Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jim Carpenter for PDA: The War is Over

Dear Daniel,
Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and jump for joy. The Iraq war and occupation is coming to an end!
War is OverWith President Obama's announcement on Friday, that the U.S. would withdraw all of our troops by the end of this year, we want to take this moment to recognize that without a committed and dedicated peace movement to counter neocon war hawks—so pervasive inside the beltway—this moment may never have happened.
In this article, PDA Advisory Board member Tom Hayden provides good analysis.
When PDA was founded, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was among our top issues, and for seven years it has remained so. We've joined in marches, rallies, and citizen lobby visits. We've sent emails, made phone calls, sat-in at congressional offices, and helped pass resolutions against war.
This is a victory of huge proportions. We helped to create the political terrain that made it possible for the President to finally bring our troops home and let the Iraqis decide their future.
For those Americans who gave their lives, carry scars, and suffer from terrible disabilities; for their families who sacrificed their loved ones' lives and futures; for the millions of displaced and dead Iraqis who inherit a country decimated by warfare; and for the peace movement who tirelessly advocated against this war, this moment has been far too long in coming. Any celebration is overshadowed by our sorrow for the extreme suffering this war has wrought.
While we acknowledge the huge embassy and paid contractors still remain, celebrate we must. There is joy in knowing that no additional Americans will be asked to sacrifice their futures for the senseless war and occupation in Iraq. Celebrate we must that the U.S. footprint in the Middle East is now smaller. Celebrate we must to acknowledge our role in ending this horrible episode in America history.
We do have power to change the world. And, after we celebrate, we must turn our power to ending the war in Afghanistan. Help make it happen! Join the End War and Occupation/Redirect Funding Issue Organizing Team and our conference call on November 8.
Peace,
Tim Carpenter
National Director

Via the Coffee Party Movement: October 29th at the US Capitol

Enough Is Enough Rally and Citizens Intervention on October 29th at the US Capitol is taking place at a magical moment in American history. Thanks to the Occupy movement, America is finally talking about the struggles of the 99%, not manufactured political theater. 
Let's spend a day together and build on that. Will you join us? RSVP here.    
On October 29th at the US Capitol, hundreds of everyday Americans will stand up and speak out alongside:
  • Thom Hartmann, Author, TV & Radio Host
  • Larry Lessig, Author & Harvard Law Professor
  • Buddy Roemer, presidential candidate  
  • Frances Moore Lappé, Author & Founder of Small Planet Institute
  • Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, October2011 movement
  • Obii Say, Hip Hop Artist
  • Jesse LaGreca, Occupy Wall Street movement
  • Robert Borosage, Campaign for America’s Future
  • Linda Killian, Author
  • Charlie Fink, Patriotic Millionaires
  • Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy
  • Chris August, winner of World Poetry Slam Championship
  • Douglas Clopp, Common Cause
  • Mark Hays and Jonah Minkoff-Zern, Public Citizen
  • Eleanor LeCain, World Innovation Network
  • Shahid Buttar and Chip Pitts, Bill of Rights Defense Committee    
Starting at noon and ending when the sun comes up the next day, we will not only confront the the dysfunction and corruption in Washington, but engage in a serious dialogue about solutions.  

When:  12pm on Sat, October 29 - 6am on Sun, October 30
Where: West Front Lawn of the US Capitol (where Presidential inaugurations take place)
FREE COFFEE will be served. RSVP here.
It will be a special day. More so if you and your friends can join us. Invite your friends to join us for Citizens Intervention on October 29th and the Citizens Lobby on October 31st.
Please forward this email or share this online invitation with your friends. You can print the event flyer.
See you in DC!
Debilyn, Annabel, Eric, Susie, Diane, Heather and the Citizens Intervention Team
PS - Support the campaign by becoming a Citizen Sponsor of the rally! We promise to ease up on email traffic starting November 1st.
 
Visit us: http://coffeepartyusa.com

Via Climate Progress: Funniest Denier Punking Ever: Lord Monckton Isn’t An Act by Sacha Baron Cohen, Is He?



