starting the over population debate, hot wheels, 120,000 year old bacterium

tunnel vision

Population and Sustainability: Can We Avoid Limiting the Number of People? Slowing the rise in human numbers is essential for the planet–but it doesn’t require population control

…. Given the long-term contribution that a turnaround in population growth could make in easing our most recalcitrant challenges, why doesn’t the idea get more respect and attention? Politicians’ apathy toward long-term solutions is part of the answer. But the more obvious reason is the discomfort most of us feel in grappling with the topics of sex, contraception, abortion, immigration and family sizes that differ by ethnicity and income. What in the population mix is not a hot button? Especially when the word “control” is added, and when the world’s biggest religions have fruitful multiplication embedded in their philosophical DNA. And so critics from left, right and the intellectual center gang up on the handful of environmentalists and other activists who try to get population into national and global discussions.

[   ]…Mostly ignored in the environmental debates about population and consumption is that nearly all the world’s nations agreed to an altogether different approach to the problem of growth 15 years ago, one that bases positive demographic outcomes on decisions individuals make in their own self-interest. (If only something comparable could be imagined to shrink consumption.) The strategy that 179 nations signed onto at a U.N. conference in Cairo in 1994 was: forget population control and instead help every woman bear a child in good health when she wants one.

That approach, which powerfully supports reproductive liberty, might sound counterintuitive for shrinking population growth, like handing a teenager the keys to the family car without so much as a lecture. But the evidence suggests that what women want—and have always wanted—is not so much to have more children as to have more for a smaller number of children they can reliably raise to healthy adulthood. Women left to their own devices, contraceptive or otherwise, would collectively “control” population while acting on their own intentions.

More than 200 million women in developing countries are sexually active without effective modern contraception even though they do not want to be pregnant anytime soon…

The authors state the subject of over population is kind of forbidden in the public realm. That claim mostly applies to western countries. It immediately brings up China’s strong armed policy of limiting families to one child – not to defend that policy, but the Chinese were already on a downward curve on birth rates before the draconian measures were implemented. The Chinese and some short lived birth rate reduction that got out of control in India, tend to be the knee jerk reactionism when anyone expresses concerns about population growth, resources and waste produced by human consumption. We reach a world population of 10 billion, up from the current 6.3 billion, feeding clothing and sheltering those additional four billion people will force some urgent talks about solutions. Solutions that will involve the bare minimum of keeping those people alive – the discussion via crisis. Or we can begin now to see the earth as one big lifeboat and a finite amount of resources for the occupants. The article does go into some more correlations and trends which people tend to adapt when left with informed choices. Most women, especially in third world would rather have fewer children which they are capable of providing for – war, rape and poverty increases birth rates. Women in the west tend to have fewer children when there is an increase in education and more economic opportunity.

Knowing what a touchy subject birth control and even the concept of over population can be I checked the comments at SciAm and was surprised by the generally civil tone. If that is an indication, maybe there is hope our political leaders will grow a little backbone and at least start the debate. One plus that is on the side of the moderate political spectrum is America’s love of free market economics. If we get to the point where only the rich and powerful get their share of supplies on the lifeboat, obviously the free market/meritocracy system has been trashed. Even us minimalists need some stuff so the idea of standing in line in get some basic rations to survive should be a fair enough motivation to be concerned about reaching the over population breaking point.

hot wheels

A tiny frozen microbe may hold clues to extraterrestrial life

A novel bacterium that has been trapped more than three kilometres under glacial ice in Greenland for over 120 000 years, may hold clues as to what life forms might exist on other planets. Dr Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University report finding the novel microbe, which they have called Herminiimonas glaciei, in the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Its been a common misconception and also used as a cudgel in political debates to express outrage at the idea that Homo sapiens evolved from apes. Humans did not evolve from ape, though we both had some very primitive common ancestors like bacterium. At the base of the evolutionary tree are almost any organism that could use DNA to make proteins or more versions of itself.