Rethinking abstinence

March 31, 2009

in Politics, Rants, The environment

City skyline graffiti

Given the character of the modern world, it seems sensible to re-evaluate some of our assumptions. For instance, the importance of sexual abstinence. Arguably, it derives from three considerations: the danger of pregnancy, the risk of disease, and the social concept of sin. In modern society, good tools are available for dealing with all of these. Among them, hormonal birth control systems, condoms, and atheism. Arguably, much of the case for sexual abstinence has vanished.

Contrast that with the (barely existent) public case for reproductive abstinence. Given that society is grossly unsustainable, we don’t even have evidence that the number of people currently alive can continue to live at the level of material welfare they do. Despite this, most governments push fertility. There is parental leave, there are often tax breaks for marriage and having children, and house ownership is encouraged through public subsidy.

Perhaps the world would be a better place if governments became significantly more lax in their efforts to discourage sexual abstinence, while simultaneously shifting towards encouraging reproductive abstinence. Given the degree to which our gross over-use of the natural resources and adaptive capacities of the planet is threatening the future of the human species, it seems quite rational, in the end. Obviously, governments with some respect for personal liberty cannot actually curtail reproduction. Of course, they couldn’t curtail sex either. The idea is to shift from efforts in the latter area to efforts in the former one. That need not involve anything too restrictive: just making sure that those who don’t want children have the tools required to avoid it, while reducing the degree to which society at large helps finance the reproduction of those who choose to undertake it.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 185 comments… read them below or add one }

. March 31, 2009 at 8:56 am
R.K. March 31, 2009 at 10:39 am

Are you familiar with the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement?

“May we live long and die out”

Milan March 31, 2009 at 10:45 am

This is not about banning reproduction or encouraging human extinction.

It just seems that the needs of the current world are better matched with a voluntary reproductive abstinence campaign than they are with sexual abstinence campaigns.

Oh, and this post is partly a response to the pope continuing to say stupid things.

Matt March 31, 2009 at 12:29 pm

If you make it hard for people to take leave from work to have children, then you may reduce the number of skilled employed people having children (people who are likely to be able to afford their children a better future). Maybe you’d find more young people, or unemployed people having children in a place where professionals have a monetary disincentive to have children.

Of course I have no idea, but just a hypothesis.

Anon March 31, 2009 at 12:42 pm

There is also a trade-off here between sensible population policy and the rights of women. If women are to have meaningful equal opportunities in the workforce, mandatory maternity leave provisions will need to be part of it.

Magictofu March 31, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I also think that most state support for families have benefits that far exceed the family unit. These range from women’s right to economic benefits as was pointed out by others. That being said, I tend to agree with you that large families are a luxury of the past and that long term sustainability requires limiting if not reducing the number of humans on this planet. Believe it or not, this aspect recently came up in discussions between my partner and I when on whether or not having a second child.

I think the big question here is how should the state get involved in something that, in the end, is very intimate and so deeply rooted in our own biology. I don’t think anyone wants Chinese-style reproductive policies and I don’t even think that stating what appear to many to be the obvious is a politically wise choice.

R.K. March 31, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Encouraging reproductive abstinence may be a better role for social organizations than for the state.

Imagine if efforts equivalent to those directed towards sexual abstinence by churches, schools, and non-governmental organizations were directed towards reproductive abstinence by other groups: it could be effective without being Orwellian.

. March 31, 2009 at 3:32 pm

The pope in Africa
Sex and sensibility

Mar 19th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Doing harm in places where Catholicism should have a bright future

AFRICANS always give a visiting pope a hearty welcome. Thousands of finely dressed Cameroonians danced and sang at the roadside this week as Pope Benedict XVI arrived on an inaugural African tour that will also take in Angola. The Vatican is keen on the continent, home to around 135m Catholics. Pope Benedict delivered a compassionate message, recognising that Africa suffers disproportionately from food shortages, poverty, financial turmoil and a changing climate. Yet for all the mutual appreciation, he got one matter painfully wrong.

Asked about the use of condoms to help tackle the scourge of AIDS, the pope restated, in unusually explicit terms, the church’s position that these are not useful to “overcome” the epidemic, indeed their use actually makes the problem worse. He suggested the disease could be beaten through chastity, abstinence and “correct behaviour”. Speaking in a continent where more than 20m people have died from AIDS and another 22.5m are infected with HIV, his statement sounded otherworldly at best, and crass and uncaring at worst. Merely wishing away human sexual behaviour does nothing for the potential victims of AIDS, many of whom are innocent under even the most moralistic definition of that word.

Milan March 31, 2009 at 3:44 pm

From a previous discussion:

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.”

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.”

Sarah March 31, 2009 at 3:47 pm

I think we should be careful about criticizing policies for “pushing fertility” as you put it when the central purpose of those policies may actually be about trying to keep skilled women in the workforce, or about keeping children out of poverty (which makes it easier for them to finish school, acquire job skills etc). So saying, I wholeheartedly agree with your position that reproductive abstinence makes more sense than sexual abstinence, but I’m not sure how one would encourage that position without being dragged into absurd arguments with religious groups over abortion, contraception and promiscuity. Given the likelihood of these objections, I’d say it would be preferable for the state to tread very lightly (thus devoting its time to issues that won’t lead to hysteria amongst conservatives and increase the voter turnout on the right) & people to campaign on these issues from NGOs.

Milan March 31, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Maybe what is in order is more of a change in expectations than a change in policies.

‘Childlessness’ is pretty rife with negative connotations, in a way ‘virginity’ certainly is not. Similarly, having a large family is often seen as virtuous, while having many sexual partners is often seen as not (especially for women). Even having an active sex life and interest in sex is condemned in a way having an active family life would never be.

Just as more and more people look at SUVs and things as unpleasant symbols of insecurity and material overconsumption, so perhaps will they view unsustainably large families (more than two children?) in the future.

Milan March 31, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Personally, I am worried enough about climate change to wonder having any children at this point in time is an ethical thing to do. Not only does doing so increase the challenge of mitigation, it also means that you are wilfully exposing innocent people (your children) to the very severe risks associated with climate change, before we have any clear sense that the world is capable of doing what is necessary to stop it.

In some ways, it seems like an irresponsible bet being placed on someone else’s life.

Matt March 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm

“‘Childlessness’ is pretty rife with negative connotations, in a way ‘virginity’ certainly is not. ”

Did you miss high school? I seem to remember virginity being perceived as a very negative thing!

Matt March 31, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Also, I was thinking, it would be a good option if a male birth control pill was available (I know this is an area of research presently), because this would allow men to control their fertility in a way that’s not been available before.

If The Maury Pauvich show is any measure, there’s a definite market for this.

Milan March 31, 2009 at 5:40 pm

There is definitely a market, but I can appreciate why it is trickier to do. Women have pre-existing biochemical pathways that detect pregnancy and prevent further ovulation and implantation. Since men have no comparable system to short-circuit, developing a birth control pharmaceutical seems certain to be a lot harder, and perhaps riskier as well.

mek March 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I think it’s best to move away from theory and more towards case studies when discussing the topic of sexual abstinence. In countries where sexual abstinence education has been attempted (ie. USA), teenage pregnancy and birth rates skyrocket. Meanwhile, in countries where birth control, family planning, and prophylactics are endorsed by the state and education systems, birth rates are at or below replacement, and the average age of the mother is in the 20s and still increasing. The issue of sexual abstinence, and relatedly, the issue of abortion, is dead, because while they seem to offer theoretical quandaries, the existing evidence is decisive.

Family planning and related education are good examples of a way for the state to promote reproductive abstinence without infringing the rights of women or anyone else. I don’t think reducing/eliminating state support for families is a good idea in the least – this is a place where education will succeed and other policy initiatives will almost certainly backfire.

Peter March 31, 2009 at 7:51 pm

I don’t fear population reduction through liberal means. There is populist panic about the reproductive rate falling below 1.0, however a global rate of 0.9 will still leave us with 2.5 billion people after 330 years (10 generations). Even unrealistically drastic estimates of 0.5 will leave us with 400 million people after 5 generations. So any fear about extinction is a little premature.

I’m pretty partial to my lifestyle, so reducing the amount of people is an excellent way to reduce pollution while maintaining the quality of life. A lot of posts expressed concern over equality issues. I think distinctions can easily be made between liberal (meaning the policy seeks to influence people’s attitudes, but the reduction is the product of free choice) and coercive methods, as well as between programs justified on the basis of social benefit to the existing members of society, and those strictly designed to promote fertility. Daycare, schools, socialized medicine, and even maternity leave stays in, because it protects the rights of (existing) children and women, respectively. Baby bonuses (a surprising number of countries still offer them) and tax deductions are out.

Reproductive abstinence is probably more useful, but sexual abstinence won’t be re-evaluated because the modern movement is only driven by one of the three reasons you mentioned. Population reduction will also prove impossible to sell because the economic system can’t handle it. Capitalism is based on the idea of perpetual growth. Sustained profits aren’t enough. Growing profits still aren’t enough. Ideally, the rate at which the profits grow is also increasing, or so says the theory. The system just isn’t built for contraction, which is why every industrialized country in the world, led by Japan, is now facing a demographics problem.

Magictofu March 31, 2009 at 9:05 pm

What if only right-wing-religious-deniers have large families? How likely future social and environmental be addressed properly given the importance of family education on one’s values?

XUP April 1, 2009 at 7:46 am

For a while, the German government was encouraging its people to have no more than 2 children with lots of incentives for families who had less. Now
Germany has the lowest birthrate in Europe, with an average of 1.36 children per woman. The government is desperately trying to come up with incentives now to encourage larger families. Small families are now so entrenched in the culture, however, that the population keeps dropping. If the trend continues the German population will begin to age dramatically over the next 40 years (last year there were 144,000 more deaths than births. With a 22 percent reduction in the workforce and increasing costs for senior assistance and medical care, the drop in population is expected to have a radical impact on the nation’s economy, along with the welfare budget.

North America is by no stretch of the imagination close to being overpopulated. The answer is not, I think, to stop reproducing, but to get much smarter about the way we use our resources — especially in North America. We have one of the smallest populations, but use over 80% of the earth’s resources. We could very well sustain even a dramatic increase in population and at a comfortable level; but not at our current wasteful level

Sasha April 1, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Having few children seems to be the right idea at the right time – after all, what better way to consume less? However, I also think it’s short sighted. The unaddressed problem is, who will support the generation that came before, as they age? When people become unable to work, support themselves, and care for themselves due to age, they need either family of the next generation or society to care for them. If the next generation is much smaller, then the burden on them of supporting their predecessors is immense. In China, the problem is articulated in asking, how can one child support four grandparents? On a societal level, the same problem arises: how can we fund pensions and health care (among other necessities) when the number of people receiving benefits is greater than the number paying into the system?

In the end, I think this has to do with romanticizing the role of the child – we imagine it to be a parent’s privilege to produce lovely little humans who they can train to hate what they hate, and so on. In reality, children are needed so that people are cared for in their old age. I don’t see that changing unless we plan to adopt the ice-flow method of caring for our elders, in which case, dramatically reducing family sizes could be tenable.

Anon April 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm

In the long run, isn’t that a recipe for a Ponzi Scheme, given that the planet cannot even sustain the current population indefinitely?

Milan April 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

It does seem like it would be possible to transition to a society where the support of people in old age is not dependent on a growing population, or even a gradually falling one.

Basically, it would require a lot more saving – a strategy that could be wise for other reasons, as well.

Peter April 1, 2009 at 3:39 pm

XUP

Good analysis of Germany. As I said, a lot of countries are facing demographics problems. However, the problem is our economic system counts an expanding population to fuel growth, rather than just growth from increased efficiency, which could be sustainable. There is a distributive justice facet to my support for a low reproductive rate. I would prefer a more equalitarian world with fewer people that all enjoy the high quality of life we currently enjoy in the ‘developed’ world, rather than a cut in the quality of living to sustain the current population, or what you are proposing, a cut in our living quality to have even more children. We would lose our quality of living, we don’t begin to solve the environmental problems, but we have more children… Why that is desirable?

Sasha

Children are highly romanticized. I just don’t understand it, because I don’t have children, but I have had a few amusing conversations with a flaming queen about how children are straight people’s narcissism. I think the operative word is “produce” since adoption would go a long way to aiding reduction while helping with another of societies ills – orphaned children.

Overpopulation is a complex issue, but children are needed to care for the elderly when people only achieve a subsistence living. That just isn’t the case in the ‘developed’ world. Most of the societal issues you raise are symptoms of our economic system. Someone made a deliberate choice to setup healthcare and pension to depend on new workers contributions to support the elderly, and kept contributions low on the assumption the population would expand so several new workers could support one pensioner. Contributions and benefits could have been indexed to proper level so that the population would support themselves off their investment. States and businesses have begun to address this problem by switching from defined benefits to defined contribution pension system.

If you meant the physical ratio, it doesn’t have to be one-to-one. One caregiver can look after several elderly individuals. If you have fears about the quality of our elderly care, than I share them. The current practice is semi-ice flow; we put our elderly in nursing homes. But it is usually done for our convenience and not cost; revising expectations and keeping the elderly at home might be cheaper.

XUP April 1, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Peter – you’d have to define “quality of life”. If you mean we should all be living in McMansions driving SUVs, flying around the world several times a year, eating beef from the rainforests 4 or 5 times a week, obessively purchasing goods that end up in landfills a few months later, etc., etc.– then yes we’re going to have to drastically reduce the world’s population so that everyone who is left can be equally gluttonous. But we’d have to keep cutting and cutting and cutting the population as resources become depleted until there’s no one left. However, we could all still enjoy a very fine quality of life and maintain a steady population growth if our definition of quality of life were a bit more modest.

Milan April 1, 2009 at 5:50 pm

However, we could all still enjoy a very fine quality of life and maintain a steady population growth if our definition of quality of life were a bit more modest.

I don’t think this is true. It’s not that we are just using somewhat too many resources. We are driving the planet towards utter destruction. A quote from Gus Speth‘s Bridge at the Edge of the World captures this well:

“How serious is the threat to the environment? Here is one measure of the problem: all we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world for our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today, with no growth in the human population or the world economy.”

The solution is to create a society based on renewable energy and agriculture. Without the easy energy from fossil fuels, it seems quite likely that the size of population that can be given a decent, modest life is very much smaller than the number alive today.

. April 1, 2009 at 5:55 pm

From a previous post:

“One barrel of oil contains about 5.8 million British thermal units (BTUs) of energy (1700 kilowatt-hours). That is roughly equivalent to the energy output of an adult human working 12.5 years worth of 40 hour weeks. At present, the world uses about 31 billion barrels of oil a year. That is equivalent to the global population (6.7 billion people) working for 58 years.”

While the theoretical capacity of renewables is even higher, it is a fair bet that they will take a lot more effort to harness. There aren’t many places where solar panels will spurt out of holes you make in the ground.

. April 1, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Tristan April 1, 2009 at 6:48 pm

The problem with discouraging people to have children is the fact these encouragements tend to affect rich educated classes more than poor classes.

Now, if you think being born into a rich family is a morally justified reason for having more access to wealth than being born to a poor family, then discouraging the rich from having children guarentees that less money will be accessible, on average, to the subsequent generation than otherwise would be. The savings amassed by the fortunate ones will have to be spent on things other than child-rearing – every child not raised saves a middle class family about 200,000$, or enough to buy a Ferrari.

Now, while a Ferrari will almost certainly produce less Co2 over its life than a child, I don’t see that as being a justification for voluntarily lowering the average standard of living of Children.

Basically, I think having less Children is ceterus-parebus a good thing, but because of the social inequality which we consider normal, it turns out to be bad. At least if you want to concentrate on consequences.

Peter April 2, 2009 at 7:01 am

Xup

You’re right; “quality of life” needs to be fleshed out. I’ll start by mentioning that I share Milan’s assumption that making the current population sustainable would require a large cut to our standard of living. So, considered environmentally, this has to be an exercise in reduction of some property – consumption, or population.

