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Understanding One's Decision Footprint
Saving Our Life-Support System:
Understanding One's Decision Footprint
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Saving Our Life-Support System: Understanding One’s Decision Footprint

Version II

William C. Gladish
The Critical Decision Foundation, USA
www.ACriticalDecision.org

Introduction & Overview

"Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth."
World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, November 18, 1992
(Signed by 1600 senior scientists from 70 countries, including 102 Nobel Prize laureates)

"It is not prudent to rely on science and technology alone to solve problems created by rapid population growth, wasteful resource consumption and harmful human practices."
U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society of London, Joint Statement, 1992

“Prudent and increasingly reliable estimates suggest that the Earth’s long-term sustainable human carrying capacity, at what might be defined as an ‘adequate’ to ‘moderately comfortable’ developed-world standard of living, may not be much greater than 2-3 billion…It is increasingly apparent that the long-term sustainability of civilization will require not just a leveling-off of human numbers as projected over the coming half-century, but a colossal reduction in both population and consumption.”
— J. Kenneth Smail, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Kenyon College

Scientists currently use a “consumption footprint” (expressed in acres or hectares) to help citizens understand their impact upon the biosphere. However, to reflect one’s impact and decisions more comprehensively, we need to use the Decision Footprint, which is a function of four areas: a person’s consumption “decisions”, the number of children one “decides” to create, the country one “decides” to adopt children from, and one’s “decisions” to enhance our life-support system. For the purpose of this essay, we will use the following factors to quantify the above areas: (1) Consumption-decision Factor, (2) Child-creation Factor, (3) Adoption Factor, and (4) Life-support Protection Factor.

Because it is based on one’s decisions and a more comprehensive footprint, the Decision Footprint will provide a much-needed incentive to reduce our population as well as our consumption. Furthermore, many citizens look at their consumption rate and think: What’s the point of even trying? The Decision Footprint will help them to overcome this despair by placing responsibility where it belongs and rewarding people for making decisions that restore our life-support system. The following paragraphs will expand on the four factors and how they are calculated.

How to Calculate the Factors

Consumption-decision Factor:

First, determine the “average” consumption footprint or rate for one’s country using the Global Footprint Network—for the U.S. it’s 23.5 acres.[1] Since a person does not make the decision to be created or where they are born, this average will be the starting point for one’s Consumption-decision Factor. If a person remains at the average for the country they live in, the factor will be zero. If one consumes more, it will be a plus. If one consumes less, it will be a minus or a negative number. Of course, in poor countries, the average will need to be adjusted to reflect a minimum quality-of-life standard and in wealthy countries one may want to make an adjustment as well (these issues are discussed in greater detail later). One can calculate their “personal” consumption footprint or rate using the calculator provided by Redefining Progress (www.myfootprint.org) and subsequently determine their Consumption-decision Factor. Another personal consumption calculator, with slightly different questions, is provided at www.mec.ca/Apps/ecoCalc/ecoCalc.jsp (be careful to select metrics or American as the desired measurement system prior to taking the test).[2] Because of these differences and how one may interpret and answer each question, it’s recommended that the reader accomplish both calculations and use the lower of the two figures to determine one’s personal consumption rate. So if a U.S. citizen had a personal consumption rate of 33.5, their Consumption-decision Factor would be calculated as 33.5 minus 23.5 or 10 acres. On the other hand, if their personal consumption rate were 13.5, their Consumption-decision factor would be 13.5 minus 23.5 or a “negative” 10 acres.

Child-creation Factor:

This factor is applied where a couple or individual has made the decision to create a child. This decision can be the traditional method or by using the many methods associated with fertility clinics and donor material. Since it’s impossible to determine the future consumption rate of a child, we will use the average rate for the country where a child is living as the Child-creation Factor (an adjustment is made for poor countries and explained later in the essay). In the U.S., the average consumption rate is 23.5 acres.[3] Unfortunately, in areas of the world where contraceptive services, educational opportunities, and social security are difficult to obtain, citizens have far less freedom to address this factor and much work needs to be done to solve this issue—freedom many citizens in wealthy countries take for granted. In addition, many cultures and families (even in progressive countries) are still male dominated—restricting the freedom of women.

