his used Sandpiper wasn't working very well. I momentarily considered responding to tell him that he should get another one on e-bay or a brand new one, but then remembered that it is illegal to trap wild birds.

Reading further I then realized he was talking about some obscure kind of motor or motorized vehicle. So why was I googling sandpipers in the first place? I - and apparently hundreds of other bird watchers - are DESPERATE to know why shorebirds stand and even hop on one leg. They do it while they rest, sleep or move away from photographers, bird watchers and dogs. They will hop away on one leg in preference to flying, which one would think is a more effective survival strategy.

It was comforting to see that I was not the only one asking this question. There were dozens and dozens of postings on this very topic and responses from bird watchers, hunters, scientists, university professors and others. But it was less comforting to discover that no really satisfactory answer was forthcoming.

Some were humorous of course: "They stand on one leg because if they lift it up they would fall down". Others tried to come up with reasonably scientific answers. Of these only two seemed to have any merit: heat regulation and ability to detect danger.

Several people said that on one leg, the bird can more quickly swivel around to look in all directions before taking off if there is danger. I don't buy this argument because birds’ heads swivel quite satisfactorily in many directions when they are on two legs. Another said that it could take off more quickly from a one-leg position, but another respondent dispelled this notion quite credibly. The response that got most support was that of heat regulation, though even this raises questions.

A bird's legs and bill, being unfeathered, are the major sites of heat loss; raising one leg conserves heat as does tucking the bill under the feathers when it rests or sleeps. But as one person (from Australia, naturally) pointed out, they do these things under all climatic conditions, cold or hot. Maybe in this case, as in so many others, we need to look for the simplest explanation (Occam's Razortheorem): that the bird is giving the invisible leg a rest.

Watching bird behavior is very rewarding, as this demonstrates. But it requires patience, good powers of observation and hearing, costly binoculars, and a tolerance for macho men practicing one-upsmanship. Having watched birds now for nearly forty-five years, I have observed some quite amazing and amusing sights. I often wonder why everyone is not a bird-watcher. Of all the hobbies available it is probably the easiest and most rewarding intellectually and aesthetically. And it can travel with you everywhere.

Anywhere you go, whether to the rainforest or visiting relatives in another part of this country, you have the possibility of seeing entirely new birds in new habitats. This beats shopping any day and costs less over time even if you buy binoculars. My husband and I have even birded (that is the correct term) from inside airport terminals in far-off lands. You never know what you will see. That's the fun of it. It's called serendipity. It's like catching that big fish: there are no guarantees but the payoff when it comes is worth the time spent.

My favorite bird joke: Why do birds fly south in the winter? Because it's too far to walk.