I don’t dispute that there are terribly wasteful aspects to our economy, but I’m not endorsing planned opalescence, or ultra-consumerism, or conspicuous consumption, or even frivolous and superficial spending on soon to be forgotten novelties. I assume myself to be a relatively average individual, who has his share of excesses, so I am sure you could find some of my purchases or habits questionable. However, I also consider the people posting here to be reasonably intelligent, self-reflective individuals, so I really don’t think we are talking about SUVs, or landfill fillers. I also assume that most of us were/are students, so we haven’t achieved that level of decadence yet. I fully support you if you want to rally against the excesses, mainly because I don’t think a little less meat, less commuting and more public transit and/or more exercise, trying to live locally, resisting fad purchases, and so on, will have a large negative impact on the quality of life. Many of these things might increase the quality of life, so I have no problem with a rational examination of the type of life we should want to live, and a critique of the modern condition.

I thought that some of my intended meaning might have been abstracted from the fact that I am concerned with things like distributive justice and subsistence living. I’m talking about things I consider to be essential, opportunities, education, healthcare, clean water, developed transit systems, access to technology. The western world has the worst per capital carbon spending, but there are beneficial aspects to our lifestyles (some of which that are so not obviously frivolous as your examples). There is a strain of egalitarianism that seeks to eliminate the existing differences by reducing everyone to the lowest standard in the distribution. I’m not in favour of that approach. Some of the evil in the differences come from the many in the distribution falling under an acceptable threshold. The problem is that elevating the rest of the population to our standard of living will have disastrous environmental consequences. Whether it can even be done (see the how many earths are required to sustain literature) remains an open question. Realistically, even with a reduced population, I think our standard is probably going to have to decrease, while hopefully the standard of those at, or just above subsistence level increases considerably.

So, I’m not opposed to rational reduction. Our wasteful, gluttonous and least fulfilling habits should be the first to be changed. However, there are benefits I would loath to lose. Travel is an excellent example. I realize the classification of this practice as a good depends on my attitude towards it, and so it maybe disputed, but I am trying to choose a non-essential, widely understood and valued example, that (I assume) many of the readers of this blog engage in, that isn’t as obviously ridiculous as “obsessively purchasing” impulse items. I think there is a real benefit to travel; unfortunately it is also one of the worst activities in terms of emissions. If you dispute the benefit, lets change pace. I assume many of the readers went to university. Modern education is not a local practice. Furthermore, I assume some of them were educated at considerable distance from their families. Most will want to return home to visit. This isn’t as frivolous or irrational a proposal as some of the excesses you’ve pointed out. So I want to make room for (globally) universalized access to the essentials, and some of our more reasonable luxuries.

Tristan

I have no idea how (or why) you’ve come to most of those conclusions. I haven’t outlined a plan for active discouragement, but advocated curtailing the current incentives, specifically baby bonuses. I am not sure how you conclude that this places a larger burden on the rich. The opposite is more likely. Also, I haven’t advocated reducing the rights of existing citizens; all social programs remain funded by (what is hopefully – a very) progressive tax system. My appeal to distributed justice wants to see an improvement in the quality of social programs and expansion to the point of being globally universalized, so that all children might enjoy shelter, decent nutrition, a quality education, quality healthcare thereby extending life expectancy, and clean (public) drinking water. I dispute your premise that this will lead to a larger reduction of wealthy children, and I disagree with your assumption that your type (on average) of restricted access to wealth will dramatically lower the standard of live, because I’ve strongly advocated social programs to provide what I consider to be the essentials, Xup’s playthings of the rich appear to be more likely casualties of this “lack”, and it is a very strange argument for you to make while you are pointing out that this money isn’t accessible on average, and that the gap is a negative.

Tristan April 2, 2009 at 8:24 am

Peter,

If your plan is so comprehensive as to deal with all the problems of social inequality, then obviously my worries are irrelevant. However, in the real world, when you discourage people from having kids, mostly rich white people listen to you.

Milan April 2, 2009 at 9:08 am

Does anyone have data regarding the efficacy of different approaches for discouraging reproduction?

In particular, it would be interesting to see the effects of plans to give people the tools to avoid unwanted children, such as by making contraception easily available to all sexually active people.

Sasha April 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

As long as contraception is something one buys, Tristan will continue to be right about people with more money accessing it most consistently.

As for whether rich people would generally be more responsive to efforts to discourage reproduction, I think that’s a bit of a misrepresentation (but only a bit) as it is the most educated in society who, naturally, respond fastest to attempts at public education – recognizing that that demographic does largely overlap with “richer people.” In the end, I find it very troubling to think that people who are educated would not pass that down to a next generation.

Peter,
Your comments about old people needing support only in a subsistence economy presupposes faith in financial systems that I do not have. Frankly, I think “investing” is a dubious way to plan for retirement – both ethically and financially. I think we are kidding ourselves if we think we can have more than what we need to subsist and still stave off global warming at least enough to ensure perpetuation of our species.

Milan April 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I think providing free contraception would be a perfectly reasonable role for Medicare. The same goes for barriers meant to prevent disease transmission.

Tristan April 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm

There is another, perhaps more frightning reason why having less children is more beneficial to elites than those less well off. If one is well off, there is no problem being taken care of late in life – money can pay for this. But, if you have kids, they can not simply pay for the care, but do a lot of the care themselves.

Basically, if you have good kids and you aren’t jerks to them, you’ll never be too alone late in life. But, if you don’t have any kids, you are reliant primarily on friends – which has its disadvantages, namely, they are likely the same age as you.

You could put your faith in social security. But, inflation is a tax on social security – with the printing Obama is doing, social security checks stand to seriously shrink.

R.K. April 2, 2009 at 2:46 pm

The solution to all this might simply be greatly reduced expectations about retirement. It is awfully generous to be able to expect twenty years of retired life, and growing ever-longer as health continues to improve. Given that most jobs don’t require much physical effort anymore, perhaps 75 will become the new 65.

Also, if there were fewer children and a shrinking population, demand for workers – including older ones – would be higher.

Tristan April 2, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Uh,

How about a different solution: No Unjustified Inequality?

Our society is pissing itself with wealth, but it’s quite poorly allocated. We can definitely afford social security, we just choose to support people’s 401k’s instead. We always pick bailing out the wealthier at the cost of the less well off.

Milan April 3, 2009 at 10:46 am

Saying ‘unjustified inequality’ suggests that inequality is problematic in and of itself – a position not broadly supported in a previous discussion.

To me, it seems like there are lots of valid reasons for inequality in retirement wealth: how long someone chooses to work, how much they set aside, how much value their labour represents (as demonstrated through pay), etc.

While I don’t think any retirees should live in absolute poverty, I do think forcing all retirement incomes to be equal would produce some very bad incentives: specifically, to do very little saving.

. April 3, 2009 at 10:49 am

Gene defect clue to male pill

A male contraceptive pill could be a step closer after US researchers identified a gene flaw linked to male infertility.

The study of Iranian families found mutations in the CATSPER1 gene which controls a protein determining sperm movement.

Researchers say the finding could lead to treatments for infertile men – and potentially to a new contraceptive.

Sasha April 3, 2009 at 11:45 am

“how much value their labour represents (as demonstrated through pay)”

I hope I’m not meant to take that at face value…?
I’ve yet to encounter a single job where the pay actually aligns with its importance/contributions to society. If the “value” (to who?) of labour is determined by pay, then an average hockey player is about 400 times more “valuable” than an average elementary school teacher, and 266 times more “valuable” than an average firefighter.

Milan April 3, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Scarcity is an important part of value. The set of people who can be firefighters or teachers is much larger than the set of people who can play golf like Tiger Woods or basketball like Shaquille O’Neal.

Tristan April 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Unjustifiable inequality is inequality attributed not to the results of your own acts, but to your circumstances. So, if someone is born with fetal alcohol syndrome, their disadvantage can’t be morally justified. If that were the reason they were worse off in retirement than someone else who had worked just as hard as them, that inequality would be unjustified.

Milan April 3, 2009 at 2:12 pm

The only feasible mechanism I can think of for dealing with that is providing a minimum level of subsistence for everyone, while leaving people who have the capability and inclination to save and do better free to do so.

It would be awfully strange to have a government that assessed all the grievances a person had about their lot in life, then assigned them a pension. What do you get for being short, bald, near-sighted, asymmetrical in the face, bad at math, shy, etc?

Tristan April 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I think the solution of providing a minimum level of subsistence for everyone would be a good 2nd best solution.

. April 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Think having children will make you happy? Think again, suggests Nattavudh Powdthavee – you’re experiencing a focusing illusion [pdf]

. April 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm

“But the warnings for prospective parents are even more stark than ‘it’s not going to make you happier’. Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003), and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.

There is also evidence that the strains associated with parenthood are not only limited to the period during which children are physically and economically dependent. For example, Glenn and McLanahan (1981) found those older parents whose children have left home report the same or slightly less happiness than non-parents of similar age and status. Thus, what these results are suggesting is something very controversial – that having children does not bring joy to our lives.”

Peter April 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Sasha

I try to be equal parts optimist and critic. This is why my posts are usually peppered with tons of qualifiers. Historically, very few recessions have last longer than three years. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that a portfolio with equities is safer for retirement, and there are several drawdown strategies to deal with recessions. On the other hand, the fact that the depression and stagflation are outliers shouldn’t bring comfort to anyone caught in them. Additionally, I have often been accused of being overly optimistic by some of my anarchist friends, who maintain that the 150 year data set is too small. They’re right. I can’t predict when recessions or market bottoms will occur, so I certainly can’t predict unprecedented situations. I can’t even tell how the current crisis will end. Unfortunately, past data is the best, although very dubious, predictor we have.

I understand that it might have been ambiguous in my last post, but I am not actually promoting pure defined contributions plans. Although I do think some of the new financial tools are brilliant. (I love TFSAs.) I was just trying to point out the failings of pure defined benefits, and stress that the chronic under funding, and dependency on population growth were deliberate choices someone made, and just like all other forms of public debt, there is political motive to resist reform and repayment. I’m not really a deep thinker, so I’m working off a set of simple premises: It was a choice. It could be different. Someone always has to pay. People should be empowered to pay for their own benefits. Having a more realistic relation between benefits and contributions, while politically unpopular, resists unfounded assumptions like population growth, and is one way in which the plan could be different.

It should be pretty clear by now that I am not afraid of investing in the state. Some more simple premises: Supporting ourselves in the future requires some type of savings now. If we are going to save, we might as well try to achieve growth. If you are skeptical of the financial markets, or you want to mitigate risk through collectivization, and inter-generational collectivization, and want to go through the state, than I think that is great. Solving collaborative action problems, and risk mitigation is what the state can and should do for citizens. We don’t have to limit “investing” to market participation. Defined benefits plans, social security, and healthcare are all forms of investing in the future. I believe they could have been fully funded, so I don’t think we necessarily need youth to support the elderly. My proposition doesn’t require any faith in the market; it only requires the political will to increase contributions to a more realistic level (and I would actually prefer it if this was done through the state).

Tristan

You know that I have plans for everything. Unfortunately none of them are very comprehensive. I’ve been almost entirely reactionary this entire conversation. I’ve made very limited claims. I’ve only proposed that we eliminate a specific class of incentives for having children, which is a very different proposition from actively discouraging people from having children. The paycheck per child policy is the perfect example. I would like to move from promotional policies to neutral policies.
As I understood the conversation, we were talking about potential benefits to the environment from rethinking abstinence and I only expanded on what I considered to be the “social justice aspect” in response to Xup’s questioning. I understand that you are pointing out another potential negative, except I don’t think that having limited children is the cause of the current inequality. Furthermore, the suggestions I’ve offered, such as strengthening social programs are directly aimed at reducing unjustified inequality, both current and any that might come from a policy change. Ideally everyone has access to healthcare, and education. However, I view that as somewhat lateral to the topic. I understand this isn’t the world we live in, but I think it is important to keep the conversations separate. Addressing the existing inequality isn’t strongly related to the proposition at hand, because it is prior. I don’t think that moving to neutral childbearing policies will exacerbate the situation to the degree you do, but regardless of the magnitude, the inequality that could come from these particular policy changes stems from the utilization of an already existing advantage. So, I’m happy to critique capital with you, or dive into an exploration of what just social institutions would look like in some Rawlsian type project, but I don’t see the appeal to the (admitted) evils of existing inequality as strongly tied to rethinking abstinence.

P.S. I think the free condoms idea is great. Street corners should be like university student centers – at least in that aspect.

Milan April 7, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I don’t think it should be just condoms. Hormonal birth control, and other kinds of barrier methods, should also be available free through Medicare – either provided directly free of charge or reimbursed after the fact.

The ones freely distributed could be purchased in vast quantity, lowering costs, but the flexibility of the rebate system would suit people with special needs (such as those with latex allergies).

Tristan April 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Why not just distribute birth control free of charge, like condoms? That would greatly reduce administrative costs.

Milan April 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm

That’s what I proposed, with a secondary mechanism for those with special needs.

Since the administration already exists to reimburse other costs, such as prescription drugs, adding some new therapies like birth control pills, patches, shots, implants, rings, etc shouldn’t be too expensive. It would also allow people to choose whatever method they found most satisfactory.

Tristan April 7, 2009 at 6:03 pm

I don’t see a problem with special needs – just supply those free as well. I don’t see why the costs need to be reimbursed – why not just bill the state in the first place? What is the point of the extra paperwork?

Milan April 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Well, it would reduce opposition from shops that sell birth control now.

It would also mean it is available everywhere, not only through doctor visits.

In the end, the precise details of the approach are not massively important.

Tristan April 7, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I think there is an important distinction between having to put the money up front and then being re-imbursed, and just having free access to the commodity. You know how few mail-in-rebates are actually processed.

Peter April 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I was attempting levity with the form of the endorsement. I think other methods beyond condoms should be free, and it is a real shame that even university student centers don’t give out non-latex condoms. I’ll let you and Tristan battle out whether you trust the state with our conceptive choices, but I will point out that in the case of condoms a reimbursement model basically accepts the price of the charged, and I see no reason why we should do that. I think that condoms, razor blades, and insurance are rather unique cases where none of the advantages the free-market apply. There is little pressure and potential to innovate, just profit margins and branding.

. April 9, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Stop abortion ads, archbishop says

The new Archbishop of Westminster urges Catholics to oppose plans for abortion information to be advertised.

. April 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Umbra advises on population

Environmentalists tend toward believing that our goal is preservation of the environment as it currently exists, with extra credit if we improve anything already destroyed by humans. Humans are the problem in this picture, and hence new humans are seen by some as an additional difficulty. The connection between population pressures and environmental degradation are logical and documented. People use natural resources to live, which is in part why we have deforestation, extinction, soil depletion, water supply problems, and excess greenhouse gases. High population growth is environmentally significant in areas with poor resource management, poor government, and poverty; it is also significant in areas with excess wealth and high resource consumption.

R.K. April 22, 2009 at 4:28 pm

This article on Flint, Michigan gives some sense of what shrinking cities might be like.

“Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods.

The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.”

Milan April 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm

I don’t think reversing urban sprawl would have to be depressing.

There would be more green space, and remaining residents would continue to live ever closer together.

Tristan April 23, 2009 at 12:33 am

“I don’t think reversing urban sprawl would have to be depressing.”

If it’s done in a planned way, spending lots of money, then you’re right. But there is no guarentee that malls will be replaced by green spaces. Malls might be replaced simply with, abandoned malls. http://www.deadmalls.com/

Tristan April 23, 2009 at 12:41 am

Also, I’m completed unconvinced that global warming and increased energy prices alone can destroy the suburbs. Electric cars already in or almost in production are good enough to sustain the suburbs if petrol becomes too expensive. And they require so little electricity to run, that even if the real cost of electricity were to go up by a factor of ten, they would be as cheap or cheaper to run that current petrol cars.

Milan April 23, 2009 at 8:56 am

It’s the loss of the fossil fuel bonanza that might constrain future populations. What is the sustainable population of Canada if coal, oil, and gas are unavailable: either depleted, or off limits due to climate concerns?

It’s possible that we will eventually get the same amount of energy from renewable sources, but it may well be that we are at an energy use peak that will set the record for a long time.

Milan April 23, 2009 at 8:59 am

Malls might be replaced simply with, abandoned malls.

I actually think cities shrinking would be quite depressing in most cases. We haven’t generally planned our withdrawal from places intelligently, as a species.

Have you heard of Japan’s hastily abandoned coal island?

. April 23, 2009 at 9:01 am

Hashima Island
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hashima Island (meaning “Border Island”), commonly called Gunkanjima (meaning “Battleship Island”) is one among 505 uninhabited islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture about 15 kilometers from Nagasaki itself. The island was populated from 1887 to 1974 as a coal mining facility. The island’s most notable features are the abandoned concrete buildings and the sea wall surrounding it. It has been administered as part of Nagasaki, Nagasaki since 2005, it had previously been administered by the former town of Takashima.

Tristan April 23, 2009 at 11:52 am

“It’s the loss of the fossil fuel bonanza that might constrain future populations. What is the sustainable population of Canada if coal, oil, and gas are unavailable: either depleted, or off limits due to climate concerns?”

Are you saying we will just have to have less people? That seems wrong, right now a huge portion of the population is employed in jobs that produce garbage. Over fifty percent of Canada’s population work service jobs – a large number of which the population could sustain itself without the services of. People who are now service workers could be employed in energy production. If the price of energy rises to say, five times its current value, why could not the market simply redistribute labour towards energy production and away from, I don’t know, fast food?

This seems more likely than a population contraction.

Milan April 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I don’t claim to be able to guess the future.

That being said, it seems major population reductions are one possible consequence of climate change and/or peak oil, and that they deserve consideration as a partial solution to both.

If our environmental impact roughly equals our population times the mean lifestyle value of individuals, divided by efficiency, our three options for reducing that impact are fewer people, lower quality of life, and more efficiency. We should obviously pursue the last, though there is only so far it can go. As for the first and second, I would prefer a Canada with a population of three million people living adequately to one with thirty million people in poverty.

Tristan April 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm

30 million people can certainly life affluently if you take out of “affluent” most of the garbage that fills our landfills. Think about just how much labour in our society produces things we’d be as well off with without? If the market valued the essential things (energy, bread, vegetables, wine), all that labour could be redirected towards producing those things.

There is tons of work to do, and tons of people to do the work. What needs to happen is energy costs to rise by about a factor of ten, so we can start doing it.

“Efficiency” is a lousy value because it only concerns the how of production, not the what.

Milan April 23, 2009 at 12:33 pm

The market values what people value.

People who focus on ‘the essentials’ because they cannot afford other things aren’t affluent. They are poor.

You can argue that this kind of poverty is a good thing, but you cannot claim an economy focused on producing basic staples is a feature of affluent societies.

. April 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Poverty >> Voluntary poverty
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simple living
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Betula April 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm

This entire conversation is based on speculative solutions to worst case hypotheticals. Think about what is being said…..

The concern about the potential reduction of our species, as a result of climate change and a question of sustenance, is so great, that we should find a way to potentially reduce the species.

Perhaps we should be worried about ourselves worrying about ourselves.

Or is it that we are worried about the extinction of our species altogether?
This is based on what? All people on all sections of the earth will be subject to equal conditions resulting in an equal result for all……death?

If you find you can’t sleep at night without being comforted by thoughts of reasonable solutions for the possibility of futuristic catastrophes, then I have a few soothing thoughts for you…….

1. You have to live with yourself. If you can’t live with the guilt of your wastful existence, then live a simple life. Be like Ghandi and “reduce yourself to zero”.
2. Not all people are meant to have children. If you think your children would be a burden to the world, or the world to your children, then do the world a favor and don’t pass on your genes.
3. Perhaps your goals may possibly be achieved by the events that you can only imagine, that is, your biggest fears could solve your biggest worries.
4. If you do go out of your way to use the earths resources for your own personal pleasure, keep your guilt to yourself and don’t share it for all to see , such as in the “My Travels” section at the top of this blog. Some people may not take the topic seriously and start breeding.

Milan April 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

This entire conversation is based on speculative solutions to worst case hypotheticals.

You don’t need to focus on worst cases to accept the possibility that a world with constrained population growth in rich states would be better than one without it. Even if you completely exclude catastrophic potential outcomes, such as from climate change, I think most people would prefer to live in states where people are not overcrowded and food and energy needs can be met without completely overwhelming nature.

To me, the question is less about whether a sustainable and stable population level is desirable, but which means of promoting it are most acceptable and effective.

The concern about the potential reduction of our species, as a result of climate change and a question of sustenance, is so great, that we should find a way to potentially reduce the species.

Perhaps we should be worried about ourselves worrying about ourselves.

I am not entirely sure what you mean by this. There seems to be ample reason to be concerned about the impact humans are having on the physical and biological systems of the Earth. The fact that many people are considered is a sign of far-thinking sanity.

Or is it that we are worried about the extinction of our species altogether?
This is based on what? All people on all sections of the earth will be subject to equal conditions resulting in an equal result for all……death?

Climatic science does seem to provide grounds for fearing human extinction. The Met Office in the UK estimates that global temperatures will rise 5.5 to 7.1 degrees Celsius by 2100, if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses at the current rate. At those levels of temperature increase, the possibility of catastrophic global failures in agriculture is very real. While it is difficult to guess whether the human species could endure such a change, it seems likely that human civilization would not.

1. You have to live with yourself. If you can’t live with the guilt of your wastful existence, then live a simple life. Be like Ghandi and “reduce yourself to zero”.

The proper form for individual action has been a frequent topic of conversation on this site. While there is general agreement that people should take reasonable steps to reduce their own impact, it is also recognized that we are part of a society, and that getting to a sustainable world requires societal change. Completely marginalizing yourself within society is thus not a sensible way to help produce a sustainable world.

2. Not all people are meant to have children. If you think your children would be a burden to the world, or the world to your children, then do the world a favor and don’t pass on your genes.

This is the major thrust of many of the arguments above: that people who don’t want children should be able to exercise that choice easily. One of the most important aspects of that is making contraception available, as well as providing education on sexuality and family planning and empowering women.

3. Perhaps your goals may possibly be achieved by the events that you can only imagine, that is, your biggest fears could solve your biggest worries.

Could you please clarify what you mean by this?

4. If you do go out of your way to use the earths resources for your own personal pleasure, keep your guilt to yourself and don’t share it for all to see , such as in the “My Travels” section at the top of this blog. Some people may not take the topic seriously and start breeding.

As I said on the other site:

“Saying that someone has travelled a lot doesn’t prove that the carrying capacity of the Earth is infinite. Indeed, you could argue that the very fact that many environmentalists choose to travel a great deal is evidence for the need to constrain population numbers, since even those with an unusual interest in conservation will still prioritize their own desires over it.

Secondly, most of my travel took place before I was fully aware of the dangers of climate change. Since then, I have avoided flying and have been looking for other ways to get around. A fair bit of my travel has also been by means other than planes. For instance, I travelled within the UK only by train or bus. I also only travel within the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto-New York region by train or bus.

Thirdly, I may have significant lifetime travel emissions, but my emissions in other areas are probably lower than the norm. I have never owned a car and rarely ride in them. I have been a vegetarian for many years now. I keep my apartment fairly cold (about 13˚C to 14˚C in winter) and do not air condition in summer. Finally, I am presently employed at trying to improve climate policy.”

I hope that sustainable forms of travel will eventually emerge. In the meantime, I will continue to make choices that reduce my personal impact, while also working towards achieving the kind of societal change that is necessary.

Further, I would be personally astonished if anyone say the ‘My travels’ section on my site and decided to breed on the basis of it. Such an outcome might well be the most perplexing and unlikely prompt for reproduction in the history of the species.

. April 24, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?
The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse

By Lester R. Brown

* Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.

* Such “failed states” can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.

* Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.

* Without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, the author argues, a series of government collapses could threaten the world order.

Betula April 24, 2009 at 4:32 pm

“You don’t need to focus on worst cases to accept the possibility that a world with constrained population growth in rich states would be better than one without it.”

Your right, we don’t need to focus on worst case scenarios. I guess that’s what I thought you were doing when you wrote this…..
“Given the degree to which our gross over-use of the natural resources and adaptive capacities of the planet is threatening the future of the human species”.

And if your going to talk about constrained population growth in “rich” nations, then the issue, at least in the U.S.,would be one of immigration…legal and illegal.

“This is the major thrust of many of the arguments above: that people who don’t want children should be able to exercise that choice easily. One of the most important aspects of that is making contraception available, as well as providing education on sexuality and family planning and empowering women”

These things aren’t readily available in “rich” nations?

“Could you please clarify what you mean by this?”

There is a fear that catastrophes such as flooding, famine, and more intense storms will kill off much of the population (or even worse, turn us into cannibals). It’s a fear built on speculative worst case scenarios cemented in probabilities and uncertainty.
To seek an answer to the cause our speculations, we use our imaginations to blame ourselves, thus, we create guilt as an answer to controlling our fear. You see, we can control guilt, and if we reduce or eliminate it, then we reduce or eliminate the fear of our own speculations.

Thus, we have become the problem of our fear, there are too many of us, and that could result in consequences that would reduce us.

Milan April 24, 2009 at 4:48 pm

The fact that we don’t need to focus on worst case situations to justify considering population control doesn’t mean worst case scenarios are irrelevant. All I was saying is that the root of the argument does not depend on crises being an inevitable product of continued demographic and economic development along present lines.

And if your going to talk about constrained population growth in “rich” nations, then the issue, at least in the U.S.,would be one of immigration…legal and illegal.

Certainly, people who immigrate to rich states must be taken into consideration when developing public policy. That being said, the idea that immigrants are ‘outbreeding’ natives in those states has a nasty xenophobic character, much of the time.

This discussion has never strayed into mandatory controls on reproduction. Rather, it has focused in altering the circumstances in which people make the choice, both by altering the economic incentives for procreation and altering the ability of people to make their reproductive choices manifest.

These things [contraception, education, family planning] aren’t readily available in “rich” nations?

In many cases, yes, but they must be affordable and accessible to all sexuality active people: not restricted on the basis of age or ability to pay. Also, efforts to cripple sex education and access to contraception and family planning services must be resisted. In particular, this concerns things like religiously motivated attempts to provide sub-standard sex education, require parental consent for teenage access to contraception, etc. See also the discussion of having the government provide free contraception, above.

There is a fear that catastrophes such as flooding, famine, and more intense storms will kill off much of the population (or even worse, turn us into cannibals). It’s a fear built on speculative worst case scenarios cemented in probabilities and uncertainty.

I don’t deny that humanity could keep expanding in numbers to the point where various forms of environmental stress (from food stress to disease to conflict) begin to kill off large numbers of people. My hope is that we will never get to that point, because we will choose to curtail our reproduction instead.

None of this is really about fear. It is about gaining the best understanding we can of how our world works, and making intelligent predictions about the outcomes of different courses of action. It is only in that way that we can make plans that have a reasonable chance of producing acceptable outcomes over the next fifty or one hundred years.

Incidentally, here is a listing of other posts on the environment and population posted in the last few years.

Betula April 25, 2009 at 10:10 am

“All I was saying is that the root of the argument does not depend on crises being an inevitable product of continued demographic and economic development along present lines.”

Right, the root of the argument really depends on the threat of the human species, not so mush a crises.

“the idea that immigrants are ‘outbreeding’ natives in those states has a nasty xenophobic character, much of the time.”

So if you discuss it your considered a xenophobe? So don’t discuss it?
Besides, your missing the point……without immigration, the population growth in the “rich” U.S.A. would be stagnant. Why? Could it be better education, access to birth control, family planning etc…?

“not restricted on the basis of age or ability to pay. ”

What age is too young exactly? And who decides the age, the parents or people without children such as yourself? And is it one age fits all?

“concerns things like religiously motivated attempts to provide sub-standard sex education, require parental consent for teenage access to contraception, etc”

You talk about the importance of family planning and how it “must be affordable and accessible to all sexuality active people:” Yet here you want to eliminate the “family” when it comes to consent for access to contraception.

Milan, I don’t condone the idea of you having children, but if ever have a daughter, you might want to consider naming her “hypocrisy”.

And back to this……”things like religiously motivated attempts to provide sub-standard sex education, ”

Sub standard to who? Besides, I would think you would consider many of the religious obligations a paean to abstinence. After all, clerical celibacy and vows of continence, though extreme in most of the population, are exactly the types of behavior that could save the species.

“None of this is really about fear. It is about gaining the best understanding we can of how our world works, and making intelligent predictions about the outcomes of different courses of action.”

And don’t forget this…. “altering the economic incentives for procreation ”
I take it to mean an indirect tax on sex. On the one hand, we want to make things more “affordable and accessible to all sexually active people, not restricted on ability to pay”. On the other hand we want to dicourage it by altering the ecomomic incentive.

Classic.

Tristan April 25, 2009 at 10:53 am

I think what’s often ignored is that a major incentive for having children is one’s own security later in life. Without children, one has to rely on pensions, the state, investments, etc… Children are something you can “invest in”, which will be able to support you late in life – even if social security is done away with, and hyper inflation wipes out all savings.

This security needn’t be thought only in financial terms either.

Milan April 25, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Betula,

1) Even if it didn’t cause a crisis, would you want all of Canada or the United States to be as densely populated as Hong Kong or Singapore? I continue to assert that there is a maximum desirable population density, even if it will not cause ecological chaos to exceed it.

2) That being said, I think the strain we are presently putting on the world is more than it can bear in the long run. See the Speth quote above.

3) On immigration, decreasing subsidies towards those who want children and increasing the costs of doing so will affect them as well. It doesn’t seem necessary to have a special response. Furthermore, in this post and this one many good objections are raised to the government being the main entity encouraging reduced reproduction.

4) It seems sensible that all children get comprehensive sex education before they are physically able to reproduce. That way, they are prepared for what happens to their bodies. It also means their future understanding of sex and reproduction will be based on good information, not locker room rumours.

5) I don’t think parents should control whether their children have access to contraception. Family planning is about individuals controlling their own bodies and futures, not about parents dominating their offspring.

6) Abstinence-only sex education, for example, is widely recognized as sub-standard. It doesn’t prevent sexual activity, but does prevent people from practicing safer sex. At the very least, sex education must teach the relevant biology, as well as strategies for avoiding pregnancy and preventing the transmission of diseases.

7) I think the behaviour of priests makes it clear that, even for people who really believe in them, ‘vows of continence’ aren’t always effective at preventing sex. You can’t (and shouldn’t) force people to take such vows, and it is unrealistic to expect people to obey vows that run contrary to their social and biological nature. See the discussion above about how sexual abstinence isn’t terribly important anymore.

Once again, this isn’t about banning reproduction: it’s about discouraging it by making sure those who choose to undertake it pay the full costs of going so.

8) The economic incentives I proposed are perfectly compatible: raise the price of having children, reduce the price of not doing so. You can disagree with them, but you cannot honestly assert that they are contradictory.

Tristan,

I am not saying there are no good reasons to have children. Just that the larger societal costs need to be borne in mind.

Tristan April 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

I just don’t think the population problem is really “the” problem. Do any rich countries reproduce enough to maintain their population without immigration? The problem is that our economic system relies on constant growth – contractions are experienced as disasters where the gap between the rich and poor increases. Sure, we need population reduction. But, that will come naturally as a result of more people being better off – the trick is how to let more and more people be better off – to not have their better-offness conditioned, dependent on there being a group that is worse off.

Betula April 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm

“Even if it didn’t cause a crisis, would you want all of Canada or the United States to be as densely populated as Hong Kong or Singapore?”

With lax immigration control, it won’t be long.

“Family planning is about individuals controlling their own bodies and futures, not about parents dominating their offspring.”

Yes, my 10 year old son showed an interest in climbing so one of the teachers just dropped him off at the cliff. I wasn’t informed because It would be considered domineering of me if I lectured him about the downfalls.

“‘vows of continence’ aren’t always effective at preventing sex. ”

I was being sarcastic. But now that you mention it, handing out birth control to teens doesn’t prevent it either.

“The economic incentives I proposed are perfectly compatible: raise the price of having children, reduce the price of not doing so.”

In relation to “Population control in the Rich World”…….how would raising the price of having children make any difference . They can afford to have kids and afford not to. Your “economic incentives” are punishing poor people who wish to have families. Isn’t this discrimination?

R.K. April 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm

There is no need for ad hominem attacks. People who have traveled are not necessarily hypocrites when it comes to the environment, and people concerned about racism aren’t necessarily xenophobes.

I think we agreed before that social pressure is the best option here. Imagine a world where people who have more than two children are looked down on as selfish or lacking in restraint. That would be a lot more effective than tinkering with tax or pension policies, especially since those are liable to change with each new government or swing in public opinion.

R.K. April 25, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Also, massive destruction due to climate change isn’t a ‘worst case scenario.’ It is what we have every reason to expect by the end of the century, if emissions aren’t cut dramatically. The worst case scenario is runaway climate change that makes human life impossible.

Also, saying: “I don’t condone the idea of you having children, but if ever have a daughter, you might want to consider naming her “hypocrisy”.” is just nasty.

You barely even know the person you are addressing.

Betula April 25, 2009 at 4:20 pm

R.K.

So there is no need for “ad hominem attacks” on a blog., but there is a need to create a negative image of every one on earth who has more than 2 children.

R.K. , your civility is astounding.

And regarding the travels……..I could care less. What I found ironic was the fact that “My Travels” is posted as an item of interest. Why would someone who believes that the over use of natural resources may destroy civilization as we know it, think that people would find the excess burning of fossil fuels for pleasure interesting and something to be admired?

To Milan’s credit, he

Betula April 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Sorry, didn’t finish…

To Milan’s credit, he felt guilty and has cut back.

As far as the daughter comment……..I know enough to know that a person who has never had the experience of seeing his child born and raising that child, and knowing that child better than anyone on earth……. shouldn’t be judging whether or not a stranger is more qualified than a parent in life changing decisions, let alone leave the parent out altogether.

Tristan April 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm

“that a person who has never had the experience of seeing his child born and raising that child, and knowing that child better than anyone on earth……. shouldn’t be judging whether or not a stranger is more qualified than a parent in life changing decisions, let alone leave the parent out altogether.”

It seems more likely that someone who has had this experience would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments – the chemicals which circulate through our bodies vis a vis our own children cause strong emotions which our thinking may then endeavor to justify rather than critically evaluate.

Emily April 25, 2009 at 7:03 pm

“It seems more likely that someone who has had this experience would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments – the chemicals which circulate through our bodies vis a vis our own children cause strong emotions which our thinking may then endeavor to justify rather than critically evaluate.”

Pesky parental instincts. Always caring! That’s what we need less of!

I think it’s a good idea to let people with no vested interest in the future make all the big decisions. Leave those wacky hormonal parents to their own devices!

Being a parent doesn’t leave you unable to make critical decisions. David Suzuki has children and grandchildren and is self-professedly only keeping up the fight in their interest.

The portion of people who are capable of dealing with climate change with no emotional response probably should not be making any critical decisions about the future of humanity.

Emily April 25, 2009 at 7:10 pm

“Yes, my 10 year old son showed an interest in climbing so one of the teachers just dropped him off at the cliff. I wasn’t informed because It would be considered domineering of me if I lectured him about the downfalls.”

It’s more like “I’m living in an imaginary world where everyone must learn to rock-climb because hormonal flux and social pressure will cause them to have overwhelming desire to do so. Rock climbing is inevitable. My 10 year old son began to show an interest in climbing so I collaborated with the school-system and the community to explain to him all of the dangers inherent in doing so, as well as provided him with all the necessary tools to rapel safely, instead of just waiting for him to try climbing down the cliff by himself.”

Betula April 25, 2009 at 8:20 pm

“My 10 year old son began to show an interest in climbing so I collaborated with the school-system and the community to explain to him all of the dangers inherent in doing so, as well as provided him with all the necessary tools to rapel safely”

It’s more like, “the school system did this regardless of any collaboration on your part, and then gave him the tools without your consent”

Your consent is unimportant, because according to Tristan , as a parent you “would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments “. I mean, who could argue with that.

I believe this means we need a school system filled with parentless teachers. If a teacher has a child after they are hired, then they should be fired. If a teacher has triplets, they should be fired and then, according to R.K., looked down upon as being selfish and lacking constraint. Perhaps even have fingers pointed at them to teach them a lesson.

Anon April 25, 2009 at 9:08 pm

It’s more like, “the school system did this regardless of any collaboration on your part, and then gave him the tools without your consent”

Isn’t the important thing understanding the risk and having the tools?

Who cares about parental consent?

Anon April 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Simpsons – Sex Education

“Class, in order to explain why your hormones will soon make you an easy target for [turning bitter] every smooth-talking Lothario with his own car and tight jeans… [calms down] I will now show a short sex-education film.

Ezekiel and Ishmael, in accordance with your parents’ wishes, you may step out into the hall and pray for our souls.”

Betula April 25, 2009 at 11:43 pm

“Who cares about parental consent?”

I don’t know, maybe umm, er……………a parent?

Anon April 26, 2009 at 12:26 am

Of course the dominator will object to being sidelined. Stalin would have objected to people making choices without his consent.

What makes your desire for power over your child more important than them making informed choices for themselves?

Tristan April 26, 2009 at 12:47 am

Hey Betula. Let’s talk about citing in context. Compare

“Your consent is unimportant, because according to Tristan , as a parent you “would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments “. I mean, who could argue with that.”

with what I actually said,

“It seems more likely that someone who has had this experience would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments”

The “more” is essential – it seems more likely that this is the case than what you had proposed. Let’s see what that was:

“that a person who has never had the experience of seeing his child born and raising that child, and knowing that child better than anyone on earth……. shouldn’t be judging whether or not a stranger is more qualified than a parent in life changing decisions, let alone leave the parent out altogether.”

Betula, I think both positions are untenable. I think my position is more sensible than yours, but obviously untenable for reasons that Emily was quick to point out.

Peter April 26, 2009 at 4:09 am

Betula,

Requiring individuals to pay the full cost of their lifestyle choices is only discrimination against the poor in the sense that a clear delineation can be made. It is not discriminatory in the usual context, where the term is meant to indicate a moral wrong. Weighing in on a contemporary policy issue, I don’t think IVF treatment should be covered by the healthcare system. I don’t think the fact that this will lead to a portion of society that is unable to afford the expensive treatment required for them to reproduce is wrong, because I don’t acknowledge a right to have (biological) children. Additionally, the type of ‘discrimination’ you’ve highlighted is prevalent and perfectly acceptable in our society. Most people don’t own a Bugatti Veyron and Patek Philippe timepiece because they can’t afford them. The justification is that everyone is not entitled to such luxuries by means of an inalienable right. You stand a better chance of convincing me with some novel, mind-blowing critique of capital that you are entitled to (or use of) a Bugatti Veyron than you would have of convincing me that people have a natural entitlement to procreate in situations where nature is preventing them from doing so, and I think the odds are slim for either position.

The relevant distinction to consider is that these are public policy issues. I am not qualified to decide whether you want to, or should have children, nor do I deign to attempt such a feat. I will simply point out that parents are not the only stakeholders on most matters of public policy. To this end, I do seek to change normative attitudes through criticism and incentives. I can only hope that my previous posts have made it abundantly clear that I am not advocating strong coercive measures, prohibition, or regulation of individuals that choose to procreate (even if they decide to have more than two children). However, I do believe that I am entitled to soft coercion in the form of influencing attitudes through discussion, and representing my own interests in policy decisions. I believe the trends in procreation are positive – people (in the G20) are having fewer children and having them later. I’m entitled to voice my support and to try to promote the continuation of these trends, primarily by trying to develop a positive image of those who have decided not to have children as a perfectly normal, fulfilling, and potentially desirable alternative to what was the previous societal norm – the tacit assumption of children and more broadly, the nuclear family.

In terms of repealing incentives, it only appears as if I am imposing a tax on you because the actual costs of making the default lifestyle choice have been hidden for so long. My very limited suggestions of removing baby bonuses, denying IVF as a free health service and promoting family planning are reasonable. It is permissible for me to comment with regards to IVF, and baby bonuses because I am a stakeholder. You aren’t naturally entitled to these benefits or my money that partially pays for them. These two recommendations have nothing to do with how much control you are able to exercise over your children, or how you think they should be educated, or progressive attitudes challenging traditional values, since this wouldn’t be an issue if public resources weren’t at stake.

Additionally, the fact that I believe these changes will have a beneficial effect on the environment does not mean that this must be the primary motivation for my position and isn’t the justification for my involvement. That right comes from the fact that I am a stakeholder in public policy issues since the state seeks to reallocate resources from certain segments of the population to others. While I think this might be one thing we can change to help the environment, I was never trying to suggest that a worse case environmental scenario justifies strong coercion on an individual’s reproductive choices. Although it is possible to extend the claims that the environmental issue is a moral issue to help endorse restrictive practices on procreation, (1) I don’t think anyone, in the entire course of this conversation has advocated strong coercive measures, (2) I have never actually outlined a positive plan to discourage children, but merely a reactionary one that seeks to stop promoting procreation, and (3) as it was pointed out, this type of moral obligation doesn’t seek to restrict the rights of parents since it can be rigorously affirmed by parents, because it is often phrased in terms of an obligation that we owe to the next generation… Doing it for “the children”, so to speak.

I am hesitant to outline my position on the next topic because I am afraid it might completely re-entrench and shut down any possibility of sincere dialog, but the issue of promoting family planning does touch on the education of your children and to what extent that other people are able to influence or dictate the circumstances surrounding your children.

Admittedly, the availability of contraception and the promotion of family planning (through the education system) does influence your children. It suggests normative behaviour, and (at the very least) suggests a moral stance, which you might not share. This is complex issue. There will always be a tension between how parents want to raise and educate their children and the norms the education system and society expose your children to and promote. I respect your desire to raise your daughter a certain way and believe that it is appropriate in most cases. However, there are cases at the fringe that raise questions. A lot has been made about parental and societal coercion in closed communities. I don’t have solution for the Amish problem that is somewhat vogue in the current literature on identity. Parents are allowed to raise their children according to their beliefs, but the exact point of how much parental control is allowed remains inexact. I don’t know how rigorously parents should be allowed to pressure teenagers into adhering to certain values or remaining in a community when the child has a desire to leave, or to what degree transmitting fundamentalist beliefs are acceptable, or how social policy could ever hope to restrain this practice (without reverting to a Spartain model). Nevertheless, the fringe cases do suggest that parents don’t have absolute licence over the transmission of values to their children. Extreme cases also suggest others might be legitimately concerned about minors. The paradigmatic case, which I think that you will identify with even more keenly because you are a parent, is abuse. This provides a justification for you to be interested in someone else’s children.

Once again, I am not suggesting you are abusing your child(ren?), or even that people that seek to impart extreme values are necessary abusing their children, but merely pointing out that there is a precedent for people other than parents to be interested in the condition of a child. This occurs because children have interest that might conflict with their parents but lack the power, ability, and capability to articulate, defend and secure those interests. There are always problems when the interests of a guardian come into conflict with the interests of those requiring representation; just look at the paradox of states being both the guarantor and primary violator of human rights.

So, I don’t want to come into your home, tell your daughter it is acceptable for her to put her elbows on the table and for her to swear, and then drag her outside, make her drink a few beers, and then force her to try to run across a highway because she might enjoy the thrill. I don’t want to raise her. I don’t even care about most of the values you seek to indoctrinate even if I disagree with them. It’s your daughter, your family, you rules (to a reasonable degree – it is the extreme nuances of what is reasonable that are being negotiated). But there is a precedent allowing others to show concern for a minor’s interest, and I think this can alleviate most of your concerns about where, when, how, and whether the way your daughter will lose her virginity, secure contraception and abortions, is appropriate. This isn’t a program of mandatory contraception, or encouraging sexual activity. Providing contraception will only contradict your values if (emphasis à) she seeks it out, and in those very limited cases where others are concerned, it is as a proxy for her interests. I believe this case is relatively easy because seeking abortion reveals what the young lady believes to be in her best interest, so it isn’t a case of the childless scheming to impose their social agenda, but realizing that minors are often powerless to protect their interests. Shockingly, I am willing to go even further. There are harder cases, such as when Jehovah’s witnesses refuse to allow their child to have a life saving operation. This is a case where the majority does seek to define what is in the child’s best interest against the parents and potentially against what the child believes and/or will come to believe as an emancipated adult. I’m sorry if you have strong traditional or religious beliefs, but I side with the courts on this one, the state has the right to override parental beliefs in extreme situations.

In conclusion, I’m not sure whether this will reassure or terrify you. I do accept the idea that the state (and by implication the majority) can have an interest in your child that can override your desires. However, I believe the majority of cases are quite small. Considerably smaller than the things you seem concerned about. I don’t want to raise or educate your child. I’m not even concern about her conception of morality, unless it violently transgresses the societal standard. I’m certainly not going to take her climbing or drop her off a ledge. But I respect her as an individual who has interests. Incidentally, this forms the basis of my willingness to pay for the socialized costs of your having children, such as daycare, healthcare, education. I respect your right to raise her according to your beliefs. However, I also realize her interests might conflict with yours. As such there is a level of social support owed to all other citizens that justifies some social programs that ease the cost of having children, but also entitles people other than parents to show extremely limited concern for minors. Baby bonuses and IVF are not that type of program because they don’t deal with existing the rights of individuals and I am perfectly free to comment on such public policy matters because I am a stakeholder in societal resource allocation whether I have children or not.

R.K. April 26, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Actually, the whole thing about letting parents yank their kinds out of sex ed classes seems pretty inappropriate when you think about it. You can make a strong case that kids going through puberty have the right to understand what is happening to them, as well as the right to a basic understanding of human sexuality.

Allowing their parents to keep them in ignorance just seems wrong. If parents want to do the teaching themselves, that might be acceptable, but the home schooled kids should be tested to make sure they know the key facts.

Tristan April 26, 2009 at 3:15 pm

“2. Not all people are meant to have children. If you think your children would be a burden to the world, or the world to your children, then do the world a favor and don’t pass on your genes.”

Where does this “meant” come from? Unless you posit a creator behind the appearances, there is no teleology in nature, or said otherwise, there are no purposes in natural things. We put purposes into things when make things towards certain ends, e.g. my printer has the purpose of printing documents – but if I consider it strictly as a natural object (i.e. some atoms with a certain structure), then it has no purposes at all, only properties.

It’s my understanding that it’s perfectly possible to have a moral understanding of the world without positing a creator behind it. In fact, recognizing that it was us positing the creator behind it when we used religious morality, gives us greater insight into the religious modes of moral reasoning. The think the death of God as something that has “happened”, is to understand the recognition that God was something we made.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 11:18 am

Anon says…..
“What makes your desire for power over your child more important than them making informed choices for themselves?”

What are you talking about? Do you place everyone who doesn’t agree with you in the same catagory?

Is this based on some personal experience with you?

Before you jump to more wild haired conclusions, which alarmists apparently tend to do in every aspect of their lives, let me fill you in on some background.

I’m not religious and I have a 10 year old son, who by the way, appears to have more common sense than you and is much less judgemental.

I’m active in my sons life. I discuss life with him everyday……and teach him not to judge others based on skin color or religion or looks or weight. I also teach him think outside the box, use his brain, don’t jump to conclusions , don’t believe everything you hear or read and treat people with the respect you would want to be treated with.

I can only assume your parents never did the same for you.

In addition, my son’s uncle (my brother) happens to be Gay, and my son could care less, in fact looks at him in awe as he was a former Sergeant in the elite 2nd Force Recon battalion of The United States Marines Corps.

You think your wise, but you are ignorant.

Case in point:

If a muslim family decided they would like to be informed that their daughter was recieving birth contol……..would you condemn them for their beliefs and call them domineering, power hungry….perhaps radical?

Would you insist they change their beliefs and force upon them what you think is best?

Hey Anon, why don’t you take your narrow minded message to the nearest mosque and see how that works out for you?

Semper Fi.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

Tristan.

Regarding your garbled comment that ended with this:

“Betula, I think both positions are untenable. I think my position is more sensible than yours, but obviously untenable for reasons that Emily was quick to point out.”

I really don’t know how to repond to that and everything incoherently written before it.

Actually, this will do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKjxFJfcrcA

Milan April 27, 2009 at 11:32 am

This seems a good a time as any to remind people about rules #1 and #6.

I think it’s perfectly possible to have a respectful and intelligent conversation about this, free from pointless personal attacks.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 11:50 am

Tristan.

You do tend to read into things only what you want to read don’t you.

I use the word “meant”, and the next thing you know I’m thumping the bible and preaching gospel.

For starters, I’m not religious and don’t believe in a creator. At the same time, it doesn’t bother me that people do, and I don’t jump to giant conclusions about a persons moral reasoning and religious beliefs based on the word “meant”

But perhaps I’m judging you wrong. Perhaps that’s not what you “meant”.

But if it is what you “meant”, then perhaps I would have to jump to some giant conclusion about you……edited of course.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

Milan,

Sorry, an attempt at humor that may have gone awry.

Good movie though, I recommend it.

Trista April 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Betula,

This isn’t complicated. If people are “meant” or “not meant” to have children, there has to be a site from which this “meant” is said, and it can’t be just a person. Otherwise I’m “meant” to have children, I suppose, if it was my parents intention for me to have Children – is this the sort of thing you meant by “meant to have children”?

Milan April 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm

It seems that there is general agreement that unlimited population growth is both undesirable and a potential contributor to catastrophic environmental outcomes. There is much less agreement on:

1) The extent to which immigration is important, when it comes to population growth in the developed world

2) The powers parents should have, in relation to the behaviour and education of their children

3) Whether governments should create policies intended to slow or reverse population growth

4) What sorts of policy would be effective

5) What actions non-governmental groups can or should take

6) The personal ethics of having children

7) The relationships between population growth, population size, and resource usage

Are there other areas where people see enduring disagreement?

Betula April 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Peter,

A good comment and I agree with many of your points.
I think it’s important not to assume everyone with an opinion fits into the same catagory ie; religion, and also important not to assume everyone of the same faith is a clone, just as all athiests and agnostics are not clones.

I also find it odd that my son needs a permission slip to go on a field trip to a museum and the school nurse isn’t allowed to give him an aspirin if he has a headache……………but sending him home with a pack of condoms to keep in his nightstand may be considered a necessary right .

Milan April 27, 2009 at 12:22 pm

On the parental issues raised (issue 2 above), I am inclined to think the rights of parents should be very limited here. I think the point about having a right to understand your body is a very strong one. It is irresponsible to allow people to reach reproductive age without a good understanding of both the biology and sociology of sexuality and reproduction.

As for parental notification and consent for contraception, I think that this is a space in which parental involvement can only really be harmful. A young person who is going to have sex is simply more likely to do it responsibly if they can access contraception without needing to deal with their parents. At the very least, doing so is likely to be very embarrassing. Given that there are situations where requiring parental consent would prevent sex from be had safely – and no clear cases where parental consent would make safe sex more likely – it seems most sensible to make contraceptive freely and privately available.

In response to the end of this comment, I don’t think the faith or lack of faith of the parents is relevant. Either way, their children should be given the physical and educational tools required for a healthy sexual life.

Tristan April 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Betula,

I don’t see what is difficult about this conclusion:

“Betula, I think both positions are untenable. I think my position is more sensible than yours, but obviously untenable for reasons that Emily was quick to point out.”

The positions were one you took up, and one I charicatured in response. Your position was this:

“that a person who has never had the experience of seeing his child born and raising that child, and knowing that child better than anyone on earth……. shouldn’t be judging whether or not a stranger is more qualified than a parent in life changing decisions, let alone leave the parent out altogether.”

What was meant by “life changing decisions”, if I had understood correctly, was mostly sex education. Milan had said:

“Family planning is about individuals controlling their own bodies and futures, not about parents dominating their offspring.”

Milan had also expressed concern that:

“concerns things like religiously motivated attempts to provide sub-standard sex education, require parental consent for teenage access to contraception, etc”

Betula, you had responded:

You talk about the importance of family planning and how it “must be affordable and accessible to all sexuality active people:” Yet here you want to eliminate the “family” when it comes to consent for access to contraception.

Betula, if I understood correctly – it was this “elimination of the family” that you were arguing against, and that I had asserted a position in favour of. I said in response to your position, which I understood as the idea that the family was in the best position to make these decisions for the sake of the child, with this:

“It seems more likely that someone who has had this experience would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments – the chemicals which circulate through our bodies vis a vis our own children cause strong emotions which our thinking may then endeavor to justify rather than critically evaluate.”

Now, in a certain sense I stand by this – if one is making a state policy decision about limiting the rights of parents to dictate their children’s upbringing, and what information they have access to, it might be best to consider the children’s rights from a position unaffected by the particular feelings one gets by being a parent. But, on the other hand, it’s not as if anyone would advocate taking all of parents rights to endoctrinate their kids away – rather the sex education system puts a limit on those rights by assuring access to a certain amount of state approved teachings at school.

Now, I said both positions are untenable. What I meant was both positions, taken to the extreme are untenable. However, my position taken to the extreme is “less” untenable than yours, because of what it means to take both positions to the extreme.

If we take the state-propeganda position to the extreme, what happens is children have open access to condoms and birth control, and there is extensive sexual education at school. However, despite this access to information, parents still have a right to encourage the children to interpret this information in a certain way – they can undermine the authority of the state by pointing it out as propeganda, and they can teach their kids whatever they want.

On the other hand, if we take the parents-rights version to the extreme, we give the parents full rights to withdraw their kids from access to any sex ed information at school, and require parental consent for access to birthcontrol and abortions. This means considering the children as people who cannot make decisions for themselves – which is what limiting access to information always means. Even if the state intervenes harshly and assures sex ed occurs according to its dictates in all education (including homeschool), all that happens is children have access to more information. Now, more information is not neutral – but it is human. What it means to consider a human being a person is to consider them as the kind of being who can make decisions for themselves. The state-propaganda model, if it is unacceptable, is unacceptable because it considers children to be too human, too adult. This is less a problem than the extreme parents rights case.

Does this make sense?

Milan April 27, 2009 at 12:38 pm

It’s interesting to see how energetically people respond to issue 2 (parental control), given that it probably has only a relatively minor influence on population growth. While teenagers do have children, I don’t think they account for a significant part of overall population growth in states like the US and Canada.

What the energy level of the debate shows, I think, is what a vitally contested issue sexual control is: with entities ranging from parents to churches to the state all seeking to make their preferences manifest in it. The question of who controls sexuality is obviously both very important and inescapably political. The levers of control include access to information, propaganda (including statements about morality or ‘sin’), access to physical resources like contraception, and access to other medical services.

In an ideal world, I think all the control would rest with the people doing the choosing, deciding whether or not to reproduce. The decision, however, is one that should be based on a strong understanding of what is involved. Also, I don’t think they should be able to exercise that control without consequences, including the heavy responsibilities that necessarily accompany the choice to procreate.

Milan April 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm

It seems worth noting that the states where individuals have the most control over reproduction (good sex education, socialized medicine, easy access to contraceptives and abortion, etc) are much more attractive than those where they have the least (theocratic laws, harsh control on the lives of women, enforced separation between the sexes, few legal rights, etc).

Choosing from the original position, I think anyone would choose life in Sweden over life in Saudi Arabia.

. April 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Today’s featured article
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a 1791 book of feminist philosophy by Mary Wollstonecraft. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to the educational and political theorists of the eighteenth century who wanted to deny women an education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be “companions” to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Wollstonecraft was prompted to write the Rights of Woman by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s 1791 report to the French National Assembly which stated that women should only receive a domestic education; she used her commentary on this specific event to launch a broad attack against sexual double standards and to indict men for encouraging women to indulge in excessive emotion. Wollstonecraft wrote the Rights of Woman hurriedly in order to respond directly to ongoing events; she intended to write a more thoughtful second volume, but she died before completing it.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Tristan.
Why is it whenever you or others on this site refer to parents, you use words or phrases like……”parents to dictate “…….”parents rights to endoctrinate “…….”parents dominating their offspring” or “they can undermine the authority of the state by pointing it out as propeganda”

Do you think of all parents as communists dictators and your job as a freedom fighter is to save the children from the gulags?

I think you should call your Mom right now and tell her you love her.

Honestly, I don’t know how I made it this far without sex education in school and without the principal passing out condoms and diaphrams at lunch.

Just because you believe, from whatever experiences you have mustered over the course of your life, that all parents are equally incompetent and had children for the sole purpose of forming a dictatorship…..doesn’t mean it’s true.

You said requiring parental consent “means considering the children as people who cannot make decisions for themselves ”

Then why are movies rated PG? Why do we have a legal age for driving? Why do we have a legal age for drinking? Why do we have age requirements for joining the military? Why do we have age requirements for smoking?

For all you know, my drunk 10 year old son was just driving back from the recuiters office and burned himself with a cigarette while reaching down to pick up a porn video he had just rented.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

R.K. April 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Nobody is denying that there are many cases where parents could do an adequate job of teaching about sex, and providing access to contraception as necessary. What the public education system has to cover, however, is situations where parents aren’t capable or willing to do so. As with many public policies, the aim is to avoid the worst possible outcomes, and make them less severe when they do take place.

Parents are a critical resource, but they cannot always be counted upon.

Tristan April 27, 2009 at 3:17 pm

“Do you think of all parents as communists dictators and your job as a freedom fighter is to save the children from the gulags?”

You might notice I used the same language to refer to the State’s endoctrination of children through education about their own bodies:

“If we take the state-propeganda position to the extreme, what happens is children have open access to condoms and birth control, and there is extensive sexual education at school.”

The state’s intervention is not neutral – I never asserted this.

The reason I used the language of endoctrination in both cases is it seems the only way to put state-coercion on the same level with parental coercion. While its uncomfortable to use this language (hence your remark about me calling my mother), I believe its fair – because in both cases we are talking about rights to influence others, to give the context in which free decisions might be made. Knowledge about your own body is not “neutral” because it affects the kind of choices which it will be possible for you to make. However, since sexual education does teach us our bodies, in a sense, as they really are, it is the knowledge required for people to make good choices, choices the results of which they can understand in advance. Knowledge about your body is no more neutral than non-knowledge, but it is less dangerous because it means decisions concerning sexuality might be made with knowledge of their results rather than without that knowledge.

Tristan April 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Why does state-enforced knowledge about sexuality translate into everyday immoralism?

“For all you know, my drunk 10 year old son was just driving back from the recruiters office and burned himself with a cigarette while reaching down to pick up a porn video he had just rented.”

Who advocated this? If anything, it’s only the parent who could forgive their son such a trespass – state laws would demand time in juvenile hall for drunk driving, underage smoking, and underage pornography possession? Whereas, if they are caught by a parent, that parent will likely do what they can to prevent the child from being charged by the state, i.e. by trying to get a police officers testimony thrown out on account of a technical error.

Betula April 27, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Who advocated this?

You did.

Rather be considered an overbearing dictator of a parent who would “indoctrinate” their child into ignoring the “propoganda ” of the State while “considering the children as people who cannot make decisions for themselves ”…………the parent decided to be open minded and consider the child as an independent free spirit who , upon being told of the consequences by the State, was allowed to make his own decisions.

Tristan April 27, 2009 at 4:19 pm

This last assertion is not a serious position.

Tristan April 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

If you want to see one person who would choose to be an “overbearing dictator” in order to try to “undermine” the state “propeganda” they are fed at public schools, i.e. indoctrination centres, then just look at me. I’m fully cognizant that the public school system is a tool to produce docile bodies and reproduce the capitalistic system. Is that enough proof that I don’t support the kind of position you ascribe to me?

My point is, I could be right, or I could be horribly wrong – but if I’m able to extinguish the state’s ability to teach my children, then my children will only get one view. It’s essential for all children to know about disagreement – otherwise they might not realize they are free to make up their own mind about things.

We live, for better or for worse, between the public and the private spheres. Our “free society” requires that neither totally dominate the other. This is why I can’t support my own having a right to withdraw a child entirely from the state public school machine. If I did think society had taken a horrid turn for the worse, i.e. if state enforced xenophobia was becoming explicit, then I would start to take the radical parents rights position. But for now, I’m just not depressed enough.

Milan April 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Teaching people about their sexual health doesn’t necessarily involve much propaganda. You explain how the male and female reproductive systems work, what puberty involves, what STIs are and how to prevent them, and the nature of pregnancy and how to prevent it.

Arguably, the classes should also include more controversial elements, such as attempts to encourage open-mindedness towards homosexuals. That being said, there is a lot of important information you can convey without going beyond the strictly clinical and the easily empirically verifiable. You just need to be able to resist pressure from groups that want you to pretend condoms are useless, and that STIs should be used to try to scare people into remaining abstinent.

Betula April 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm

“Choosing from the original position, I think anyone would choose life in Sweden over life in Saudi Arabia.”

Once again, we are dealing in Hypotheticals……..

“The original position is a hypothetical situation developed by American philosopher John Rawls”

I did, however, enjoy this critisism of the hypothetical…

“Rawls’s application of the maximin rule to the original position is risk aversion taken to its extreme, and is therefore unsuitable even to those behind the veil of ignorance.”

Don’t get me wrong, for many, Sweden may still be an option…
http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=326493

Milan April 28, 2009 at 12:42 pm

The original position is a hypothetical, but one carefully designed to help us make more honest decisions.

If you knew you were going to end up king, you may well prefer to live in Saudi Arabia than in Sweden. If you are going to end up in a random position within society, Sweden is probably much more appealing.

The basic point is that states with the most progressive positions on matters of sexual politics tend to be rather attractive, while those with the least progressive ones tend to be rather vile. There is nothing hypothetical about that.

R.K. April 28, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Sweden also has a dramatically lower birth rate than Saudi Arabia. It has a population growth rate of 0.158%, whereas Saudi Arabia’s is 1.848%. Clearly, it is possible to have lots of children even in a repressive regime with no respect for women. You can’t ask for more parental control over your daughters than you get under theocratic Islamic governments, unless you are willing to live under the control of a Taliban-like tribe.

It is also notable that 38% of Saudis are under 14, whereas only 15.7% of Swedes are.

R.K. April 28, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Total fertility rates:

Sweden: 1.67 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Saudi Arabia: 3.83 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Canada: 1.58 children born/woman (2009 est.)
The United States: 2.05 children born/woman (2009 est.)

. April 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

“The United States is the third most populous country in the world after India and China. The nation is now at three hundred million and slated to grow to 420 million by 2050. That’s a huge increase. Natural increase will account for 60 percent of this growth; immigration 40 percent. The problem, of course, is the each American has a huge environmental impact, the largest in the world. By any objective standard, U.S. population growth is a legitimate and serious environmental issue.”

Speth, Gus. The Bridge at the Edge of the World. 2008. p. 77 (hardcover)

Anon April 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Here is an idea that could deal with all this, and with some of the ethics of climate change:

* Calculate the total quantity of human emissions globally<
* Divide it by the world population
* In the first year, issue everyone emission credits for a percent or so below their emissions last year
* Anytime a person does something that requires greenhouse gas emissions, they need to pay in credits as well as cash
* The extremely basic requirements of life would not require permits. For instance, medicine and having enough food to survive. The number of permits issued would be smaller, so as to accommodate these critical emissions.
* This would include the use of fuels, as well as GHG emissions embedded in products they buy
* People would be free to sell permits to one another by auction
* The total allotment of permits to each state would decline by the same annual rate as those of individuals
* For instance, if total allocations for 2020 are 20% below current levels for each individual, the same would be true for all states, regardless of population change

This would have dramatic results:
* There would be a massive transfer of wealth from people in countries with very high emissions (Canada, Australia, the US) to those with low emissions, as people in the high-carbon states buy credits from people in the low-carbon states
* Everyone would have a strong incentive to reduce their emissions, the lower they are, the more money you can make selling permits to others
* Population growth would be effectively penalized, while shrinking populations would be rewarded with relatively more permits per person

It would be almost impossible politically, but it would be quite fair. It should probably also include a mechanism to help pay for climate change adaptation. Perhaps there could be a tax on all permit sales, with the money going into a fund to deal with climate change impacts.

Betula April 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Sweden: 1.67 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Saudi Arabia: 3.83 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Canada: 1.58 children born/woman (2009 est.)
The United States: 2.05 children born/woman (2009 est.)

Saudia Arabia appears to be the bigger problem here.
What would be the consequences if someone were to offer sex ed classes and pass out birth control without a parents consent.

How about off with their head!