Adoption Factor:

If one adopts a child from within their country, the factor remains neutral. However, if one decides to adopt a child from outside their country the “difference” between the two countries’ average-consumption rates is used to establish the factor. So bringing a child from a country with a modest-consumption rate into a country with a high-consumption rate is reflected and vice versa. However, it’s important not to unfairly penalize children from poor countries. Therefore, if the average consumption rate of a country is less than 12.6 acres, which is the average consumption rate for Western Europe, the 12.6 figure is used instead of the actual.[4] Why use Western Europe as a standard? Because it’s reasonable to argue that Western Europe provides a comfortable and rewarding life to its citizens at a lower consumption rate than others—a quality of life and consumption rate many citizens, living in rich or poor countries, would select if they had the option. Furthermore, given human history, it’s difficult to believe that the vast majority of humanity would voluntarily consume at a level lower than 12.6 acres (given humanity’s current technology selection and use). Of course, society should strive to lower this rate as much as possible while maintaining an acceptable quality of life, but this will take time and new thinking. Therefore, if an American couple adopts a child from a country with an average consumption rate equal to or lower than 12.6, the Adoption Factor would be calculated as 23.5 (the average U.S. consumption rate) minus the 12.6, giving us an Adoption Factor of 10.9 acres. If an American couple adopted a Swiss child, the Adoption Factor would be 23.5 minus 13.1 (the average consumption rate for Switzerland), resulting in an Adoption Factor of 10.4 acres.[5] However, if a Swiss couple adopted an American child, their Adoption Factor would be 13.1 minus 23.5, giving them an Adoption Factor of a “negative” 10.4 acres.

Life-support Protection Factor:

This is the number of acres one protects for wildlife habitat using their purchasing power and/or time. This factor should not be viewed as a method to offset any future Child-creation Factors or to justify increased consumption. On a finite and overstressed planet, creating additional children and increasing consumption will only make the Life-support Protection Factor more difficult to maintain as an option for everyone. This factor should be viewed as a method of helping to restore our life-support system from past decisions and the decisions of past generations—a gift to humanity’s future.

The Life-support Protection Factor is a function of many things and can be difficult to measure. Therefore, it’s an issue for the conscience of each person calculating his or her Decision Footprint. In most cases it will be a small figure, perhaps one or two acres for belonging to environmental or conservation groups (a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars worth of time, membership fees, hunting and fishing licenses, and donations can only go so far every year, even with the synergistic effect taken into account).

Nevertheless, this factor can be significant for some people—especially people who sacrifice deeply and use or donate large sums of money to purchase and protect land for biodiversity protection and/or restoration. This is not the same as maintaining human-use land (such as farmland, large yards, tree farms, etc.). To obtain an acre-for-acre credit, one needs to preserve the land to maximize native biodiversity and the health of our life-support system. However, one could take partial credit for improving human-use land for native species and diversity. Again, the Life-support Protection Factor can be difficult to measure and in most cases would be small. Of course, the reader is encouraged to reflect upon and increase this factor as much as possible. Simplifying one’s lifestyle and using or donating the money saved to purchase land is a powerful method to achieve this goal. Such action will also decrease one’s Consumption-decision Factor—having a multiplying effect upon their Decision Footprint.

Examples of How the Decision Footprint Works

The Decision Footprint would be calculated by adding one’s Consumption-decision Factor to their Child-creation Factor (again, a person does not “decide” to be born, that decision was made by one’s biological parents or individuals using the aid of a fertility clinic and should be reflected in their Decision Footprint calculation). If one is adopting a child, then the Adoption Factor is also added into the equation. After the first three factors are taken into account, a Life-support Protection Factor is subtracted to obtain one’s Decision Footprint.

Example No. 1: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at the average rate, creating two children, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 + 23.5 + 23.5 - 0 = 47 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 23.5 (Child-creation Factor for the first child)
+ 23.5 (Child-creation Factor for the second child)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions”, an additional 47 acres of wildlife habitat from around the world must be converted into human use—leaving less space for biodiversity and a further decline to a life-support system that’s already overstressed.

Example No. 2: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at the average rate, adopting two children in the U.S, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 + 0 + 0 - 0 = 0 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 0 (Adoption Factor for the first child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
+ 0 (Adopted Factor for the second child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

This couple’s “decisions” will have a neutral effect on the health of our life support system.

Example No. 3: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at the average rate, adopting two children from a country with an average consumption rate of 12.6 acres, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 + 10.9 + 10.9 - 0 = 21.8 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 10.9 (Adoption Factor for the first child: 23.5 - 12.6 equals 10.9)
+ 10.9 (Adoption Factor for the second child: 23.5 - 12.6 equals 10.9)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions”, an additional 21.8 acres of wildlife habitat from around the world must be converted into human use—leaving less space for biodiversity and a further decline to a life-support system that’s already overstressed.

Example No. 4: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at the average rate, accomplishing nurturing alternatives (i.e. helping schools, churches, universities, nursing homes, civic groups, and educating fellow citizens in an effort to help all children around the world), and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 - 0 = 0 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first member of the couple: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second member of the couple: 23.5 - 23.5 equals 0)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

This couple’s “decisions” will have a neutral effect on the health of our life support system.

