Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama IS America! Editor Opinion: Steps to Save the Environment and...Population Control?

So I was out watching the **debates** tonight (more on that later), and ended up stopping by a friend's place who had about 20 people over for a debate watching party.  At some point in the evening, I ended up having a conversation with one of the guys there about the moral implications of trying to control population growth by making a series of world wide laws that limit how many children someone can have.  Randomly, I came home tonight and was browsing the internet for different tidbits of information and came across the following article.  The main part discusses two easy ways to be more environmentally friendly.  However, in the comments section, they get into a whole discussion on the topic of population control.

As I thought this was a very strange coincidence indeed, and the article and comments section are both interesting and relevant to what is going on in the world today, I am posting them below for your reading pleazzzuuure.

To be directed to the article itself, click on the title of this blog.

BUT BEFORE WE CONTINUE!!  Here are two short video clips for thought:

During the debates, McCain rarely looked at Obama. Here's a discussion on what it might have meant:

Sarah Palin on her foreign policy experience, as articulated in her interview with Katie Couric (yes, I know, more on Sarah Palin, can't help it, sorry...):

Below, please find the article and commentary first discussed:

Ask Umbra

Don't Have a Cow

On small steps with big impacts

24 Sep 2008
Got questions about the environment? Ask Umbra.
Send your green-living questionsto Umbra.
questionDear Umbra, 

This year my family is not in the position to make any major CO2-reducing changes. We will not be purchasing a new car, a smaller house, or more efficient appliances. And honestly, with two small children living in a suburb, public transportation is not a realistic option. Still, we'd like to reduce our carbon footprint and help the environment. Would you be able to point out other meaningful, smaller changes we could make? Thanks for your guidance.

Tara H.
Indianapolis, Ind.

answerDearest Tara,

Don't abandon hope for significant greenhouse-gas reductions. If your life is anything approaching the typical American's, there are at least two major CO2-reducing changes still within your grasp. You can't drive less, buy a better car, or make any major home investments, but you can probably eat less meat and avoid the airport. Conventional meats and air travel are two personal climate impact behemoths.

Eat less meat
Take a bite out of clime.
Four people flying round trip from Indianapolis to Cancún would emit 9,856 pounds of CO2 (by comparison, a typical family car emits about 12,000 pounds of CO2 in a year. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that if all Americans switched from their current diets to going meat-free one day a week, it would be equivalent to removing 8 million American cars from the roads. Another way to look at the meat delete option is through the calculations offered by the Pacific Institute, which estimates that a skimpy 40-gram pile of hamburger (about 1.5 ounces worth) causes 790 to 1,500 grams of CO2 emissions. If you calculate how many grams of burgers your family usually eats and add it all up, you can get an idea of your yearly beef-induced emissions; you can also estimate your travel emissions by using any number of online calculators.

May I presume, however, that budget is a limiting factor for you? Eating lower on the food chain -- and, of course, eschewing the hella-expensive cost of an airline ticket -- are quite kind to the pocketbook, unlike the upfront costs of the new auto and home improvements you mention above. In fact, if you don't currently fly due to economics, pat yourself on the back -- your footprint is already lower than many Americans'. A big sticking point on following this prescription, though, is that flying and meat-eating (among other high-carbon callings) are often undertaken for pleasure. To ease any resistance you may have to foregoing things you enjoy, remember: In situations where habit change is hard, we start with Less, not None. 

I want to once again mention Mark Bittman's New York Times article about eating less meat (I'm going through a Mark Bittman phase). Unlike yours truly, Bittman can avoid the Why and go directly to the How, and (also unlike yours truly) he is a cooking expert. His suggestions include reducing portion size (the USDA, for one, recommends only about five or six ounces of meat each day); he also advises using other protein sources, eating less protein overall, ordering differently at restaurants, and serving less-meaty dishes that are so delicious they're a pleasure unto themselves.

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As to flying -- if indeed you or yours partake in such an activity -- there is a straightforward way to reduce, and a slightly complicated way too (or probably several, but for now I'm just mentioning one). If your family typically flies for one vacation and two visits to see the extended family, cut out one of these trips or substitute a less carbonaceous (bus! train! llama!) travel method. I don't have much experience with business travel, but I do know that video conferencing and trip consolidation are also useful when it comes to reducing business miles flown. If you cannot trim the number of annual plane trips, whether for business or for family, see if you can curtail the emissions on your flights through clever flight choices. Direct flights are better than indirect flights, because take-off and landing burn the most fuel. A strong aviation emissions calculator, such as Atmosfair, will help you compare various routes and emissions costs as you shop for tickets.

As you see, your family need not feel environmentally helpless or stumped. These two tweaks alone could make a great difference -- unless you are already land-bound vegetarians. In which case, write back and we'll talk about different changes.


Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Please send Umbra any nagging question pertaining to the environment -- but first check out her FAQs!
The claims made in this column may not reflect the views of this magazine. Neither the magazine nor the author guarantees that any advice contained in this column is wise or safe. Please use this column at your own risk.
Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.
Comments: (10 comments)

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Reducing carbon footprint

Dear Tara and Umbra -

I must admit that I do make several trips to the Bay area and southern California each year to visit children and grandchildren which I am not willing to forego.  Unfortunately, Southwest Airlines has eliminated through flights to Ontario,CA so I must change planes in Oakland or Sacramento.  

