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September 12, 2007

To Do Their Part To Save Environment, Americans Must Stop Breeding So Much

Given that we're already just slightly ahead of (or behind) the replacement rate, the enviros now simply want us troublesome humans to reduce ourselves. A culling, we might call it.

The amateur leftist webzine Slate snarks a bit about this, as usual, just to seem above it all and avoid committing to a position. The article is, however, generally sympathetic to the Agent Smith thesis: Humans are a virus.

Oh, if we all just disappeared. According to The World Without Us, Alan Weisman's strangely comforting vision of human annihilation, the Earth would be a lot better off. In his doomsday scenario, freshwater floods would course through the New York subway system, ailanthus roots would heave up sidewalks, and a parade of coyotes, bears, and deer would eventually trot across the George Washington Bridge and repopulate Manhattan. Nature lovers can take solace in the idea that the planet will thrive once we've finally destroyed ourselves with global warming. But Weisman takes the fantasy one step further: Let's not wait for climate change, he says. Let's start depopulating right now.

Instead of burning down our numbers with oil and gas, we might follow the advice of the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, who tells Weisman that everyone in the world should stop having kids all at once. Weisman isn't up for quite so drastic a measure, but he makes his own pitch, moderate in comparison: Let's cut the birth rate to one child per couple, for a few generations at least. The population would dwindle by about 5 billion people over the next century, he says, ensuring the habitability of the Earth for the 1.6 billion who remained. At that point, they could all reap the rewards of a more spacious planet, sharing in "the growing joy of watching the world daily become more wonderful." It seems like a notion from the fringe, but Weisman's book has become a mainstream best seller. Could population control be the next big thing in green culture?

...

What's the environmental cost of having a child? In the crudest terms, you've added another version of yourself into the world, which means you're potentially doubling your carbon-dioxide emissions over the total life of your family. That's a high estimate, since our kids won't spew as much greenhouse gas as we do—automobiles, appliances, light bulbs, and everything else will become more efficient in coming generations. But these marginal improvements aren't going to make our babies carbon-neutral. They'll just contribute to global warming at somewhat lower rates than we do.

Our other green lifestyle choices can't even begin to offset the cost of adding a brand-new CO2-emitter to the population. When I ran my own numbers through Al Gore's carbon calculator, I discovered that a switch to 100 percent wind and solar power would reduce my emissions by just 1.3 tons per year. That's not even enough to account for one quarter of today's average American. Meanwhile, I'd have to do quite a bit of driving around in a Hummer H3 to mimic the environmental impact of creating another version of me. Not to mention the fact that my children might eventually decide to have their own children, who would emit even more carbon dioxide down the line.

Critics of population-based environmentalism point out that the people most likely to cut back on their baby emissions are also the ones most likely to instill their children with green values. It's the Idiocracy argument: If all the eco-conscious Americans stopped having kids, their numbers would decline. But having fewer greenies around would be a net loss for the environment only if each greenie baby did more good for the planet than harm—i.e., if the value of his or her vote exceeded the costs of his or her CO2 emissions. (If that's true, environmentalists should have as many children as possible, to stuff the ballots for Dennis Kucinich.) It's also naive to assume our children will embrace our values just because we want them to; for all our preaching, we might end up with a generation of rebellious, gas-guzzling teenagers.

...

As a global solution for climate change, Weisman's depopulation plan may not have much of a chance. ("I knew in advance that I would touch some people's sensitive spots by bringing up the population issue," Weisman told Washington Post readers in an online chat, "but I did so because it's been missing too long from the discussion.") But that's no reason to neglect birth rates from the personal calculus of living green. With the rise of consumer-driven environmentalism, it may be that the McKibben moment has finally arrived. Whether it's eating vegetarian or wearing organic eye shadow, we're all shopping for absolution. We know that babies add more to global warming than anything else in our home. Isn't it time to cut back?

They're not pro-environment, they're just on the other side.

Thanks to Dave from Garfield Ridge.


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posted by Ace at 12:27 PM

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