Example No. 5: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at “half” the average rate, creating two children, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

- 11.75 - 11.75 + 23.5 + 23.5 - 0 = 23.5 acres

- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 11.75 - 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 11.75 - 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
+ 23.5 (Child-creation Factor for the first child)
+ 23.5 (Child-creation Factor for the second child)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions” (even at half the consumption rate), an additional 23.5 acres of wildlife habitat from around the world must be converted into human use—leaving less space for biodiversity and a further decline to a life-support system that’s already overstressed.

Example No. 6: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at “half” the average rate, adopting two children in the U.S., and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

- 11.75 - 11.75 + 0 + 0 - 0 = - 23.5 acres

- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 11.75 – 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 11.75 - 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
+ 0 (Adoption Factor for the first child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
+ 0 (Adoption Factor for the second child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions”, they are helping to restore 23.5 acres of wildlife habitat back into our life-support system.

Example No. 7: The Decision Footprint of an American couple consuming at “half” the average rate, adopting two children from a country with an average consumption rate of 12.6 acres, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

- 11.75 - 11.75 + 10.9 + 10.9 - 0 = - 1.7 acres

- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 11.75 - 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
- 11.75 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 11.75 - 23.5 equals a negative 11.75)
+ 10.9 (Adoption Factor: 23.5 - 12.6 equals 10.9)
+ 10.9 (Adoption Factor: 23.5 - 12.6 equals 10.9)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions”, they are helping to restore 1.7 acres of wildlife habitat back into our life-support system.

Example No. 8: The Decision Footprint of a “Swiss” couple consuming at the average rate, adopting two children from the U.S., and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 - 10.4 - 10.4 - 0 = - 20.8 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 13.1 - 13.1 equals 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 13.1 - 13.1 equals 0)
- 10.4 (Adoption Factor for the first child: 13.1 - 23.5 equals a negative 10.4)
- 10.4 (Adoption Factor for the second child: 13.1 - 23.5 equals a negative 10.4)
- 0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions”, they are helping to restore 20.8 acres of wildlife habitat back into our life-support system.

Example No. 9: The Decision Footprint of an “Indian” (India) couple consuming at the average rate, creating two children, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

The average consumption rate for India is only 2 acres.[6] However, it’s reasonable to argue that if the “average” citizen had the opportunity to “decide” they would consume at least at the 12.6-acre rate (the minimum quality-of-life standard argued by this essay). Therefore, for this example, any consumption rate equal to or lower than 12.6 acres is assigned a zero for the Consumption-decision Factor. If an Indian couple consumes above the 12.6 rate, the excess would be a plus. If one “intentionally” consumes below the 12.6 rate, the difference would be a negative. Again, one must remember that this is a “Decision” Footprint calculation. As for the Child-creation Factor, it’s reasonable to argue that the average child would consume at least at the 12.6-acre rate (if given the opportunity). Therefore, the 12.6 rate is used for the Child-creation Factor and it’s separated into two parts (Consumption and Development Demand). Of course, access to contraceptive services, education, and equal rights for women are key elements as well. Therefore, it’s an issue for the unique situation and conscience of each person calculating his or her own Decision Footprint.

0 + 0 + (2 + 10.6) + (2 + 10.6) - 0 = 4 acres of Consumption and 21.2 acres of Development Demand

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent)
+ 2 (Child-creation Factor for the first child: Consumption)
+ 10.6 (Child-creation Factor for the first child: Development Demand)
+ 2 (Child-creation Factor for the second child: Consumption)
+ 10.6 (Child-creation Factor for the second child: Development Demand)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

Because of this couple’s “decisions” and/or “lack of access” to the above elements, an additional 4 acres of Consumption and 21.2 acres of Development Demand for human use has been placed on wildlife habitat from around the world—leaving less space for biodiversity and a further decline to a life-support system that’s already overstressed.

Example No. 10: The Decision Footprint of an “Indian” (India) couple consuming up to 12.6 acres each (the minimum quality-of-life standard argued by this essay), adopting two children in India, and a zero Life-support Protection Factor:

0 + 0 + 0 + 0 - 0 = 0 acres

   0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the first parent: 12.6 - 12.6 = 0)
+ 0 (Consumption-decision Factor for the second parent: 12.6 – 12.6 = 0)
+ 0 (Adoption Factor for the first child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
+ 0 (Adopted Factor for the second child—the parents and child are from the same country so this factor is 0)
-  0 (Life-support Protection Factor)

This couple’s “decisions” will have a neutral effect on the health of our life support system.

