When Cultural Heritage, Wild Animal Preservation, and Development Collide

In a recent (November/December 2019) issue of Sierra magazine, the author of “​To Have or Not to Have Children in the Age of Climate Change,​ Dispatches from one millennial's uterus​”, a middle-aged single, and admittedly-privileged woman agonizes over whether or not to have a child.

Unfortunately, this article lacks the Sierra Club's shift to a holistic thinking. Why should this question be raised by the Sierra Club? Most women like this woman, the subject of the article, choose to have one or no children, and can do so because they have access to effective contraception.

There are far more women and girls of not-so-privileged status who have no control over their own reproductive destiny. In fact ....

The author’s problems are so small compared to women with far less wealth and income than her, women who have unintended children because contraception costs more than diapers. And that cost is for a less effective contraception like the pill.

Using the pill for a decade under normal use will result in a 61% chance of pregnancy. A woman has 30 years in which she has to use contraception to avoid getting pregnant. Unless she gets herself sterilized.

We have plenty of women in the United States who are poor, and not using effective contraception because they can't afford it.

We had Title X, a government program, that funded contraception for low income women since the 1960s, but our President has restricted the program so much that the major provider, Planned Parenthood, quit Title X so that they could provide abortions.

One in four women have abortions because they have accidents using ineffective contraception or not using any contraception due to bad planning.

This is a problem we could easily be solving. We should be lobbying in the halls of Congress. It's much easier than curtailing consumption. The downside of waiting to provide free access to effective contraception (as in Medicare for All), is that, once you have a child, you can’t put them back in the womb.

And while it seems easy to reduce consumption, people aren’t doing it fast enough. How long have we said “Eat a plant-based diet” (since Rachel Carson wrote ​Silent Spring)​ and how many people have changed their diet?

Family planning need not be coercive or shaming because a vast number of women don't want as many children as they could have. 40-50% of pregnancies are unintended.

In another article from the same issue of Sierra,​ ​"Hope for the Future Lies in the Multitude"​, one of the article contributors, Katharine Wilkinson, is with Project Drawdown.

The Drawdown project tells us that the biggest thing that we can do in fighting climate change is to provide girls education and family planning.​ ​

That means family planning where it is wanted by women to control their own reproductive destiny.

Why girls education and family planning? Let’s be honest: it’s about population.

“Population projections are arguably the backbone of GHG emissions scenarios, and are comparable in some ways with them”,​ says​ ​IPCC.

“It is education, or more specifically girls’ education, that is far more likely to result in lower carbon emissions than a shift to renewables, improved agricultural practices, urban public transport, or anyother strategy now being contemplated.”

“The difference between 0 years of schooling and 12 years is almost 4 to 5 children per woman” ..​ ​ ​Brookings Institute

In remote areas of the world, small communities get little education. Girls don’t go to school and frequently there are no nearby schools to go to.

Knowledge about contraception is often lacking or inaccurate. Social norms of family size are set by fertility determined by lack of contraception. And those norms take a long time to change.

GIrls are married early due to poverty and are expected to have children soon after marriage. Due to poverty, women, children, and livestock are the measure of a person’s wealt

In our project in Tanzania (Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability), where we provided health education to a small remote Maasai community, the contraception rate went from 26% to 54%. The average rate in Tanzania is about 34%.

In the same community, we are trying to educate girls. In the four years since we started, the preschool attendance rose from 45 to 102. However, there is only one girl in school for every two boys. One of the problems is that the government isn’t building enough schools close to communities.

The age 6 and 7 students have to walk 8 miles every day to go to school, facing the risk of wild animals such as Cape Buffalo and even leopards. That is a barrier to girls because the mothers would rather keep them safe at home where they can help with the chores.

102 preschool students in a classroom built for 45. Fortunately they have volunteer two teachers - one male and one female.

Population and Contraception

Contraception has received a bad reputation due, in part, to 1950s testing of contraception on Puerto Rican women.

According to​ ​Planned Parenthood​, the pill-testing trials were held in Puerto Rico for several reasons: Women in the U.S. became highly mobile after World War II, which made keeping together a three-year trial cohort difficult. After also considering Japan, Hawaii, India, Mexico, and New York, the research team settled on Puerto Rico.

