The Ethics of Overpopulation

There are too many of us on Earth, our numbers keep growing, and we need to do something about it. Now, let’s never lose sight of the reason we want to do something about it.

I’m not an ecological romantic. I don’t think the planet would be better off without humanity. In fact, I think a planet without intelligent life is completely pointless from the perspective of an intelligent observer. Our goal should never be to rid the planet of humans: we need to make sure that humans can continue to live happily and safely on Earth and avoid dying catastrophically. We should save the spotted owl for our own sake, as a habitat custodian and object of biological study, not out of consideration for the silly bird’s feelings or “natural dignity”.

This means that even without raising any ethical objections beyond the rock-bottom recognition that all humans are born with the same value, any measure designed to kill people off is counterproductive. Our whole long-term goal is to save people from dying off. The AIDS epidemic in Africa, or a future lethal flu pandemic, are not things to be welcomed, they must be combated. The ethical way to remedy overpopulation is not by increasing our mortality rate through murderous action or deferred reaction to threats. What we need to do is lower our nativity rate.

Thus I submit three suggestions for your consideration.

  1. It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children. (Adoption of orphans, on the other hand, is highly commendable.)

  2. It is unethical to limit the availability of contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation vasectomy and adoption.
  3. It is unethical to use public money to support infertility treatments. Let those unfortunate enough to need such treatment pay their own way or adopt. And let’s put the money into subsidising contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation vasectomy and adoption instead.

Dear Reader, let me know what you think.

Blog replies:Adventures in Ethics and Science, Anthropoloeres.

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Comments

  1. #1 ArchAsa
    November 24, 2008

    While I might agree in principle, there are some problems with the logic of your reasoning since it assumes all external factors are equal. An agricultural family in a poor country might have a greater need for many children, both because they are needed as labour and because there is a far larger risk that most of these children die before reaching adulthood. For these people children are also the main security in old age, because there is no such thing as social security. Why should rules logical for industrialized countries automatically apply to all other cultures?

    That being said, I think the attitude of the catholic church and the evangelical US government to actively work against contraceptives and family planning in poor countries is some of the most unethical behvaiours ever witnessed in human history. If nations are able to secure good medical care, basic social security, education and free access to contraceptives most families would automatically restrict the number of children they will have. That will simply be an additional benefit of making people’s lives better and more endurable.

    Taking care of religious and cultural dogma will be step 2…

  2. #2 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    Why should rules logical for industrialized countries automatically apply to all other cultures?

    Population restriction is not just for the good of the industrialised world. When the ecological backlash comes, it’s gonna hit Burundi way harder than Norway.

    But of course I hope Burundi manages to establish a working retirement system soon. Though comprehensive education for girls should be a higher priority.

  3. #3 EB
    November 24, 2008

    I agree with you largely. Especially with moving money from fertility treatment programs to making adoption cheaper. If it wasn’t so costly, I would have adopted at least one of my two children. Also, child allowance (which, in itself, I agree with) should be redistributed to more for the first child and progressively less for any second and third. It should stop at three, no allowance for number four.

    As for adoption, I’d also like to say that if you can’t love a child in your care because it doesn’t carry your genetic material, maybe you shouldn’t have children at all.

  4. #4 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    Very good idea, the shrinking child allowance!

    My daughter looks like a clone of my wife. I have no reason to believe that her begettor isn’t me, but the reason that I love her to bits isn’t that she looks anything like myself.

  5. #5 Brian Schmidt
    November 24, 2008

    The abortion issue revolves around personhood. If personhood isn’t important, then from your argument I don’t see why infanticide shouldn’t also be legal.

    I think your principle #2 should be “voluntary methods such as birth control that prevent the existence of new persons are ethical,” and then people can debate whether and which kind of abortions fall into that category.

  6. #6 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    Pardon? Don’t you think infants are persons? I do. But not fetuses. Very few people do.

  7. #7 Jason
    November 24, 2008

    While I am not saying I am in that camp, I think the statement “Don’t you think infants are persons? I do. But not fetuses. Very few people do.” is very untrue.

    Last I checked its a pretty even split. I could be wrong.

  8. #8 MRW
    November 24, 2008

    Martin, I don’t see where Brian said that infants weren’t people. My read of what he said is: *since* infants have personhood, infanticide is unethical, and *if* fetuses have personhood, abortion is unethical.

