Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In the Year 2525

Nori’s Nuggets

There is a cartoon making the rounds on facebook. It depicts a husband and wife at the dinner table. The woman is looking at their budget quite askance and saying something like, "I don’t know how we’re going to pay the mortgage and all these bills. There doesn’t seem to be enough money," to which the husband replies, throwing down his newspaper in disgust, "That’s it! No more abortions!"

Ludicrous as that response sounds, it seems as if this conversation is happening on national and state levels of government.

Recently, the Virginia Senate narrowly passed a bill that would make it mandatory for women considering an abortion to have a transabdominal ultrasound 24 hours before the abortion procedure. This was actually an improvement over the original bill which would have required a transvaginal ultrasound– much more invasive and potentially traumatizing to women who were pregnant as the result of a rape.

On the website a February 28th story reported that in Utah, a bill passes the House restricting sex education in high schools to abstinence only programs, forbidding the mention of contraceptives. The bill states: "Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs shall teach and stress: the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases; and personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.
"Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs may not include instruction or the advocacy of the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior; homosexuality; contraceptive methods or devices; or sexual activity outside of marriage."

In national news, President Obama’s support of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to move forward with a mandate for insurance companies to provide coverage of contraception, as well as the "morning after" pill created such a firestorm of controversy that he amended it to say that religious organizations would not have to actively provide such services but that women who worked for such organizations would be able to seek such coverage directly from their insurance companies. This after a "hearing" before Congress comprised solely of men (many of them religiously celibate who would presumably never have personal need of such contraceptives.)

This has been, rightly in my humble opinion, viewed as a war against women and women’s right to control their own bodies and make healthcare decisions that are the best for themselves.

But it goes even further; here’s the part no one is talking about: if we continue to glorify women as child-bearing incubators; if we continue to celebrate childbirth without examining the ramifications beyond the local family, we will be well on our way to over-extending the resources of this beautiful planet on which we live. We are populating ourselves right out of our blueboat home.

On July 7, 1986 news reports showed the population had reached 5 billion (based on a growth rate of 1.75% annually.) We hit 6 billion–added one billion more– in 1999, just 13 years later (at a growth rate of 1.3%.) On October 31, 2011, the world celebrated the birth of the 7 billionth baby, estimated to have been born on that date; it took just 12 years to reach that milestone. Currently, the United Nations estimate that we are adding 80 million people to the population every single year.

According to Al Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, UC Boulder, if this trend continues at a modest growth of 1.3% annually, in 780 years there will be one person per square meter of dry land on the planet.

There are several reasons why population continues to grow, even though we know on some level our planet cannot realistically support all these humans. Recently I watched a full-length documentary filmed by Colorado Springs local Dave Gardner. The show is called Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth. In this film he explains several factors involved in the ongoing population crisis. He notes how communities, cities, and countries are fixated on a growing economy, which means more people are needed to both provide cheap labor for creating things to buy and then to be consumers of all the schtuff and thus, bada-bing! bada-boom! We have a growing economy.

Gardner lists several countries (including our own) who give significant tax breaks to people for having more children; the more children you have, the greater the return. People often speak with disdain about how our welfare laws provide more money for more children, but even those who are able to work and support their families get this "benefit." One might argue that if a family can support more children, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business how many they have. But the reality of it is that those children, if they have the same amount of kids as their parents, will continue to exponentially increase the population and further strain the resources of our planet which is already over-burdened.

On his website about the movie, Dave Gardner points out: "World population reached 7 billion in 2011. Scientific estimates of the population the Earth can sustainably support range from under 1 billion to 5 billion. It all depends on how simply we live (in other words, how much we in the developed world are willing to curb consumption and contract our economies)." In other words, to be comfortable right now, we need about 1.5 planet Earths; we have just one.