Conclusion

“Unless we can find some way to slow down population growth—to voluntarily optimize the population—the stresses and strains on the natural resources will be too great to bear.”
Jane Goodall, Renowned Primatologist

“Humanity, in the desperate attempt to fit 8 billion or more people on the planet and give them a higher standard of living, is at risk of pushing the rest of life off the globe.”
Edward O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Harvard University

“I have no doubt that the fundamental problem the planet faces is the enormous increase in the human population. You see it overrunning everywhere.”
Sir David Attenborough, Renowned Wildlife Documentary Producer and Anthropologist

There are countless other examples and the author encourages the reader to calculate their own Decision Footprint. The above examples clearly show how difficult it is for individuals who create children to have a restorative effect upon the planet’s overstressed life-support system (even when consuming at half the average rate in the U.S.)—the same life-support system that the children they created will depend upon in the future. Yet couples consuming at the average (or at the minimum quality-of-life standard) and choosing adoption in their own country (or some other nurturing alternative) are already life-support system neutral with their decisions; and members of this group, living in wealthy countries, can easily achieve a restorative effect by reducing their consumption rate and increasing their Life-support Protection Factor.

As for adopting children outside one’s country, the examples show it’s difficult to achieve a “significant” restorative effect when bringing children into a high-consumption society (even when the parents consume at half the average rate). However, one can achieve a significant restorative effect when adopting a child from a high-consumption country into a modest-consumption society. Furthermore, since the life-support system is in crisis, it’s imperative that all of humanity work together to increase our restorative decisions and not be satisfied with neutrality when consuming above the minimum standard. Neutrality will not heal our injured life-support system. Therefore, the best way to accomplish this task is to lower our population and consumption, and no decision puts more pressure on our overstressed life-support system than the decision to create a child. Nor is it reasonable to believe that a reduction in consumption alone will protect or restore our life-support system. For the time being, the Life-support Protection Factor still provides a method for all of us (especially citizens in wealthy countries) to improve upon our Decision Footprint from decisions made in the past.

As for the future, if we don’t change our reproductive and consumptive behavior, our life-support system will continue to decay, and humanity’s long-term physical and spiritual health will continue to decay as well. We need to look up into the night sky and ponder the following questions:

  • How can the decline of our life-support system be intellectually and spiritually responsible?

  • Will religious leaders find themselves apologizing to humanity, yet again, for lacking the wisdom to reflect upon their dogma, priorities, and political activities?

  • How many souls in the future will be lost from the decay of our life-support system?

  • Has one’s reproductive and consumption decisions truly helped to restore an overstressed life-support system or just added to its decline?

  • How can one change their Decision Footprint to obtain a restorative effect?

  • How can one help others to change their Decision Footprint and obtain a restorative effect?

Galileo’s words are as profound today as they were in the 17th century: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." Because they hold the key for positive change; religious leaders, teachers, scientists, students, responsible citizens, and environmental/conservation groups need to reflect upon humanity’s reproductive and consumptive behavior. Also, because of their knowledge and position within society, they bear the greatest responsibility for setting the example and providing leadership. Yes, overpopulation and reducing consumption are unpopular topics in a finite world. However, intellectual and spiritual maturity demands that one warn humanity even in the face of great adversity. But take heart, as more individuals and organizations muster the courage to join the chorus, it will only inspire others to speak out—creating a wave of support and positive change.

Therefore, the author challenges every citizen around the world to reflect upon his or her Decision Footprint and to conduct additional research and discourse in this area—appendices A and B are provided as a starting point for additional reflection.

________________________

About the Author: William C. Gladish earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from Indiana University. He received a U.S. Air Force officer’s commission in 1982 and served on active duty for over ten years as a pilot and navigator—allowing him to observe the Earth and humanity’s impact on it from 30,000 feet for many years. In 1992, he completed a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Bill has served as an assistant professor and has received numerous leadership awards from the Air Force. In 2001, he established The Critical Decision Foundation, on the web at www.ACriticalDecision.org , to study the influences of economic forces (especially large corporations) on society, the importance of biodiversity, and the relationship of these subjects toward humanity’s long-term physical and spiritual health. He presently serves as the foundation’s director and as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Bill continues to study the impact of large corporations on humanity and the environment and their threat to the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2005, he presented the Decision Footprint concept at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education and was named a Fellow at the International Professors Project.


