As I was watching “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday, he had as his last arriving guest, Bill McKibben, one of the planet’s foremost authorities on global warming. Not to shine spotlights, but the rest of the panel was a progressive leaning actress and two conservative talk show hosts, one on the radio and one of CNN, one a former congressman and one an attorney by trade. What I found as indicative of discussion in our country, we had two people arguing GOP talking points with a true expert. I kept thinking they need to be asking him questions about his concerns and what he thinks. When one said that he agreed with the Exxon Mobil CEO that we can just move the farmland to warmer places, McKibben retorted, “so we should just replace Iowa?”
My purpose in this post is not to only focus on the impact of global warming, but to highlight we need to have more informed discussions about the big-ticket, macro trends. We need to do so with better data and recognition for what scientists are saying and not using industry lobbyist talking points which at best are subjective. These are major concerns for the people on this planet, but also in the US. We cannot ignore these problems as we are now being impacted and we are contributing to a progression down a slippery slope.
Please note there are more trends than those mentioned here, but let me highlight four in no particular order:
1) Sustainable Population Growth
2) Aging Population
3) Water, the New Oil
4) Global Warming and our Toxic Chemical Crockpot
Sustainable Population Growth
In an earlier post, I mentioned a study conducted in Great Britain which asked the question, how many people can the Earth sustain? The key conclusion of the study was it greatly depended on consumption rates. If people on average consumed resources like one of the poorer countries in Africa, the Earth could sustain just about 15 billion people. Please know I am rounding the numbers from memory. However, if we consumed like the average North American, the planet could only sustain about 2 billion people. We are about 7 billion people as of this writing.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, if fertility stayed the same, we would be looking at over 11 billion in 2050. If it increases and people consume at a higher clip, then we would be in a heap of hurt. So, what can we do about it? Per the UN Population Fund, they suggest several things, but let me highlight a few year:
– we have to have greater awareness over this issue and concerted planning by major governmental, societal and business leaders.
– we have to increase the availability, awareness and use of contraception.
– we need to have better overall family planning and increased awareness of the correlation between poverty and larger family size.
– we have to improve access to child healthcare and overall healthcare.
– we have to be mindful of our resources and know they are not infinite in supply.
– we have to find better ways to grow food, manage water and sewage (more on water below).
– we need better data for measuring intervention outcomes and assessing needs.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development partnered with global human capital consultant Mercer in 2010 to conduct a study of major issues facing countries. One of the more significant macro trends that was a premonition into the economic travails in Europe is our aging population. Why is that important? As a society ages, the ratio of retirees to active worker increases. This becomes a huge problem when more of the unfunded liabilities of an entity are out the door than can be covered by active worker funding. These are the reasons France increased its normal retirement age and why Greece has to follow suit.
Our average age has increased here in the US, but there are countries that are far worse than we are. Yet, it is and will become a greater problem here. The other key concern is the majority of healthcare expenses occur in the last two years of a person’s life. As we age, it puts more pressure on the cost of delivery of medical care. This becomes exacerbated by an overweight population as we have here in the US, which causes even more cost pressure due to unhealthy lifestyles. At some point, you have to pay the fiddler.
So, we have to take better care of ourselves and we have to make adjustments to medical care benefit coverages. We need more people included in medical coverages which is the reason some form of Obamacare needs to continue. Yet, we also need to come to grips that changes are needed to Medicare and Social Security. We also need to encourage greater savings. Before the recession, the US was one of the worst at saving. This has only been heightened by the recession where people had to dip into their savings and forego future savings.
Water, the New Oil
This has been a concern of mine which became more paramount after reading Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization.” This is the best history book I have ever read about how civilizations rose and fell because of their ability to manage water for use, transport and sewage. This last point may sound very mundane, but washing away sewage has been a huge challenge in major metro population areas such as Rome, London and New York and in impoverished areas.
Yet, the book is more than a history lesson. It shows how dear water has become even in some of the richest places on the planet. Oil rich Saudi Arabia has a major catastrophe in the foreseeable future due to the significant decline in their aquifers. China had a major problem when they built a dam that impacted the water supply to others to such an extent they had to cease energy production until they figured out a better solution. And, we are seeing it in the US as well. We have always had droughts, but they are greater in number and severity and per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have worsened because of global warming.
