It’s more than pink sneakers

Saturday July 6, 2013

She talked for 11 hours without stopping. She had to stay on-topic and was not allowed to drink anything and/or go to the bathroom. Texas Democrat Wendy Davis, wearing her now famous pink sneakers, did what she felt she had to do to bring attention to the issue of women’s health. What she may not have known was that in this 11-hour stint she might have changed the world. Let’s hope so.

This issue is bigger than whether or not a woman is allowed to have an abortion if she so chooses. The larger issue is whether or not this country, and/or the world, has the political will to come to terms with the fact that we are on the threshold of overpopulating our planet.

In Uganda, men want more children than women do. Dr. Wilfred Ochan an assistant representative with United Nations Population Fund noted that, "a lot of men in Africa place so much importance on cultural values over the health of the woman."

The majority of Islam practicing males harbor very different feelings towards women than most, but not all Americans. From a marriage counselor living in the Mid-East who could not reveal her identity for fear of reprisal: "If you want to marry a Muslim, first read ‘Not Without My Daughter.’ The book is true. Islam has good rules if only men lived on this planet. The rights of women are only talk. Islam has a cruel, controlling spirit and is suffocating for a woman. A Muslim man doesn’t care about a woman’s feelings. He says, ‘If you don’t like’ ... (whatever he says) ‘Go knock your head on wood.’

In the geologic timeframe it’s only been until recently that women have been seen as something other than second-class citizens. They weren’t allowed to vote, own land nor do much of anything except to have a man’s child.

Not all that much has changed, at least in Texas, or in many organized religions. The Catholic Church, run by men, opposes abortion and the use of any contraception. Basically, the message to women from one of the largest religious groups on the planet is that it’s your job to have kids. That’s what your role is. End of story.

This myopic, borderline Neanderthal, point of view may have been acceptable a hundred or more years ago, but the time has come to stand up and say, "NO." It is no longer OK for religious or political leaders to tell people that they must have more and more children. Here’s why. We have to start asking just how many people can this planet support?

The following is an excerpt from an article by Tim Radford of The Guardian dated 11/11/2004:

"It’s an old question. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus said population would race ahead of food supply, but he wasn’t the first. The early Christian writer Tertullian said (around AD 200, in De Anima): ‘We are burdensome to the world; the resources are scarcely adequate for us... Truly, pestilence and hunger and war and flood must be considered as a remedy for nations, like a pruning of the human race becoming excessive in numbers.’

That was when the population of the whole planet was maybe 100 million or so. We reached the first billion mark by about 1850. By 1950, it was about 2.5 billion. In less than one short lifetime, this figure doubled. It passed six billion in the late 1990s. Note that humans took 150,000 years to get to the first billion. The most recent billion arrived in just 12 years.

Nobody knows how many people the planet could hold. The UN predicted this week that fertility would decline and longevity would increase until the global population stabilized at nine billion in 2300. Some optimists have argued that the planet could support 1,000 billion; others look at what is happening right now and wish that it had stayed at ancient Roman levels.

Joel Cohen, the Rockefeller University population biologist, argues in a 1995 book (How Many People can the Earth Support?) that it isn’t a question like ‘How old are you?’ which only has one answer at any one time. Cohen argues that you could fit one billion people, each a metre apart, into a field 32 kilometers square. So everybody in the world would fit easily into Yorkshire.

But it takes 900 tons of water to grow a ton of wheat, and there is only so much water, so much land and so much sunshine. Human action has its own ‘ecological footprint;’ there has to be so much land to provide food, clothing, shelter, medicines, building material, fresh air and clean water for any one human. It takes, according to some calculations, 5.2 acres of land and water to provide for one average human. The important word is average. The American footprint is about 24.7 acres. So if all humans lived at U.S. standards, we’d need another four Earths."

Let’s hope the actions of the lady in the pink sneakers starts us on the path of defending the one Earth we have.

Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist.


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