Al Bartlett, gives the example of steady growth in a finite environment. Imagine a jar into which is placed a single bacteria that doubles every minute. At 11 A.M. the jar has that single bacteria; at 12 noon it is full. He asks three questions: 1) When was the jar ½ full? He states that many people say 11:30 but remember: the bacterium double every minute. So the jar was ½ full at 11:59. One minute to noon. 2) At what time, if you were one of those single bacterium in the jar, would you realize it was getting crowded? Remember, at 11:55, the jar would be only 3% full. The rest is open space– ripe for development! 3) Suppose at 11:58 some bacteria realize they’re running out of space and search for more jars. They miraculously find three empty jars! How long until those jars are also full? At 12 noon, the first one would be full; at 12:01 the second one would be full (remembering the population doubles every minute) and at 12:02, they would all be full.

Bartlett’s point is to make us aware that we are one minute before noon in our population growth. Bartlett states in the video presentation of his lecture, Arithmetic, Population and Energy (found on youtube in eight 10 minute segments): "The first law of sustainability is:population growth and/or growth in the consumption of resources cannot be sustained. Stopping population growth is a necessary condition for sustainability."

If we, as Unitarian Universalists are to be serious about the 6th and 7th principles what does that mean for us? If we are to strive for a global community of justice, peace, equity, we had to acknowledge that won’t happen if there aren’t enough resources to go around. Lack of resources will only create more poverty, war and unrest. If we are to have respect for the interdependent web of creation of which we are a part, we need to look beyond our own consumption to see how that is destroying the planet. In his film Growthbusters, Dave Gardner makes the case to not make growth be the point of city and community development. He recommends, rather, that we halt growth and find ways to reduce our carbon footprints individually and collectively. He, too, points out that we must curb population growth in order to truly respect the interdependent web of which we are a part– and not the most important part at that.

What does this mean? It may mean, if you’re of the age to want to start a family to make a conscious choice to limit how many children you physically bring into the world. Adopting children would be the better first option. It can be very difficult to swim against the tide of public assumption that we need to continue our particular strand of DNA but parenting really isn’t about DNA as much as it is about loving and nurturing a life given into your care. Ironically, while I was at the showing of the Growthbusters film, during a brief break to address technical difficulties, Cate Terwilliger, who was with me at the show, asked Gardner if he thought the problem behind all the growth issues was over-population. A woman in the row ahead of us said in a shrill voice, "You can’t just tell women not to have children. Women are desperate to have children!" This is an echo of what we’re taught to believe. But in reality, some women want to be mothers; the manner in which that happens shouldn’t be the primary focus.

Another way to curb population is to provide education about family planning, contraceptives, the right to choose abortion– all those things that many law-makers are trying to restrict. That’s the reality in our own country; in under-developed countries the situation is even more dire. Many women don’t have access to contraceptives or family planning services. Educating them and providing the needed resources for parents to self-limit their families is crucial to slowing the rate of population growth.

Another, perhaps more radical way is to join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. This group advocates voluntarily choosing not to have children as their flagship value.

Finally, if the government wants to get involved, about how tax credits for those who adopt rather than give birth; financial incentives to those who voluntarily remain childless or limit the number of birth children to two? Instead of rewarding a way of life that will ultimately strain our beautiful planet who cares so wonderfully for us, why not begin a new way of life that takes into account how our consumption, our addiction to growth, and our culture of sanctifying the existence of a zygote, a fetus rather than the sacred planet on which we live and calls us to be more intentional about the choices we make and to have more choices than we currently do?

Let me be clear: this is not about the family size you already have. It’s about going forward with new choices. I am so incredibly blessed by my son Sam; I can’t imagine life without him, but I think if I were exploring starting a family today I would make a different choice and I will encourage him should he want to start a family one day, to explore adoption as the first option. My nephew, A.J. was born on October 31, 2011 and his mom and grammy (my sister) were interviewed by the local news station about what it was like to theoretically give birth to the 7 billionth baby. I’m thrilled he is on this planet and can’t wait to meet him. I, myself, as the youngest of five, am very grateful my mom had a large family. I love everyone on the planet! And because I do, I am hoping we can choose not to add so many people to it. In this way, hopefully, we can become more in tune with our rightful place as one of the many living things on this planet; we can live more intentionally and thoughtfully; we can breathe easier with more room to stretch out; we can ensure that we are on the path to a global community of justice, peace and equity– not just for humans but for all beings that are in this inter-connected web of creation of which we, too, are a part. It’s not too late to start.

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