Is climate science denier Lord Monckton really just another act by Sacha Baron Cohen — creator of Ali G, Borat and Bruno?

That is the “mistake” Australian satirists make in this must-see video — which the UK Guardian callsbuttock-clenchingly embarrassing and hilarious in equal measure” – already seen by 800,000 Australians and now more than 300,000 viewers on YouTube:

In their post, DeSmogBlog puts in the disclaimer “(just to be absolutely clear here folks, he isn’t!)”

In the real world, the science-based world of “facts,” I suppose that is a reasonable statement.  But what about in Monckton’s world of pseudoscience?


The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (TVMOB) is not merely a shameless purveyor of hate speech and anti-science disinformation (see Lord Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists).

In his world, he is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a member of Parliament — who has cured HIV (see here).  None of those things are true.

So, if we were to apply TVMOB’s “logic,” then I think we should say the burden of proof is on TVMOB to show he isn’t Borat. After all, the video makes a strong case that he is, and no evidence has ever been provided to the contrary.

So until he appears in the same room at the same time as Cohen, I’ll reserve judgment.  And, no, a video of that would not constitute proof —  you can do amazing things with CGI these days. The ball’s in your court, TVMOB.
Related Post:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Via JMG: Teabaggers Vs. OWS, Part Seven


(Source)


reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Blackberry Outage = Fewer Car Crashes


Observers carefully note that last week's Blackberry outage "coincided" with a reduction in traffic accidents.
The National reports that traffic accidents in Dubai dropped 20 percent compared to historical averages during the blackout. In Abu Dhabi, accidents dropped by 40 percent, and there were zero fatalities. If you're thinking that this isn't a significant enough sample to show that smart phones and distracted driving are inexorably linked, consider this: There is an accident in Dubai every three minutes. Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim pointed out to The National that the accidents resulting from distracted driving "range between minor and moderate ones, but at times they are deadly." Officer Al Harethi took it a step farther, adding "the roads became much safer when BlackBerry stopped working."
So far I've only been rear-ended by a Food Emporium shopping cart. She did drop her iPhone, which was a slight compensation.


reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Andrew Sullivan

 "To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now." - Andrew Sullivan. One his readers chimes in: "Bush and Saddam - One Trillion dollars and thousands of US lives. Obama and Qaddafi - One Billion dollars and zero US lives."

 

The Language Of Science

Morning Walk / Caminhada de hoje




Casa de Elizabeth Bishop

Infinity Shot






Scorn in the U.S.A. It must be tough for Republicans to love America so much but hate almost three-quarters of the people living in it.

THE FUNNIEST AND GREATEST THING I'VE EVER POSTED

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Via JMG: The Current New Yorker



reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Another Look At 9-9-9


(Source)
reposted from Joe

"Did Mitt Forget?"

Via JMG: Tea Party Edict: Stop All Hiring To Punish Our Socialist Dictator Barack Obama


This week's edict from Tea Party Nation:
Resolved that: Our President, the Democrats-Socialists, most of the media, and most of those from Hollywood, have now encouraged and supported "Occupy" demonstrations in our streets, which are now being perpetrated across the globe, and which are being populated by various marxists, socialists and even communists, and are protesting against business, private property ownership and capitalism, something I thought I'd never see in my country, in my lifetime. I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Debate Fashion: Crazy Eyes Debuts Latest From JC Penney's Lady Dictator Line


Twitter had a field day last night with Michele Bachmann's strange white paramilitary jacket. My take is in this post's headline, here's a few more:

-Michele Bachmann is rockin’ that strait jacket tonight.
-Nice jacket, Bachmann, but you left your twirling baton and the rest of the band back at the hotel.
-Michael Jackson is rolling in his mausoleum for Bachmann wearing his Dangerous jacket.
-I just really wish Anderson Cooper would ask Bachmann “WHAT is UP with that JACKET?”
-Michele Bachmann looks like she’s running for Space Emperor.

Many more at the link.
reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Flux Capacitor Sold Separately


The DeLorean will return in 2013 as an all-electric vehicle. List price $100,000.

