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Sierra Magazine
Lay of the Land

Y6B | Logging in Grand Canyon | Standing on Thin Ice | Pristine Pig | Charter Challenge

Y6B: The Real Millenium

Think the population explosion is over? Think again

On or about October 12, 1999, human population is expected to reach 6 billion. While it took until about 1800 to reach the first billion, the trip from 5 billion to 6 will have required a mere 12 years. Those born in 1930 will have seen humankind triple within their lifetime.

That makes all the more surprising the strange take of the national media, which over the past few years have been full of stories like "The Population Explosion Is Over" (The New York Times Magazine) or "Now the Crisis Is Global Underpopulation" (Orange County Register). These contrarian stories are based on two recent demographic trends: fertility in nearly all developed nations has fallen below the population-stabilizing "replacement" rate (2.1 children per woman, where mortality is low), and fertility is declining in most of the developing world. These trends led the United Nations to revise its population projections, reflecting a slower rate of growth than previously forecast.

"Slower," however, does not mean slow. At the current global growth rate, 1.5 million people-roughly a new metropolitan Milwaukee-are added every week. Despite fertility declines, birthrates in much of the world remain high. For example, Guatemala's fertility is 5.1 children per woman, Laos and Pakistan's 5.6, and Iraq's 5.7. And those are not even the high end of the spectrum: Afghanistan's fertility rate is 6.1. The 43 nations of East, West, and Central Africa average 6.0, 6.2, and 6.3 children per woman, respectively. Countries that have reduced their birthrate to three or four children per woman are also growing very rapidly. This is partly because of "population momentum," in which earlier high fertility yields a large proportion of young people. Even fertility rates fractionally above replacement can perpetuate rapid growth.

What if every nation's fertility stayed at its present level? Human population would exceed 50 billion by the year 2100-if the earth could support that many. The UN "medium" projections (perhaps the most realistic) now assume that fertility in developing nations will fall to about 2.2 children per woman over roughly the next 30 years. Even so, world population would reach 8.9 billion by 2050. The 2.9 billion gain would itself equal the world's entire human population in 1957.

Most future growth will occur in the most distressed regions of the earth, many of which are already experiencing severe deforestation, water shortages, and massive soil erosion. In the medium projections, sub-Saharan Africa's present population of 630 million will more than double to 1.5 billion by 2050. By that time, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Pakistan will also more than double, as will Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Bangladesh will grow by two-thirds, and India will increase by more than half a billion persons to 1.5 billion.

These projections presume that many more people will soon have effective access to family-planning services. That may not happen. One reason is the abysmal failure of most rich nations to provide family-planning aid at levels like those envisioned at the population conference at Cairo in 1994. In the United States, such aid to developing nations has become hostage to the debate over abortion, even though access to contraceptives reduces abortion rates. Family-planning aid from the United States has been slashed by at least 30 percent since 1995, and is now a fraction of what it needs to be.

There is still time to attain world population stability through means that respect human freedom and dignity-and that therefore are conducive to women's equity and empowerment. "I have the audacity to believe," said Martin Luther King Jr. in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, "that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirit." It will take many steps to reach that dream. A gentle but early end to the population explosion is one of them.—William G. Hollingsworth

Bill Hollingsworth wrote Ending the Explosion: Population Policies and Ethics for a Humane Future (Seven Locks Press, 1996). He teaches at the University of Tulsa College of Law.


Logging in Grand Canyon

Park Service plans to fight fire with chainsaws

When Premier Mike Harris proposed in March that Ontario create 378 new parks, the announcement seemed to end a fractious two-year debate over the fate of 177,000 square miles of public land in his sprawling province. The expansive plan will increase protected lands by a third, to 12 percent of Ontario's total public acreage. Harris also declared that logging companies have agreed to stay out of several prized old-growth pine forests. "This is Ontario's living legacy," beamed Harris.

Within weeks, however, the plan's industry-friendly details emerged, convincing environmentalists that the forest fight is still on. Under Harris' plan, mineral exploration will be permitted under a system with the bizarre name "rotating protection." If a protected area is found to have high mineral potential, it could be swapped for another site unwanted by industry. "This means that one criterion for parks in Ontario is that they're not good for anything else," says Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

The forest industry is equally pampered. In exchange for losing access to the new parks, loggers will be allowed to cut more intensively on the province's unprotected lands. That sobering news has prompted the Sierra Club of Canada to intensify its effort to convince Ontario to protect at least 30 percent of its public lands, this time without loopholes or exemptions.—Reed McManus

For more information about the Sierra Club of Canada's campaign to protect Ontario forests, contact the Eastern Canada Chapter at 237-517 College St., Toronto, Ontario M6G 4A2; (416) 960-9606, or click on www.sierraclub.ca/eastern.



Pristine Pig

Gene-splicers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have produced what they're calling the "Enviropig," a porker whose manure is less harmful to rivers and lakes. This brave new swine is better at digesting phosphorus in its feed, reducing the amount coming out the far end. "The manure from our animals is superior," biologist John Phillips boasted to The Boston Globe.

Especially in the United States, manure from supergiant pig-feeding factories is a serious threat to water quality. But even low-phosphorus manure will be nitrogen-heavy, contributing to algae blooms in waterways. According to the Ontario Pork Marketing Board, however, "Sometimes perception is as important as fact."

Regardless, these little piggies won't be going to market any time soon, as it remains to be seen whether they will pass down their super-pooper characteristics to their offspring. Oh, and one other drawback: "We haven't eliminated the smell," admitted researcher Phillips.—Paul Rauber


Bold Strokes:
Charter Challenge

When people commit multiple crimes, they end up in prison. When corporations—persons under the law, after all—do the same, they post huge profits.

Now a coalition of environmental, human rights, and women's groups are petitioning California to revoke the corporate charter of Unocal. Dubbing the oil giant a "dangerous scofflaw corporation," they point to pollution from its refineries; human-rights abuses by its government partners in Afghanistan and Burma, including the use of slave labor; and hundreds of violations of workplace health and safety rules here at home. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer recently denied the petition; backers are now suing to force him to reconsider.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact sierra.magazine@sierraclub.org for more information.


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