    He doesn’t appear to make a judgment on whether fetuses have personhood.

    As for “Very few people do” I think you’re wrong about that. I don’t know what percentage of the world has what opinions on abortion-related issues, but a substantial minority, at least, are pro-life.

  9. #9 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    Last I checked its a pretty even split. I could be wrong.

    I’m talking globally here. China, India etc., no anti-abortionists there.

  10. #10 Tor
    November 24, 2008

    Regarding suggestion 3, I don’t like your way of trading off what I consider to be one prime task of government for another. The tasks I have in mind are:

    (A) To encourage behaviour conducive to the long-term well-being of mankind.

    (B) To offer compensation to those who have been dealt dysfunctional bodies by Nature—by repairing them if possible, otherwise by offering treatment that will reduce the effects of their disabilities as far as possible.

    You want to compromise (B) for the sake of (A). Why, when it’s perfectly possible to keep both? Discourage the making of babies by making it economically or otherwise disadvantageous—(A); but offer medical assistance to those who want to go through with it anyway—(B).

  11. #11 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    We are in a new situation where the capability to reproduce easily is dysfunctional, not, as historically, the opposite.

  12. #12 Tor
    November 24, 2008

    “We are in a new situation where the capability to reproduce easily is dysfunctional, not, as historically, the opposite.”

    That would depend, I guess, on what you count as reproducing “easily”. What I mainly had in mind was people with zero unaided fertility. Their bodies are dysfunctional on any reasonable understanding of the word — notwithstanding the fact that, in a society without contra-reproducive incitaments, their misfortune might benefit humanity as a whole.

  13. #13 MartinC
    November 24, 2008

    I think the contribution of infertility treatments to overpopulation is negligible so it isn’t logical to include in the same category as contraception.
    I also agree with ArchAsa’s point about social security in poor countries. Many people in these situations need larger numbers of children simply to survive in later life.

  14. #14 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    So if a person’s naughty bits work really well, then we should pay public money to keep them from reproducing, and if their bits don’t work well, then we should pay even more to help them reproduce?

  15. #15 Tor
    November 24, 2008

    “So if a person’s naughty bits work really well, then we should pay public money to keep them from reproducing, and if their bits don’t work well, then we should pay even more to help them reproduce?”

    If your state budget is unlimited, sure. If it isn’t, economical incitament against excessive procreation doesn’t have to take the form of subsidies to those who don’t; you can instead tax those who do.

  16. #16 n3rdchik
    November 24, 2008

    I bristle at the whole issue of telling people what the “ideal” family size is for whatever reason. It is a self regulating – countries that do #2 in the form of a social safety net and universal health care – the birthrate does drop below replacement levels. So if we act “ethically”, I think the birthrate averages will follow. Demonizing the few of us with the bad taste to have more than the socially approved amount of children is more an act of self superiority than anything else.

    As for adoption – we considered it very seriously, but it would cost less and be less invasive to have a (potentially) healthy infant of our own making – than to adopt a child with a very high likelihood of serious issues that would negatively impact the children already in the family.

  17. #17 MonkeyMuffins
    November 24, 2008

    1) “I think a planet without intelligent life is completely pointless from the perspective of an intelligent observer”, is perhaps the silliest assertion I’ve ever encountered.

    a) it assumes that humans are the only intelligent life on Earth (a faulty assumption at best, an outright lie at worst); and

    b) the belief that existence, let alone life, has to have a point or a purpose — as defined by human primates — ranks up there with the same kind of absurd hubris and rapacious ignorance that created (and maintains) our current predicament of living hopelessly beyond our ecological means (the corollary of which — by definition — is that we are living far beyond our economic means)

    2) The idea that 2 human primates breeding 2 more human primates simply replaces the original 2 is specious at best, disingenuous at worst.

    From http://vhemt.org/demography.htm#two:

    “To quote from ‘Stop at two’ may have been a radical proclamation when Zero Population Growth* was founded in 1968, but it was barely adequate even then. So-called replacement level fertility of 2.1 offspring per couple wouldn’t bring about true zero population growth until the middle of this century, due to momentum.

    “Today the message is only slightly revised: ‘Consider having none or one, and be sure to stop after two.’

    “The notion that producing two descendants simply replaces a couple and creates no increased impact is specious. We aren’t salmon – we don’t spawn and die. Most of us will be around to see our progeny beget, and those begotten beget to boot.