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reposted from Joe

From Facebook: There is still hope left in the world with stuff like this

From Facebook:

Occupy Wall Street Commercial

Via TED: Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Via SacBee: TODAY'S TOP STORIES

Two weeks have passed since Occupy Sacramento protesters first took hold of downtown's Cesar Chavez Plaza. They have set up small shelters and a first-aid station, created a bank of laptop computers linked to the Internet and conducted several rallies. - Read More

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Via Jerry P. Becker: Why I Send My Children to Public Schools

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From Huffington Post [Education], October 9, 2011. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-niles/public-schools_b_1002466.html?
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Why I Send My Children to Public Schools

By Robert Niles

My two children, ages 14 and 11, attend their local public schools, and have since kindergarten. Why do I send my children to public schools?

1. Public schools work.

Every year, millions of American children graduate from public schools across the country, having completed the toughest curricula in our nation's history, surpassing standards that get tougher by the year. In our public schools, students can learn calculus, analyze complex themes by Nobel Prize-winning authors, study advanced chemistry, biology and physics, program computers, and perform music and dance in international competitions in front of crowds of thousands. Every year, public school students learn, graduate and go on to the world's best colleges and the world's most competitive jobs.

But what about all those news stories about bad test scores and failing schools? Aren't many kids falling behind?

It's true that we've got a huge gap between students in our country -- one that grows with each grade level as kids advance from kindergarten into high school. But that's not because we have an education problem in America. It's because we have a large, and growing, child poverty problem in our country.[see http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/more-eligible-free-school-meals-recession-9015]

The children whose parents can afford to send them to school with money for lunch, and who have the ability to help them with their increasingly difficult homework at night, typically thrive in the public schools, as they always have. But those aren't the majority of kids anymore in many districts.

If public education were broken, and our schools no longer had the ability to teach, then why is it you never find any of these "broken" schools in affluent communities? [see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martha-infante/failing-public-school-education-reform_b_803368.html ] I wrote about this issue last spring, when I showed how the schools in my hometown of Pasadena, California were out-performing the California average in all major demographic categories -- white, black and Latino, poor and non-poor -- but the district's overall test score average was below the state average because the Pasadena schools have a far above-average percentage of economically-disadvantaged children attending them.

When we raise academic standards and increase homework requirements, we widen the gap between students whose parents studied algebra, geometry and calculus -- and can help them with that homework -- and those who don't have parents like that, or any parent at home, to help them.

Yet even students facing immense home challenges -- single parents, foster care, parents working multiple jobs who are rarely home, parents who can't speak English or who didn't complete school themselves -- are still learning and advancing in our public schools, even if they continue to trail those students who have the advantage of living with educated parents who earn a living wage, or better. Test scores in all socio-economic categories continue to rise in our country. [see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-niles/public-schools_b_1002466.html?   and scroll down to download [Our public school teachers are doing their jobs. Our schools just need more teachers, and more resources to help close the gap between those children whose birth gave them a head start -- like my kids -- and those whose birth didn't.

2. Private schools aren't inherently better.

A University of Illinois study, published in the American Journal of Education [see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-niles/public-schools_b_1002466.html? ], found that public school students scored just as well in math as students attending private schools, when you compared students of similar ethnic and economic backgrounds. The study followed earlier research that showed public school students scored slightly better (though within the margin of error) than private school students in the same income and ethnic demographic.

One of the ways that many private schools portray themselves as superior options to public schools is by cherry-picking the students they admit. It's easy to show off students with high test scores and impressive academic achievements when you admit only the students who are inclined -- through family support and personal initiative -- to score and perform well.

What the University of Illinois research did is to make an apples-to-apples comparison which showed that similar students do just as well or better in a public school environment than in private schools.

I don't want to talk anyone out of attending a private school, if that's your choice and you can afford it. But I do want to talk you out of believing that you have to choose a private school, if you want the best for your children's education. Your child can get an excellent education in the public schools, just as millions of other are getting. The data proves it!

3. Public school students score better than charter school students.

Many politicians, including education officials in the Obama administration, are pushing charter schools as a superior alternative to traditional public schools, which are accountable to the local community through elected school boards. Charter schools don't have to follow the same rules as public schools, and the idea is that greater freedom flexibility allows them to succeed.

