LETTERS FROM OUR READERS.
OUR CROWDED WORLD
Jim Motavalli's article "Now We Are Six" (cover story, July/August 1999) was on the mark in all except one detail: World population hit six billion at the end of May, not in October. It is presently at six billion, 10 million. Check www.census.gov for continual updates.
Laura Tanzer Tucson, AZ
Editor's Note: Opinions differ on when world population reached six billion. The U.S. Census Bureau's International Data Base actually calculated that the milestone occurred July 19, at 12:24 Greenwich Mean Time. The United Nations Population Division estimates cited in the story first pegged the date at June 16, then moved it back to October 12 because of declining fertility worldwide.
"According to the United Nations, every year, an estimated 39 to 49 million acres of tropical forests and woodlands are lost, cleared for development or agriculture. An additional 12 to 17 million acres of agricultural land falls victim to erosion and developers' bulldozers."
These two sentences in your July/August cover story highlight the crux of the human population problem--the link between food and population. The rule for all species seems to be this: As the food supply grows (as it has since the dawn of the agricultural revolution) so too will the population. But as the food supply starts to decrease, the population will begin to decline.
If we really want to put an end to population growth, we had better start thinking outside the box.
Ted Markow Brunswick, ME
I agree that global population growth makes a significant impact on environmental sustainability. The continuing conservative backlash against women's reproductive choice calls for alliances between environmental and women's rights activists. However, your special issue on population provides only a limited perspective on the issues of population and development.
The shift of emphasis in international family planning since the Cairo Conference, from population control to women's rights and reproductive health, is important. But in many poor countries in the South, family planning programs are still moving in authoritarian and coercive directions. Experimental contraceptives such as Norplant, "vaccines," and the nonsurgical sterilization method, Quinacrine, are given to women without proper informed consent procedures and quality health care. In Peru, economic incentives are used to encourage women to undergo sterilizations dangerous to their health and at times, even their lives. In Bangladesh, fertility and population growth rates have come down sharply, but without significant improvements in standards of living and the social and economic position of women.
It is time to move away from the quantitative focus on population size and growth rates to a more qualitative focus honoring the right of all to food, shelter, health care, education and decent livelihoods. Despite its liberal and humane approach, the Cairo Program of Action is inadequate to deal with the economic and social destruction associated with globalization, militarism and deepening global inequalities. Broader plans of action which call for regulation of transnational capital, more equitable distribution of global resources, and curbs on the international arms trade are urgently needed.
Asoka Bandarage Associate Professor, Women's Studies Program Mount Holyoke College South Hadley, MA
Editor's Note: The points raised by Professor Bandarage were explored in E's November/December 1998 cover story "Baby Boom."
In the July/August 1999 issue of E (E Word, "Countdown to Six Billion"), Jim Motavalli notes, "Why is it that we have so much trouble making the connection between runaway population growth and environmental degradation? It seems plain that the issues that matter most to us--biodiversity, urban sprawl, loss of rainforests and old-growth trees, air and water pollution--have their roots in the incredibly successful propagation of the human species."
The problem is that Motavalli is asking the wrong question; it is far more relevant to ask why he and others have such a hard time making the connection between environmental degradation and the consumption patterns of the rich. It is not poor people--the major subject of population control programs--who are responsible for environmental degradation; it is the consumers of the rich countries.
Motavalli should ask why Bill Gates donates $2 billion to groups seeking to control population, yet spends far more trying to promote the consumption that is ultimately responsible for the destruction of the environment.
Richard Robbins Professor of Anthropology, SUNY Plattsburgh, NY
I want to congratulate you on two very good articles, "Real Wealth: The Genuine Progress Indicator" (May/June, 1999), and "Now We Are Six: In October, World Population Will Reach Six Billion" (July/August, 1999). I plan to assign both articles to my students and to discuss them in class.
I am less thrilled with your coverage of chemicals in the environment, primarily because you label all chemicals with the same brush, often raising only worst-case possibilities. How can we set priorities for action if everything is equally serious? An example is your article "Brain Storm: Are We Threatening Our Intelligence with Chemical Pollution?" (July/August, 1999).
Set yourself the task of making comparisons among chemicals and among chemical problems. Otherwise worst-case becomes no case--we all may as well go home and hide under our beds.
Marquita Hill University of Maine Orono, ME
"Gorillas of the Missed" (Green Living, September/October 1999) incorrectly asserted that seminal investigations of Africa's Mountain Gorilla were performed by two 19th century scientists, George Schaller and Carl Aiken. The correct name of the latter is Carl Akeley (1864-1926), a turn-of-the-century scientist who sounded the alarm for the endangered gorilla, convincing King Albert of Belgium to establish Africa's first national park in 1925. George Schaller was born eight years later, and published the first serious scientific account of man's hairy cousins in 1964. E extends an apology to Dr. Schaller, who currently serves as director for science at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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