 

Appendix A:

Having Children in a World of Six Billion

William C. Gladish
The Critical Decision Foundation, USA
www.ACriticalDecision.org

Introduction

“Population growth is the primary source of environmental damage.”
Jacques Cousteau, Renowned Oceanographer and Founder of the Cousteau Society

“Human population growth is the most pressing environmental problem facing the U.S. and the world.”
— John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society

"Smart growth destroys the environment. Dumb growth destroys the environment. Smart growth just destroys the environment with good taste.”
Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Colorado

In 1900, the world's population was only 1.6 billion; today it's over 6 billion and estimated to be 8 billion by 2028, followed by 9 billion in 2054.[7] It's estimated that the U.S. population will grow to more than 400 million citizens by 2050—where the growth rate is estimated to continue rapidly.[8] Researchers estimate that the Earth could sustain 2 billion people with the consumption rate roughly equal to what the average European consumes (which is very comfortable and far less wasteful than in America), while allowing the current level of plants and animals to survive at the natural extinction rate.[9] That means the Earth already has "three" times the number of people it can support in a comfortable and sustainable manner. Approximately every three seconds the world adds seven people to its population and every ten seconds the U.S. adds another person to its population.[10] In other words, taken as a whole, one child becomes 76 million people added to 6 billion every year.[11]

The “Technology Will Save Us” Argument
Prior to humanity’s extensive use of technology and the explosive population growth it helped to create, the natural extinction rate for plants and animals was approximately one to ten species a year.[12] During the last few hundred years, humanity has increased species extinction rates by as much as 1,000 times the background rates typical of Earth’s history.[13] Many politicians and corporations tell us not to worry about the environment and argue that technology will solve all our problems in the future. History and science don’t support these claims and we have too much at stake to accept such hollow reassurances. Nuclear waste, global warming, toxic chemicals, deforestation, overgrazing, wetland destruction, topsoil erosion, river and aquifer depletion, coral reefs dying, and the loss of biological diversity are just a few of the massive problems associated with the seen and unforeseen consequences of technology. The late physicist and Nobel laureate Dr. Henry Kendall states, “What we need is a much broader recognition of the problems that careless human activities are bringing upon us. A realization that we cannot be rescued by science and technology because these problems at their root are human problems and have to be dealt with as such, and it’s clear to the scientific community that this is the case.”[14] Furthermore, all technology has consequences on a finite planet.

In addition to the environmental and public safety concerns of technology, it’s also important to realize and consider that technology has political implications. For example, our oil-dependent world economy makes humanity more likely to get involved in wars to protect this critical economic resource. Although we now have solar and wind technology to reduce this hazard on a grand scale, we continue to depend on oil and the centralized technology surrounding its use. As citizens, we must consider how technology interacts with our political structure and democracy. For example, oil and nuclear power are extremely dangerous and expensive to produce—leading to highly centralized control—making it difficult for citizens to monitor and hold politicians and corporations accountable. Solar and wind power, however, are much safer, far less damaging and costly than oil and nuclear power, and they can be installed and maintained by almost anyone—leading to decentralized and democratic control.

We must not submit to short-term and simplistic thinking when dealing with technology, automation, economic, environmental, social, and political issues—they are all interconnected—change one and you’ve affected all the others. Our physical and spiritual well-being can no longer tolerate a blind and unchallenging faith in technology. Furthermore, as we will discuss next, technology is only part of the equation.

It’s Not Us

Many Americans argue that they are not the problem, it's the less developed countries in the world and their fertility rate of 10 or more children. However, this is not true. First, the fertility rate for less than developed countries is 3.2 children and the fertility rate for developed countries is 1.6 (the U.S. fertility rate is 2.1). Secondly, there are additional factors to one's environmental impact than just the number of children one has—consumption and technology must also be added into the equation. Given this information, the environmental impact of every person on the planet can be represented using the following formula:[15]

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Where Population represents the number of people in a country, Affluence represents the standard level of consumption, and Technology represents the environmental destruction indirectly caused by technology.

For example, the environmental impact of a woman giving birth to just one child in the U.S. is equivalent to a woman in India giving birth to 35 children; in Bangladesh it's 140 children; in Haiti it's 280 children.[16] Of course, parents in these countries don't have anywhere near this many children and consequently don't impact the environment like the parents in the U.S. and other developed countries. The fertility rate in India is 3.1, in Bangladesh it's 3.3, and in Haiti it's 4.7.

To ignore the environmental destruction caused by overconsumption, the consequences of technology, and overpopulation is not leadership—leaders set the example and make sacrifices for the common good so others will follow. Humanity must quickly reduce its numbers and there's no time to waste. Every year, we lose at least 1,000 species (with some estimates at 50,000 per year) and the number continues to increase.[17] The decline of biodiversity is the biggest disaster humanity has ever faced. Yet, for all practical purposes, it's being ignored by religion, society, and government.

The “Smart People” Argument

If citizens in developed countries (especially in the U.S.) would reduce their consumption and pollution, limit themselves to one child, and delay that child's birth for as long as possible; it would greatly reduce our impact on the planet and save thousands (possibly millions) of species from extinction. Of course, adopting the children that are already here (instead of creating additional children) would save even more species from extinction. Furthermore, if Americans would put pressure on politicians to drastically reduce immigration and assist less-developed countries with equal rights for women, education, and contraceptive services; it would save even more species from extinction, reduce poverty, and decrease terrorism. While working toward these goals and providing leadership, we must also put pressure on politicians to protect the biodiversity and wildlife habitat still remaining on the planet by supporting conservation, renewable energy sources, and other sane economic policies.