Except that they don't. A Stanford University study [see http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/National_Release.pdf ] found that students at charter schools were more likely to score worse than public schools students than they were to outperform those students -- 37% percent of charter schools did worse than comparable public schools, while only 17% did better. The rest, 46%, scored the same.

So, if you are a parent who picks a charter school over a public school, you're more likely to end up worse off than going to your local public school than you are to end up in a better-performing school.

4. Public schools are for everyone.

Public schools have to serve every child in a community. They don't get to cherry-pick only the brightest or wealthiest students. And that's a large part of their appeal to me. Attend a public school, and you're getting to know people from every corner of your community, not just people of the same religion or social class. In public school, you're part of the, well, public.

Public education offers every child in the community a chance at an education. While too many children remain limited in their ability to take full advantage of that opportunity due to circumstances at home, it's important to me -- and ought to be important to you -- that those opportunities remain available to all. Education ought to be about lifting up, not weeding out. Without a free, public education system open to all, those who are born without money and power never will have a chance to make their lives better by developing new knowledge and skills.

5. Public schools are under attack.

So public schools work, they teach as well or better than private schools, and better than charters. They're open to all and helping children from all races, ethnicities and economic classes. So why are so many stories and people so negative about public schools?

Here's my theory: Public schools are run by the government. They're the place where more people have more contact with government employees on a daily basis than any other public institution. Public school teachers are almost always members of labor unions, too.

So if you believe that government can't do anything right, or if you believe that people are better off without labor unions representing them, a successful public school system doesn't help you make your case, does it?

If you're a business leader and want to distract people from the fact that more Americans are slipping out of the middle class even as you and your colleagues are getting richer than ever, how convenient would it be to fund foundations and contribute to politicians who will blame poor test scores in the hardest-hit communities on failing schools, instead of the growing child poverty problem that's causing them?

Don't fall for their stories. The facts show that public education works. Teachers are doing their jobs, even as society makes it harder and harder for them. We should be rewarding our public school teachers with the extra help, recognition and, yes, pay they deserve.

Here's how you can help: Thank a teacher instead of trashing them. Offer to volunteer or contribute to a local school. If your school district is asking for a bond issue or parcel tax, vote yes. They need the money.

Don't sign petitions asking to transfer control of local schools from school boards elected by parents to private companies accountable to no one in the community. If you choose to send your children to private schools or to homeschool, that's fine, but please don't tell other people that their children can't get a good education in the public schools.

I'm sending my children to public schools because I don't believe in the people who are attacking our public schools. Sending my children to public schools is the ultimate sign of support, and helps keep me more deeply involved in a precious public resource that needs, and deserves, our support.

Public schools work -- for my children and the children of our community. That's why I send my children to public schools, and I encourage other parents to do the same.
------------------------------------------
Robert Niles also can be found at http://www.themeparkinsider.com . This post first appeared on SensibleTalk.com
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Via JMG: Hugging Towers Update


In early May of this year I blogged the following:
One week after 9/11, I rescued the above unsigned painting from the front wall of the elementary school on my Chelsea street. It was one of hundreds affixed there in what doubtlessly was a group therapy project for the children. A violent rainstorm had just begun when I removed it and by morning the hundreds of other drawings lay ruined in puddles. I'll never own one of the repulsive commercial 9/11 souvenirs still being hawked on downtown corners, but Hugging Towers (as I have dubbed it), I'll keep forever.
It turns out that I won't be keeping Hugging Towers forever as (thanks to a JMG reader) I've been contacted by the folks at the World Trade Center Memorial and Museum who requested that I donate the piece to them. Of course, I said yes.

The hand-off will take place at the Memorial next week and hopefully I'll be allowed to take some photos of the moment. I'm humbled to have a tiny role in this and maybe one day we'll learn the identity of the artist, who may now be college-age.

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reposted from  Joe

JMG Photo Of The Day


(Source)


reposted from Joe

Carinhosas palavras aos professores de nosso presidente honorário Ubiratan D´Ambrósio no dia 15 de outubro.

