Inspired this week by Sir David Attenborough’s “rewrite our story” speech at the start of the climate conference (COP26), I see opportunity for young innovators (like my kids) during their lifetimes, and wonder again if I should shift my attention from saving whales and studying marine bioacoustics to working more directly on climate change as an “issue of our time.” The common thread for me is population — of Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs) on one hand, and of human beings on the other.
In my lifetime, I expect to see either the extinction of SRKWs, or possibly the beginning of a recovery. When I chose to work on SRKWs instead of hydrothermal vents and the origins of life back in 2003 I imagined we’d soon see something like the 2.9% growth rate by 2020 that NOAA set as a target, but that definitely didn’t happen and is looking unlikely for decades due to the SRKW population structure and failure to recover salmon along the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.
For humans, there’s a small chance I may get to witness humanity “getting over the hump” — just starting to experience a global population decline and stabilization — but it’s much more likely that only the next generation or two may bear witness to that. Interestingly, researchers right here in Seattle at the University of Washington (UW) have offered new forecasts recently (see 2020 Lancet paper) which build upon the 2019 UN and other recent forecasts.
Based on this breakdown of population history and forecasts by continent/region (below, from the Pew Research Center), it seems my chances of seeing human population peak and start to decline will hinge primarily on how population growth in Africa is handled, and secondarily in Asia. That continent may be a prime landscape for innovations that improve the living and education standards, especially for women (specifically the “educational attainment and contraceptive met need” components of the UW forecast model), and that — ideally, simultaneously, secondarily — turn the knob on climate change (e.g. reducing deforestation,
Another figure in the Lancet paper shows the year in which countries will have their net reproduction rate fall below the replacement level. If the goal is slow Africa’s contribution to global population growth as soon as possible, this figure may suggest where in Africa innovation could be of greatest benefit. Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Chad are highest priorities. Secondary foci could be Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, and Algeria.
Of course, the population density in each of those countries in Africa, and others around the world, is also important in generating significant change. The final figure of the Lancet paper that wowed me is the ~1 billion person range in Nigeria’s population trajectories:
“if you want to be in charge, act like you’re in charge.”
— Billy Frank, as paraphrased by David Troutt (27 Oct 2021)
David’s take-home message from Orca Network’s orca-salmon webinar: “We now have >900 acres of the Nisqually River restored. We’ve gone from about 4% of the river permanently protected in 1989 to nearly 80% now.”
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Ric Bradley’s footage from a 2-month-long (!) back-country skiing adventure in Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite National Park, CA, USA) via Tioga Pass just after World War II (Feb-Mar, 1947). Narration added by Ric Bradley in 2002.
Ric taught my parents and me to telemark when we reached Colorado from Chicago around 1972. Thanks to him, his wife Dorry, and long-lost friends like Randy Bobier, I continue to seek out hut-to-hut style adventures in the Pacific Northwest akin to the great outings Ric catalyzed, often threading together powder-covered 10th Mountain Division huts.
Driving north out of Albuquerque with my parents last month to celebrate my aunt’s and uncle’s 50th anniversary, we learned from the Internet that our dear friends Jock and Holly Cobb have passed away. Jock was my god-father and immortalized himself in my mind early on, mostly by convincing me (as a ~6-year-old) that it would be a good idea to rent a very large rock from him at a compounding interest rate, which I’ve done for more than 40 years! He was always an inspiration — whether reclining naked in the outflow stream of a Colorado glacier when I first met him, or demonstrating the latest prototype of his solar-powered water purifier in the New Mexican sunshine when Annie and I last saw them in the early 2000s.
Both Jock and Holly were wonderful people, full of ideas, compassion, principle, and creativity. I’m going to take the time to get to know them a bit better this winter. Perhaps you should do so, too. Here’s my reading list:
Jock took some amazing photographs during WWII when he was a conscientious objector working as an ambulance driver in north Africa for the American Field Service. Thankfully, they made it back to the States and through the decades to be published recently (in 2013) as Fragments of Peace in a World at War. You can buy the book directly from the Cobb family via the publisher, Renny Russell or Amazon.
