As soon as I stepped off the plane, I tasted acrid air thick with smoke from burning trash, smoldering rice fields, charcoal cooking fires, and exhaust from the legion of motorbikes, tuk tuks and trucks clogging the streets of Delhi, India. Delhi is considered the 3rd largest city (behind Tokyo-Yakahama and Jakarta) in the world with more than 26 million residents. Yet, in 1950 there were just over 1 million residents. This exponential growth has hindered the government’s ability to keep pace with providing clean water, sewage treatment, waste management and clean air. As a result, the city has suffered a shocking deterioration, not only in the quality of its natural systems but in the quality of life for its residents.
After filming some recycling initiatives and the poisoned Yamuna river that runs through the heart of Delhi, the 8 Billion Angels crew and I traveled to an area in the southern part of India that, in contrast, seemed like it belongs on another planet. Kerala, a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, has nearly 600km of Arabian Sea shoreline. It is known for its palm-lined beaches and network of canals. Inland, are the Western Ghats, mountains whose slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations as well as wildlife. National parks like Eravikulam and Periyar, plus Wayanad and other sanctuaries, are home to elephants, langur monkeys and tigers.What is the difference between Kerala and its neighbors to the north? Kerala has a fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman, far lower than India’s average of 2.4 and even lower than the United States at 1.85. The result is a state that offers both a high quality of life for all its citizens and a level of environmental sustainability that has allowed for nature to thrive.
During our stay, we met and interviewed Kerala’s representative in parliament, Shashi Tharoor, who described to us the Kerala Model. “You’ve got a huge culture of openness, of coexistence, of literacy, education, and the empowerment of women. When women are in charge of their own destiny, when they are educated, when they’re in employment, and when they are essentially able to decide things like how many kids they have, and space them, and so on and so forth, and when you got the kind of human development that ensures that those kids survive, then you won’t have more children.”
Shrink Your Carbon Footprint and Heal the Planet
The average American pigs out at the proverbial fossil fuel trough by consuming goods and services that add 20 tons of Greenhouse gases (CO2) annually to our atmosphere and oceans. By comparison, the average global citizen consumes and emits 5 tons of CO2 annually. Based on 7.5 billion people, the world needs to reach an average of 2.5 tons per person annually to prevent our pending climate and extinction emergencies.
What carbon diet choice resolutions are you willing to make?
These small changes are relatively simple and can help:
- Hanging your clothes outside to dry instead of Clothes dryer saves .21 tons CO2 annually
- Recycling everything possible saves .22 tons CO2 annually
- Washing clothes in cold water saves .25 tons CO2 annually
- Driving a Prius or another hybrid car saves .5 tons CO2 annually
- Not eating meat or fish saves .8 tons CO2 annually
But why not resolve in 2018 to make the changes that will have the greatest impact toward fulfilling your goal of being the “biggest loser” of carbon consumption:
- Switching from a gas-powered car to an all electric car saves 1.3 tons CO2 annually
- Buying green energy saves 1.5 tons CO2 annually
- Taking 1 less transatlantic flight saves 1.6 tons CO2 annually
- Living car-free saves 2.4 tons CO2 annually
And the biggest thing anyone can do to help the planet:
- Having 1 less child saves 58 tons CO2 annually
For each child we bear we are responsible for 50% of his or her carbon emissions for their entire lifetime. When you add up the carbon legacy of each subsequent generation it equals 60 tons of CO2 saved annually having one less child.
If you are past childbearing age, you can still help by promoting the benefits of a small family ethic among friends and family.
Pope Francis recently met with a delegation of Pacific leaders urging leaders to curb heat-trapping emissions and blasting “shortsighted human activity” for global warming, rising sea levels, and the overfishing and pollution of the oceans.
There is no question curbing heat-trapping emissions is critical in helping our earth’s natural systems remain in balance, but what about soil erosion, water scarcity, deforestation, loss of natural habitat, increasing extinction rates, depletion of fisheries, and the pollution in the waters, on the land and in the air?
Does the Pope understand the common thread and upstream cause of all this ecological devastation? He should….
To demonstrate to the world that faith and science are inextricably linked AND compatible with church teachings, the Catholic Church established the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the mid- 19th century. Today, that venerable organization is made up of approximately 80 scientists from around the world, a quarter, on average, of whom are Nobel laureates.