A Diretoria Nacional Executiva-DNE, em homenagem a todas as professoras e professores, publica uma carta do nosso Ubiratan D´Ambrósio, especialmente escrita para esta ocasião. Que todos os dias sejam dia dos professores.
    
     A DNE
    
     “Aos queridos professores e queridas professoras, em seu dia”
    
     Colegas,
    
     Mais uma vez comemoramos nosso dia. Desde minha infância lembro-me, sendo filho de professor, de ter a data lembrada pelos meus pais. Depois, quando aluno, o diretor da escola falava algo sobre a data e sobre a importância do professor na sociedade, aplaudíamos e íamos para as aulas como em qualquer outro dia... O tempo foi passando e a data tomou um caráter de festividade e ao mesmo tempo de convite para uma reflexão sobre nossa condição profissional e para reivindicações.
     Com mais de 60 anos de carreira, sempre me considero feliz por ter me tornado professor. Se recomeçasse a vida, faria a mesma opção. O que não exclui minha reflexão, muitas vezes entristecedora, sobre o estado atual da nossa profissão e sobre o risco de desencanto de muitos colegas. 

     Recordo minha história de vida. Comecei a dar aulas com 16 anos. Eram classes informais, de preparação de alunos para concurso público. Os alunos sempre se lembravam de ser dia do professor e levavam algo para comemorar. Mas eu não percebia, ainda, que eu não estava sendo um professor no verdadeiro sentido da palavra, isto é, um educador. Eu estava treinando indivíduos, adultos e já educados para irem bem nos concursos. Eles geralmente se saiam bem e eu me sentia realizado. Somente alguns anos depois, quando acabei de completar vinte anos, assumi aulas em classes regulares, do curso ginasial e do colegial, nas quais alguns alunos tinham quase a minha idade. Percebi então que minha missão ia muito além de treinar alunos para passar numa prova. O importante é educar para a vida, para ser um participante ativo na sociedade e estimular a criatividade. Assim superei agir como um professor/treinador e entendi que minha responsabilidade maior era ser um educador. 

     Estamos passando por uma fase difícil na profissão. Há uma grande incompreensão sobre nossa missão. Somos vistos pelas autoridades, pelos pais, pelos alunos e mesmo por alguns colegas como treinadores de jovens para passar em exames. Nessa visão distorcida de missão do professor, quando os resultados são ruins a culpa é dos professores. Sabemos que a causa do baixo rendimento é a própria conceituação de exames e testes padronizados como instrumentos de avaliação da educação. A situação é particularmente grave na disciplina matemática. 

     Não desanimem com essa incompreensão. Não posso nesta mensagem analisar essa injustiça com o trabalho dedicado e competente da classe docente, mas posso convidar os colegas a entenderem o mundo dos jovens. Deem a eles a oportunidade de serem criativos e procurem acompanhá-los. Façam com que a parafernália de que os alunos dispõem seja sua parceira na busca do novo, no desenvolvimento de projetos. A matemática será uma das disciplinas mais afetadas por transformações que resultam de toda a tecnologia disponível. Procurem acompanhar as novas direções que a matemática está tomando. Estejam alertas às publicações e aos eventos. A grande parceira dos educadores matemáticos é a Sociedade Brasileira de Educação Matemática. Aproveitem a riqueza das publicações dos eventos organizados pela SBEM e as suas várias possibilidades de acesso e links oferecidos pelo seu site. A tecnologia amplamente disponível trará a valorização do professor.
     Abraços solidários nesse nosso dia.
    
