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About The North Coast times-eagle. (Wheeler, Oregon) 1971-2007 | View Entire Issue (Jan. 1, 2007)
NORTH COAST TIMES EAGLE, JA B R U A R Y & M A R PR IL 2007
EARTH NEEDS LITTLE MORE OF THE FRUIT WE BEAR
BY TOM BURGESS
The presentment of Chairperson Nancy Pelosi to the
House of Representatives was as proper as Capitol events get
— excepting components that reeked of this world’s double
standards; the inclusion of her six grandchildren as part of the
Given our die-cast responses, the six little faces did,
indeed, put a seal on Ms. Pelosi’s status as a maternal unit of
energy. Add to that, her own five “start-up” progeny and you get
a bountiful, marketable image: a builder of multi-generational
families and a fertile community operative with — additional to
“Congresswoman”— the unchallenged titles of Mama, Grandma,
and Great God knows what multipliers the procreative future
could give her.
It’s an affirmation of life in domestic terms. It's hypocriti
cal abandon in world terms.
The event in Washington is reminiscent of one that
occurred in the late 80s in Berkeley, California. Helen Caldecott
was departing an organization she had founded some twenty
years before, Physicians for Social Responsibility. I heard her
address. As she lauded herself and her colleagues, she remind
ed all present of the dilemma faced by the medical community
and by humanity; that we had taken the atom, a simple, basic-
to-life element and transformed it into an elemental monster that
could and would destroy us if we did not change our ways.
During the course of Caldecott's farewell, however,
something most contrary happened. In the midst of her concern
for life, she started celebrating life, and in the midst of doing that,
she began to wax emotional about her "many(beautiful) children"
and her “many, many (beautiful) grandchildren" and the many,
many, many familial lives for which she was both responsible
Did she not see the contradiction on another level?
Amidst all the nurturing and humanitarian fervor, had she not
read Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb? Caldecott was,
supposedly, a medical analyst with a world view — a messenger
from the calculated sciences to the randomly conceived masses.
Where had her “Social Responsibility" gone when she was
burning-up the bed sheets to create life beyond the simple
replication of herself, her husband, and at most, a third child?
Well, more often, the doctor kept her atom focus. But the
nuclear age we face is no more ominous than our urban sprawl,
our depleted oceans, deforested land, or polluted rivers. And all
of these factors — and hundreds of earth maladies — have, as
their point-of-origin, a single, germinal malady; a single, correct
able excess over which we have lost control: the overpopulation
of our planet. And it’s a difficult admission. Given humanity’s
gravitation toward materialism, food sources, and territorial
imperative, all are easily definable as malignancies for us
to target. But, in reality, they all have as their point-of-origin,
the seemingly benign and moral act of love-making and child
bearing — the excesses of the latter being the key to all other
excesses of humankind and all the dire consequences we have
Yet we turn a blind eye; a blithe and pious ear. Regard
less of the dangers apparent, if our average countrymen were
told of the possibility of family numbers being regulated by some
entity outside his or her own family unit, the ACLU, the appellate
courts, and every civil rights lawyer in the country would shift into
a gear higher than the Republic has yet to spin in. Instead, we
would rather blame our impulsive youth, our poorer citizens, or
our mismanaged immigration policies when, in fact, it is white
middle-income Americans who tip the scales in national birth
rates. I personally know a retired university professor who has
nine brothers and sisters resulting in 53 nieces and nephews;
all these lives originating with one middle-American man and
woman who were neither poverty-stricken, immigrant nor ill-
In contrast to such freedoms — and an irony of our
national birthrate policy — is that another nation, far less
developed and near-primitive in information-dispersal, is solving
their own version of this problem. Sadly yet predictably, they
happen to be the one currently employing the most strong-armed
means of mixing democracy, capitalism and industrial expansion.
China was a sleeping giant and now, as an emerging giant, its
offspring planning methods are geography-discriminatory and
gender-inequitable. They are as ham-fisted in their family
regulation as they are in their commerce methods.
But China is desperate. Their nose is to the wall, their
very existence at stake. They are digging 900-mile canals to
channel water from healthy rivers in the south to dying rivers
in the north — all to serve their current populace. They are
putting on line a coal-fired power plant a week — all to serve
the same populace; buying up rainforests to cut-down and
cultivate crops for ethanol — their version of ecology conscious
ness. A male first child encourages rural couples to cease their
childbearing. A girl child allows them one additional child. Two
children of any sex is the end of the child-bearing process.
China is in a place the United States will someday find itself
if we do not do something and soon.
So how do we address this dilemma before we are
forced to become as desperate and brutal in our methods as
China? What has happened to our own informational efforts
and our political priorities in the years since Rachel Carson
and Paul Ehrlich wrote so passionately?
Doubtless, before those two authorships, America had
the weight of a pious 19th century to shake loose. In those times,
even though married couples were allowed to use contraceptives
that right continued — at least on the books — to be denied the
unmarried. Outside a pharmacy exchange, the “anti-obscenity"
Comstock Laws still prohibited the dissemination or the mailing
of contraceptives. As far as abortion, most states held it illegal
and elective sterilization was near impossible to obtain.