In conjunction with the Pontifical Council for the Family, which consists of an international group of Bishops and Cardinals, the Academy and Council issued a report in 1994 entitled Population and Resources which detailed the results of human interaction with the natural world, including resource extraction, food production, and water use, along with various other global economic, social, cultural and educational trends. Their report concluded:
“It does not seem possible that population can grow indefinitely in the long term. With the capacity humans have acquired to control sickness and death, which will plausibly increase, it is now consequently unthinkable to sustain indefinitely a birthrate beyond 2.3 children per couple to guarantee replacement. The contrary demographic consequences would be unsustainable to the point of absurdity…. Given the long-term consequences created by the decline of mortality, there is an inescapable need for global containment of births, which must be met with scientific and economic progress and all the intellectual and moral energies of mankind to assure respect, equity, and social justice among all parts of the planet, and between present and future generations.”
Scientists agree we are consuming our global resources far faster than the ability of the earth to regenerate or absorb the wastes created from that consumption. We would have to cut global consumption in half in order to give our natural systems and the species that depend on them a fighting chance.
As global standards of living improve, it is only human nature for all of us to want to live a better life, eat a better diet, have reliable electricity, affordable transportation, and comfortable shelter. If the Pope truly wants to lead us down a more just, peaceful and prosperous path, it means (unlike his predecessors) adopting his own Pontifical Academy’s findings and shouting unabashedly to the world that human numbers matter, matter a lot, and that the Church embraces a small family ethic.
As reported in the Associated Press on October 5th 2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ceased internal production of livestock feed and wheat due to water scarcity. Food and water security are a major strategic challenge for the middle eastern country, resulting in strategic trade deals with Russia to import feed for Saudi livestock.
In the same week, 200 miles across the Red Sea, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, the President of Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Egypt stated “Terrorism and population growth are the two biggest threats in Egypt’s history.”
Egypt’s President didn’t hide behind an environmental term like “water scarcity” and used brutally frank language to make the connection between overpopulation and the pressures being placed on the country’s natural resources. Pressures that Global Footprint Network (GFN), an organization that monitors Country’s biocapacity and consumption, are causing an ecological overshoot of the Egypt’s resources by 150%.
Modern Day Cairo
Does the U.S. have similar strategic interests that are affected by our population and the consumption of its citizens? The short answer is yes. In fact, the same organization, GFN, indicates the 320 million U.S. citizens overshoot our ability to live within the means of our country’s resources by almost 2 ½ times what it can provide. If our population numbers were aligned with our current consumption of goods, the U.S. would claim no more than 140 million citizens.
What does this situation mean strategically for our country? It means the more our population grows, the more we become dependent on resources from outside our country and the greater the chances of a conflict arising by relying on other countries to satisfy our needs. And unlike Egypt and Saudi Arabia our expectation of “needs” is far greater based on our Western way of life.
If U.S. leadership had the foresight, they would, like Egypt’s president, acknowledge the threat that our population numbers and consumption poses to our national security and take steps to educate Americans about the importance of reducing our numbers to ensure a safe and sustainable future for our children.
Today, August 2 marks Earth Overshoot Day. A day that represents when all 7.5 Billion people on our planet have used up the resources that the earth can naturally regenerate every year.
Tomorrow, August 3, according to The Global Footprint Network, an organization that studies the bio capacity of the earth, we start eating into the principle of the Earth for the rest of the year.
Global Footprint Network tracks every country’s use of six categories of productive surface areas: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon demand on land.
From their exhaustive calculations, and beginning in the 1970’s, they discovered the Earth was no longer able to generate all of the resources our populations collectively consume, including fish, wood, water, plants, animals, and other goods, nor absorb the resulting carbon dioxide emissions. Each year, the date of overshoot has crept earlier and earlier, and is now up to August 2. Another way to look at this is it is like the earth is a huge savings account. Until the 1970’s, the earth was able to provide enough resources (interest) for our population to live off.
Thereafter, as population and consumption grew, we began consuming all of the annual interest and eat into the principle. A good example would be our fisheries. If managed judiciously, fish stocks can more than naturally replace themselves from what we harvest each year. Unfortunately, as reported by the United Nations 2015, 90% of our fisheries worldwide are now being fished to capacity, overfished, or in total collapse.
How long can we go on overshooting? No one knows. What we do know is, unless there is a drastic reduction in population and consumption nature will respond, perhaps gradually or maybe unexpectedly and violently.