     Professor Ubiratan D`Ambrósio
     Presidente honorário da SBEM
    

Emmanuel Kelly The X Factor 2011 Auditions Emmanuel Kelly FULL

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mark Ruffalo explains Occupy Wall Street

JMG Photo Of The Day - Occupied Madrid


(Source)


reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Enter The Earthscraper



Via Humans Invent, an interesting proposal.
Burrowing down 35 stories beneath the heart of Mexico City, the Earthscraper defies everything the skyscraper stands for. It’s an ambitious rebuttal to architectural obsession with high-rise, so-called space efficient living. Shaped like an inverted pyramid, the Earthscraper will burrow downwards 775,000 square metres, preserving the existing city square above. By building below the city, the landscape above ground is left looking relatively unchanged. Concerts, open-air exhibitions and military parades regularly take place on the historic landmark above the Earthscraper, and it’s important to Mexico’s rich history that they continue.

reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Media Coverage Report Card


(Via - Andrew Sullivan)


reposted from Joe

*Countdown with Keith ...: Michael Moore on support of Occupy Wall Street protest

Via JMG: National Debt By President


(Source)
reposted from Joe

PJ News Break: Occupy Wall Street Protesters Attack a Horse. Plus Lady Gaga Romances the Clintons

Via ClimateProgress:GM: Bikes Will Make You Unattractive to Ladies

by Jess Zimmerman in a Grist cross-post



Enough people thought this was a good idea that the ad made it into print. How did this ad meeting go? “We need to convince the youth to buy giant boat-cars.” “Okay, tell them bikes will cockblock them.” “Perfect, let’s call it a day.” Nice work, Don Draper.

GM has clearly been getting a lot of blowback for this ad, which presents biking as an embarrassment so profound you’ll want to hide your face from the sight of pretty girls. They’ve been falling over themselves to apologize on their Twitter feed. It’s tough for them! Reality sucks, guys.


UPDATE:  David in the comments directs us to the great response ad by Giant Bicycles:




Via JMG: A New Peace Symbol



After considering 15,000 submissions from more than 190 countries, an online jury chose a logo they hope will become an internationally recognized symbol for human rights.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Via Facebook: Noam Chomsky, le 10 strategie della manipolazione attraverso i mass media.'s photo.

Ouro Preto, MG - 16.10.2011








Copyright 2011 by Daniel C. Orey All rights reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

Via Adult Children of Heterosexuals:

Via JMG: NYC's Sunday Tabloids


 
A similar cover is found on today's New York Post.


reposted from Joe

Via JMG: Herman Cain Is Completely Insane

Think Progress:
As we’ve noted, because low-income Americans spend almost all of what they earn, while the wealthy do not (and earn a significant amount of their money from investments, the income from which goes untaxed entirely under 999), Cain’s plan will be a massive shift in the tax burden down the income scale. Of course, as Cain has explained, the poor could always just buy used food in order to lower their tax rate. And evidently he believes Americans will be so overjoyed at the prospect of higher taxes that they will flood the streets to demand them.



reposted from Joe

Via ClimateProgress:We’re Beyond Earth’s Carrying Capacity Now. Will Accelerating Climate Change Turn the Population Boom into a Bust?

Demographers are predicting that world population will climb to 10 billion later this century. But with the planet heating up and growing numbers of people putting increasing pressure on water and food supplies and on life-sustaining ecosystems, will this projected population boom turn into a bust?

by Robert Engelman, in a Yale e360 cross-post

The hard part about predicting the future, someone once said, is that it hasn’t happened yet. So it’s a bit curious that so few experts question the received demographic wisdom that the Earth will be home to roughly 9 billion people in 2050 and a stable 10 billion at the century’s end. Demographers seem comfortable projecting that life expectancy will keep rising while birth rates drift steadily downward, until human numbers hold steady with 3 billion more people than are alive today.

What’s odd about this demographic forecast is how little it seems to square with environmental ones. There’s little scientific dispute that the world is heading toward a warmer and harsher climate, less dependable water and energy supplies, less intact ecosystems with fewer species, more acidic oceans, and less naturally productive soils. Are we so smart and inventive that not one of these trends will have any impact on the number of human beings the planet sustains? When you put demographic projections side by side with environmental ones, the former actually mock the latter, suggesting that nothing in store for us will be more than an irritant. Human life will be less pleasant, perhaps, but it will never actually be threatened.