Many people argue that the world needs "their" children because they are smarter than the rest of us. However, this argument has no merit. If actions of intelligent people were so important, we wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place. The world's so-called "intelligent" people (the rich and middle class) are far more responsible for the world's problems than the "less" intelligent. Here's why. Most so-called intelligent people clear huge tracts of land to build enormous homes, shopping centers, country clubs, etc. They spray large quantities of pesticides on their factory farms, lawns, gardens, and golf courses. They invest huge sums of money into industries that destroy the environment on a monumental scale and they vote for politicians gutting the environment and democracy under the pretense of religion, family values, and character. Over the centuries, they've displaced and absorbed indigenous people who have lived thousands of years in a sustainable manner. Nevertheless, poor and uneducated citizens also cause extensive environmental impact. Poor citizens have higher fertility rates and their desperate conditions and lack of education increase the probability of abusive and willful misuse of the local environment. The solution is for all citizens to decrease their impact by adopting the children that are already here or at least limiting themselves to one biological child and at the same time reducing wasteful consumption and pollution while improving equal rights for women, education, and critical thinking around the world.

Unfortunately, the more likely scenario will be nearly 9 billion people by the year 2054 unless individuals from all walks of life start taking leadership roles. How many species will die under this kind of population growth? What kind of future does this hold for the children of today and tomorrow?

Don’t Kill the Messenger

There are many nurturing alternatives to having one or more biological children or grandchildren. Again, one can adopt the children that are already here or one can devote more of their life or free time to educating the public on the importance of reducing our population, promoting conservation, and preserving our biodiversity. At some point, humanity must realize that for every human born into a world of 6 billion (especially in the United States, where we consume five times more than the average human being), it represents the extinction of other species, the decline of our life-support system, and a decline in one of the most important spiritual links with our Creator.[18] Few people can study nature and science (the language humanity uses to describe the Creator’s work) and not be in a state of awe—nor can they deny the moral consequences of destroying species just for the sake of having their own biological children or grandchildren.

Many religious leaders, scientists, nonprofit organizations, and politicians understand this, but because overpopulation is such an unpopular topic, many won't bring it up for fear of being ostracized by society and even by their own family members. Others are yelling at the top of their lungs over the issue, but the mass media won't report it because it's not an issue that sells advertising. In addition, many members of the wealthy class (owners of the mass media and architects of our current economic system) benefit by overpopulation because it allows them to quickly harvest the environment beyond sustainable means, reduce wages for laborers, and retain more profit for themselves. We must also remember that in today’s high-dollar political campaigns and contributions, most politicians really serve Big Business and religious dogma over the common good and science. Population growth also puts tremendous pressure on politicians to create additional jobs at the expense of the environment and humanity's long-term health. The resulting job growth required to sustain this population is an insidious and destructive cycle on a finite planet. If people expect politicians to solve our problems, it's going to be a long and unsuccessful wait. The only time the world has truly advanced in thought has been when individual citizens have made sacrifices for the common good and convinced others to do the same—only then do politicians join the fight. Democracy, the abolishment of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and a host of other important issues would not have been or continue to be championed without individual action, leadership, and sacrifice.

Conclusion

All of us must join in this extremely important debate involving our country and the world—especially young adults, because they have the most to lose. As citizens within a democracy, we’re obligated to discuss important issues with each other and support candidates and religious leaders that "truly" care about the common good and humanity's "long-term" health. Apathy, denial, avoidance, censorship, hostility, sadness, fear, and a host of other defensive tactics won't solve our overpopulation and wasteful consumption problem nor will they preserve the quality of life on this planet. Humanity and individuals must deal with this issue in an active, responsible, and logical manner. As previously quoted, Galileo declared, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."


 

Appendix B:
Leaders Must Set the Example so Others will Follow

William C. Gladish
The Critical Decision Foundation, USA
www.ACriticalDecision.org

Introduction

“One cannot help but conclude that population growth and environmental pressures will feed into immense social unrest and make the world substantially more vulnerable to serious international frictions [another way of saying wars].”
Information from the U.S. Air Force's Air Command and Staff College

“The dream that growth will raise world wages to the current rich country level, and that all can consume resources at the U.S. per capita rate, is in total conflict with ecological limits that are already stressed beyond sustainability.”
— Herman Daly and Robert Goodland, Renowned Economists

"Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?"
Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Colorado

"Which is the greater danger—nuclear warfare or the population explosion? The latter absolutely! To bring about nuclear war, someone has to DO something; someone has to press a button. To bring about destruction by overcrowding, mass starvation, anarchy, the destruction of our most cherished values—there is no need to do anything. We need only do nothing except what comes naturally—and breed. And how easy it is to do nothing."
Isaac Asimov, Renowned Scientist and Author

With the level of destruction to biodiversity (our life-support system) from human population, consumption, and pollution, it is extremely important to reverse this trend and safeguard humanity’s long-term physical and spiritual health. Many people, especially members of religious, environmental, and conservation groups, care deeply about such issues. Yet they somehow justify or rationalize the creation of their own biological children into a world that’s already horribly overstressed. Are these not the individuals that should be setting the example for adopting children (children that are already here) or by channeling their energy into other nurturing alternatives? Sadly, such individuals are not doing so in significant numbers. Nevertheless, the author remains hopeful that this trend will change as more and more people overcome the denial phase and deal with the reality (as unpopular as it is) that our life-support system and civilization are in a massive decline from humanity’s impact. Just a few of the most recent publications that support this statement are One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment and the second Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report, Biodiversity and Human Well–being: A Synthesis Report for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Furthermore, as the life-support system continues to degrade, the level of corruption (corporate, political, religious, etc.) and violence (poverty, terrorism, war, etc.) will only increase in order to secure dwindling resources. Each violent wave justifying increased military/police budgets and the next brutal wave—decreasing social services, civil liberties, educational opportunities, critical thinking, and a long list of other benefits provided by a healthy civilization. The violence will increase nationalism and tribalism among nation states (both internally and externally) and threaten the U.S. Constitution and other democratic forms of government around the world.

Additional Insight & Suggestions

For additional insight on population issues from other authors (and to name only a few), please read the works of Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Dr. J. Kenneth Smail, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Dr. Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation Ecology, and Dr. Jeffrey McKee, Professor of Anthropology. Although many authors addressing population issues clearly and courageously state the seriousness of the problem, their recommendation for stopping at two children is woefully inadequate and it’s unfair to women who would have a single child if others weren’t having two or more. Many authors also fail to address the additional impact of a second child born into a wealthy country versus a second child born into a modest or poor country. This omission can lead to rash comments of racism and/or inflammatory misrepresentation of immigration issues by others and, in-turn, create a hostile and less productive dialog for all concerned. Furthermore, the seriousness of their writings seems to contradict the two-child option as a suggestion in the first place. Therefore, to increase fairness and help a horribly overstressed life-support system for all of humanity (present and future), this essay strongly encourages people to adopt or at least limit themselves to one child. If additional children are desired, then please choose adoption or some other nurturing alternative. Yes, adoption can be difficult and expensive in some countries, which may force one to consider other nurturing alternatives. One such alternative could be to help make the adoption process, in one’s country, less difficult and expensive. Another alternative could be to help establish equal rights for women and make contraceptive services and educational opportunities available to all citizens around the world. Once humanity’s population reaches the Earth’s carrying capacity, which is currently and prudently estimated at 2-3 billion, a replacement-fertility rate should be encouraged. Of course, this essay also encourages people, especially living in wealthy countries, to reduce their consumption of resources as well.

Conclusion

Many individuals, who already have biological children, may feel they can’t address overpopulation issues even when they agree with the seriousness of the problem. However, this is not true. One can explain their decision process to have biological children, but with the insight of today they would make different decisions. One can explain the measures they are taking to avoid unplanned pregnancies. One can also discuss how they are educating their children and others, to think more critically, on reproduction and consumption decisions. Potential grandparents need to recognize the value of adoption and nurturing alternatives as much as would-be parents. Again, the author is hopeful that someday soon; individual citizens, religious, environmental, and conservation groups will take bold and courageous steps to encourage such behavior and clearly show the intellectual and spiritual consequences of humanity’s impact on a finite planet. One small way of accomplishing that goal is to share this essay with others (religious leaders, church members, civic groups, teachers, family, friends, doctors, dentists, associates at work or school, newspaper editors and other media outlets, and environmental groups—to name only a few). "Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones." —Charlotte Bronte

_________________________

Copyright © 2005 by William C. Gladish. All Rights Reserved. The Decision Footprint concept and the first version of this essay were presented in October 2005 at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education. The author wishes to thank all the friends, associates, and scholars from around the world that provided feedback on this essay. For publishing requests, please contact the director at the following email address: director@ACriticalDecision.org.  Thank you.


 

Saving Our Life-Support System:
Understanding One’s Decision Footprint

What are People Saying About the Essay?

“The Decision Footprint is an excellent tool for understanding one's impact on the future of the world.  This paper is written with a style that offends no one.  You are stating the facts.  I can think of no more important issue facing the world today.”

“Many scholars have published works and essays on the implications of global population growth in a finite planet.  What you have done, in my view, is to provide a mathematical basis for understanding individual’s contributions to either further stress global life-support system or reduce our impact on the globe through our decision footprint.”

“Had I been a bit more intellectually stimulated and spiritually evolved in my younger days, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to consider other nurturing options. I would have revelled in the opportunity to read this type of article…bravo, for being courageous and putting such thought-provoking and challenging material out there…We need to understand the seriousness of our choices, which is presented quite concretely in your essay.”

“You took a complex and controversial subject and rationally explained it…certainly makes one think deeply…a huge eye-opener for me.”

“Thank you for your thought-provoking paper...You are tilling humanity’s collective soil.”

“Very thought-provoking essay!  It sure makes me look at my own choices and think about future choices.  Is it OK to print off and share with my young-adult sons?”



[1] World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2004”, www.worldwildlife.org/about/lpr2004.pdf, page 28, U.S. ecological footprint is 9.5 hectares or 23.4745 acres (rounded to 23.5). One hectare is equal to 2.471 acres. The Global Footprint Network provided the consumption-footprint data for the above reference and another version of data is located at www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=footprint_acres. (Because of rounding, the data for the two references may be slightly different.)

[2] www.myfootprint.org, this consumption-footprint calculator is provided by Redefining Progress on the web at www.rprogress.org. Another version of the calculator is on the web at www.mec.ca/Apps/ecoCalc/ecoCalc.jsp

[3] World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2004”, www.worldwildlife.org/about/lpr2004.pdf, page 28, U.S. ecological footprint is 9.5 hectares or 23.4745 acres (rounded to 23.5). One hectare is equal to 2.471 acres.

[4] World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2004”, www.worldwildlife.org/about/lpr2004.pdf, page 30, Western Europe’s ecological footprint is 5.1 hectares or 12.6021 acres (rounded to 12.6). One hectare is equal to 2.471 acres.

[5] World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2004”, www.worldwildlife.org/about/lpr2004.pdf, page 30, Switzerland’s ecological footprint is 5.3 hectares or 13.0963 acres (rounded to 13.1). One hectare is equal to 2.471 acres.

[6] World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2004”, www.worldwildlife.org/about/lpr2004.pdf, page 26, India’s ecological footprint is .8 hectares or 1.9768 acres (rounded to 2). One hectare is equal to 2.471 acres.

Copyright © 2005 by William C. Gladish. All Rights Reserved. The Decision Footprint concept and the first version of this essay were presented in October 2005 at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education. The author wishes to thank all the friends, associates, and scholars from around the world that provided feedback on this essay. For publishing requests, please contact the director at the following email address: director@ACriticalDecision.org.  Thank you.

[7] Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999) p. 8 for the 1900 population data and Katie Mogelgaard, "Six Billion and Counting," Nucleus [Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists] Fall 1999: p. 6 for 2028 and 2054 population data.

[8] Negative Population Growth, "Why the U.S. Needs a Smaller Population," E Magazine July/Aug. 1999: p. 17.

[9] David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press; San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995) p. 35.

[10] U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 19 September 2005 www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html

[11] Earth Policy Institute, 19 September 2005 http://www.earth-policy.org/Indicators/Pop/2004.htm

[12] Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999, p. 97.

[13] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis (Washington DC: World Resources Institute, 2005) p. 3.

[14] Union of Concerned Scientists, Video Transcript—Keeping the Earth: Scientific and Religious Perspectives on the Environment (Pittsburgh: New Wrinkle, 1996) p. 4.

[15] Fertility rate information obtained from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Report WP/98, World Population Profile: 1998, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999. Information on the environmental impact formula obtained from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment (Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 2000) p. 7.

[16] National Wildlife Federation, "The Impact of one Child" 19 January 2002 www.nwf.org/population/ipat.html, 19 September 2005 http://web.archive.org/web/20020601213645/www.nwf.org/population/ipat.html

[17] Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999, p. 97 and Rain Forest Action Network, "Species Extinction: Rain Forest Fact Sheets" 17 September 2005 http://www.ran.org/info_center/factsheets/03b.html

[18] Population Connection, “Fact Sheet: Population and the Environment” 19 September 2005
http://www.populationconnection.org/Communications/FactSheets/Pop%20and%20Env%202002.pdf

Copyright © 2005 by William C. Gladish. All Rights Reserved. The Decision Footprint concept and the first version of this essay were presented in October 2005 at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education. The author wishes to thank all the friends, associates, and scholars from around the world that provided feedback on this essay. For publishing requests, please contact the director at the following email address: director@ACriticalDecision.org.  Thank you.

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