The Paula Gordon Show
Little Fixes for Big Problems

Peter Kostmayer

      . . . is the Executive Director of Zero Population Grown (ZPG) which was founded in 1968 to educate people about population issues. Mr. Kostmayer was a United States Congressman for 14 years, representing a district that stretched from Philadephia into the Pennsylvania countryside. He travels widely in support of ZPG‚s current emphasis on issues of urban sprawl, the decay of inner cities and meeting the challenges of teen pregnancy

Excerpts3:18 secs

      Big problems are solved with little fixes, one person at a time, according to Peter Kostmayer, Executive Director of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) and a former Congressman. The exploding human population is one of the biggest problems in the world. It‚s also one of the easiest to solve, says Kostmayer. Fertility rates comes down when women‚s education and economic levels go up.

      ZPG and Kostmayer want to educate the American public about population. At our current rate of growth, the number of people on earth will double in 50 years. That means 12 billion people compared to today‚s 5.9 billion. Population growth is not „a Third World problem.š Fifty percent of all births in America are unintended. Urban sprawl, the deterioration of inner cities, crime, overcrowding, traffic congestion, teen pregnancy are all „population problems.š Good news: when family planning services are available, people use them.

      It‚s best when parents teach kids about sex at home and when teenagers abstain from sex. But neither is happening. And only about 5% of our kids in K-12 have sex education in school. ZPG helps educators, parents and teenagers face the problem.

      ZPG also realizes population problems are more than just overcrowding. How we use resources is also critical. Americans are only 5% of the earth‚s people but we use 1/3 of the world‚s resources and produce 1/2 the waste. An American couple with 2 children has a far greater impact on the environment than a Tanzanian couple with 12. What kind of world will it be when everyone in the world has our lifestyle and there are twice as many of us?

      Urban sprawl is a resource issue and another focus of ZPG‚s attention. In spite of evidence to the contrary, there‚s hope here, too. For example, the people in Portland, Oregon wanted to preserve the open spaces beyond their city from the real threat of creeping urban sprawl. They elected officials who created an „urban growth boundary.š It‚s a big circle around Portland within which most growth must now happen. The boundary is working. In fact, Portland actually tore down an automobile freeway to put up a light rail line. And three statewide attempts by developers and the real estate industry to repeal the boundary have failed.

      Think small. Don‚t wait for Washington, leadership‚s coming from the bottom up these days. Get involved with non-profit organizations. Work with your neighbors.  Elect local officials. Save local parks. Make life better for one kid at a time, including your own. People solve problems. Individuals will have to solve the population problem and all the problems it creates. „Good worksš are key. There‚s a bonus. Doing „good worksš feels good, too.

Conversation 1

Peter Kostmayer tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why urban sprawl is one of three areas Zero Population Grown (ZPG) is emphasizing. He uses water as an example of how sprawl is a population issue because sprawl affects the use of resources. Kostmayer describes ZPG‚s mission simply -- to educate the American public about population.

Conversation 2

At the end of many of Kostmayer‚s speeches, someone asks him what one person can do. He reinforces the importance of creating the connection between doing work and effecting meaningful change. He worries that we are becoming a country where people know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Recycling is asuccessful example of people taking control. Kostmayer attributes some of today‚s cynicism to the dramatically increased speed and glut of communication.  Returning to the subject of sprawl, he wonders why Americans have such an enormous disconnect between what we want and what‚s happening.

Conversation 3

Portland, Oregon is one of Kostmayer‚s examples of communities who are making headway addressing issues of urban sprawl. He tells why he thinks solutions are coming from the ground up, not from the top down, and why he thinks this is hopeful. At our current rate, today‚s population of 5.9 billion humans will double in 50 years. This raises serious resource questions according to Kostmayer who explains why an American family having 2 children is far more damaging to the environment than a family in a developing nation having 12.

Conversation 4

People, including politicians, must take risks addressing today‚s pressing issues of resource use and life style, Kostmayer argues. He maintains local governments must improve schools so people don‚t feel they have to move for the safety of their children. Population is a simple problem, easily solved, according to Kostmayer. Provide services and raise the economic and educational levels of women, worldwide. He worries that reasonable people‚s voices are drowned out on a number of issues. He says his work is to give people the opportunity to do what they want to do anyway. That usually includes limiting the size of families.

Conversation 5

Kids, parents, schools, and all our institutions are challenged when parents are not available to their kids or don‚t talk to them about sex. Preferring young people abstain from sex, he worries about what happens when they don‚t. Kostmayer applauds non-profit organizations for offering real solutions as they work within communities and gives examples. He notes that 50% of the births in America are unintended (though not necessarily unwanted) and reminds us that Americans are 5% of the world‚s people, use 1/3 of the world‚s resources, and produce 1/2 of the world‚s waste. He describes the „wonderfulš Americans he‚s met and wonders why, given our good character and great resources, we don‚t do a better job solving our problems.

Conversation 6

Good works are the key to solving our social ills, Kostmayer believes.  He champions the importance of people participating in local communities, reminding us that doing good works also feels good. Big problems, he suggests, are solved in little ways. He urges people to sit down together, listen as well as talk. Find ways to work together at the local level, while acknowledging the violent and seamier side of reality. He calls us all to the important work of citizens solving local problems among neighbors.


Special thanks to ZPG‚s Mark Daley for his help arranging our visit to ZPG‚s Washington headquarters and getting us on Mr. Kostmayer‚s schedule.

Mr. Kostmayer made room in his extremely busy life to welcome us into his office late in the day, with a full evening ahead of him. We thank him.

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