Some analysts, ranging from scientists David Pimentel of Cornell University to financial advisor and philanthropist Jeremy Grantham, dare to underline the possibility of a darker alternative future. Defying the optimistic majority, they suggest that humanity long ago overshot a truly sustainable world population, implying that apocalyptic horsemen old and new could cause widespread death as the environment unravels. Most writers on environment and population are loathe to touch such predictions. But we should be asking, at least, whether such possibilities are real enough to temper the usual demographic confidence about future population projections.


For now, we can indeed be highly confident that world population will top 7 billion by the end of this year. We’re close to that number already and currently adding about 216,000 people per day. But the United Nations “medium variant” population projection, the gold standard for expert expectation of the demographic future, takes a long leap of faith: It assumes no demographic influence from the coming environmental changes that could leave us living on what NASA climatologist James Hansen has dubbed “a different planet.”

How different? Significantly warmer, according to the 2007 assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit more than today on average. Sea levels from two to six feet higher than today’s — vertically, meaning that seawater could move hundreds of feet inland over currently inhabited coastal land. Greater extremes of both severe droughts and intense storms. Shifting patterns of infectious disease as new landscapes open for pathogen survival and spread. Disruptions of global ecosystems as rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns buffet and scatter animal and plant species. The eventual melting of Himalayan glaciers, upsetting supplies of fresh water on which 1.3 billion South Asians and Chinese (and, of course, that number is rising) depend for food production.

And that’s just climate change, based on the more dramatic end of the range the IPCC and other scientific groups project. Yet even if we leave aside the likelihood of a less accommodating climate, population growth itself undermines the basis for its own continuation in other ways. Since 1900, countries home to nearly half the world’s people have moved into conditions of chronic water stress or scarcity based on falling per-capita supply of renewable fresh water. Levels of aquifers and even many lakes around the world are falling as a result. In a mere 14 years, based on median population projections, most of North Africa and the Middle East, plus Pakistan, South Africa and large parts of China and India, will be driven by water scarcity to increasing dependence on food imports “even at high levels of irrigation efficiency,” according to the International Water Management Institute.

The world’s net land under cultivation has scarcely expanded since 1960, with millions of acres of farmland gobbled by urban development while roughly equal amounts of less fertile land come under the plow. The doubling of humanity has cut the amount of cropland per person in half. And much of this essential asset is declining in quality as constant production saps nutrients that are critical to human health, while the soil itself erodes through the double whammy of rough weather and less-than-perfect human care. Fertilizer helps restore fertility (though rarely micronutrients), but at ever-higher prices and through massive inputs of non-renewable resources such as oil, natural gas, and key minerals. Phosphorus in particular is a non-renewable mineral essential to all life, yet it is being depleted and wasted at increasingly rapid rates, leading to fears of imminent “peak phosphorus.”

We can recycle phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, and other essential minerals and nutrients, but the number of people that even the most efficient recycling could support may be much less than today’s world population. In 1997, Canadian geographer Vaclav Smil calculated that were it not for the industrial fixation of nitrogen, the world’s population would probably not have exceeded 4 billion people — 3 billion fewer than are alive today. It’s likely that organic agriculture can feed many more people than it does currently, but the hard accounting of the nutrients in today’s 7 billion human bodies, let alone tomorrow’s projected 10 billion, challenges the hope that a climate-neutral agriculture system could feed us all.

Food production also requires many services of nature that conventional agronomy tends to ignore in projecting future food supplies, and the dependability of these services appears to be fraying. Roughly one out of every two or three forkfuls of food relies on natural pollination, yet many of the world’s most important pollinators are in trouble. Honeybees are succumbing to the tiny varroa mite, while vast numbers of bird species face threats ranging from habitat loss to housecats. Bats and countless other pest-eaters are falling prey to environmental insults scientists don’t yet fully understand. And the loss of plant and animal biodiversity generally makes humanity ever-more dependent on a handful of key crop species and chemical inputs that make food production less, rather than more, resilient. One needn’t argue that the rising grain prices, food riots, and famine parts of the world have experienced in the past few years are purely an outcome of population growth to worry that at some point further growth will be limited by constrained food supplies.