Here’s a video of Jock discussing parts of his book and offering related relections:
He ends his Vimeo recollections (in ~2011) with this quote from John F. Kennedy —
John Candler Cobb II, known to all as "Jock", was born July 8, 1919 in Boston, MA. He died June 20, 2016 in Albuquerque, NM. After earning his B.A. in Astronomy from Harvard, he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in World War II. This experience and his association with the Quakers around this time, led him to his lifelong devotion to the cause of peace and to his career in medicine. He returned from the war to earn his MD from Harvard, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins. While in medical school he met Radcliffe student Holly Imlay-Franchot on a skiing trip. They were married for 67 years until Holly died in 2014.
After teaching at Johns Hopkins in maternal and child health, Jock began a career in public health when he moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1956 to work for the Indian Health Service. In 1960, he moved with Holly and their four children to Lahore, Pakistan, where he directed a Family Planning Research project. In 1965, the family settled in Denver, CO, where he became professor and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Realizing the importance of environmental health early on, he was a member of the task force studying the Rocky Flats Plutonium Plant and Uranium Enrichment Plant, which were shut down as a result of this work. He also served on the Governor's Scientific Advisory Council, and tackled Denver's notorious "brown cloud" as a member of the Air Pollution Control Commission. His work with international public health continued with shorter assignments in Indonesia, the Philippines, Togo, and China. He is honored to have his work and papers archived in the University of Colorado Archives in Boulder, CO.
In 1985, Jock retired from the University of Colorado Medical School, and he and Holly returned to live in the house they had built in Corrales, NM. They continued to travel abroad and enjoyed summers at their mountain cabin in Alice, CO. Jock's inventive spirit and dedication to health and the earth led him to develop a solar sanitation system for water and waste. While active in the world, he also treasured quiet time in nature, played cello, wrote poetry, and took many photographs. In the last decade of his life, Jock revisited the photographs he took while serving as ambulance driver in Italy, North Africa, and Syria. He distilled his dedication to peace in the book Fragments of Peace in a World at War, which includes his photographs, poetry, and narrative.
He is survived by his children Loren, Nat, Bethany, and Julianne; grandchildren and great grandchildren; and many people whose lives he touched.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the American Friends Service Committee or Planned Parenthood.
Helen Imlay Franchot Cobb was an artist, a musician and a teacher. Holly grew up in New York State, and graduated from Radcliffe College with an AB in International Affairs. She and her husband Dr. John C (Jock) Cobb lived Baltimore MD, Corrales NM, and in Pakistan before settling in Denver, where he was a professor at CU Medical School. She taught art and kindergarten at Graland School. She leaves a beautiful portfolio of paintings and note cards of the peaks by their cabin in Alice, Colorado. She is survived by Jock, her husband of 67 years, her brother Dick Franchot, children Loren, Nat, Bethany and Julianne, and grands and greats. In lieu of flowers, donate to Planned Parenthood or AFSC.
Cobb, Dr. John C. 83 linear feet, 1960-1993</div><div>Dr. John Cobb (b. 1919), M.D., Harvard University (1948), and Master of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (1954), became a professor of community health in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1965, where he is currently an emeritus professor. Dr. Cobb was appointed by Governor Lamm and Congressman Wirth to the Lamm-Wirth Task Force on Rocky Flats in 1974. From 1975 to 1982, he worked as principal investigator on an EPA contract to study human plutonium burdens in people who lived near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility. He has also served on several other councils and commissions concerning Rocky Flats and Three Mile Island. The collection contains files relating to Dr. Cobb's medical career including: plutonium study papers; material on air and water pollution, recycling, bioethics, holistic medicine, and urban health ecology; Rocky Flats and Pakistan radiation studies; and teaching materials, reports, and conference papers. Guide available in Archives.
“The world looks so different after learning science. For example, trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into tree. And in the ash is the small remnant of the part which did not come from air, that came from the solid Earth, instead. These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are inspiring and they can be used to inspire others.” — Richard Feynmann, physicist, California Inst. of Technology.
“We are living our lives as energy hunter-gatherers rather than energy farmers. The midwest is farmland for windpower and biomass; the southern states and California are farmlands for solar energy.” — Dan Kammen, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, Univ. of California, Berkeley, on Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, 13 September 2002.
“We need a Manhatten Project for energy independence in the US.” — Dennis O’Brien, University of Oklahoma.
The library’s closing did not surprise retired water ecologist David Schindler. “In retrospect, I am not surprised at all to find them trashing scientific libraries,” he said.
“Paranoid ideologues have burned books and records throughout human history to try to squelch dissenting visions that they view as heretical, and to anyone who worships the great God Economy monotheistically, environmental science is heresy.”
In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.Â — Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP address