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October 10, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Author Alan Weisman

  |   Video
  • Alan Weisman, author of the bestselling book “The World Without Us,” will talk about his latest book, “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth.” In his follow-up to “The World Without Us,” Weisman looks at how prospects for a sustainable human future seem ever more in doubt. Weisman traveled to more than 20 countries to ask: How many humans can the planet hold without capsizing? He also examined what in different cultures’ beliefs might suggest that human growth may have to be limited. In his book, Weisman suggests the fastest, most acceptable, practical, and affordable way of returning our planet to balance. Weisman will talk about his book on Arizona Horizon.
  • Alan Weisman - Author
Category: Community   |   Keywords: earth, future,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Alan Weisman, author of the best-selling book "The World Without Us" recently released a follow-up of sorts, titled "Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?" The book asks many questions trying to find the fastest, most acceptable, practical and affordable way of returning our plan to balance. Alan Weisman will appear at Changing Hands Bookstore this evening, he's here with us now. Good to have you here.

Alan Weisman: Great to be back.

Ted Simons: This is a follow hitch up of -- Talk to us about "The World Without Us" and how this correlates.

Alan Weisman: "The World Without Us" is actually a misnomer because I really wrote it because I wanted a world with us. In that book I theoretically wiped us off the planet so we could see how nature when relieved of the pressures we heap on it all the time, would restore itself with surprising swiftness. It would make surprisingly quick job of gradually eliminating our traces, burying our toxins, and things would flourish, empty niches would get refilled, and what I hoped people would do then is when they saw how beautiful nature could heal itself, wonder, isn't there a way we could add ourselves back to that picture, only in some kind of balance with the rest of nature and not in the mortal combat we seem to be locked in with it these days?

Ted Simons: Indeed, you concentrate a lot on population growth and how population growth may -- Are we nearing the brink of sustainability when it comes to population?

Alan Weisman: Well, this is what happened. At the end of "The World Without Us," thinking of how we could have a reasonable equilibrium with the rest of the planet, I ran into this difficult fact that every 4.5 days we add a million people to the planet. That didn't seem very sustainable. I left that hanging at the end of the book and I was surprised as I went on all my tours, people wanted to talk about that. They were concerned. So finally it's such a polarizing and explosive topic, population, because it's about us. We're not talking about populations of deer, and mountain lions that are keeping each other in balance. We're talking about our own species. So as a journalist, I decided I should try to find out A) can we determine what would be the number you're asking about, an optimal number of human beings that would not jeopardize our existence here on the planet? Second, how much nature do we need to preserve for our own survival? What species might be essential to us? Third, either everybody thinks of the one child policy of China, which they don't like very much, even the Chinese don't like it very much. So I needed to know, is there anything in the culture, the history, the liturgies of this broad swath of religions, nationals, cultural groups we have on earth that may accommodate the idea of so to speak refraining from embracing so much in times of need as Ecclesiastes tells us? That gives a clue that there's something in Judeo-Christian history that definitely talks about this. And the fourth is if we need to stop growing or even shrink down to a safer population, how do we design an economy that doesn't need constant growth to prosper?

Ted Simons: Let's go backwards to forwards. How do we design an economy that can also work in step with a sustainable population? How do you do that?

Alan Weisman: Well, I went to the one developed nation that is now dealing with the shrinking population. And that's Japan. Japan cut off its baby boom after World War II, unlike us, they lost the war, and their economy was just in total tatters. Their soldiers returned home to their wives and their population ballooned just like ours, but after four years they realized, they had terrible trouble. People were dying of hunger. So this is before birth control pills. They legalized abortion in an emergency measure and Japanese women partook of that, because they didn't want to watch more babies die. So now as that last overgrown generation of Japanese -- Remember, that's why they started World War II, to invade Manchuria to give them a place to move population, as that generation dies off, there's a much smaller baby boom taking their place. And economists in Japan, some of the many -- I found some fascinating ones there, are starting to see that they are in a gradual transition to a nongrowth economy. What they say is going to happen is that those crowded port cities with heavy industries are no longer going to be the base of their economics. People will start to spread out over the country more, there's a lot of land coming for sale for cheap because a lot of the farmers are dying off, and young people are moving there, there's going to be lighter industry, wages won't go down, because workers will be fewer and more valuable. But because demand will be down, they won't need to work as many hours. So there's going to be more leisure time. That's going to be a real different way of living life.

Ted Simons: No kidding. And it also is a real different way for the human psyche to adapt, which I think we agree, especially in the West I know you went around the world and got a lot of different voices here, but for us in the West, achieving, striving, going forward, making more, doing more, being more, are we ready to say, we got enough here, it's time to level off, it's time to sustain?

