Created: 1995. Updated: 7 July, 2000


Video Reviews

EcoFuture (TM) Population and Sustainability
Media, Non-fiction



Jam Packed

Jam Packed video and Teacher's guide, narrated by actress Alexandra Paul, star of the Baywatch TV series; The Video Project, 200 Estates Drive, Ben Lomond, CA 95005, 800.475.2638, 408.336.0160, (29 min, $20 for Sierra Club supporters, grades 7-12), (online orders). Produced in conjunction with Population Communications International (PCI announcement).
This award-winning video is oriented towards teenagers and young adults. It covers population growth, teen-aged pregnancy, and high U.S. consumption levels. A Teacher's Guide is included with the video, presenting pertinent facts, examples, and quizzes.
The video begins by stating that as the population of our cities increase, we are threatening to overwhelm the planet. We are already overpopulated, confirmed by the facts that 1 billion go to bed hungry each night and live in slums and 2 billion have no electricity. Our world population of 6 billion now could grow to 12 billion in the near future.
Trash and oceans are discussed. 1 out of 25 people who swim in front of an ocean storm drain get sick. Quite a bit of coverage is given to trash disposal and recycling, pointing out the fact that our Western consumption patterns generate a tremendous amount of trash that is polluting our immediate environment. We are taking, making, and wasting way too fast. In a single lifetime, a typical person in the U.S. will consume 43 million gallons of water and 3,000 barrels of oil. A typical American uses 32 times more energy than a person in India, and 374 times more energy than a person in Kenya. Therefore it is important to keep U.S. family sizes small and at replacement level.
Michael Tobias, Co-producer, stated that 60% of other plants and animals can disappear. He believes that:
People are afraid to talk about overpopulation and say they want fewer people. But we are all in the same boat together. Overpopulation is the number one environmental nightmare on this planet - everything else is related to it.

The video then discusses teen-aged pregnancy. In a moving interview with a teen-aged mother, she stated that she regrets having a child at her age. It is hard and stressful and she should have waited.
Alexandra stated that population has nearly doubled in her lifetime. Won't diseases and war limit human population? From 1964-1983, natural diseases killed 2.5 million people, but it took only 11 days to add back that number of people. In the 20th century, wars killed 10 million soldiers. This number was added back in 7 weeks. We are adding 100 million per year to the planet.
Consumption was again addressed as Alexandra interviewed teenagers on shopping trips. The average teenager views 20,000 commercial messages per year on TV -- 50 per day! The message is that "you alone are not enough". We are now spreading this message to developing countries, and this is wrong.
Reducing family size has benefits for all. In Kenya, a small family planning association has reduced village family size and quality of life has improved. It is particularly important for Americans to maintain small family sizes due to the impact of our consumption. It is important to wait until you are ready to have kids.
The video concludes by stating that:
There are 3 times as many people now as when our grandparents were born. During the time you have spent watching this video, world population has grown by 5,500 people.

Summary: this well-presented video weaves discussions of overpopulation, consumption and waste, and family planning in a manner so as to stress the important messages, but not overly dwell on single topics. This video and the associated Teacher's Guide is an excellent teaching tool for young persons entering their reproductive years. This video should be shown in every High and Junior High classroom in the country.
     --review by Fred Elbel
Primarily aimed for junior hi/high school age - in topics, pacing, 'reading level' and choice of personalities we meet.
The overall theme is that the earth is in deep doo-doo. It is overcrowded, pollution is rampant, consumption - reinforced by messages everywhere - is out of control, and teenage pregnancies abound.
The video begins with a dark, pessimistic snapshot of the earth. It is the kind of message that makes the environmental-backlashers go ballistic (those aren't starving people, those are future consumers!).
Then the emotional tone of the video lightens up as we go off to garbage dumps, the beaches, supermarkets, and the mall. We even hear the concerns of a professional surfer! There are examples of living lightly on the earth and given a sense that our individual actions make a difference.
The solutions? Commit to two or fewer children, reduce consumption, take personal responsibility to prevent pollution, and avoid unintended pregnancy.
An embarassing flaw in the video is that it avoids ponting how immigration is contributing to over 60% of U.S. population growth. Contrasting the U.S. with the rest of the world, the narrator declares that the U.S. has achieved replacement level fertility. Then there is a silence which to a knowledgable viewer is stunning as the video immediately segues to a discussion of high consumption in the U.S.
Overall although not a tour de force of intellectual power, the video does very well what it presumably aims to do - engage a younger audience in a thoughtful examination of how overpopulation is affecting their lives now and how it will do more so in the future. It emphasizes both the population size and the energy use/consumption parts of the problem. It challenges the dominant paradigm of happiness through consumption. It speaks forthrightly about the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy.
Thumbs up.
     -- Anonymous review
Thumbs down.
What they have successfully accomplished is to frame the issue as U.S. (not Western) consumption, U.S. bashing, laying a guilt trip on American kids, and that the U.S. is not now nor will be, overpopulated. Indeed, the implied, but clearly false statement, that U.S. is at "replacement fertility" is an attempt to state the U.S. is on the path to achieving a stationary population. More importantly, it cleverly directs the viewer from the cause of 70% of U.S. population growth, immigration.
The item often overlooked is if the U.S. is not overpopulated, why are these programs being forced on U.S. kids? Would not it be more appropriate to have the film broadcast in the troubled areas- in the foreign language?
Or is there another agenda at work??
     -- comments by Dell Erickson



Population Crisis USA

Population Crisis USA, published by Population Environment Balance, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 210, Washington, D.C. 20036, 202.955.5700; 1995. Also available from Educational Communications, Inc., PO Pox 351419, Los Angeles, CA 90035, 310.559.9160, (58 min). Host: Nancy Pearlman, a UN Environment Program Global 500 Laureate.
The video begins by showing how ignorant many people are about the population of the U.S. Estimates ranged from a few million to over one billion. Carrying Capacity is a term that designates the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area without degrading the natural, cultural, and social environments.
Americans consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources:
In 1992 Population Consumption Rate
China 1.2 billion 1
U.S. 256 million 20 (Equivalent to 5.12 billion Chinese)
Europe ? 10

Three factors to consider are: Resources, Population, and Quality of Life.
        Population x Quality of Life = Resources consumed.
The question is raised: How should we live - from both a moral and environmental standpoint? The ideal population of the U.S. is somewhat subjective, though more than one expert says we would ideally have no more than 100 million. How many can we sustain over time and enjoy the environment?
        Consumption = Population x Quality of Life x Technology
If Population increases without a commensurate increase in Technology, Consumption increases and Quality of Life decreases. The planet couldn't support the population of China at current U.S. standards. In 1946, Los Angeles zoning ordinances planned for up to 10 million eventual inhabitants. Officials never considered how or whether the infrastructure for this number could be provided for on a sustained basis.
In the Pacific Northwest, resource conservation was an idea late in coming. There is actually not a great amount of usable water. In recent years, paved ground has begun preventing the aquifers from being replenished.
In Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s, a citizen initiative limited growth to 2% annually. The actual has been 1%. Does controlled growth burden or limit the economy? Mayor Leslie Durgin said no. In fact, because of the initiative, businesses have wanted to move there.
Pearlman says "slow growth" and "growth management" are not the answer. Some people think that the larger a city, the less will be everyone's municipal taxes since the burden is more spread out. In actuality, in 1992:
of City
Per Capita Tax
50,000 $139
200,000 $305
300,000 $344
500,000 $361
1 Million $413

At the present rate, the U.S. population will double in 60-70 years. Replacement Level Fertility = 2 children per family. We reached this in 1973. Currently at a 1.1% growth rate. At a 1% rate, the population will double in 70 years. At a 1.1% rate, it will only take 64 years.
Family Planning: getting rid of the problem of abortion and unwanted pregnancy means dealing with contraception. (Note: the video neither presents nor assumes any moral position on abortion itself.)
Over 200,000 illegal immigrants successfully enter the U.S. every year. Officials admit it may be double that. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Control and Reform Act. The number of apprehended individuals attempting to cross from Mexico decreased for a while, from 600,000 in 1986 to 300,000 in 1988. However, by 1991 the figure had risen to 443,000, indicating a likely proportional increase in the number who successfully got through.
Senator Alan Simpson states that the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty do not guarantee entrance to everyone who doesn't happen to like where he or she lives. Political will is needed if illegal immigration is to be stopped. Legal immigration constitutes 30% of our annual growth. (Note: The Population-Environment Balance web site says it's now 60%.) PEB believes that since 200,000 people leave the U.S. each year, 200,000 is an appropriate number to allow to immigrate. However, the number allowed to enter the U.S. each year has risen dramatically (first since 1965), but more recently since 1981:
Year Immigrants
1981 737,169
1987 880,200
1991 2,179,785

Population increase burdens the system rather than helping the tax base. A good economy has been seen as one that is always growing. We need to re-think this idea and consider the environment. In the last 20 years or more we have traded off environmental capital growth. For example, if a stand of trees is our capital, we should harvest no more than the equivalent of each year's growth. We should not be relying on non-renewable resources.
It would take close to a century to reverse the current trend through:
  1. Limiting immigration. (They recommend a ceiling of 200,000 per year.)
  2. Limiting fertility. (American women average 1.7 children each; immigrant women average 2.1 children each.)

Population-Environment Balance's goals:
  1. Stabilize immigration.
  2. Continue at Replacement Level Fertility or lower.
  3. Improve education and opportunity for American children now. (Exactly how this would help was not explained.)
  4. See negative impact on our long-term economy of our use of fossil fuels. Alter current practices and convert to a solar-based energy system.

      --review by Darius Panahpour



Sustainable Lives, Attainable Dreams

Sustainable Lives -- Attainable Dreams, National Wildlife Federation, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA, 22184; 202.797.6639; 1994, (30 min, $3).
This video discusses the efforts of three countries attempting to slow the rate of population growth - Kenya, Java, and Mexico. It clearly states the need for international family planning and documents the success of family planning efforts and advances in education and empowerment of women. This video is well worth viewing and donating to a public library.
The video begins by stating that in Kenya animal habitat is threatened by increasing human population. In Mexico, water and the environment are increasingly contaminated by growing population. We can not wait until our grandchildren are older to do something - we have to do something now.
The video shows images of Earth from space. It is clear that there are no political boundaries; this is our home and is the only place we have. We are pushing the limitations that the planet can hold:
  • In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet.
  • In 1975 there were 4 billion.
  • In 2000, 6 billion.
  • By 2025 there will be approximately 8.5 billion people.
  • In this 75 year period, our population will have tripled.
  • We are adding a New York City to the planet every 30 days!

There has been an increased awareness of environmental problems in the world. Nature is holding a mirror, telling us in 100 different ways that the way in which we are living is unstable. Loss of wild areas and environmental degradation are caused by consumption patterns and population growth. A person in America will in their lifetime consume up to 50 times the resources of a person in the non-industrialized world. There is now increasing concern about fair and equitable distribution of resources and use of resources at a sustainable level.
Indonesia is now the 4th largest nation with 188 million people (in 1994). Java, one of its 40,600 islands is smaller than the state of Florida, yet has a population of 110 million people. Population pressure is causing slums, deforestation, and poverty. The country has involved, religion, and education to reduce family sizes. Family planning was introduced slowly without coercion, and has a 70% acceptance rate. The effort is now successful and is shifting from the public to the private sector. Fertility is expected to stabilize at 2.1 children per women by 2010.
African women have been disadvantaged. They have not held equal rights and decision-making power. The role of women role has traditionally been to have children to propogate the husband's family line.
As of 1994 there are 548 million people in Africa and 300 million live in absolute poverty. Because of population pressure, land in Kenya is being turned into semi-desert; habitats are being stripped clean. People are caught in a poverty trap. Anyone concerned with the future of wildlife and of humanity has to be concerned with human population growth.
There is hope: the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has been assisting Kenya for 20 years. In the last 5 years there has been an increase in family planning and empowerment of women, and it is also important to involve men in the family planning process. Total fertility has dropped 20% in four years. Had Kenya not started to address family planning in 1970, its population could have grown to 120 million by 2025. Now it is projected to be less than 50 million in 2025. This shows the pessimists to be wrong - family planning does work.
In Mexico, family planning has been successful and has helped avoid the silent tragedy of the taboo where women do not talk about family planning. The Mexican Federation of Health and Community Development (helped by USAID) has had an excellent response by women seeking family planning information, and is now staffed by 10,000 volunteers. Over the next 10 years this will cause a great change, because children are now growing up with a consciousness of family planning.
We must unite forces world-wide - there are 300 million women without access to family planning information and materials. The payoff of decreasing population is so high that it would be foolish not to make the investment in family planning. The choices we make today about population size, distribution of resources, and consumption patterns will markedly affect the future of the only planet we have.
     --review by Fred Elbel


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Copyright 1995-2003 Fred Elbel. This material may be freely used and distributed only for non-commercial purposes, with credit. Trademarks and copyrighted items remain the property of the owner.