Guest Author - Lori Bradley
This week we are dealing with news of a steady flow of creeping crud seeping from the deep sea onto our beautiful southern beaches and threatening to spread around the tip of Florida and beyond. The Gulf oil spill is heartbreaking beyond any recent tragedy because New Orleans and other coastal cities are still struggling hard to recover from hurricane Katrina. Considering that faulty levies caused the catastrophic flooding, there has been one brutal, man-made assault on that region after another.
It seems redundant for me to say that in just this decade, the world has been plagued with extreme weather caused by climate change, oil spill disasters, wild fires, war and terrorism � all exacerbated by a sinking economy. Clearly, our small planet is no longer able to sustain exponential human population growth. If the Zero Population Growth Movement is planning to stage a comeback, now is the time.
A speaker at one of our local college graduations dubbed the students the �S Generation,� S for Sustainability. Reading the transcript of the speech in the newspaper, desirable goals for the �S Generation� are using new technologies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, increasing telecommuting and public transportation opportunities, and sustainable farming practices � all great strategies.
But, considering our use of fossil fuels account for over 85% of our energy consumption, and that major infrastructure changes are needed to support high speed rail systems and sustainable farming, we won�t see immediate impact even if the �S Generation� does live up to its name. Unfortunately, no mention was made in the graduation speech of the one sustainable strategy in which significant change can be made in one generation � choosing to have smaller families - or no children at all.
After reading the transcript of the �S Generation� speech, I started to wonder how much oil a person actually uses in a lifetime � including energy needs, food products, plastics, cosmetics and all the myriad everyday items people use that contain petroleum.
Looking for a solid, simple number, I found a website (solarnavigator.net) that offers grade school lesson plans using oil consumption statistics as mathematical teaching tools. (I love the way this web author thinks!)
Solar Navigator says that individuals consume 22 barrels of oil each year. That number doesn�t seem like much until it is multiplied by the average 75-year life span of a human being, resulting in 1,650 barrels of oil per person, per lifetime.
A family of six (two parents, four kids) will use about 9,900 barrels of oil in their collective lifetimes. If each kid has four more kids, the three generations will consume 36,300 barrels. Consider that each barrel contains 42 gallons of oil. Three generations of four-child families will consume 1,524,600 gallons of oil.
This number seemed abstract to me until, with inspiration from the Solar Navigator, I thought about it from a more hardheaded perspective: The Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 11,000,000 gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska. This means that just under six three-generation families producing four kids each will consume enough oil to pollute one entire Prince William Sound - if the oil spills. And, as we all know, and are reminded of daily by oil company apologists on the news, �Accidents WILL happen.�
Obviously, long-term reduction fossil fuel consumption reduction tactics are crucial to our survival, but considering that most behavior modification techniques are relatively slow to take effect, the fastest way to reduce oil, coal and natural gas consumption is for nations that rely heavily on these fuel sources to produce fewer users.
The website Live Science.com offers an interesting perspective on the population reduction question:
�A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environment-friendly practices people might employ during their entire lives � things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.�
� �In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,� said study team member Paul Murtaugh. �Those are important issues and it's essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.� �
Child-free people are way ahead of the curve in terms of embracing a sustainable living practice that enhances the quality of life for everyone on the planet. And, just for this fact alone, child-free people deserve respect and admiration, not criticism and intrusive questioning. So, next time someone asks how on earth you can live without children just say you are busy saving the planet.
Oil consumption reference: http://www.solarnavigator.net/oil_consumption.htm