Population control in the rich world

November 1, 2008

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

There is a lot of talk about reproductive choice in the developing world, and it is extremely important. All human beings have the right to engage in sexual activity on the basis of their free choices and have children only when it is their will to do so. It is an important role of the state to ensure that those rights are not violated.

That being said, there seems to be a disjuncture between concern about rising populations in the developing world and environmental problems. All else being equal, more humans tends to mean more threats to the ecosystems that sustain us. Of course, not all else is equal. People in rich states consume dramatically more resources than those in poor ones. This is true in terms of energy resources (oil, coal, gas, uranium), food resources (especially meat), and climatic impact.

Certainly, we should work to give reproductive control to people (especially women) living in developing states. However, given the concerning destruction of the natural world, does it not make sense to reduce policies that encourage reproduction in rich states? I am not advocating mandatory limits on bearing children. I am simply suggesting that it may be prudent to reduce the degree to which taxpayers in general subsidize those who choose to breed. Even with ample fossil fuels, the world is groaning and straining because of the current human population – especially those who live especially unsustainable lives in rich states. When we reach the point where those fuels are depleted – or when we refrain from using them due to climate concerns – energy intensive lifestyles will become even more unsustainable.

Increasing the cost of children may be an important mechanism for improving the welfare of future generations. No child deserves to live in poverty, but parents who choose to reproduce deserve to bear the great majority of the costs of doing so.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Kerrie November 1, 2008 at 11:25 am

It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. On one hand, states that promote (white) reproduction at home and discourage (coloured) reproduction abroad are hypocritical and racist, and in both cases take a crass and paternalistic approach to women’s reproductive rights.

On the other hand, developed countries that follow China’s example in creating strong disincentive structures against having children will inevitably create penalties paid primarily by women. Cutting childcare, education and other social support policies will directly affect women’s options and status in First World countries as they will still be the ones shouldering the burden.

Placing too great an emphasis on family financial and social responsibility for children could actually backfire by creating social “bads”; higher crime rates, lower education rates, more depression, worse public health etc., for which all members of society would pay. Supporting this policy for environmental reasons seems like an awfully circuitous route to less resource use, especially considering the wasteful lifestyles of “dual income no kids” families. The extreme individualism of our capitalist, achievement-oriented society is at least partially a factor in creating these 20-something overpaid dudes with no concept of how their actions affect others. So there is plenty of room for finger-pointing for both breeders and non-breeders.

I support a broader form of cultural change in First World countries, in which women and men learn to evaluate what they truly want out of life, and are not made to feel incomplete by not breeding. Some people genuinely want to have a family and regardless of income, such people will be more likely to raise healthy children who make positive contributions to society.

Tristan November 1, 2008 at 11:43 am

“All human beings have the right to engage in sexual activity on the basis of their free choices and have children only when it is their will to do so. It is an important role of the state to ensure that those rights are not violated.”

“I am simply suggesting that it may be prudent to reduce the degree to which taxpayers in general subsidize those who choose to breed.”

Here you are again pretending there is a hard distinction between positive and negative rights. Liberty is empty without real access to goods and services – just ask all the women who get abortions every year because they don’t believe they could afford to raise a child.

To say everyone has the right to breed means everyone has the right to a reasonable amount of aid which allows them to raise as many children as they want. Otherwise, you are limiting de facto their rights to bear children. Of course this is relatively absurd (although it happened Fascist countries when the birthrate was low), no one has the right to become a sap on the state by choice.

This is an important distinction – people have a right to welfare, and to disability, however, they don’t have a right to choose to live on welfare or disability rather than working. If circumstances beyond their control mean they can’t earn a living, that’s fine – but its not a right to choose for those circumstances to happen to you. (Of course, in practice this is not “enforceable” because moral motivation isn’t a morally evaluable trait, at least for Rawls, and I tend to agree). However, in principle, you don’t have the right to make this choice.

To extend, you therefore do not have an unlimited right to bear children at the expense of others, because it amounts to choosing not to be productive. Of course, if the state is particularly low on children, and having children counts as being productive, then of course, people should be given aid to have as many children as they like. However, for us, this is not the case.

tristan November 1, 2008 at 11:49 am

Kerrie,

“On one hand, states that promote (white) reproduction at home and discourage (coloured) reproduction abroad are hypocritical and racist,”

I think this is true, but the racism is secondary. In fact, we can only call it racism because it’s “citizenship-ism” first. In other words, it’s a policy based on citizens having rights to certain goods, and non-citizens (overseas) not having rights to those goods. I basically think this is unjustifiable, unless you think that national sovreinghty is just. If you do, then you can’t say excluding people elsewhere from the rights of aid, voting, etc… is racist.

So, the point I’m making, is I can say that it’s immoral to have these citizen benefiting policies at the cost of foreigners overseas, but that’s only because I advocate the destruction of the state as an exclusionary entity. It’s a pretty radical position, I’m not sure if many would want to endorse it.

Anonymous November 1, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Elements of the above may be correct, but they are politically impossible. Politics is obsessed with the family and by extension children. No party advocating reduced birth rates would be able to survive criticism from the others, or rejection in the polls.

Milan November 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm

All human beings have the right to engage in sexual activity on the basis of their free choices and have children only when it is their will to do so.

These rights may be more meaningful when phrased negatively: all human beings have the right to refuse sexual activity on the basis of their free choices, and refuse to have children when it is not their will to do so.

At least, that limits the responsibility of the state to actively facilitate either goal.

Milan November 1, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Kerrie,

You make some excellent points.

Perhaps it is impossible to raise the price of having children without inappropriately harming both women and children. It is also true that some people without children nevertheless lead highly unsustainable lives.

Cultural change is certainly a more palatable answer than government population control policies. The difficulty is bringing it about. Birth rates have fallen in Europe and Japan. Mostly, that seems to be for good reasons, such as people having more opportunities aside from forming families. The United States is an aberration to the general trend, probably largely because of cultural and religious factors.

Sasha November 1, 2008 at 2:57 pm

…and perhaps also educational factors? Education levels have been tied to birth rates all around the world, and I’m sure the US is no exception. Their literacy scores, for both men and women, have been dropping in fairly close proportion to their rising birth rate (unless you accept the US-only definition of literacy, as opposed to any international standard, but no sane person would do that).

Kerrie November 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Tristan:

Thanks for expanding on my shorthand treatment of international “population control”. I like your point about the validity of such a stance being dependent on one’s views of national sovereignty. I might not be as radical as you in my approach but I do fall on the less patriotic end of the spectrum-while I can’t deny I enjoy the privileges that come from living in an exclusionary entity like Canada, I do reject the idea that a state is made more worthy simply because I happen to belong to it.

Milan: another blind spot going on in this discussion is the extent to which women really have reproductive choice in First World countries. In many states in the US, abortion may technically be legal but it is made inaccessible especially to poor or rural women. That and that fucking Juno movie.

I also, while of course I support reproductive rights of women around the world, think it’s important to promote them within a broader campaign of public health access. “Single issue” health campaigns remind me of “single species” approaches to environmental conservation: improving habitat will help the marmots, the bears, the whales, etc. And improving health care access will impact reproductive health, population, tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS epidemics, etc.

Milan November 1, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Kerrie,

Now that you have mentioned abortion, it seems important to note that there is a point in which a person’s right not to have children gets exhausted, as a consequence of their choices. Beyond that, they instead have an obligation to try to be a good parent.

Pragmatically, that point probably arrives when you impregnate a woman, if you are a man, or when you give birth to a child, if you are a woman.

Sasha,

Good point on education.

Tristan November 1, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Milan,

You are right, it is much less problematic to distinguish between the positive and negative form of the right to have children if you make the distinction between the right to have and to not have children.

This, however, does nothing to solve the problem that “the right to have children” is an empty right if the state does not provide assistance to those who wish to have children but cannot afford to. Otherwise, the “right to have children” is exactly the same as “the right to go to Disneyland”.

Milan November 1, 2008 at 7:59 pm

In the above, ‘rights’ are simply shorthand for rules that generally produce the best possible outcome.

The right to have children certainly cannot be positive and absolute. At the very least, some people are incapable of doing so, even with all the assistance the state could provide.

Sarah November 2, 2008 at 5:05 am

The obvious solution is to impose the cost only AFTER the children have grown up: both legal/genetic parents face substantially increased tax burdens (and/or reduced pensions) from the day the child turns 18 and the burden increases for each child. If designed properly, then by the point of having (for example) 4 kids, parents on average incomes could expect to be beneath the poverty line for the remainder of their lives. This would also have the useful effect of virtually forcing elderly couples who live in unnecessarily large family homes to sell the house and downgrade, thus alleviating the incorrect distribution of housing that produces housing shortages and elevated prices for the young. Can anybody see problems with this plan? (Aside from a moral dilemma over whether it is fair to punish someone for the poor choices they knowingly made when a younger adult, to which I reply: yes! hell yes!)

tristan November 2, 2008 at 1:50 pm

“In the above, ‘rights’ are simply shorthand for rules that generally produce the best possible outcome.”

Milan, what is the best possible outcome? I think the best possible outcome is the just one. I think this kind of consequentialist reasoning is always fallacious because it takes the material consequent to be its antecedent, when in fact the material consequent is always unknown. The moral consequence of an action can’t be something essentially material, or else morality just a science like particular physics.

Tristan November 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

“Can anybody see problems with this plan? ”

Yes. It’s pretty absurd. As for the economy of raising kids, it becomes cheaper the more you have (stuff gets reused). Also, arguably you get better at it. It’s probably better for a few people to have big families than everyone have small ones.

And it’s rediculous to tax people into poverty after they’ve spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars raising kids – which benefits society. People are society, bigger society= more wealth.

This is the definition of a perverse incentive.

Tristan November 2, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Kerrie,

What a state is is the exclusion of people who are not part of the state, by whatever criterion happens to define a state.

If you think a state is basically just, then you can’t say racist population control is unjust. Because if follows from the justness of a state that they can put the interests of those inside it over and above those outside it.

Milan November 2, 2008 at 4:38 pm

I think Sarah’s idea is actually rather clever and interesting.

It provides a means of producing economic incentives in a way that doesn’t harm the ability of parents to raise their children (though they may feel obliged to save more while doing so, since they will later face higher taxes or lower pensions).

I disagree with Tristan’s sudden assertion that a bigger population is automatically a benefit to society. That seems to be untrue when you think in the long term, given the degree to which our unsustainable behaviours are compromising their interests.

To simplify: Environment impact = Population * Standard of living / ‘Greenness’ of technology.

If we want to reduce environmental impact without sacrificing standard of living, reducing total population through voluntary means seems a sensible policy to use in conjunction with pushing green technologies.

Milan November 2, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Tristan,

As I have argued many times before: the state isn’t particularly just, but it is particularly durable. Since it isn’t something we can wish away (and we have no guarantee that a better system would replace it if we could), we need to make all of our moral judgments based on the likely continuance of the nation state as the dominant mode of global organization.

Tristan November 2, 2008 at 8:07 pm

If the state is going to remain the dominant mode of global organization, i.e. if we can’t call for its destruction, I don’t think its possible to call for an end of “racist exclusionary practices”, or even an end of modern slavery (i.e. “migrant workers programs”.

I think the opposite – the dissolution of the state is something we can see in our time, and it doesn’t mean the governments are overthrown, it means national sovereignty is compromised in more and more ways by international treaties until the level of enforcement of international treatise is “as if” the level of enforcement of national laws – just as the federal reserve believes fiat currency to be “as if” gold.

Neal November 2, 2008 at 8:43 pm

I think the elephant in the room any time we talk about population control is that all else being equal, cultures that stress fecundity above all else will over time crowd out cultures that don’t value population growth. That’s why the world is dominated by paternalistic cultures that treat women like property and stress the virtues of large families; they outbreed cultures that treat women as equals and encourage small, planned families.

Ultimately, population control is a non-issue. It happens regardless. What we mean when we talk about population control is birth control. The alternative is not overpopulation; that’s already upon us. The alternative is a return to natural population control: war, famine and disease.

These three forms of population control have kept human population growth from following the exponential function for any extended period of time, and I think it’s the height of hubris for us to think that these factors have been made irrelevant because we have the good fortune to live lives of comparative comfort in the wealthiest parts of the world during a time of unprecedented prosperity and unrestrained growth.

Ultimately, I fear humanity has no more ability to act collectively to control runaway consumption as yeast in a vat crushed grapes, and despite any foresight, will reap the same consequences.

Sarah November 2, 2008 at 11:39 pm

Like Milan, I reject Tristan’s assumption that more population = better for a state. In some cases this is the case (for instance areas of ethnic conflict, which often become races to see who reproduces fastest as an alternative or complement to killing your opponents), but it isn’t generally true. I also reject the notion that raising children is inherently worthwhile – immigration seems a better way (or at least much cheaper & predictable) for developed countries to increase their population.
I largely agree with Neil’s point and indeed have been hoping for a good plague for a while now – bad in the short run, very good in the long run unless you’re dead, in which case neutral. Also some forms of plague are better than others, eg. killing largely kids & elderly is less disruptive than killing largely the working age population, so I suppose I’m picky about what kind of plague I’d prefer (to be clear, I am not advocating the creation of a plague, which would probably be a criminal act). However, I think that it is possible to shape behaviour through the incentives and disincentives one designs & since there is some evidence that government efforts to promote more childbearing have worked in the past I can see no reason why one couldn’t encourage people to have fewer children. So, in short, I stand by my previous comment.

Evan November 3, 2008 at 12:41 am

Interesting conversation, but most of you seem to be validating the memes that “having a family” equals “biological reproduction” (it doesn’t) and/or that there is some inherent right to reproduce biologically (I argue there is no such right.)

We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. Global population is nearing 7 billion. Global carrying capacity is probably about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living. More is possible if you accept a cattle car / Matrix-esque “life”.) In any case, we will get to that much lower than 7 billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily). Yes, all of us, yes, everywhere. There is no scenario anywhere in which ongoing population growth is a “good thing”.

Here, I largely concur with Sarah in that a combination of incentives and disincentives would probably be at least somewhat effective. Getting some global consistency in implementing them, especially in the many theocracies and paternalistic regions on the planet (and I include the US here) is unlikely though. It is sadly more likely that population control will be ‘done to us’ vs ‘done by us’.

Yes a drop in population would cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t.

It’s too late for any “us” vs “them” arguments or any belief that national boundaries will do much to help anyone in the long run. This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change is not impressed by national boundaries.

I disagree with the argument that there is some “right to reproduce” that must be accommodated in this scenario. If there is any “right to reproduce” it’s in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form some sort of family. Biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and there are many in need of this sort of nurturing.

Being a parent is much different from the romantic and oxytocin enhanced notion of “having a baby” (a phrase I always found to be a bit horrifying for its “possessing-an-object” language frame).

Parenting is a long term process – something you do for 18+ years, not a one time biological act. I would also argue that at least one criterion to reproduce would be to not only have the necessary skills and resources to parent a child for 18 years or so, but that doing so would not cause suffering for others either now or in the future. Since we are beyond our global carrying capacity, no one can biologically reproduce and truly meet that criteria, since each added child now assures more people suffer later.

One of the key factors in this scenario is also our sense of time. This is a slow motion crash that requires immediate action, a bit like trying to steer a supertanker that’s on a crash course by putting in consistent input over a multi year time frame, and the one effective input is for all of us everywhere to stop making babies. The supertanker analogy is also apt because it was the “one time gift” of oil that allowed us to get this far out on a limb, and peak oil has already happened.

No technological / “alternative energy” options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t do them. Aggressively shifting to alternative energy is necessary, just not sufficient.

For more comprehensive analysis of all this I suggest

Approaching the Limits http://www.paulchefurka.ca

Bruce Sundquist on environmental impact of overpopulation http://home.alltel.net/bsundquist1/

The Oil Drum Peak Oil Overview – June 2007 (www.theoildrum.com/node/2693)

…and of course the classic “Overshoot” by Catton

Milan November 17, 2008 at 5:37 pm

I think the elephant in the room any time we talk about population control is that all else being equal, cultures that stress fecundity above all else will over time crowd out cultures that don’t value population growth.

I don’t think this is necessarily the case. All else being equal, states with high population growth tend to be unstable. By contrast, states that do well over the long-run are those that have stable and well-run systems of government.

For all the talk about teeming masses of immigrants overwhelming the state, it still seems that states with low or moderate birthrates are those that are proving most successful in the global arena.

Furthermore, I don’t think some kind of natural disaster (such as the ‘plague’ discussed above) is either desirable or a solution. When you are dealing with an exponential curve, the solution isn’t a one-off drop to a lower level, with no change in the underlying dynamic. You need to change the shape of the function. Doing so requires a combination of (a) changing people’s expectations and preferences and (b) giving them the contraceptive tools necessary to make those preferences manifest.

We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity.

I don’t think there is a single number of human beings the world can accomodate. For starters, there are ranges of possible levels of living standard. There are also different modes of living that have similar overall standards (in terms of life expectancy, literacy, etc) but which have very different environmental impacts.

I agree that we are living unsustainably right now, and that the nature of human economic activity must change considerably to be brought in line with what nature can bear. That being said, the idea of carrying capacity being some set number of people is deeply flawed. Among other problems, it exaggerates the impact of high population low-wealth states, while masking the rapacity of those who have few children but still consume enormous resources.

For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it.

I don’t think immigration necessarily has anything to do with population size. It has to do with the value of labour in different areas, as well as relative conditions of life (economic v. political migration). A heavily and densely-populated state with high wages will attract immigration, whereas a sparsely populated one with low wages will drive people out, all else being equal.

No technological / “alternative energy” options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity.

As with the definition of ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system’ the question here is what defines a ‘major calamity.’ Would a sea level rise of 1m count? What about the shutdown of the thermohaline circulation?

We don’t know what the sensitivity of climate to greenhouse gases really is, so it is very hard to say whether technology can offer a way out. Certainly, we shouldn’t be waiting around for breakthroughs that may not occur in time. We need to start very actively deploying the best technology we have available now.

. April 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm

13 Apr 2009: Opinion
Consumption Dwarfs Population As Main Environmental Threat

It’s overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem: By almost any measure, a small portion of the world’s people — those in the affluent, developed world — use up most of the Earth’s resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions.
by fred pearce

By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world’s people take the majority of the world’s resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions — a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world’s richest half-billion people — that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.

. August 18, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals

Paul A. Murtaugh and Michael G. Schlax

Much attention has been paid to the ways that people’s home energy use, travel, food choices and other routine activities affect their emissions of carbon dioxide and, ultimately, their contributions to global warming. However, the reproductive choices of an individual are rarely incorporated into calculations of his personal impact on the environment. Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent. Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-to-day activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment.

. September 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm

The gravest threat to Japan’s ability to achieve its strategic imperatives in the 21st century is its rapidly shrinking and aging population. It is important to grasp the full extent of this decline. From 1970 to 1990, the population of elderly people in Japan nearly doubled, which is many times faster than the rate of population aging in comparable European countries. This was a crucial background element to the economic crash of the 1990s, as more retirees began to put greater burdens on the economy. But that was only the beginning.

The generation of the second baby boom, born between 1971 and 1974, has seen a dramatic fall in fertility rates due to a variety of socio-economic factors such as greater population density, divorce rates and child-rearing costs. So as this generation and earlier generations retire, fewer young people will be available to carry the torch. According to the Japan Statistics Bureau, Japan’s total population peaked at nearly 128 million in 2004 and is projected to sink to 115 million by 2030 and to 95 million by 2050. Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2050, children under 14 years of age will fall from 13 percent of the population to less than 9 percent, while adults over the age of 65 will rise from 23 percent to nearly 40 percent. The working age group will fall from 64 percent to 52 percent of the population.

With the Japanese people vanishing and growing gray, Japan faces the evisceration of its economic, political and military capabilities. The economy will continue to decline as the workforce and consumer base shrink. Government finances will worsen beyond their already dismal state, as the fall in corporate profits and private incomes translates to smaller tax revenues and as social spending balloons to care for the aging population’s pensions and health care (and the Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world, requiring further public outlays). While these changes cause social and economic dislocation, Japan’s national defense capabilities will also weaken as the military budget shrinks and as recruitment becomes more and more of a challenge.

. September 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm

“There also remains a third possibility: that Japan could pioneer a technologically advanced society for the post-consumer age in which it manages both a sustained increase in production despite decreasing consumption and sets an example for many other countries facing similar demographic declines (though it is hard to tell what such a post-postmodern state would look like).”

Milan September 2, 2009 at 6:22 pm

That is a very interesting possibility: that Japan will show the world how to transition to a steady state economy.

. September 9, 2009 at 10:09 am

Though I had just one child, my daughter is pregnant again. She married a guy with seven sibs, and they want to have three or four, including adopting one. How do I talk them out of it? Having more kids will defeat their work to live lightly on Earth, won’t it?

Having kids will not help your child’s overall lifetime carbon footprint, no. We are responsible for the environmental impacts of our child raising, and it is reasonable to consider that we are responsible for the lifetime impacts of any child we choose to birth or raise, as well as our descendants through that child. A recent study out of Oregon contemplated this idea of carbon legacy through childbirth, if you wish to read some interesting genetics and carbon math (and transfer your anxiety from your daughter back to yourself, which is where it might more properly belong).

It is a bit unfair to carry a multi-generation burden of guilt around for child raising, when most of us can buy and sell a car or a toothbrush without thinking too hard about the centuries of atmospheric carbon and landlocked garbage we have created. Think about it all we must, though. Alas.

. September 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

Oregon State study says having fewer children is best way to reduce your carbon footprint
by The Oregonian
Friday July 31, 2009, 11:27 AM

Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their “carbon footprint” on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit – have one less child.

A recent study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.

“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,” said Paul Murtaugh, an OSU professor of statistics. “Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.”

. September 9, 2009 at 10:19 am

“Under current conditions in the U.S., for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.”

Milan September 9, 2009 at 10:21 am

That’s an astonishing figure.

Perhaps the environmental movement should be focusing more on encouraging smaller families, through policies like reduced tax breaks and subsidies for parents and increased state-provided security for the elderly (so they depend less on their children).

. September 14, 2009 at 11:00 am

Emissions per person in parts of China above rich nations, Stern says

BEIJING – One of the world’s top authorities on climate change warned Friday that carbon emissions per person in parts of China were higher than in some developed countries.

Nicholas Stern, the British author of an acclaimed review on climate change, told students in Beijing’s People’s University that 13 Chinese provinces, regions and cities had higher per capita emissions than France. Six also overtook Britain.

“There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries in Europe,” he said in a speech that laid out his predictions on global warming.

Stern warned that if the world continued to emit around the same levels of greenhouse gases every year, there was a 50 percent chance temperatures would rise more than five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) within 100 years.

A rise of “five degrees Celsius has not been seen on this planet for 30 million years—we as humans have been here for only 200,000 years,” he said. “This type of temperature change involves radical dislocation, it involves re-writing where people can live, it would involve the movement of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This would result in extended, serious global conflict.”

. September 29, 2009 at 10:28 am

The Population Myth
Posted September 29, 2009

People who claim that population growth is the big environmental issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 29th Septeember 2009

It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it’s about the only environmental issue for which they can’t be blamed. The brilliant earth systems scientist James Lovelock, for example, claimed last month that “those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth. These two huge environmental problems are inseparable and to discuss one while ignoring the other is irrational.” But it’s Lovelock who is being ignorant and irrational.

A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world’s population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three per cent of the world’s population growth happened in places with very low emissions.

Even this does not capture it. The paper points out that around one sixth of the world’s population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all. This is also the group whose growth rate is likely to be highest. Households in India earning less than 3,000 rupees a month use a fifth of the electricity per head and one seventh of the transport fuel of households earning Rs30,000 or more. Street sleepers use almost nothing. Those who live by processing waste (a large part of the urban underclass) often save more greenhouse gases than they produce.

. October 6, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Fighting the ‘contraceptive mentality’

Families with more than 10 children are becoming the norm among a group of traditionalist US Christians. The so-called Quiverfull families believe they are carrying out God’s work, and providing a new generation of moral leaders. The BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott went to Illinois to meet some of them.

The way Psalm 127 talks about children has an almost military sound.

It describes them as “an inheritance, and arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior,” adding, “happy is he whose quiver is full of them”.

Many Quiverfull families do indeed sense looming battles for Christians, and often see their children as potential future leaders in fighting them.

Rev James McDonald has 10 children, aged between four and 26 – an extraordinary fertility motivated by obedience to the Bible.

“We believe that they are blessings… to be raised up in the worship of the Lord and they will be used by him in whatever way God will call them, to fulfil the Great Commission which we find in Matthew Chapter 28,” he said.

The “Great Commission” – the duty to spread the Christian message throughout the world – is among a number of challenges Mr McDonald sees facing his family.

Among others, he cites divorce, adultery, abortion and internet pornography.

“The societal ills that we have, the challenges we have… we have rampant disease and bankrupt health systems because we don’t know the truth of the Bible. But as these truths are lived out in the lives of God’s people, society changes,” he said.

. November 20, 2009 at 1:13 pm

As estimated by statistician Paul Murtaugh, an average American woman deciding to avoid having a child can reduce her carbon legacy by about 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide, thereby reducing her own cumulative carbon footprint by almost 50 per cent without any other lifestyle changes.

See: Murtaugh, P. (2009) Reproduction and the carbon legacy of individuals. Global Environmental Change (in press).

Rick DeLong January 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Here’s an idea. Let women (couples) have as many children as they please, but all children from the third on must be sterilized.

Milan January 3, 2010 at 9:58 pm

That seems awfully unethical. Sterilizing children who have done nothing blameworthy is a bit monstrous.

Encouraging people in general to have fewer children is much less morally dubious.

. March 31, 2010 at 11:01 am

Say it loud: I’m childfree and I’m proud

by Lisa Hymas
30 Mar 2010 11:02 AM

In 1969, graduating college senior Stephanie Mills made national headlines with a commencement address exclaiming that, in the face of impending ecological devastation, she was choosing to forgo parenthood. “I am terribly saddened by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all,” she told her classmates.

I come here before you today to make the same proclamation—with a twist. I am thoroughly delighted by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all.

Making the green choice too often feels like a sacrifice or a hassle or an expense. In this case, it feels like a luxurious indulgence that just so happens to cost a lot less for me and weigh a lot less on the carbon-bloated atmosphere.

I call myself a GINK: green inclinations, no kids.

. March 31, 2010 at 11:03 am

“Beyond the undisturbed sleep and the gleaming doorknobs, consider the environmental benefits to the childfree life.

We’re on track to hit a global population of 7 billion people next year or the year after—3 billion more than when Mills got all riled up four decades ago. We’ve spewed enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to push it past the safe point, which many climate scientists agree is 350 parts carbon dioxide per million; we’re already at about 390 and rising fast. And Americans are among the most carbon-intensive people on earth. The average American generates about 66 times more CO2 each year than the average Bangladeshi—20 tons versus 0.3 tons.

If you consider not just the carbon impact of your own kids but of your kids’ kids and so on, the numbers get even starker. According to a 2009 study in Global Environmental Change [PDF] that took into account the long-term impact of Americans’ descendants, each child adds an estimated 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to a parent’s carbon legacy—that’s about 5.7 times his or her direct lifetime emissions.

“Many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth,” said study coauthor Paul Murtaugh, a professor of statistics at Oregon State University. “Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.” (To take an extreme example, compare childfree me with Yitta Schwartz of Monroe, N.Y., who died this year at the age of 93, leaving behind an estimated 2,000 descendants.)

A person who cares about preserving a livable environment has lots of options for doing her bit, and you’ve heard all about them: live in an energy-efficient home in a walkable neighborhood; bike or walk or take public transit when possible; drive an efficient car if you drive one at all; fly less; go veg; buy organic and local; limit purchases of consumer goods; switch to CFLs or LEDs; slay your vampires; offset carbon emissions; vote for climate-concerned candidates, and hold them accountable for their campaign promises.

But even in aggregate, all of these moves don’t come close to the impact of not bringing new human beings—particularly new Americans—into the world. “

. April 7, 2010 at 11:41 am

Detroit’s future
Thinking about shrinking
Efforts to “right-size” Detroit are arduous and desperately necessary

Mar 25th 2010 | DETROIT | From The Economist print edition

Mr Bing did describe his vision, but for now it remains hazy. The most urgent tasks are to create jobs, cut crime and clean up a fiscal mess. His long-term plan is less clear. The city, he said, would demolish 3,000 homes this year and 7,000 more by the end of his term. This would be only the first step toward re-imagining Detroit. Already, however, local groups are working on plans for broad change. Their premise was once politically unthinkable: before Detroit can thrive, it must shrink. Mr Bing supports this. But executing it will be difficult.

. July 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm

The Real Reason More Women Are Childless
Despite what some conservatives say, it’s not because they’re having abortions.
By Amanda Marcotte
Posted Monday, July 12, 2010, at 10:03 AM ET

Maybe it’s because I live in the famously child-friendly neighborhood of Park Slope, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I’m forced to dodge 15 strollers every time I go to the grocery store. Or maybe it’s because I’m 32 and it seems every other woman I know is having a baby. Or maybe it’s because I grew up in rural Texas, surrounded by pregnant teenagers. No matter the reason, I was genuinely surprised to read the recent Pew Research Center study showing that the share of American women who are skipping out on motherhood has nearly doubled since 1976, rising from 10 percent of the population to 18 percent.

Personally, I was happy to see that more women feel free to forgo childbearing. But not everyone shares my enthusiasm. According to Pew, 38 percent of Americans now denounce childlessness as bad for society. That’s up from 29 percent just two years ago. So what’s behind the increase in women choosing the non-mom route? According to social conservatives, legal abortions are to blame for declining birth rates. Mike Huckabee told reporter Max Blumenthal that if it weren’t for abortion, there would be no need for immigrants to come work in the United States. Some anti-choicers are issuing dire warnings about a “demographic winter” bringing an end to Western civilization.

Conservative histrionics aside, women who have abortions aren’t the ones causing the uptick in childlessness. After all, 61 percent of women who have abortions already have one child. And according to a 2004 survey by the Guttmacher Institute, most childless women who have abortions say they are open to the possibility of having kids under different circumstances. However, that doesn’t mean that the passage of Roe v. Wade had no impact on the upturn in childless women. After all, defense of legal abortion led feminists to create a national discourse around the concept of “choice,” which helped legitimize the decision to remain childless. This created a space for women who never wanted children to embrace their true desires.

. July 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

The women who choose not to be mothers

More women in the developed world are choosing not to have children. So why do friends, family, colleagues and even strangers think it’s OK to question their decision?

We’ve come a long way, baby. Until a few decades ago, it was widely assumed that a woman would marry and, soon after, the stork would arrive with a special delivery.

Today, there are many more choices – or more openness. To have a baby out of wedlock. To have a baby without a father. To have a baby and return to work. To have a baby and give up work. To have fertility treatment, and then a baby (or not).

But what about not becoming a mother at all? Studies in the UK, Europe and the United States show this is now the choice of significant numbers of women.

Once this was considered insane or unnatural. Even today, it is viewed with suspicion – women with no desire to procreate say they sometimes face awkward questions and disapproval.

“A woman at work was recently quite shocked by my saying I didn’t want children. She said: ‘You’re a woman, you were born with a womb, God gave a womb so we could procreate’,” Jenny Woolfson, aged 25, told BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour.
In today’s Magazine

“My friends and I have occasionally likened coming out as child-free to coming out as a gay person 40 or 50 years ago. There’s the same sense of shock – perhaps that’s too strong a word. But it’s a lifestyle people don’t expect and it may challenge their world view,” says 31-year-old Rhona Sweeting.

. November 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

What should climate hawks do next? Fight for free birth control

Climate hawks are floundering after this year’s election. A climate bill couldn’t get through Congress even when it was controlled by the Democrats, thanks to Senate dysfunction and general idiocy. Now, with the GOP and Tea Party ascendant, the chances of passing curbs on greenhouse gases anytime soon are zip to zilch.

So what now, the hawks are wondering?

For the moment, forget about carbon caps and start thinking about cervical caps — and the Pill, IUDs, and Depo-Provera.

Next week, a panel of experts will start meeting to determine whether health insurers should be required to cover the full cost of contraceptives. At issue is whether birth control is “preventive” medicine, which the new health-care law requires insurers to cover free of charge, without co-pays. The Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to make a final call on that question in August 2011.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but ultra-right-wing groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Family Research Council are rallying in opposition, and they may have more allies in the newly conservatized Congress.

. December 5, 2010 at 7:08 pm

The future of Japan
The Japan syndrome
The biggest lesson the country may yet teach the world is about the growth-sapping effects of ageing

Nov 18th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

IN 1979 Ezra Vogel, a Harvard academic, wrote a book entitled “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America” in which he portrayed Japan, with its strong economy and cohesive society, as the world’s most dynamic industrial nation. Three decades later, Japan holds lessons of a less encouraging sort. Economists in the stricken West have been poring over the data on the deflation that it has suffered since the bursting of the asset-price bubble in 1990. Yet deflation may be just one symptom of an even bigger problem that, as our special report this week argues, is squeezing the life out of the Japanese economy: ageing. Unless Japan takes dramatic steps to re-energise its shrinking, greying workforce, its economy will suffer.

Other countries face this dismal prospect too. Although Japanese society is growing older faster than anywhere else in the world, plenty of others are shuffling along behind it. Parts of Europe are ageing fast, and are unwilling to adapt, as recent protests against rising retirement ages in France and Greece attest. Other Confucian countries such as South Korea, China and Taiwan, have enjoyed a “demographic dividend”—a rapidly expanding workforce and falling birth rate—similar to Japan’s in the 1960s to 1980s. With fewer children and elderly to pay for, such countries could plough savings back into economic expansion. As in Japan, relatively few women work after becoming mothers and even fewer immigrants are let in. Such places will look to Japan for how to cope with the economic and social consequences when their manpower starts to dry up. So far, they will find, it is ducking the issue.

. December 5, 2010 at 7:10 pm

A special report on Japan
On the down escalator
A shrinking population makes it harder to rekindle growth and end deflation

Nov 18th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

FOR several decades after the second world war it was boomtime for Japan’s economy as a new generation of workers entered the labour force. Brilliant entrepreneurs like Soichiro Honda and Akio Morita at Sony set about building the future. A pioneering baroness, Shidzue Kato, forced a male-dominated parliament to legislate for easier birth control. Condoms became so widely available that the birth rate halved in the decade from 1947-57.

That meant fewer young mouths to feed on rising salaries, thanks to a seniority-based system under which pay automatically increased with age. As the working-age population rose from 50m in 1950 to 75m in 1975, savings boomed and companies channelled them into breakneck growth. That was more or less the pattern of Japan’s economy into the 1990s, even beyond the bursting of the financial bubble in 1990. Growth did not peak until 1996.

Now turn this picture on its head. In 1995, just before the economy started to lose steam, the working-age population hit its high point, at 87m. Since then it has fallen sharply. If current trends continue, in 20 years’ time it will have dropped by 20m, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. By 2050 it will have fallen below 50m, forming an almost perfect bell curve in one century. Among rich nations, only Germany will suffer a similar fall (see chart 3).

Labour is one of the two main sources of economic growth. If the number of workers drops, output per worker has to rise to maintain the same level of production. There are ways to ease the demographic strains, such as encouraging more women, foreigners and older people to join the labour force, or seeking out fast-growing markets abroad. But if productivity does not increase enough to counteract a shrinking workforce, output—and eventually living standards—will decline.

For now the fall in Japan’s labour force is still accelerating. At the same time cheaper competitors in the region are forcing Japanese exporters to cut labour costs. And Japan has yet to recover fully from the withering effects of the 2008 global financial crisis.

. December 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm

A special report on Japan
The dearth of births
Why are so few young Japanese willing to procreate?

Nov 18th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

AT 84, Masuyo Hirano happily describes herself as in “the spring of my life.” The sprightly woman lives in a nursing home with 50 other pensioners. But she is not idle. She votes. She does acupuncture. She and her friends sing karaoke, their delicate hands wrapped around the microphone. She dexterously weaves slippers from multicoloured ribbons that take days to finish, and hands them out to visitors like sweets.

There are two reasons for her happiness. The first is that she has made satisfactory arrangements for the remainder of her long life. In a country where 28m people are over 65 and many millions live alone, are bedridden or suffer from dementia, she has found herself a place that is a model of public-private care and will look after her until she dies. She has no children, and will not need to ask her relatives to do anything further for her.

The second reason she is happy is that she knows what will happen to her remains after her death. The Yashioen nursing home in Saitama, a district north of Tokyo, offers her a burial club in which she and her friends will be placed in the same tomb together, which the nursing home promises to tend. This sort of service is likely to become more popular in Japan as elderly people have fewer children to mourn them. Many Japanese in their later years are tormented by the prospect of lying in a lonely and forgotten tomb. “I’ve talked this over at length with my nephews and nieces,” she says. “I don’t want to be a burden on them.”

Milan April 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm
. November 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

A new study says the richest 20 per cent of Canadian households spew almost twice – 1.8 times – the greenhouse-gas emissions of the country’s lowest income-earners.

The report says the top one per cent of households had emissions three times the average and almost six times those of households in the bottom 10 per cent.

. November 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm

THE Japanese say they suffer from an economic disease called “structural pessimism”. Overseas too, there is a tendency to see Japan as a harbinger of all that is doomed in the economies of the euro zone and America—even though figures released on November 14th show its economy grew by an annualised 6% in the third quarter, rebounding quickly from the March tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Look dispassionately at Japan’s economic performance over the past ten years, though, and “the second lost decade”, if not the first, is a misnomer. Much of what tarnishes Japan’s image is the result of demography—more than half its population is over 45—as well as its poor policy in dealing with it. Even so, most Japanese have grown richer over the decade.

In aggregate, Japan’s economy grew at half the pace of America’s between 2001 and 2010. Yet if judged by growth in GDP per person over the same period, then Japan has outperformed America and the euro zone (see chart 1). In part this is because its population has shrunk whereas America’s population has increased.

Though growth in labour productivity fell slightly short of America’s from 2000 to 2008, total factor productivity, a measure of how a country uses capital and labour, grew faster, according to the Tokyo-based Asian Productivity Organisation. Japan’s unemployment rate is higher than in 2000, yet it remains about half the level of America and Europe (see chart 2).

. May 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Despite its Catholic roots, France is laid back about family affairs. Mr Hollande is not married to Valérie Trierweiler, his girlfriend. France legalised abortion as long ago as 1975. Earlier this year, when Mr Hollande made the contraceptive pill available free to all 15- to 18-year-olds, it barely caused a stir.

. February 8, 2014 at 12:26 am

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