Climate Change Activists Need To Talk About Population Too

Maps prepared by Population Action International overlay data on populations with high growth rates and low resilience to climate change.

“The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs, and attempts to defend it in isolation from human concerns have given the very word ‘environment’ a connotation of naivety in some political circles.”

These words come from the foreword of “Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development,” a landmark United Nations report that was written when the world’s population reached five billion. The report triggered the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio De Janeiro and a number of United Nations treaties and agreements all focusing on sustainable development.

It’s now 2012, and a new Earth Summit is being prepared for June of this year.  But what progress has been made in sustainable development in the past two decades, and how can you answer the problems without looking at the growing population? In my next piece for, I take a look at how these questions were addressed at an Aspen Institute event this past Thursday.


On Fourth Down, Only Go For It If You’re Gonna Make It

It’s the second quarter, the Giants are down 2-0 (yes, that’s a baseball score in a football game, the first sign of trouble), and Big Blue has the ball in the red zone, fourth and inches.

“Kick the field goal,” I say.  “It’s a low scoring game, the Giants offense is nowhere, why squander the opportunity to score?”

“You have to go for it,” my friend Sean says.  “Show some faith in your offensive line.”

Tom Coughlin, Giants coach, didn’t hear either of our opinions, but he listened to Sean and went for it. Atlanta got good penetration, met Giants running back behind the line of scrimmage, but Jacobs spun free and forward and gained the first down.  Big Blue scored a touchdown shortly thereafter, and the team caught fire. Final score, 24-2.

Driving home after the game, the post-game chatter was all about the Falcons coach Mike Smith and what a turkey he was for going for it twice on fourth and inches from around the Giants 25. Smith was a turkey because his team failed to convert both times. Coughlin’s decision was lost amid the dominant play by his team after they converted; Smith’s decisions were highlighted as the reason his team lost.

Smith, apparently, is a big reader of all the analysis dedicated to whether to go for it or not.  It seams that almost every year the New York Times sports section comes up with an analysis on why you should always go for it. He went for it in the regular season, against the division rival Saints, and failed. He went for it twice in this game, ostensibly for the same reasons that Coughlin did–showing some faith in his team, providing the opportunity to spark some momentum, a naive belief that it would work?–but only one coach wears the dunce cap.

My own analysis, done without the benefit of a degree in statistics or eager graduate students at my disposal, is that you should go for it unless failing at it will hurt more than kicking the field goal or punting.  In today’s game, the Falcons had just marched down the field, failed the conversion, and forced QB Eli Manning to throw the ball away in the end zone, earning a safety for intentionally grounding the ball.  The Giants then forced an Atlanta punt, and finally moved the ball downfield–failing on the fourth down play would mean squandering the little momentum that had been built up be a long drive by coming away with zero points. “Kick the field goal,” I said.

In the end, Tom Coughlin is the genius that fired his team up, while Mike Smith is the coach that went down with his ship. Perhaps the right decision was made only because it worked.

But how would you factor that into a statistical analysis?



Do we Really Need to use Human Medicine on Farm Animals?

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricted how a critically important drug for humans is used in farm animal production.  What this means, and how industrial farm animal production is a leading contributor of antibiotic resistant bacteria, is the subject of another piece I wrote for

Photo credit: USDA/Keith Weller

Has the Chesapeake Bay turned the corner in 2011?


A piece I wrote for looks at how we’ve moved closer to a cleaner Chesapeake Bay in 2011.  A concerted push to cut back on factory farm run-off and other pollution, plus reductions in the amount of Atlantic menhaden caught at the mouth of the bay, could add up to better water quality and a healthier ecosystem.

Sunrise off of Sandy Point State Park, MD. Credit: Dan Klotz