Stop having kids!
Depleted resources? Greenhouse gases? Try controlling population growth.
In an aging Methodist church a few months ago, some 30 people gathered to discuss how to stave-off the end of the world. The Sacramento-area church sponsored a discussion on global warming. Among the many ideas discussed were smarter driving habits, low-wattage light bulbs and riding bicycles as much as possible. Even Wal-Mart got a nod for installing solar panels on the roofs of its retail stores.
And then, from his wooden pew, a bearded, gray-haired gentleman made a passionate plea for the one global-warming solution nobody is talking about: slowing down population growth. He was frustrated that scientists, the government and even the big names in climate change have kept relatively quiet on the connection between increasing numbers of people on the planet and the accelerated production of greenhouse gases.
It’s a topic that seems to have received little, if any, attention in the United States, which is odd, considering that the average American produces more than 20,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year. China recently dethroned the United States as the world’s leader in greenhouse-gas emissions, which is sobering, considering it took China’s 1.3 billion people to beat out the United States’ 300 million.
“The big problem with population growth in our country,” explained Dr. John Harte, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resource Group, “is that we’re so wealthy and consume so much that every extra child born in this country, particularly to a wealthy family, is a bigger consumer of goods and a producer of more CO2.”
Dr. Harte addressed efforts to stem the consequences of global warming. “You’ve got to deal with both sides of the issue: consumptive patterns of each of us as individuals and the number of future individuals that there are going to be on the planet.”
In addition to choosing low-energy light bulbs and hybrid cars, we can also choose to have smaller families. Smaller households consume less: fewer packaged products, smaller homes, smaller cars. They require less energy for heating, cooling and appliances. And family planning isn’t especially difficult to implement. Inexpensive birth control is readily available, especially in California.
But why is smaller family size not promoted by the major global-warming action groups? Climatecrisis.net, the Web site set up in collaboration with the film An Inconvenient Truth, makes no mention of population choices in its “What You Can Do” section. Nor is it suggested on the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change Web pages. It’s not mentioned on stopglobalwarming.com or fightglobalwarming.com.
Perhaps environmental groups are wary of the possible fallout from promoting a reduction in reproduction. Many religious groups in this country teach followers to “multiply and replenish the Earth,” and efforts by scientists and environmentalists to stem population growth might be seen as anti-biblical. And it’s difficult to talk about limiting population growth without conjuring ideas of China’s government-enforced population plan.
But in countries like the United States, where our individual contribution to the global-warming crisis is so high, slowing down the addition of new consumers to the planet easily could join the tools we use to fight the problem. It’s not as if the folks who want—and can afford—large families suffer from a shortage of children available for fostering or adoption. And though it may be ironic, opting to reduce our levels of reproduction is one of the ways individuals could ultimately ensure the survival of our species.
Some people will resist the idea. Last summer, national news gleefully showed Jim and Michelle Duggar of Springdale, Ark., as they welcomed their 17th biological child into their burgeoning clan. The Discovery Channel, which has featured the Duggars in several TV programs, estimates the family has gone through 90,000 diapers and washes approximately 200 loads of laundry per month.
Maybe they can afford it, but can the rest of the planet?