Milan April 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Anon,

There are some serious problems with that plan, though it is somewhat elegant conceptually:

  1. The logistics of the auctions would be impossible. How does an American wanting to drive fifty kilometres buy permits from a farmer in Guinea or Indonesia?
  2. The logistics of how many credits you need to pay for something are also impossible. That is true both in the rich world (how many total emissions are embedded in a laptop, when you consider all the infrastructure involved in building it?) and in developing places (how many emissions from a tomato grown in a certain place, with particular inputs?).
  3. The financial flows could be hugely destabilizing: causing some currencies to crash while others soar, bankrupting people who depend on importing or exporting
  4. The system for equal cuts in national and personal allotments creates a common property failure. Me having ten kids doesn’t have a noticeable effect on the number of permits I will get or they will get, since we are a tiny part of the population. The system may thus encourage big families, even though it will eventually mean fewer credits for everyone.
  5. Secondary emissions are ignored.
  6. Who would set the rate at which the number of permits would decline?
  7. Who would enforce the need to pay for emitting activities with permits? Especially when it comes to activities like hydrocarbon extraction or deforestation?
  8. How would you ensure that people in developing countries actually got the money, when they sold their permits, rather than having it stolen by governments or other intermediaries?
  9. It is easier to cut emissions over a long timeframe than a short one. That might make prices spike absurdly in the first couple of years, potentially causing a huge economic crash, followed by depressed permit prices.

In short, the international order isn’t established in a manner compatible with this equal allotments plan, and it isn’t robust enough to be able to accommodate it.

I think we will need to muddle through with policies that achieve similar goals in different ways.

Betula April 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm

“The nation is now at three hundred million and slated to grow to 420 million by 2050. That’s a huge increase. Natural increase will account for 60 percent of this growth; immigration 40 percent.”

That seems to go against what R.K posted……

“The United States: 2.05 children born/woman (2009 est.)”

Unless the natural increase is coming from the 40% immigrants. Which means immigration is really the problem…….legal and illegal.

Milan April 28, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Saudia Arabia appears to be the bigger problem here.

Saudi Arabia is a problem, but the US is a much bigger one. The average person in Saudi Arabia emits about 16.5 tonnes of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) per year. Since there are 27,600,000 Saudis, their total emissions are about 0.45 billion tonnes.

The average American emits about 24.3 tonnes of GHGs. Between the 306,300,000 Americans, that is more than 7.5 billion tonnes. As the Speth quote identifies, the United States is the worst offender when it comes to combining large population numbers with very high rates of consumption and pollution.

Milan April 28, 2009 at 4:19 pm

On immigration (point 1 above):

Current US population: 306,307,000
Population growth rate: 0.975% (Source: CIA World Factbook)
Formula for compount interest: M = P( 1 + i ) ^ n
Years until 2050: 41

306,307,000 ( 1 + 0.00975 ) ^ 41 = 455,958,000

Also, the climate doesn’t care at all whether someone is in State A or State B. As such, immigration alone is unimportant climatically. It is only potentially important insofar as immigrating changes how many GHGs a person emits (plausible) as well as how many children they have (also plausible).

It would be interesting to see the data, but my guess is that most people who immigrate to rich states emit more themselves than they would have if they hadn’t immigrated, but they also have fewer children. It would be interesting to see the net effect.

Betula April 28, 2009 at 4:39 pm

“There would be a massive transfer of wealth from people in countries with very high emissions (Canada, Australia, the US) ”

Which is what AGW is all about…..isn’t it? The transfer of wealth from rich nations to poor.

Thats’ why Saleem Huq, lead author of the Chapter on Adaptation and Mitigation in the IPCC ‘s Fourth Assessment Report, said these words……..

“In future, therefore, when affected countries demand assistance from the rich countries of the world in helping address climate-related disasters such as floods, it will not be for a request for charity but for compensation — appealing to their moral responsibility, if not their legal liability — to make good the damage and destruction for which their activities have, directly or indirectly, been partially responsible. ”

In this article…
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2004-08-11-floods-rich-nations-must-share-the-blame

That’s right……you should be held legally responsible for the flooding in Bangladesh ….if you used your air conditioner or perhaps had a night light on for your child. You selfish greedy sickos!

Bangladesh needs more money and the “rich” nations have it, sure the rich nations are charitable, but wouldn’t it be easier to just take their money under the guise of AGW?

Do you think there is any bias in the IPCC from the Government representatives?

Do you think their is an agenda?

Milan April 28, 2009 at 4:43 pm

It’s tricky to assign relative shares of population growth to immigration and births. You can calculate the difference between the birth and the death rate easily enough:

14.18 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
8.27 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)

Births – Deaths = 5.91/1,000 population

And the rate of migration is listed:

4.31 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)

But births add to population exponentially, while migration does not. If you just counted the number of people crossing the border in 41 years, a rate of 4.31 per thousand population would add much less than an exponential growth rate of 5.91 per thousand.

That being said, once people have migrated, they will begin contributing to the exponential growth figure. A further complication is that the current US population probably doesn’t have a hugely strong effect on the rate of migration. It’s not clear which way the 4.31 would move in the next 40 years, or by how much.

From a climatic point of view, there is also the difficulty of estimating what the impact would have been if people had not migrated. Developing countries tend to grow faster than developed ones, in terms of GDP and emissions. That being said, people migrate from states in all kinds of different circumstances: from those with high and rising GDPs to those with very low and stagnant ones, such as highly indebted poor states.

While I don’t have an answer calculated here, some of the key factors to consider are:

1) The effect of migrating on personal emissions
2) The effect of migrating on birth rates
3) Projected demographic changes in states that are sources of migrants and those that are net recipients
4) Projected changes in GDP in both types of states
5) Projected changes in per-capita GHG emissions in both types of states

Milan April 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm

That’s right……you should be held legally responsible for the flooding in Bangladesh ….if you used your air conditioner or perhaps had a night light on for your child. You selfish greedy sickos!

See: Historical emissions and adaptation costs

Betula April 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

“The average American emits about 24.3 tonnes of GHGs.”

“The average person in Saudi Arabia emits about 16.5 tonnes of greenhouse gasses ”

“United States is the worst offender ”

OFFENDER……..”One that offends, especially one that breaks a public law”

You and Saleem Huq would obviously get along well together.

Taking from the Sweden line……where would you rather live, in the U.S or Saudia Arabia?

I think the immigrants have already answered that question……….with the “offenders”….. that legally owe the world , like I said before, under the guise of AGW.

Punish success, reward failure.

Betula April 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Milan..

You didn’t answer the question………do you think Goverment representives in the IPCC, such as Saleem Huq, have a built in bias or Agenda?

Milan April 28, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Given what we know about greenhouse gasses, emitting them in huge quantities is an offence, particularly in relation to future generations. I think there is a strong case that states with high historical emissions need to compensate those that will suffer from climate change.

If you want to discuss that point further, let’s do so on the more suitable thread.

On the IPCC:

1) It’s not the role of the IPCC to make moral judgments. Their role is to assess the science of climate change.

2) Of course all governments have biases and agendas. As with all international negotiations, these must be dealt with in order to produce a legal arrangement that can work.

. April 28, 2009 at 5:36 pm
Sarah April 28, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Looking at the discussion above I am reminded by the advice often seen on internet discussion boards – “Don’t feed the troll!”.

Peter April 28, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Trolls need contraception too.

Milan April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I don’t think there has been any trolling here. People haven’t always been polite, but the arguments have had substance to them.

Sarah April 28, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Efforts to derail serious discussion with ad hominem attacks, deliberate misrepresentations of other people’s viewpoints, and emotive rhetoric on unrelated topics all seem like trolling to me. Especially if the poster isn’t sufficiently concerned with the content of their posts to distinguish “your” from “you’re”. Still, it’s your blog & your call.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Another quotation that echoes Speth’s point:

“Continuing with current practices will, by the end of this century, take us to a point where global warming in the subsequent decades of more than 5°C above pre-industrial times is more likely than not. Temperature increases of this magnitude will disrupt the climate and environment so severely that there will be massive movements of population, global conflict and severe dislocation and hardship.”

Professor Lord Nicholas Stern. The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity. 2009. p. 8 (hardcover).

Betula April 29, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Sarah…..

Since YOU brought up an unrelated topic, I hope you don’t mind if I add to it….

From Milan’s link….

Troll…[edit] Usage
“Application of the term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used as an ad hominem strategy to discredit an opposing position by attacking its proponent.”

So your ad hominem strategy is to discredit me by claiming I “derail serious discussion with ad hominem attacks”?

Do you really think I would attempt to derail Tristans serious discussion claiming it is “more likely” that someone who has raised a child , “would be poorly qualified to make state policy decisions, or even general moral judgments”?

That sounds pretty serious to me Sarah. Let’s make sure none of your State Representatives are parents, I wouldn’t want to derail that…

Maybe you believe I changed the tone of the serious discussion when I used the word “meant”, which, unbeknown to me at the time, means I am a religious zealot who needed to be lectured by Tristan on how “it’s perfectly possible to have a moral understanding of the world without positing a creator behind it”.

Well, I am happy to anounce that this sinful incident, in combination with my enlightenment of the now famous “your” instead of you’re” typing tragedy, have resulted in my becoming born again and I have prayed for forgiveness.

And then we have the seriousness of R.K., who, was feigning to be upset about ad hominum attacks (a very clever reverse ad hominem strategy by the way)……..yet in the next sentence , was advocating a campaign to socially ridicule everyone who has more than 2 children.

That’s some serious stuff Sarah. I’m trying to figure out how to teach that to my own child in my domineering lack of moral judgement sort of way……

Perhaps something along these lines :

Hey son, stop calling that person names!
By the way, I know a family with triplets…….we’ll be throwing stones at the greedy selfish bastards this afternoon around two thirty. You bring the juice snacks, I’ll bring the stones.

I could call it “abstonedence”.

Finally Sarah, in an attempt to end any misgivings you may have about me, I will randomly take some comments from this post and will vow to give them some “serious” consideration.

Ok, here’s 2 from Anon……both regarding parental consent:

1.”Of course the dominator will object to being sidelined. Stalin would have objected to people making choices without his consent.”

2.”What makes your desire for power over your child more important than them making informed choices for themselves?”

Hmmmm……how should I seriously consider that? How about this:

As a parent being compared to Stalin, I can’t promise to kill 50,000,000 people like Stalin did, however, I will give let my child make that informed decision for himself.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Perhaps I should clarify my earlier point about trolling.

I don’t think there has been trolling, because I think people are trying to express their honestly held positions and debate points raised by others.

That being said, I don’t think it has been a very respectful debate. Respect for rules #1 and #6 has been low, not to mention rule #3.

Those who engage in debates online are well advised to have thick skin. That being said, people who are seen as jerks are rarely convincing.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm

On all the accusations of ad hominem attacks, all I can suggest is that people try to avoid them and that those who are on the sharp edge simply gracefully ignore them. Nobody will be bothered if you fail to respond to an inappropriate point made by another commenter.

On the matter of social expectations, I think the triplets point is a red herring. What matters is the number of times someone decides to have children, not necessarily the number of children they end up with. I think there is an increasingly strong case to be made that those who choose more than twice to have children are being somewhat selfish and irresponsible. That being said, this is much less true of people who made the choice decades ago, before public awareness of the seriousness of environmental issues was widespread.

It would be nice if people would stop caricaturing the arguments of those who disagree with them, by turning them into crude straw men. For instance, going from ‘perhaps those who choose to have many children should be seen as greedy and selfish’ to ‘parents should encourage their children to attack families with triplets.’ This isn’t a convincing rebuttal to the point, and it lowers the level of the discussion.

Tristan April 29, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I thought my “meant” point was serious. Whenever we say that animals are such and such a way because they were “meant” to be that way, or we say some people just weren’t “meant” to have children, we posit an intention behind things that we can’t see the cause of – i.e. God.

Maybe when people say things like “some people are not meant to have children” they mean something like “better consequences will result if they do not have children”.

Tristan April 29, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Betula,

“As a parent being compared to Stalin, I can’t promise to kill 50,000,000 people like Stalin did, however, I will give let my child make that informed decision for himself.”

This point you make really sums up the problematic tendency in your argumentative style – to move from the rights of others to make choices for themselves, to the rights of others not to be counseled to make the right choices. No one has the right not to be advised against making bad choices. But, people do have the right not to have information which could inform a choice concealed from them. This is especially important in cases where lack of information (i.e. regarding contraception and STDs) could result in the adverse consequences of a choice (to engage in underage sexual activity) considerably worse.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I think the point about what it means for something to be ‘meant’ to reproduce is a substantive one. It speaks to the personal ethics of reproduction. That being said, the assumption that its initial use was evidence of Betula holding particular religious views seems to have been unfounded.

I do think this discussion would go better if people talked more about the substantive issues being debated (list others, if you can think of some) and less about how they are offended by what other people said.

Betula April 29, 2009 at 2:58 pm

“It would be nice if people would stop caricaturing the arguments of those who disagree with them, by turning them into crude straw men. For instance, going from ‘perhaps those who choose to have many children should be seen as greedy and selfish’ to ‘parents should encourage their children to attack families with triplets.’ This isn’t a convincing rebuttal to the point, and it lowers the level of the discussion.”

Or perhaps comparing parents who want to be informed……to Stalin.

Just a thought.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Or perhaps comparing parents who want to be informed……to Stalin.

There is a big difference between rebutting a form of argument through an example and saying that two situations are exactly alike.

What was being said is that it is natural that someone in a position of power will not want it diminished, whether they are a parent or a national leader (Stalin, or any other one). Nobody was comparing parents in general to Stalin, nor were they comparing you in particular to Stalin. They were making a point about how people generally seek to maintain their influence, especially when they think they are specially qualified to act on something.

Tristan April 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

“That being said, the assumption that it’s initial use was evidence of Betula holding particular religious views seems to have been unfounded.”

“Where does this “meant” come from? Unless you posit a creator behind the appearances, there is no teleology in nature, or said otherwise, there are no purposes in natural things.”

I didn’t presume anything about Betula’s personal beliefs. The argument is that presuming teleology in nature presumes a creator, which doesn’t need to mean “God” in the normal sense – it just needs to mean an intentional condition behind the appearance of causal chains.

Incidentally, the dismissal of first-cause style arguments is pretty amusing considering that current Scientific dogma (the “standard model”) actually presumes an unconditioned condition behind the appearances of all causal chains – it’s called the Big Bang. Aquinas would rightfully look at the standard model and see the desire to posit a first cause hasn’t changed a bit. Crucially, however, it’s thought as a non-intelligent unconditioned condition, which means we can avoid calling it “God” or “the creator”.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm

While your points are fair enough, they seem likely to bring yet more distraction into this frequently sidelined discussion.

Milan April 29, 2009 at 3:35 pm

“Not all people are meant to have children. If you think your children would be a burden to the world, or the world to your children, then do the world a favor and don’t pass on your genes.”

Going back to the original quote, it seems that the posiiton being stated is:

IF [ (you think your children will be a burden to the world) OR (you think the world will be a burden to your children) ] THEN (you should not have children).

I don’t think it’s a strong argument, largely because all children both burden the world and are burdened by it. Nobody lives a life without suffering, and nobody lives without causing some suffering.

That being said, it doesn’t seem like an appeal to a creator. The second sentence provides the meaning of ‘meant’ in the first.

P.S. For ease of location, here is Tristan’s original response to Betula’s claim about people not being ‘meant’ to have children.

Emily April 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm

hot diggity!

. April 29, 2009 at 5:34 pm

President Obama: Say “NO” to Abstinence-Only Programs

In order to make responsible and healthy decisions, young people need medically accurate, age-appropriate information about sex and sexuality.

Yet, over the past decade, the federal government has allocated more than $1.3 billion for ineffective, dangerous abstinence-only programs that provide students with incomplete, medically inaccurate information that focuses solely on abstinence and provides little or no information about contraception.

Peter April 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Anon,

Some of your sentences are ambiguous. I thought there was an inherent tension between two different positions you were oscillating between, but I have managed to put together a system that has all of your properties. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t call the system fair.

I’ll quickly run through the two models, and why I thought some of your sentences were ambiguous before outlining what I believe your actual position is, and make (what I consider to be) a fatal critique of it.