From the very beginning, this decision opened them to fallacious charges of racism.

The many advantages of choosing Puerto Rico for research were:

• It had no laws against contraception.

• It had a well-established network of birth control clinics.

• It was close enough to the U.S. to allow easy visits from the research team.

• Many medical practitioners on the island had been trained in the U.S..

• Many of the women were semi-literate or illiterate, which allowed the researchers to test whether or not the pill could also be used by women around the world, regardless of their educational accomplishments.

• Puerto Rico was an island with a relatively stable population that could be followed for the full length of the trial

• Many Puerto Rican women were eager to have more effective methods of reversible birth control than those that were available to them.

Before the Food and Drug Administration approved the pill in 1960, 221 women in Puerto Rico had taken this pill in two clinical trials. Thousands more in Australia, Britain, Ceylon, Chicago, Haiti, Hong Kong, Japan, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Seattle, and Tennessee were involved in clinical trials of various formulations of the pill. Another 500,000 women had used the first brand — Enovid — for up to three years for menstrual regulation.

Critics of the early pill trials point out that the Puerto Rican women involved did not give informed consent with their signatures. However, at the time, signed consent was not a common procedure.

By 1984 the number of women who used the pill reached 50–80 million. Among the millions of women using the pill worldwide, there were reports of nausea, breast tenderness, water retention, and weight gain. And later 132 incidents of thrombosis and embolism among women using the pill.

But the FDA held that even if the pill caused these adverse events, the rate of them — 1.3 out of 100,000 users — was much lower than the rate of women who would die from pregnancy complications — 36.9 out of 100,000 pregnant women.

Getting back to the Sierra magazine, same issue, in the article​ ​Hope for the Future Lies in the Multitude​, ​. . .

Katharine Wilkinson says: “​There is now international recognition that the protection of Indigenous lands is synonymous with the protection of the planet.

People understanding that shows me that there's a real cultural shift away from the ways of thinking that have led us to where we are, and that we're moving back toward a more harmonious and balanced relationship with not only the earth but also the peoples of the earth.​”

In our Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability project, I have found that the Maasai there no longer live in harmony or in balance with their environment. And they are not sustainable.

This is because their cattle have been cut off from valuable water and mineral resources. And because they are not allowed cultivation - even subsistence cultivation. They used to get subsidies of maize because they were moved from their ancestral home in the Serengeti to Ngorogo, a much smaller area.

And if they have development, they won’t culturally fit in their location because they are in a World Heritage Site.

They live in a World Heritage site called Ngorongoro because they are culturally interesting and important to the heritage of the area. Like the indigenous people who live in the Amazon, who migrate annually to avoid annual flooding (and who are now being pushed out by timber companies), the Maasai used to migrate, seeking greener pastures. But they can do very little migration today because surrounding areas are spoken for by encroaching populations of other Tanzanians and rich farmers.

If there is a drought, they cannot move their cattle to another place, so the cattle can no longer be sold. Life is so bad that many of the men have left the village and have gone off to another town to be night watchman. Because they are not educated, they do not make enough money to send back to their families.

They are not allowed to cultivate. We have had to buy maize for them two out of the four years we have been involved with them.

UNESCO frowns on development. This means a house that is not mud and sticks is frowned upon. Secondary schools are no longer being built. The few students that make it into secondary school are sent out of the area, if their parents can afford it. Girls who pass the national school exam for secondary school are married off if their family can’t afford the transportation.

We want to build two classrooms near the community for the age 6-7 students who are walking 8 miles round trip to school. We also need housing for two government-supplied teachers.

But will UNESCO let us build these classrooms?

To top it off, the authorities have threatened to kick them out if their numbers reach a cap that has been established, and that number is quickly being reached. But that cap is erroneously calculated.

A recent attempt was made to evict them because they were "overpopulated", but the number of wildlife where they live has been increasing, and the rare black rhino is making a come back after poaching has been stopped.

So I hope you understand why I am irritated because this issue of Sierra skirts around the issue of population.

• My Maasai friends know it is a problem.

• They don’t want to be kicked out.

• They understand their lack of sustainability.

• And we can do something about it.

So if you want to ease your privileged conscience, instead of agonizing over your choice to have children and spending money on consumption, send your money to girls education and family planning projects - where it will do the most good.