Any food, water, sewage and energy production exercise has to figure water usage in its calculations. This is probably my biggest concern with fracking, e.g. Fracking takes 4 to 6 million gallons of water per fracking well that cannot go back into the water supply. And, if you do not think this is a problem, the frackers and farmers were fighting over water in Kansas this summer during the droughts. On the sewage side, Bill Gates is running a global contest for the purpose of developing a scalable, waterless toilet that can be used in impoverished, arid areas. Dysentery and cholera are in abundance in these areas as the raw sewage goes directly into the water supply. Since water is so dear, we need to use it less for sewage. I would add in Orange County, CA they are using multiple filter devices (and I mean multiple) to reuse sewage water as drinking water. They have been doing this for a couple of years now.
We need to have concerted effort around the needs and uses of water and plan accordingly. I believe that a robust eco-energy plan has to factor in the use of water in all energy, water, food and sewage planning.
Global Warming and our Toxic Chemical Crockpot
The impact of global warming is being witnessed on a daily basis. It is no longer a futuristic event. Like the birthers, the deniers should not have a place at the adult table. Yet, we need all reasonable parties to have a voice in what we do next as we develop holistic eco-energy plans. I have said this multiple times, but Germany is ten years ahead of the US and plans to be 80% alternative energy powered by 2030. By my count, that is in 18 years. We need multiple parties at the table as we have to make a concerted effort to divorce ourselves from fossil fuels and not double down on them. We know we cannot quit cold turkey, but we better get moving. Any plan has to endure beyond the terms of political incumbents, so it cannot be shelved when a new political party comes into power.
The part that does not get enough attention is the toxic chemical crockpot that is simmering. As the planet turns the heat up on the crockpot, a relatively misunderstood and vastly underestimated problem will become increasingly worse. Like a broken record, the best books on this subject are written by Dr. Sandra Steingraber – “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah.” As a biologist, ecologist, cancer survivor and mother, she is garnering bi-partisan support about these issues. The problem is her voice is drowned out by the petro-chemical industry who is leading a cause to defang the EPA. The Koch Brothers make their money here, e.g, and they are the most significant contributors to the Tea Party success. They also have about 100 pending violations in front of the EPA.
The dilemma is with people moving around it is harder to prove causality of illnesses with toxic chemical creation, disposal or use. This has been the industry’s principal defense and they can throw vast sums of money to confuse and diffuse their opponents’ efforts. Yet, they toxic chemical are present and they do impact people living in various areas for more than a few years. Migrant farm workers exposed to pesticides have much greater cancers, lung and mental health issues. The increase in autism and premature births can be traceable to larger traces of toxic chemicals in the environment. And, as Dr. Steingraber has noted, a very relevant factor in family history is not considered in medical diagnosis as much as it should be – where the family grew up can actually be more important than the genes. Her case in point, her family (siblings, cousins nearby, etc.) had a significant number of cancers, including multiple cases of bladder cancer which is what she had. The key to all of this story – Dr. Steingraber was adopted. Note, bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer. If someone gets it in your family especially at a relatively young age, it is likely environmentally caused.
Dealing more effectively with toxic chemicals also has to be a key part of addressing a holistic eco-energy solution. And, let me shout this from the rooftops one more time – doing away or gutting the EPA is the most irresponsible recommendation that could be made, which is precisely what is being recommended by one of our major political parties in the US. And, I have highlighted the word irresponsible with purpose as a true independent voter and business person. For someone to frame an argument against this by calling anyone a “tree hugger” is poor form and stewardship. Creating the EPA may actually be GOP President Richard Nixon’s greatest contribution as president.
If you agree with me, please help get the word out on these issues. These are local problems, these are state problems, these are US problems and these are global problems. We have to solve them in a concerted way and build upon a confederation of good ideas being done all around the country. With wind energy in 38 states, someone is doing something right. Let’s build on that.