The problems that won’t go away

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Economic injustice is a matter of human relations.  So is the question of war and peace..  They are matters of how we human beings decide to live with each other.

Other problems, such as population growth, climate change and exhaustion of natural resources, are different.  They are questions of how we human beings relate to an external world that is governed by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, and not by human desires.

The Union of Concerned Scientists published a series of charts 25 years ago (in 1992) about ominous trends in the external world that affect human survival.   Now scientists have taken another look at these trends.  A couple have gotten better.  Many have gotten worse.

One success is the recovery of the ozone layer, achieved by regulation of ozone-depleting substances.   A great achievement not shown on the chart is elimination of famines and extreme poverty in many parts of the world.

Another is the reduction in the birth rate.  In many nations, it is at or below 2.1 children per couple, the replacement rate.  This was achieved by means of the spread of birth control information and the empowerment and education of women.  But birth rates are still high in some parts of the world and, even if this weren’t true , it would still take a generation or two before world population levels off..

In other ways, things have grown worse since 1992.   The concentration of greenhouse gasses continues to increase.  As a result, average temperatures continue to increase.   Deforestation continues.  There is a continued increase in ocean dead zones, where oxygen depletion kills all fish and aquatic animal life.   This means the world fish catch is declining.

This is a great challenge to humanity because there is very little than can be done that will have any impact in the lifetimes of adults now living.  Can we human beings unite?  Do we care enough about coming generations to put their interests first?  Is there still time to act?  I wish I knew the answers to these questions.


World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice in BioScience for the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing by Bill McKibben for Rolling Stone.  [Added 1/13/2018]

A 94-Million-Year-Old Warning About the Ocean’s Future by Peter Brannen for The Atlantic.  [Added 1/13/2018]

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3 Responses to “The problems that won’t go away”

  1. Jens Oliver Meiert Says:

    The charts distort a good part of the story because their y-axes don’t start at 0, which most of them should. That’s most obvious with the freshwater chart which looks like we just ran out of it. (I realize that this is an issue likely not only going back to Oxford Academic but also back in time.)


  2. halbauer Says:

    The UCS Warning in 1992 is one I shared widely, before humans doubled their population since I graduated high school (1964 3B, 1999 6B). Most environmental & human problems derive from ignoring humanitarian, & scientific education, solutions to overcoming unbridled growth. Now Republican Federal government greatly increases the probability of death control will operate, where education & birth control were ignored. My Stanford professor Ehrlich educated me as to these starkest alternatives. African population growth is high, further endangering our closest ape relatives we studied & lived with extinction.

    Sent from Hal Bauer’s iPhone



  3. Chuck Woolery Says:

    This was very informative but the author is profoundly wrong about a key factor contributing to the decline in birth rates. He said the “the reduction in the birth rate…was achieved by means of the spread of birth control information and the empowerment and education of women.” He was correct about the second cause but not the first. As Paul Ehrlich wrote in his second book The Population Explosion. 1991 “The critical prerequisites to reduced fertility are five: adequate nutrition, proper sanitation, basic health care, education of women, and equal rights for women.” Family planning was not a key element. In fact, in many places were family planning was available (with the intent of reducing births)…but not basic health care, women rejected them for logical and political reason. Where family planning programs were part of an overall basic health care system, where the health of the mother and child were the top priority, they were more likely to be used…and effective in reducing births. This distinction is vital. Improving the lives of the poor is the best birth control method available…and resource diverted to family planning from these other vital saving priorities is counter productive in the long run. The far greater problem is trying to change human consumption patterns. If cultures care more about looking good and feeling comfortable, than being healthy and being good to others, no strategy for protecting the environment will suffice. Lock onto this bit of wisdom “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Do we value global justice (ensuring fundamental human rights) or just our global environment. We must value both equally or our species and quality of life will be increasingly endangered.

    Liked by 1 person

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