Alan Weisman: Well, we can do all those things. We can be very creative, and we can flourish. Remember, until about 200 years ago, the world's population didn't grow very much. Back in the days before the great medical achievements that eradicated diseases and gave us vaccinations, more babies died before their fifth birthday than survived. And yet the world was a very creative and flourishing place. It produced Mozart, Shakespeare, and certainly produced wealth, the wealth of Rome. So we -- Many economists I met are not frightened of this at all, because they know we can't keep growing an economy on a planet that doesn't grow.

Ted Simons: Let's get now to birth control and the religious, social, cultural aspects. What did you find out there around the world? Because it would seem to me that for most cultures, especially those in developing countries, more is better.

Alan Weisman: Well, I'll give you two examples. I started the book in Israel and Palestine, where you've got two peoples occupying the same land and they're each trying to outpopulate each other to be the majority in that land. That goes back to Biblical times. In the very beginning, the Israelites, just like Mormons later on, were polygamists because they were trying to fill the earth and multiply, mainly to build themselves a mighty nation so they wouldn't be outcompeted by some other nation like the Canaanites. But then you get down after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you get to Joseph who was very observant and realized we were entering a time of crisis or time of scarcity. He, unlike his forefathers, has only one wife and just two children, and he counsels the Israelites and the Egyptians that there's a time to conserve and there's a time to, again, refrain from embracing so much. And that saved them. The question I'm asking now is, well, given the way that our planet is being so stressed out, are we in another one of those times? The other example is going to surprise a lot of your viewers here, because it's in a country that is often times characterized as a charter member of the evil empire. Iran, after the Islamic revolution, was attacked by Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah asked every woman to get pregnant, to build a million man army. And they held Iran to a truce for -- Iraq -- To a stalemate for eight years. And then at the end they realized, they were going to have to employ all these kids in this big population bubble. And they knew their economy wasn't going to be able to take care of everybody, and they were going to have these under, unemployed, frustrated young men who would destabilize the country. That describes Pakistan which is another country I went to for this book. So what they decided to do, the Chinese one child policy was already going, and nobody liked it, in Iran either. So they started a campaign saying that one is good, two is enough, they told people, though, told people to have as many children as you want. The only compulsory thing was to attend premarital classes. Which is not a bad idea. The Quakers do it here. And in those classes people would learn how much does it cost to feed, clothe, educate a kid. And they got the message. The Ayatollah issued a list saying there's nothing in the QURAN that says you can't use birth control. Here's the most important thing. They encouraged women to stay in school. Because a woman who is studying tends to defer child bearing until she's done with her studies, then she has this interesting and useful thing to do with her life, she can make -- Help make a living for her family, and it's hard to do that with seven kids. They came down to replacement rate, meaning two parents, two children, a year faster than the Chinese one-child policy. Totally voluntary.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So we're talking about the ecosystem and how much the planet can hold. We're talking about population, how much the planet can hold. You've gone around the world, you've talked to so many people. We've got a couple minutes left. You ask a question in your subtitle -- What is the last best hope? What did you learn from this, what can you tell us?

Alan Weisman: Well, you know, we like to be, for example, producing all of our energy in such a way that we're not putting more carbon into the sky. But so far we don't have mature alternatives. One technology that we already have is contraception. It's fairly benign and in my book I talk about the good male contraceptives that are coming online right now. This is something we can already do, and it's inexpensive. For the same amount of money per year as the United States is spending per month in Afghanistan and Iraq, we could provide contraception to everybody on earth who wanted to use it. Let them choose whether they want to, and if we combine that with female education, chances are they're going to make a choice and we're going to come down, gradually over a couple of generations to a much more sustainable size and our economy will have an opportunity to adjust to a whole different paradigm.

Ted Simons: Last question -- Is this a book of hope?

Alan Weisman: I'm a journalist. I don't preach. I put out the facts, but I came out of this book out of researching this book much more hopeful than I went into it. Because I realize there's something I can do and there's already momentum for this. In many countries in the world, they're nearing or at replacement rate. Mexico, they are right about at replacement rate right now. You know, you have immigration pressures here in Arizona, because they used to have such a high birthrate. But in a generation or so that's coming back down to sustainability.

Ted Simons: I lied. This is the last question -- When you're talking about population growth, ecosystems, all of these things that we've looked at in the past, how do you measure in the moving goalposts of innovation and the way humanity can move in the future with a lighter footprint?

Alan Weisman: Well, human ingenuity has allowed us to stretch our limits. We had a green revolution, which created a lot more food stuff. But I went to the green revolution centers and they said that they're just about out of tricks. And in the next years if we keep growing the way we're growing, we're going to have to produce as much food as we produced -- As we consumed in all of human history. That's not going to happen. So now we have to take our ingenuity, this wonderful age of information that we have, and I think we have to kick it up to an age of wisdom and really apply ourselves to living in harmony with this planet so we can remain on it.

Ted Simons: A remarkable book. It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alan Weisman: My pleasure.

Voter Registration

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  • Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne issued a legal opinion this week that says those who register to vote in Arizona using a federal form can only vote in federal elections, while those who register to vote using a state form can vote in all elections. His opinion comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires Arizona to allow people to register to vote using a federal or state form. Horne and Alessandra Soler of the Arizona ACLU will discuss his legal opinion.
  • Tom Horne - Attorney General, Arizona
  • Alessandra Soler - ACLU, Arizona
Category: Law   |   Keywords: voter registration, election,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A legal opinion by Attorney General Tom Horne has Arizona preparing for a dual voting system for future elections. The opinion states that those who register to vote in Arizona using a federal form without showing proof of citizenship can only vote in federal elections. Those who register using a state form, which requires proof of citizenship can vote in all elections. The opinion comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires Arizona to allow people to register to vote using federal or state forms. Joining us now is Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and here with an opposing view is Alessandra Soler of the Arizona ACLU. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us. That pretty much what your opinion was this week?

Tom Horne: That was my opinion. I'll just say as to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court said that federal law prevents us from asking for evidence of citizenship on the federal form but they went on to say Arizona is correct in saying that it's of questionable constitutionality for the federal government to prevent the state from getting information it needs to be sure voters are qualified, but instead of ruling on that they sent it to the lower courts. I think we're ultimately going to win that. So what I've proposed is a stop gap. As long as we have to accept the federal form without evidence of citizenship, that should be for federal elections only.

Ted Simons: Talk about why this is not right as far as you see it. There is an Arizona voter mandate requiring that proof of citizenship. How do you balance things?

Alessandra Soler: Sure. I think we respectfully disagree with Attorney General Horne. We do not believe there's anything in the state law or federal law that requires the creation of these two-tiered voting system, and for good reason. It's extremely burdensome for county elections officials, it's costly, and I think ultimately it makes it harder for people to vote. And I think this proposal is going to -- There's also a very good reason why in this country we do not have dual voting systems. They harken back to a time when a terrible time in our history when there -- When these systems discriminated against individuals.

Ted Simons: You're saying this was not a requirement on the states?

Alessandra Soler: No.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that?

Tom Horne: It is a requirement. It was a proposition passed by the voters overwhelmingly that said that in order to register to vote, you must provide evidence of citizenship. So we don't have illegal aliens voting. We just want citizens to vote. And the federal form just has a signature. Someone who is willing to vote fraudulently is willing to sign falsely. There's no protection against fraudulent voting. And we have a district court judge who said fraudulent voting really is a significant problem in Arizona, it's a significant -- It's a legitimate end of government to prevent that fraudulent government.

Ted Simons: Talk to us again about how much of a problem this is and how it addresses that problem.

Alessandra Soler: Tom and I, as most people agree, ineligible people should not be voting. But what we're talking about right now is, it's the question of -- This proposal is way out of line, and it's a major policy shift locally. Up until the Supreme Court decision, up until this opinion, anybody who voted using a federal form is also registered for state elections. And it's what happens across the country. One of the reasons why we have federal laws including the National Voter Registration Act is to create, make voting registration simpler, and that's the subject of the Supreme Court case.

Ted Simons: Isn't that the intent of the Motor Voter Law, the idea of making voting simpler? Also, are you -- Problems at the polls, we had last time, is this only going to make those worse? Confusion among voters? Is this only going to make that worse?

Tom Horne: There are some things that cause confusion, but this is not that complicated. This is simple. If you registered on the federal form without giving evidence of citizenship, you vote in federal elections only. And in fact, the ninth circuit, when they overruled us, in the district court we won the case. So we had -- We were able to require citizenship of everybody on both ballots. But the ninth circuit overruled us, they said specifically Arizona's free to require this for state elections, but it's only for federal elections that they felt we were bound by the National Voter Registration Act. And after the Supreme Court decision, the district court that implemented it said essentially the same thing,that we are required for federal elections only to allow people to register with the federal form, where there's no evidence of citizenship required until I'm hoping we ultimately win this other case.

Alessandra Soler: Every state in the country except now for Arizona and Kansas, accept the federal form and allow people to vote in state elections. I think the system works, it includes -- We believe that the affirmation it requires citizenship, you've got to affirm under threat of perjury that you are a citizen, and it's worked up until now. And there have not been additional problems with voter registration fraud.

Tom Horne: Let's talk about whether it's worked. The federal district court found voter fraud was a significant problem. Let's talk about what was the evidence of that? The jury commissioner sent forms to a small percentage of Arizonans. And people can send them back saying I'm not a citizen so I don't have to serve on the jury. When they do that, the jury commissioner send those to the county recorders and see if those people are registered to vote. In the year we had the trial they found over 200 people who had said they're not citizens on the jury commissioner form that had registered to vote and many had voted. Since those forms go only to a tiny percentage of Arizonans, you have to multiply many times that in order to arrive at the number of people who registered fraudulently in the state as a whole. So the judge found that fraudulent voting was a significant problem in the state and they had a legitimate interest to pass this legislation requiring evidence of citizenship.

Ted Simons: Were those voters prosecuted?

Tom Horne: About seven of them were out of the 200.

Ted Simons: Someone would hear the number seven and say we don't have a serious problem.

Tom Horne: The county attorneys usually have higher priorities. They're dealing with rape and murder and burglary, so they don't like to pursue these cases. So they only pursued seven of the 200. But the 200 is a very small percentage of the problem statewide, because only -- That was only the people in the small sample that got the jury commissioner forms. If you multiply that percentage times by the whole state, you get a significant number of people who registered fraudulently.

Alessandra Soler: There have been analyses done across the country, and the numbers are very small. And I think what we're dealing with here is citizens, the majority of whom are eligible, are the ones that are going to suffer, because now we have a system where we have to -- The county elections officials will have two voter rolls, which means they're going to have to verify, maintain, keep two different voter rolls, it will exacerbate problems, longer lines, more provisional ballots. The people that are going to be -- It's voters that are now going to have to deal with this --

Tom Horne: Let me just say the -- Another interesting finding of the district court judge after a lengthy trial was that the requirement to provide evidence of citizenship is not burdensome. In other words, you can write down your driver's license, naturalization number, your travel registration number, your nonvoter operating license number. Or if you don't have those things, there are other choice like your passport or birth certificate.

Ted Simons: What if you don't have those things, which some folks don't have and probably as much if not more that number than what you've talked about in terms of fraud?

Tom Horne: Out after state of 6 million people, they were able to find one person who had none of those things.

Ted Simons: One person.

Tom Horne: Because she was 90 years old and she was born in the south before they gave birth certificates. And I'm sure in her case they will let her vote.

Alessandra Soler: That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about complete -- Creating two dual voting system, which is nonexistent in this country. There's a reason why they have been declared unconstitutional and discriminatory, why we're not using them, because even Scalia in the Supreme Court decision said dual -- Two-tiered voting systems are going to be burdensome. And the question is here, should we as government officials, the state of Arizona, make voting harder for no reason, when we weren't requiring that previously and we were allowing people who use the federal form to vote in state elections? A two-tiered system ultimately everyone end up losing.

Tom Horne: That would have been a good argument in the legislature on a policy issue. My I don't know is to enforce the law. The law passed by the overwhelming majority of Arizona voters said to register to vote in Arizona, you must provide evidence of citizenship. The court decisions that I believe have temporarily said we can't do that on federal forms have said we can do it on state forms. If we can do it on state forms the law requires us to do it because it was passed saying you're not a qualified voter unless you provide evidence of citizenship.

Tom Horne: Is this the only way to satisfy state law and federal law? I'm hearing that they had no choice.

Alessandra Soler: I think that's what his interpretation is what -- And what it boils down to. We don't believe that's necessary, and we don't believe there's anything in federal or state law that mandates that. And I think, yes, state elections are administered by state officials and I think this -- The public policy argument and the impact on voters and the additional burden on county elections officials, I think are going to be -- Those are real problems and real harms that all voters will have to deal with.

Tom Horne: What mandate it is proposition 200, which said you're not a qualified voter unless you provide evidence of citizenship.

Ted Simons: Does it concern you that people in Arizona who register to vote, using the federal form without the proof of citizenship, people who register to vote will not be allowed to vote in Arizona?

Tom Horne: They can vote by providing -- By registering with providing evidence of citizenship, then they can vote in the state and local elections.

Ted Simons: They've already registered to vote. And now the state is saying, yeah, but. Does that concern you?

Tom Horne: No. It's a fairly short period. Remember, we won the trial at the district court level so it wasn't until the ninth circuit decision we had to start accepting these federal forms. The overwhelming majority register with state forms. It's less than 10% that use the federal forms. Maricopa County recorder said it was 900 people.

Alessandra Soler: That's just in Maricopa County. There are going to be thousands of people that will be affected statewide. And it really violates the intent and the spirit of the NVRA, which is trying to make voter registration easier.

Ted Simons: The last point, quickly, 30 seconds left, you want to vote in state elections, register through the state. Period.

Alessandra Soler: There are both options available. Voters have both options available. We want to make voting easier.

Tom Horne: The National Voter Registration Act has jurisdiction only over federal elections. They don't have jurisdiction over state elections. And the Arizona voters have passed a proposition which is law and that law is binding on me.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it right there. Good discussion. Good to have you both here.

Tom Horne: Thank you.

Alessandra Soler: Thanks.