But 1968 was the year that apocalyptic urgency was
fixed to the emerging environmental movement In the wake
of Silent Spring, the Sierra Club published Ehrlich's Population
Bomb, and that, in turn, was the genesis of an organization
called ‘Zero Population Growth'. The membership exploded to
35,000 in a three-year period. Given the extent of that response,
Congress took the obscenity nonsense off rubbers, the Supreme
Court gave contraceptive rights to the unmarried, and Roe vs
Wade went to press, signed and sealed — at least for the time
being. By the way of these texts and these judgments, the fertility
J. N. ‘DING’ DARLING, “ THE RACE WITH THE STORK" (1948)
rate in the U.S. dropped from an average 3.4 children in the early
'60s to 1.8 in 1975. The “doubling time” of the U.S. population
rose by 14 years between 1968 and 1975, which was, though
difficult to believe, a major human statistics triumph.
Then the issue took a breath. Bad luck. Roe vs. Wade
churned-up the Religious Right and, from 1989 to 1992, state
legislators had introduced more than 700 anti-abortion rights
bills. As a result, by 1992, 84% of American counties had not
one doctor willing to perform abortions. As far as the more
general issue of population growth, it had at that time, become
so associated with abortion that suddenly, any means — any
aspect — of population control became risky politics and by the
late 90s, the National Field Director of ZPG stated that “Many
politicians wouldn’t come near a population policy if it was
wrapped in gold.”
In view of this atmosphere, the first thing ZPG did was to
distance itself from abortion. From a promotional aspect, it was
probably sound thinking. Additional to the “taking of life” issue,
abortion implied emergency measures for those who were
emergency-prone or crisis-perpetuating. “Population conscious
ness," on the other hand, implied that the public could develop
and nurture an attitude and a sustaining practice; the long-range
planning for small-family benefits.
The next thing ZPG did was to redirect their message
away from the white middle class though it had long been
established that these folks not only did more “populating" but
obviously used more than their share of resources and did more
than their share of polluting. Today, there is greater effort toward
an increasingly diverse audience and ZPG lobbies Congress for
funding on both international as well as domestic family planning
The long-promoted link between population growth and environ
mental degradation was, for a time, de-emphasized because it
made too many dots for their new audience to connect. Also,
affluent Caucasians advising other communities to clean-up the
world doesn’t always fly.
Whether ZPG is on or off the promotional mark with their
small family proposition, they at least realized that, for any of it
to have relevance, they had to help ensure the means to choose
such families. Thus, a few vasectomy clinics were opened as
were some retail outlets to vend condoms at reduced prices.
Their education programs have produced videos and school
curricula incorporating population issues into classroom fare.
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R e s ta te .
World Population was produced in '97 and The Children's
Environmental Index opened as a display in the American
Museum of Natural History. Texts include Earth Matters,
Counting on People, and People on the Planet. At one point
there were 250 teacher-training workshops a year.
But where are they today in the public mind? On the
public airways? In our voluminous texts about earth concerns?
Of the five books listed on ZPG’s web site, one is a government
census, one a biography of Margaret Sanger, one a history of
abortion wars, and one a history of the green revolution Ehrlich’s
Population Bomb stands alone in its exclusivity to the subject of
population. The matter of our exploding numbers appears in the
broadcast media as often as a singing dog in the old Movietone
News. To keep a profile and some organizational fluidity, Zero
Population Growth has had to combine their efforts with the
National Organization of Women, Planned Parenthood of
America, and even the ACLU of my “sometimes ominous" list.
By the late '90s, their membership grew by an average 700 a
year Butterfly and model railroad clubs have better enrollment
With the press these days, though there’s an effort to
keep our bio-challenge up front — there is a disinclination to cite
causal agents when they’re too close to our hearts The Oregon
ian recently ran a front-page, three-article feature that boomed
“Life As We Know It Gets Blame For Global Warming.” Well, that
header wasn't a thunderball of perception but moreover, the text
predictably avoided our sweetest points of excess. Word counts
can trivialize journalism but it was intriguing that, in all of the
copy, the references to fuels, emissions, power, and industry
totaled some 22. Land-use, development, vehicles and urbanity
each received a mention. Somewhat closer to candor — modem
society, and everyday life were each named once. Finally,
humans, humankind, and people made it in but not in regard
to their exploding numbers — only to their present and future
habits and their needs. Population growth wasn’t discussed. It
was like attending a Victorian sex education class where the
phrase “sperm fertilizes egg" would get the teacher fired.
As for Chairwoman Pelosi, she is now a Westerner with
a western mandate. She has roared out of the tunnel streaming
earth banners and belching green steam and good for us. In
her first days, she pushed through a clean energy act and has
appointed a committee on climate change But if what Pelosi
achieves is to have lasting value, she and her fellow leaders
must develop a tenet that is often contrary to the human spirit.
They must identify with generations they may not hold in their
laps; generations who may not stand by their gravesides Instead
they must think in an ofttimes subtractive way — in a procreative
world that thinks in multiples
To rephrase a point, it is doubtful our depleted fuels
would have the attention — or would, in fact, be depleted —
if we had manageable and predictable population guidelines.
Obviously, the same would prevail with our food sources, our
breathing medium, our economies, and our prospects for peace
No manner of scientific advancement, religious understanding,
racial tolerance, or the equitable distribution of baby clothes will
save us if there is no longer room or resources to live a life.
Peter and Janet Weidman
2935 Marine Drive, Suite C
Astoria, OR 97103
Tom Burgess is retired from a lifetime in publication
and broadcast production. He writes to please and displease
his friends He lives in Astoria