As population growth sends human beings into ecosystems that were once isolated, new disease vectors encounter the attraction of large packages of protoplasm that walk on two legs and can move anywhere on the planet within hours. In the last half-century, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged. The most notable, HIV/AIDS, has led to some 25 million excess deaths, a megacity-sized number even in a world population of billions. In Lesotho, the pandemic pushed the death rate from 10 deaths per thousand people per year in the early 1990s to 18 per thousand a decade later. In South Africa the combination of falling fertility and HIV-related deaths has pressed down the population growth rate to 0.5 percent annually, half the rate of the United States. As the world’s climate warms, the areas affected by such diseases will likely shift in unpredictable ways, with malarial and dengue-carrying mosquitoes moving into temporal zones while warming waters contribute to cholera outbreaks in areas once immune.

To be fair, the demographers who craft population projections are not actively judging that birth, death, and migration rates are immune to the effects of environmental change and natural resource scarcity. Rather they argue, reasonably enough, that there is no scientifically rigorous way to weigh the likelihood of such demographic impacts. So it makes more sense to simply extend current trend lines in population change — rising life expectancy, falling fertility, higher proportions of people living in urban areas. These trends are then extrapolated into an assumedly surprise-free future. The well-known investor caveat that past performance is no guarantee of future results goes unstated in the conventional demographic forecast.

Is such a surprise-free future likely? That’s a subjective question each of us must answer based on our own experience and hunches. Next to no research has assessed the likely impacts of human-caused climate change, ecosystem disruption, or energy and resource scarcity on the two main determinants of demographic change: births and deaths. Migration related to climate change is a more common subject for research, with projections ranging from 50 million to 1 billion people displaced by environmental factors — including climate change — by 2050. The mainstream projections cluster around 200 million, but no one argues that there is a compelling scientific argument for any of these numbers.

The IPCC and other climate-change authorities have noted that extremely hot weather can kill, with the elderly, immune-compromised, low-income, or socially isolated among the most vulnerable. An estimated 35,000 people died during the European heat wave of 2003. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites research projecting that heat-related deaths could multiply as much as seven-fold by the century’s end.

In the past few years, agronomists have lost some of their earlier confidence that food production, even with genetically modified crops, will keep pace with rising global populations in a changing climate. Already, weather-related disasters, from blistering heat waves to flooded farm fields, have contributed to widening gaps between food production and global consumption. The resulting price increases — stoked also by biofuels production encouraged in part to slow climate change — have led to food riots that cost lives and helped topple governments from the Middle East to Haiti.

If this is what we see a decade into the new century, what will unfold in the next 90 years? “What a horrible world it will be if food really becomes short from one year to the next,” wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds told The New York Times in June. “What will that do to society?” What, more specifically, will it do to life expectancy, fertility, and migration? Fundamentally, these questions are unanswerable from the vantage point of the present, and there’s a lesson in this. We shouldn’t be so confident that the demographers can expertly forecast what the world’s population will look like beyond the next few years. A few demographers are willing to acknowledge this themselves.

“Continuing world population growth through mid-century seems nearly certain,” University of California, Berkeley, demographer Ronald Lee noted recently in Science. “But nearly all population forecasts… implicitly assume that population growth will occur in a neutral zone without negative economic or environmental feedback. [Whether this occurs] will depend in part on the success of policy measures to reduce the environmental impact of economic and demographic growth.”

It’s certainly possible that ingenuity, resilience and effective governance will manage the stresses humanity faces in the decades ahead and will keep life expectancy growing in spite of them. Slashing per-capita energy and resource consumption would certainly help. A sustainable population size, it’s worth adding, will be easier to maintain if societies also assure women the autonomy and contraceptive means they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies. For anyone paying attention to the science of climate change and the realities of a rapidly changing global environment, however, it seems foolish to treat projections of 10 billion people at the end of this century as respectfully as a prediction of a solar eclipse or the appearance of a well-studied comet. A bit more humility about population’s path in an uncertain and dangerous century would be more consistent with the fact that the future, like a comet astronomers have never spotted, has not yet arrived.

– Robert Engelman is president of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Population Institute awarded his book, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, the Global Media Award for Individual Reporting in 2008.

This article was originally published at Yale Environment 360.

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