(1) Nationalistic – This model assigns national allotments based on a reduction of the emission from the previous year. This model isn’t fair because it doesn’t consider per capita emissions. “Developed” countries will still enjoy an incredibly high standard of living simply because they industrialized first, while “undeveloped” countries will be locked into an unacceptably low standard of living. While everyone will have to reduce their lifestyle, industrialized countries with small populations will be the primary beneficiaries of such a policy and will still be the largest polluters.

(2) Global Per Capita – This model caps the total emissions, sets a reduction and issues individual allotments based on the total. It is formally fair since it establishes equal access to resources. However, I think problems will result from the inherent inequalities already present in the system. While we would have to pay for our excessive use of a collective resource, it risks trapping segments of the world’s population at the lowest rung in the production cycle. The rung is so low that it would have to be created sub-resource extraction. It risks permanently ghettoizing states while providing the moral justification for the inequity. Creation of dependency and a monopoly are the likely results, and there is still the inherent unfairness of banning an action we undertook. An explosion in emissions is the worst possible result for those concerned with global warming, but basic cap and trade schemes that would morally condemn emission increases without treaties that directly address the current inequities, and give guaranties on things like and development and technology transfer, still reek of hypocrisy.

(3) Initial Global Per Capita transitioned to Nationalistic.

Clearly you were advocating some type of per capita system when you said, “Calculate the total quantity of human emissions globally” and “Divide it by the world population”. However, the following sentence is rather ambiguous, “In the first year, issue everyone emission credits for a percent or so below their emissions last year.” Taken literally this seems to support a nationalistic policy. I understand this to mean – in the first year, issue per capital allotments to everyone so the sum of all allotments is X% lower than the total global emissions from the previous year.

However, you seem to suggest a re-nationalization of allotments when you speak about multiple “populations” and say cryptic things like, “The total allotment of permits to each state would decline by the same annual rate as those of individuals.” The use of state seems to imply a re-nationalization, and this has been the only way in which I could conceive of multiple populations being punished or rewarded by lowering their populations. The aforementioned statement is cryptic because it is unclear if you meant that a nation’s emissions will decrease by the same rate as the rate at which individual allotments decrease, which is quite simply to say reducing every individual allotment by 20% will reduce the sum emissions by 20%, or you could mean that the actual number of permits that a state may issue (I’ve already point this out but the extreme emphasis is required for what follows) will decrease by the same percentage that individual allotments shall be selected to decrease by. What is clear is that while this is formulation is odd, for some strange reason you seem to re-nationalize, because that is the only way you can talk about rewarding specific populations as opposed to the global population. The later interpretation would be a continuation of the idea of rewarding states for lowering their populations but is rather odd since a state won’t be able to do it reliably, or quickly.

Criticisms

Milan has already elucidated some of the difficulties, so I am not going to engage with any issues concerning the metrics, trading logistics, enforcement policies, and (lack of) political will.

(1) There is no basis for excluding the basic requirements of life. Provided that the per capita allowance is set at a reasonable limit, there is no need to create a special class of goods. (The following is my sole comment on political will) Any reasonable policy must allow for enough emissions for individuals to survive. You recognize this necessity in your exemption, but then pull off a double entendre when you state, “The number of permits issued would be smaller, so as to accommodate these critical emissions.” Why not just set the original allotment at a reasonable level to begin with, since that would avoid creating a special class of objects. This solution is conceptually simpler and prevents people from abusing the exceptions. Everyone needs to eat, but the whole premise is that it is permissible to charge the affluent more for their desire to eat steak. The very notion of a cap and trade scheme is to let the market represent the true value of your choices, while still allowing you to decide your own priorities – including how you meet the necessities, or even what you consider necessary. You simply lower the numbers, and don’t necessarily realize any actual savings when you exempt a base limit and then lower the allotments out of consideration for the base exemption.

(2) This system is still open to the critique of the per capita system. It risks creating monopolies and entrenching “undeveloped” countries at the lowest level of the production cycle. While they are compensated for our use of a communal resource, economic reality establishes a hard limit on the rate one could sell emission allotments for, and that rigid boundary only increases the difficulty of developing competitive industries by morally condemning any effort to do so. You risk solidifying the existing difference while moralizing it.

(3) I think this, “Everyone would have a strong incentive to reduce their emissions, the lower they are, the more money you can make selling permits to others” is fundamentally naïve at some level. For most people, I assume the incentive to reduce emissions will have to do with the price of emission allotments. Even using a demand-and-supply pricing model, there will be a class of people who are impervious to the cost. Those with power and capital will simply inflate the price of goods for the rest of us. To be fair to you, it does work as a disincentive for most of the population, since everyone cannot demand a cost of living increase. In terms of a fair disincentive, it is severely lacking, as those already in control of production cycle are likely to force the middle class to pay for the increased cost of their lifestyle. (I would assume – the middle class is the largest consuming class of their goods both in size and amount) I think any cap and trade system will have to address the already existing inequities in the market.

(4) I think this will be a near fatal criticism of your plan. It cannot be considered fair because it subjects future generations to unequal access of a collective resource. As I have understood your plan, the only way to punish population growth is to re-nationalize the allotments after an initial per capita measurement. The presumed fairness is that you have – for lack of a better term – zeroed the differences in the system, and I applaud that move as generally fair. However, if you re-nationalize and refuse to recalculate the per capita allotment globally at some interval, you will punish population growth, but you will end up punishing individuals for policies and decisions they had no hand in making, on the arbitrary basis of where they happen to be born. The per capita model does punish population growth since more people will reduce the individual allotment, but you talked about “populations”. To quote, “Population growth would be effectively penalized, while shrinking populations would be rewarded with relatively more permits per person” Re-nationalization (or some other even more arbitrary grouping) of allotments is the only way to achieve multiple populations. Unfortunately the result is that one hundred years from now someone who is born into a state that hasn’t succeeded in reducing the population will suffer from a lower emission allotment. That can’t possibly be fair. It is doubly unfair since you are toting the economic benefits of selling this innate resource. It is a form of indentured servitude; it punishes individuals for things beyond their control, by denying them access to a collective resource.

Betula April 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Milan,

1.”It would be nice if people would stop caricaturing the arguments of those who disagree with them, by turning them into crude straw men. For instance, going from ‘perhaps those who choose to have many children should be seen as greedy and selfish’ to ‘parents should encourage their children to attack families with triplets.”

Milan, you appeared to conveniently forget that R.K.’s original comment included “social pressure” and ” Imagine a world where people who have more than two children are looked down on as selfish or lacking in restraint”

What I derive from this, is that the world would be much better off if we could manufacture a negative stereotype on an entire catagory of people because they don’t conform to an ideology.

I would imagine that would start with the children……..teaching them to “look down” on the parents of any friends that may have more than 2 sibilings. Teaching them that having a brother or sister is ok, but having a brother and a sister is disdainful.
Perhaps they shouldn’t play with or be seen around such selfish people, lest the selfishness should wear off on them or they be percieved as reckless through association.
What if these selfish people have 2 children and adopted another? Should society, not realizing one was adopted, look down on these people every time they step outside? Will people fear adoptions for fear of being labeled?

So, with hyperbole, I gave an example of what to teach my son…….be nice and polite, but at the same time, look down on those that are different from a manufactured societal norm.

That would be the pupose of “social pressure” would it not? To rid this type of behavior from society? The people with 2 sets of twins, the people with triplets, the people who have adopted, the people who just plain have 3 children?

2.”There is a big difference between rebutting a form of argument through an example and saying that two situations are exactly alike.” “Nobody was comparing parents in general to Stalin”

Milan, you are quite the mediator, but I believe you are being disingenuous on this one.
Someone does not invoke the name Stalin in an example without an extreme purpose. And how could I possibly think he was refering to me with this stetement “your desire for power over your child”.
The man killed some 50 million people.

If you can’t see anything extreme about that, then I will apologize to R.K for the stone throwing analogy and explain to him that Hitler had the same type of mentality ……….applying “social pressure” to create a stigma on a certain section of society.

Betula April 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

“hot diggity!”

I agree.

Milan April 30, 2009 at 5:03 pm

If environmental problems, including climate change, become severe enough, I don’t think it will be necessary to artificially create social pressure for people to be critical of those who have a lot of children. It will flow naturally from the realization that people are taking more from the planet than it can continuously provide.

A lot of people already have their doubts about how ethical it is to choose to have eight children or ten children. Outside some fundamentalist religious communities, I expect the number at which most people start having reservations will continue to fall in the decades ahead.

Big families are the product of frontier agriculture. Now that there are no frontiers left and agriculture in the developed world is largely automated, big families are an unnecessary anachronism.

Tristan April 30, 2009 at 10:47 pm

“Big families are the product of frontier agriculture. Now that there are no frontiers left and agriculture in the developed world is largely automated, big families are an unnecessary anachronism.”

I thoroughly agree.

. May 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Below is a link to a new Population Action International working paper that explores the relationship between population and climate change. It is the first in a three part series that will build the knowledge base on the role of population dynamics in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The working paper explains:

• The historic relationship between population growth and greenhouse gas emissions
• Weaknesses in previous population projection models and anticipated population trends
• The demographic trends that exacerbate vulnerability, particularly for people in developing countries
• Recommendations for family planning and reproductive health care programs that can help solve the problem

How Do Recent Population Trends Matter to Climate Change?” can be accessed here

. May 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm

“A controversial Alberta bill will enshrine into law the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes discussing the topics of evolution and homosexuality.

The new rules, which would require schools to notify parents in advance of “subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation,” is buried in a bill that extends human rights to homosexuals. Parents can ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.

“This government supports a very, very fundamental right and that is parental rights with respect to education,” said Premier Ed Stelmach.”

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2009/04/30/cgy-bill-evolution-law-alberta-classes-teachers.html

Peter May 7, 2009 at 8:04 pm

“To boost the birth rate, all families receive around 150 euros ($197) per child per month until they are in their twenties. And, under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stimulus package, families will get an extra one-off 100 euro ($131) child benefit this July.”

This is a good example of the kind of incentives I think we should eliminate. Several countries still offer them, and I think that eliminating these inducements aren’t anti-family, but the first step towards a neutral position. Furthermore, such a move doesn’t involve any of the concerns about value transmission that Betula advanced.

I’ve included the article for proper sourcing, but it isn’t worth the read.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30363790//

. May 11, 2009 at 1:42 pm

‘I really regret it. I really regret having children’

DOUG SAUNDERS

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

September 29, 2007 at 11:05 AM EDT

“She regrets having children. And, more so, she has decided that other women ought not to have them, if they know what is good for themselves and for the world. After 13 years of maternal humiliations, she wrote a quick, funny, angry book.

Everywhere you look in France these days, you seem to see its cover: The words NO KID in English, followed by “40 Reasons for Not Having Children” in French. It is a huge bestseller. Her 40 reasons are often funny and personal (“Don’t become a travelling feeding bottle,” “don’t adopt the idiot-language of children”) sometimes bitter (“you will inevitably be disappointed with your child”) and often designed to puncture the idealized notion of motherhood that poisons Western societies.

It is a combination of tart sisterly advice (“What hope is there of having a fulfilling sex life when a woman is forced to turn into a fat, deformed animal decked out in sack-like dresses?”) with shock-tactic social analysis (“More murders and child abuse happen within families than outside them. Every family is a nest of vipers – all the reason not to add to your own”).”

Peter May 26, 2009 at 10:30 am

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2009/05/25/mb-swastika-parents-winnipeg.html

Questions about parental rights, extreme value transmission, and the law are involved in this case.

. May 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Bio-powered Europe

Sometimes people ask me “surely we used to live on renewables just fine, before the Industrial Revolution?” Yes, but don’t forget that two things were different then: lifestyles, and population densities.

Turning the clock back more than 400 years, Europe lived almost entirely on sustainable sources: mainly wood and crops, augmented by a little wind power, tidal power, and water power. It’s been estimated that the average person’s lifestyle consumed a power of 20 kWh per day. The wood used per person was 4 kg per day, which required 1 hectare (10 000 m2) of forest per person. The area of land per person in Europe in the 1700s was 52 000 m2. In the regions with highest population density, the area per person was 17 500 m2 of arable land, pastures, and woods. Today the area of Britain per person is just 4000 m2, so even if we reverted to the lifestyle of the Middle Ages and completely forested the country, we could no longer live sustainably here. Our population density is far too high.

. June 9, 2009 at 5:59 pm

In the city of Greensboro, N.C., there’s a program designed for teenage mothers. To prevent these teens from having another child, the city offers each of them $1 a day for every day they are not pregnant. It turns out that the psychological power of that small daily payment is huge. A single dollar a day is enough to push the rate of teen pregnancy down, saving all the incredible costs — human and financial — that go with teen parenting.

Milan July 14, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I read about a program which seeks to prevent teenage pregnancies by making payments to women during any month in which they are not pregnant. The trial I read about found that even payments as small as $1 per day had a significant effect (which is a bit crazy, when you consider the cost of a child). Perhaps one kind of financial incentive would be to extend that to all women, from ages of 14 or so to 35 or 40. The payments could be any combination of immediate cash and banked pension benefits.

It doesn’t seem like that would be excessively patronizing or intrusive. It could even be undertaken by a rich private organization, rather than a government.

It might make the whole pension/demographic transition sharper, but it does seem highly likely that we won’t be able to maintain our current lifestyle in the medium to long-term unless populations get significantly smaller.

. June 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm

June 6, 2010, 5:15 pm
Should This Be the Last Generation?
By PETER SINGER

Have you ever thought about whether to have a child? If so, what factors entered into your decision? Was it whether having children would be good for you, your partner and others close to the possible child, such as children you may already have, or perhaps your parents? For most people contemplating reproduction, those are the dominant questions. Some may also think about the desirability of adding to the strain that the nearly seven billion people already here are putting on our planet’s environment. But very few ask whether coming into existence is a good thing for the child itself. Most of those who consider that question probably do so because they have some reason to fear that the child’s life would be especially difficult — for example, if they have a family history of a devastating illness, physical or mental, that cannot yet be detected prenatally.

All this suggests that we think it is wrong to bring into the world a child whose prospects for a happy, healthy life are poor, but we don’t usually think the fact that a child is likely to have a happy, healthy life is a reason for bringing the child into existence. This has come to be known among philosophers as “the asymmetry” and it is not easy to justify. But rather than go into the explanations usually proffered — and why they fail — I want to raise a related problem. How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world? Is the standard of life experienced by most people in developed nations today good enough to make this decision unproblematic, in the absence of specific knowledge that the child will have a severe genetic disease or other problem?

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.

. October 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm

A green guide to getting along for parents and the childfree

Lisa’s posts about being a GINK (green inclinations, no kids) have provoked some feisty discussion, and that’s great — getting people to talk openly about the childfree option was one of her main goals. But when it gets to the point where parents and GINKs are hurling insults at each other and declaring that folks on the other side of the aisle can’t be real environmentalists, then we’ve got a circular-firing-squad problem.

We enviros are all on the same team, remember — pushing for a cleaner, greener, saner, kinder world. We should be fighting apathy and pollutocrats, not each other. Let’s all of us green-minded people support each other’s choices and get each other’s backs.

To that end, Michelle — a Grist contributor and mom — suggested that we collaborate to come up with some cross-cultural communication tips for both GINKs and green parents.

. April 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm

The No-Baby Boom
A growing number of couples are choosing to live child-free. And you might be joining their ranks.
By Brian Frazer,
Photographs by Bela Borsodi

This summer, 28-year-old Anthony Shepherd and his wife of seven years, Cynthia, will fly from China, where they’ve been teaching English since 2009, to Wisconsin for a vacation. In addition to relaxing, catching up with friends, and attending her brother’s wedding, they plan on stopping by a vasectomy clinic. The People’s Republic may be notorious for its one-child policy, but the Shepherds’ attitude toward reproduction is even more stringent. Call it the zero-child policy.

Even before the Shepherds left Asheville, North Carolina, for Sichuan province, they’d made their life decision based on the experiences of their “childed” friends. “We watched them struggle to pay bills, find suitable apartments or houses to fit their families, and work at jobs they didn’t like because they needed the insurance,” Cynthia says. So she and Anthony enthusiastically took a pass on parenthood, an increasingly common decision for America’s couples.

. April 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Men, women and babies
It just isn’t fair
Who looks after the children?

Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality. By Rebecca Asher. Harvill Secker; 262 pages; £12.99. Buy from Amazon.co.uk

ONE of the many persuasive sections in this excellent and readable book on the perils of parenting concerns infants’ bedtimes, and how authoritarian one should be about them. Do you endure weeks of screaming while your child is lashed willy-nilly to his cot? Or do you tolerate bun fights and flung toys while valiantly trying to distract him with hand puppets or suggestions of potato-printing?

Any mother knows this one by heart, even if she never got around to potato-printing. So do a lot of fathers, despite the basic premise of the book—that most women who set off on a footing of equality with their partners are betrayed by them when babies arrive. Mothers become “foundation parents” and de facto household drudges, condemned to professional sidelining and “crap part-time jobs” because fathers fail to pull their weight.

It is not that men are malevolent. But, at least in Britain, government policies do not encourage them to take equal responsibility for their children, lavishing (largely underpaid) leave on new mothers and only recently offering fathers more (underpaid) time off. Employers frown on it. Society and social services entrench the mother’s role. The promise of equality that this generation of new mums thought their feminist mothers had secured for them is an illusion, says Rebecca Asher, a broadcast journalist with a toddling son.

More British women than men now go to university. In their 20s women working full-time earn 3% less than men; the gap gapes to 11% when they are in their 30s, skulking down in the service lift to fetch offspring from school or taking sick leave when it is their child who is ill. Most mothers do not work full-time anyway (though the proportion who do is growing), and their part-time jobs are ill-rewarded.

Milan April 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm
. September 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Moreover, public attitudes and expectations are lagging far behind changes in women’s lives in Asia, making it even harder to strike a balance between life and work. Despite higher incomes and education, “women have lower socioeconomic status than men,” argues Heeran Chun, a South Korean sociologist. “Their lives are markedly restricted by the cultural values associated with Confucianism.” They are expected to give up work—sometimes on marriage, often after childbirth—and many do not return to the job market until their children are grown. This forces upon women an unwelcome choice between career and family. It may also help to explain the unusually low marriage rates among the best-educated and best-paid women, for whom the opportunity cost of giving up a career to have children is greatest.

As in most traditional societies, women in Asia have long been the sole caregivers for children, elderly parents or parents-in-law. People generally assume they will continue to be so, even though many women have paid jobs outside the home. The result is that expectations placed on wives have become unusually onerous. Surveys in Japan have suggested that women who work full-time then go home and spend another 30 hours a week doing the housework. Their husbands contribute an unprincely three hours of effort. In America and Europe the disparity is less extreme, and has narrowed considerably since the 1960s.

. October 4, 2011 at 8:56 am

Civilization To Hold Off On Having Any More Kids For A While

PLANET EARTH—Facing what it called “a lot of uncertainty” on all six inhabited continents, the global civilization of the species Homo sapiens released a statement Monday announcing it would be “just sort of holding off on the idea of having any more kids for the time being.”

“Having children can be a wonderful thing, but to be honest, we’ve got our hands pretty full right now as it is,” the statement, issued by the entirety of the human race, read in part. “While there’s nothing quite like seeing the world anew through the eyes of a child, maybe it’s best to give it a few years. See what things look like a few years down the road. We’ve got a lot on our plate, and let’s be realistic: Another couple billion children might not be the best idea at this point.”

. October 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm

The Mother Majority

Women with children have more abortions than anyone else, and by an increasingly wide margin. So why is the topic taboo?

By Lauren Sandler

. October 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Can the earth support seven billion now, and the three billion people who are expected to be added by the end of this century? Are the enormous increases in households, cities, material consumption and waste compatible with dignity, health, environmental quality and freedom from poverty?

For some in the West, the greatest challenge — because it is the least visible — is to shake off, at last, the view that large and growing numbers of people represent power and prosperity.

. October 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

“Providing modern family planning methods to all people with unmet needs would cost about $6.7 billion a year, slightly less than the $6.9 billion Americans are expected to spend for Halloween this year. By one estimate, achieving universal primary and secondary education by 2015 would cost anywhere from $35 billion to $70 billion in additional spending per year. “

. October 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

There remains one last reason for supporting family planning: on some estimates, 200m women round the world—including a quarter of African women—want contraceptives and cannot get them. A quarter of pregnancies are unplanned. In our view, parents ought to decide how many children to bring into the world and when—not the state, or a church, or pushy grandparents. Note, though, that this is not an argument about the global environment but individual well-being. Moreover, family planning appears to do little directly to control the size of families: some studies have shown no impact at all; others only a modest extra one. Encouraging smaller families in the highest-fertility places would still be worth doing. It might boost the economy and reduce the pressure of population in some fragile places. But the benefits would probably be modest. And they would be no substitute for other sensible environmental policies, such as a carbon tax.

. April 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

The Case Against Kids
Is procreation immoral?
by Elizabeth Kolbert

In 1832, Charles Knowlton, a doctor in Ashfield, Massachusetts, published a short book with a long title: “Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion of Young Married People, by a Physician.” Knowlton, who was thirty-one, was a “freethinker” and, by the standards of the Berkshires, an unusually adventurous soul. While attending the New Hampshire Medical Institute (now Dartmouth Medical School), he was too poor to pay for a dissecting class and so had liberated a corpse from a cemetery. For this, he was convicted of grave robbing and sentenced to sixty days in jail. In 1829, he wrote up his ideas about agnosticism in a tract and had a thousand copies printed at his own expense. Unable to find buyers in western Massachusetts, he took the copies to New York City, where he was arrested for peddling without a license.

In “Fruits of Philosophy,” Knowlton took up the subject of sex, or population growth, which, at the time, amounted to much the same thing. Like Thomas Malthus, whose work he cited, Knowlton was worried about the hazards of fertility. Using nineteenth-century birth rates, he projected that the number of people on the planet would double three times every century. Unlike Malthus, who saw no remedy except plague or abstinence, Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction. All that was required was some ingenuity. “Heaven has not only given us the capacity of greater enjoyment, but the talent of devising means to prevent the evils that are liable to arise therefrom; and it becomes us, ‘with thanksgiving, to make the most of them,’ ” he wrote.

Knowlton’s pamphlet provided his readers with easy-to-follow instructions. “Withdrawal immediately before emission” could, “if practiced with sufficient care,” be effective. A small piece of sponge, fitted with a narrow ribbon and inserted into a woman’s vagina “previous to connection,” would also suffice. If neither of these techniques appealed, he counselled “syringing the vagina immediately after connection, with a solution of sulphate of zinc, of alum, pearl-ash, or any salt that acts chemically on the semen.” As for the reliability of this last method, which he called the “chemical check,” Knowlton testified that he had discussed the matter with a gentleman who used to live in Baltimore, and that the gentleman had “no doubt of its efficacy.”

. May 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

The difference between 1.56 and 2.08 does not sound large. But over the long term it has a huge impact on society. Between now and 2050 China’s population will fall slightly, from 1.34 billion in 2010 to just under 1.3 billion in 2050. This assumes that fertility starts to recover. If it stays low, the population will dip below 1 billion by 2060. In contrast, America’s population is set to rise by 30% in the next 40 years. China will hit its peak population in 2026. No one knows when America will hit its population peak.

The differences between the two countries are even more striking if you look at their average ages. In 1980 China’s median (the age at which half the population is younger, half older) was 22. That is characteristic of a young developing country. It is now 34.5, more like a rich country and not very different from America’s, which is 37. But China is ageing at an unprecedented pace. Because fewer children are being born as larger generations of adults are getting older, its median age will rise to 49 by 2050, nearly nine years more than America at that point. Some cities will be older still. The Shanghai Population and Family Planning Committee says that more than a third of the city’s population will be over 60 by 2020.

. June 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I got a tubal at 26 years old and had to fight to get one despite a) living in NYC, b) being married to a man as adamantly child-free as me, c) working in not one but two fields that are well-known for being unfriendly to kids (law and entertainment). The paternalistic treatment of doctors telling me they were going to “talk [me] out of it” still ticks me off (this happened in 2007) but what really took the cake was one doctor who outright lied to us about his willingness to respect my reproductive rights and our right to make decisions for our own family. He ended up changing his mind about doing the surgery and I found a specialist in Manhattan to do it after deciding I was going to lie about the circumstances for getting one.

Why should an adult woman be forced to lie to her doctor about why she wants to be sterilized? Why can’t she just sign paperwork not to sue and be done with this issue? Why should lawsuits against surgeons for women who “change their mind” even be allowed? As a lawyer, I proposed to sign paperwork to prevent that issue every single time I asked about getting a tubal and still had doctors trying to talk me out of it. I never saw any of these doctors offering to pay for these hypothetical kids or gaining the weight and taking the damage to a woman’s body that happens because of pregnancy. Maybe they should personally be found liable when some deadbeat mother has a kid and abuses it or lets her boyfriend do it. Then, they might think twice about this baby pushing they’re doing.

In sum, I think kids deserve mature adults who love them and are willing to take on the responsibility and self-sacrifice to be a proper parent. No one should be forced into it. The only people proposing that everyone have kids have either not been watching the news in the past 30 years or are completely and hopelessly naive to the real world.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/06/13/choosing_to_be_child_free_tubes_tied_at_26.html

. June 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

There were several reasons for my decision, but the main one was that I always wanted to have the freedom to change jobs. I don’t hear this discussed very much, but most people—if they are responsible and loving parents—do not avail themselves of professional opportunities because they would be too disruptive for their children. They cannot accept too many transfers, even for more money, because the kids are “settled” in a school and neighborhood, have friends they don’t want to leave, and because they would be the “new kid” and therefore, presumably, traumatized. Likewise, a parent who is dissatisfied with his/her current profession can’t quit and start training for something else because it is too risky in terms of finances and loss of seniority; even changing companies within the same profession can result in inferior health insurance plans and a reputation for being disloyal. I saw quite a few of my friends made miserable because they couldn’t tell their boss to stick it, couldn’t leave the town they’d lived in for decades (often their whole lives), couldn’t take any risk whatsoever because they were putting their children first.

I agree that a parent should put the children first; however, I am convinced that I would resent them for ruining my life once I did so. That may not be fair, but I know myself well enough to know that this is what I would feel. I’m also pretty sure I’d self-destruct, professionally and personally, if I had to do the same thing in the same place for decades. I’m told that the love one feels for a child more than compensates for every sacrifice, but the risk of having a child and then discovering I don’t have that love, or that it isn’t enough, is too great. I’m also told that the unconditional love you get from your child is the greatest reward imaginable, but (a) I’ve always observed it to be quite conditional indeed, and (b) I’ve never wanted love I haven’t earned—those who do should raise a dog, not a child.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/06/13/choosing_to_be_child_free_career_mobility_.html

. July 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Sterilize Me, Please
Why is it so difficult for young women to get their tubes tied?

There are some people who don’t want to have kids. Then there are some people who really don’t want to have kids. As we learned in a recent Double X series of essays exploring this choice, some men and women never heed (or even feel) the tick of the biological clock. But others are more proactive. Monica Trombley is in the latter camp. As described in her piece, Trombley decided at the age of 26 that permanent sterilization by tubal ligation—a procedure colloquially called “getting your tubes tied”—was the right choice for her.

But as Trombley quickly learned, many gynecologists disagreed. After consulting a number of doctors who tried to dissuade her for what she describes as “paternalistic” reasons, Trombley finally became so exasperated that she actually considered inventing dangerous and unavoidable family members in order to convince a doctor that she could not live in an environment fit for children. (In the end, she found a specialist who required less cajoling.)

“Why should an adult woman be forced to lie to her doctor about why she wants to be sterilized?” she asked.

Trombley’s article inspired many, many readers to write in with similar tales of medical odysseys. Often, these women complained of being referred from physician to physician, only to receive a version of, “You’ll change your mind” or, “You’ll regret this later in life.” While some were ultimately successful in their tube-tying quest, others simply gave up, settling for a partner’s vasectomy or contraception. All expressed anger at the resistance they encountered in getting what they assumed to be an uncontroversial and wholly elective—even socially responsible—procedure.

. July 31, 2012 at 10:10 am

[I]f a woman should say she doesn’t want to have children at all, the world is apt to go decidedly peculiar: “Ooooh, don’t speak too soon,” it will say — as if knowing whether or not you’re the kind of person who desires to make a whole other human being in your guts, out of sex and food, then base the rest of your life around its welfare, is a breezy, “Hey — whatever” decision. …

[T]his injunction for all women to have children isn’t in any way logical. If you take a moment to consider the state of the world, the thing you notice is that there are plenty of babies being born; the planet really doesn’t need all of us to produce more babies.

Particularly First World babies, with their ferocious consumption of oil and forest and water, and endless burping-out of carbon emissions and landfill. First World babies are eating this planet like termites. If we had any real perspective on fertile Western women, we’d be jumping on them in the streets, screaming, “JESUS! CORK UP YOUR NETHERS! IMMUNIZE YOURSELF AGAINST SPERM!” …

Because it’s not simply that a baby puts a whole person-ful of problems into the world. It takes a useful person out of the world as well. Minimum. Often two. When you have young children, you are useless to the forces of revolution and righteousness for years. Before I had my kids I may have mooched about a lot but I was politically informed, signing petitions, and recycling everything down to watch batteries. It was compost heap here, dinner from scratch there, public transport everywhere. … I was smugly, bustingly, low-level good.

Six weeks into being poleaxed by a newborn colicky baby, however, and I would have happily shot the world’s last panda in the face if it made the baby cry for 60 seconds less. The cloth diapers … were dumped for disposables; we lived on ready meals. Nothing got recycled … Union dues and widow’s mites were cancelled — we needed the money for the disposables and the ready meals. …

Let’s face it, most women will continue to have babies, the planet isn’t going to run out of new people, so it’s of no real use to the world for you to have a child. Quite the opposite, in fact. That shouldn’t stop you having one if you want one, of course …

But it’s also worth remembering it’s not of vital use to you as a woman, either. … I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere. …

Every woman who chooses — joyfully, thoughtfully, calmly, of her own free will and desire — not to have a child does womankind a massive favor in the long term. We need more women who are allowed to prove their worth as people, rather than being assessed merely for their potential to create new people.

http://grist.org/childfree/feminist-funnywoman-caitlin-moran-says-the-planet-doesnt-need-your-babies/

. August 12, 2012 at 11:53 pm

A 2012 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception,” looked at the failure rates of long-lasting methods of birth control. The study was based on data from more than 7,000 women who were provided with no-cost reversible contraception of their choice – IUD, implant, DMPA injection, pills, patch or ring — for up to three years. Each participant provided demographic information and was interviewed about her reproductive history at three and six months and every six months thereafter for the duration of the study.

The key findings include:

* During the study period, 334 unintended pregnancies occurred. “Failure rates in the group of participants who used the pills, patch or ring were 4.8%, 7.8%, and 9.4% in years 1, 2, and 3, respectively; the corresponding rates in the group using IUDs or implants were 0.3%, 0.6%, and 0.9%.” IUDs and implants were thus 10 to 16 times as effective as the other long-term contraceptive options.

* “Long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants, are not user-dependent and have very low failure rates (less than 1%), which rival those with sterilization. Despite their proven safety … IUDs are used by only 5.5% of women who use contraception in the United States.”

. September 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Teens Should Be Offered IUDs, Top Doctors’ Group Says

A leading group of physicians who advise on women’s health has issued new guidelines recommending for the first time that doctors offer intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implantable contraception — methods commonly referred to as long-acting reversible contraception — to teenage patients.

An IUD is a small device placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. One type releases small doses of a hormone and can be used for five years; the other lasts 10 years and does not use hormones. Implantable contraception, or an implant, is a flexible, match-stick- sized rod placed under the skin that prevents pregnancy by releasing a hormone used in some birth control pills called progestin.

More than one third of young people ages 15 to 19 are sexually active, yet most teens are not using, and may not even know about, these birth control methods, according to statistics from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) issued a paper Thursday evening containing new guidelines to offer IUDs and implants as first-line birth control options for teens.

. December 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm
oleh December 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

What an extended and amazing discussion on this topic. I am sorry to have missed it when it was active.

It seems the discussion centered on problems and solutions specific to the rich wealthy countries. The greatest population growth is cocuring in poor countries. Co-incidentally rapid population growth generally adds to increased individual and general poverty in those countries. What is the solution in those countries? I suggest education and awareness.

. 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.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: