Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Record low number of babies born in Japan

JapanbabiesFewer babies were born in Japan in the last year than any other on record, pulling down its population for the third year in a row, according to government statistics released this week.

As of the end of March, Japan had more than 260,000 fewer people than a year earlier, the biggest drop of   the Japanese population yet, according to Japanese media. 

The baby bust has continued year after year despite Japanese efforts to nudge up the numbers: The government has doled out payments for couples with children and subsidized daycare. Japanese towns publicly herald the number of local births in city signs. Engineering students even crafted a cooing robotic baby years ago in hope of setting biological clocks ticking.

Taking a more pointed tack, one professor recently created an online clock that ominously counts down until Japan has no children left -- a doomsday estimated to roll around in 3012.

“It is not received seriously, with urgency,” economics professor Hiroshi Yoshida of Tohoku University wrote as the clock was unveiled on Children’s Day in May.

SERIES: Beyond 7 billion

The Japanese are well aware of the problem, but birthrates continue to hover under 1.4 children per woman, far below the 2.1 needed to replace one generation with the next, said Noriko Tsuya, a Keio University statistician who leads a government committee on population. The number of marriage has  dropped, and bearing children out of wedlock is rare, Tsuya said.

Experts say women forced to choose between child and career in Japanese companies have increasingly opted against babies. Despite government efforts to foster gender equality, Japanese women are still expected to shoulder chores at home, researchers have repeatedly noted. Some companies pressure Japanese women to leave if they marry or have a baby, said John W. Traphagan, a University of Texas at Austin professor who has studied family dynamics in Japan.

Men seem to be losing interest in babymaking in the first place, with one government survey finding that more than a third of Japanese males ages 16 to 19 were uninterested in sex or even despised it; even more women said the same. The erosion of old guarantees of lifetime employment and the rise of temporary jobs are also damping the desire to start families.

“I don’t think young Japanese people want to stay single their whole lives,” Tsuya said. “But once you marry you’re supposed to have kids,”  a less appealing prospect without a steady job.

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