The environmental contribution that I CAN claim is consuming no meat or fish products.  I have also hired Your Backyard Farmers here in Portland, Oregon to cultivate and harvest the produce of an organic garden. It's a bit spendy, so doing one's own would be far more economical.  As I have many more vegetables than I can consume, I will most likely invite neighbors to join in my efforts next year.

Other contributions I make are recyling and composting virtually all household waste, using fluorescent light bulbs, and driving a Prius.  I know you can't afford a new car, however!!

Good luck with your endeavors,

Marylou Noble
Portland, OR

Marylou Noble

Don't have a cow? How about....

How about: Don't have babies. When is the Grist going to start talking to the real problem with humans and humanity. There are too *%&^%$^ing many of us. When is the government and the people of this country going to create incentives and dialogue regarding the reduction of reproduction?I'll start taking you all seriously when you start addressing the elephant in the room. Or should we just keep moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic? Does anyone read Ishmael any more? 

more suggestions

Here are some of the money- and CO2-saving things I've started doing this year: 
  • stopped using the tumble-dryer - it just adds 15 mins to my laundry time to hang everything to dry on racks in the bathroom (I'm a working mom of 2, so I do laundry at night, hence can't hang outside). Only doing full loads of laundry and on a cold wash also helps.
  • replaced bottled fizzy water with a home-soda maker - just add tapwater and press to carbonate.
  • use the a/c as little as possible (keeping curtains closed during the day helps, as do screens in the skylights)
  • did an electrical audit, and switched off those things that drain power when on standby (the baby monitor was the biggest surprise!)
  • stopped visiting the mall to shop at lunchtime (a 5 mile roundtrip)

Now if only I could persuade the rest of my family that we don't need to eat meat every day! And I do need to do something about improving the insulation in my house before the winter hits.

driving vs. flying

Which has a bigger carbon footprint?  Four people flying from Indianapolis to Cancun, or four people driving a mid-size car (to accomodate their luggage)from Indianapolis to Cancun?

A couple more options

Being from just outside of Indy myself, I can agree that there are not a lot of transportation options.  However, when you are running to the store to buy your vegetarian goodies, I'm sure a bicycle will do you good both health and climate-conscience-wise.

Ride your bike and walk whenever you can.

Also, don't buy products that have a long and deep carbon trail to them.  Think about every little purchase you make. They add up after awhile.  For starters, try not to buy products made from plastic and reuse as much as possible before recycling.

No more babies!!

I totally agree!!!  The earth CAN NOT handle the current population growth.  Where is the responsibilty of couples who need to have more than 2 kids???  It's selfish!!  I can understand one or two (to replace yourselves) but more than that?  And the infertile couples who spend thousands to have 1-8 and then expect their community to come running to their rescue or rely on a reality show to support them?  No sympathy here! Uh, hello....infertility is the universe's way of controlling the population! 
NOBODY wants government regulation on the number of kids we can have so if everyone would step up and be more responsible it won't have to come to that!  

Brew your own beer!

You can buy bulk containers or dried or liquid malt extract, hops by the pound, and yeast (which can be re-used again and again).  Walk around on recycling day and pick cap-able bottles out of recycling bins (you need about 48-70 bottles per batch).  You'll save thousands of glass bottles over your lifetime, which are totally re-useable after sanitizing and can be used again and again.  Home brew is much better for the money as well.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
having babies question - but when in life matters

I'm wondering "tmakreider's" positon on the timing of when one has those babies.  At the rate I'm going, I won't be a parent before age 36.  At which point I ask, is it 'OK' for someone like me to go ahead and break that ZPG (Zero Population Growth) rule of 2 kids?  I think that anyone who waits to their 30s before they have kid #1 is not in the same boat as people starting in their teens or 20s.  The reason is simple: if all my kids follow the same pattern, our familial generations will be way stretched out (out of line with what biology intended) and it's unlikely great-grandparents will be alive when great-grand-children are born, also unlikely that grandparents will be in any shape to actively participate in the care of their grandkids.

Please also remember that around the world, the reason people have lots of children is not only to serve religious dogma, or because they were bored and having sex is cheap entertainment, but BECAUSE having a stable of children ensures security for the parents in old age because children don't always live to adulthood.  Even in our culture old age security is NOT a given.  If you want to address the "too many babies" issue, you also have to address the issue of security in old age and issue of resentful youngsters to pay the taxes to make it happen.

I read Ishmael and the sequel

...and it's completely logical and compellingly written.  It's also completely inhumane and would probably take unbelievable elitism to intentionally put in place.  I fear the world that could actually accomplish this project.

Spoiler: too much food = increased fertility = more people.  Answer: take away the food, problem solved.

having babies

I appreciate DannyGirl's thought provoking comments and they raise more questions for me to think about.  However, I believe that it's not a "requirement" for grandparents to actively participate in the care of their grandkids.  In addition, these last generations are living longer than our ancestors and therefore the simplicity of your reasoning doesn't seem to apply. I believe that societal traditions are/need to change because our world is changing...which is where parental responsiblity comes in to play.  I definitely agree that our governmental system is not set up to take care of the elderly.  However, because the future is "unknown" doesnot give way to the right to bear as many children as possible.  Just writing that comment reinforces my previous post of being selfish. And nothing was mentioned that just because one bears more than two kids does not guarantee that even one of them will be there to provide.
I don't beliefs tend to be black and white and exchanges like this open my mind.  Thank you!

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