    “When a couple of us ‘replaces’ ourselves, our environmental impact doubles – assuming our offsprings’ lifestyles are as environmentally friendly as ours, and that they won’t reproduce themselves.

    “The ‘stop at two’ message actually encourages reproduction by ‘qualified’ couples. Although a wanted child is better than unwanted, intelligent (whatever that is) better than stupid, and well-cared-for better than neglected, each of us in the over-industrialized world has a huge impact on Nature, regardless of these factors.

    “For example, in terms of energy consumption, when a North American couple stops at two it’s about the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at 30, or a Bangaledesh couple stopping at 97. Per capita energy consumption by country.

    “Two is better than four, and one is twice as good as two, but to purposely set out to create even one more of us today is the moral equivalent of selling berths on a sinking ship.

    “Regardless of how many progeny we have or haven’t produced, rather than stop at two, we must stop at once.”

    “If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.”
    - Earth ‘on course for eco-crunch’, BBC (10/29/2008)

    “A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.”
    - How our economy is killing the Earth, New Scientist (10/16/2008)

    “The financial crisis for which we must now pay so heavily prefigures the real collapse, when humanity bumps against its ecological limits.”
    - This Is What Denial Does, The Guardian (10/14/2008)

  18. #18 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    … social safety net and universal health care – the birthrate does drop below replacement levels. So if we act “ethically”, I think the birthrate averages will follow. Demonizing the few of us with the bad taste to have more than the socially approved amount of children is more an act of self superiority than anything else.

    Let’s be practical here. There’s no way we will achieve global social safety and universal health care before the big ecological collapse. I suggest we start instead by promoting the idea that having more than two kids is unethical. That’s the way that most of the world (including, the other day, Burundi) got rid of the death penalty.

    And if every procreating person has no more than two kids, the nativity rate will of course be way lower than replacement rate. Many people never have any kids at all.

  19. #19 sng
    November 24, 2008

    MonkeyMuffins,

    “1) “I think a planet without intelligent life is completely pointless from the perspective of an intelligent observer”, is perhaps the silliest assertion I’ve ever encountered.

    a) it assumes that humans are the only intelligent life on Earth (a faulty assumption at best, an outright lie at worst)”

    Make your case for this.

  20. #20 derek
    November 24, 2008

    I’m not against population growth because I hate people and want them to be poor. I’m against population growth because I like people and want them to be rich. The fewer people there are, the more land, resources and capital each person has, thanks to modern technology. Our responsibility is to restrain ourselves from using modern technology to literally eat up the gains it makes in prosperity. (India is talking about needing a second green revolution to feed the extra population created by the first)

    There is propaganda going around that says population growth causes prosperity. It’s paid for by rich people who profit by the labor of millions, and want more millions so they can make more profit. It’s a losing game if you’re the labor. Don’t believe it any more than you would believe in the Laffer Curve, or supply side economics.

  21. #21 David
    November 24, 2008

    Martin you say, “There are too many of us on Earth, our numbers keep growing, and we need to do something about it.”

    Lots of people agree with this opening statement, in fact find it self-evidently true. All we really know is that our numbers are higher than they have ever been. It is not known what the Earth can sustain because that number is almost completly a function of technology.

  22. #22 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    … but though the problem is pressing, there is no way to speed up tech development radically to meet our needs.

  23. #23 Change
    November 24, 2008

    It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children.

    I totally agree with it. Unlike most others I know, I don’t see much wrong with China’s one-child policy. Monogamy was a policy made by our ancestors. No one seems to have a problem with that.

  24. #24 Change
    November 24, 2008

    I’d also like to add: doesn’t the age at which you have kids matter?

    (a) I have a child at 18, who (say) has his/her child at when he/she is 18.
    (b) I have a child at 36.

    Both are not the same.

  25. #25 Brandon
    November 24, 2008

    This is my master plan for dealing with overpopulation:
    1. Invest more money into developing colonies on Moon and Mars.
    2. Drug the populace so that children grow up to be 99% as large as their parents.

    In a thousand years or so, we’ll have trillions of tiny people sharing the Solar System together. This solution will last until people are three inches tall and have occupied every terrestial body within five billion miles. Then we’ll have to either figure out interstellar travel or get around the Pauli Exclusion Principle so multiple people can occupy the same space. Then we slowly wait for the heat death of the universe.

  26. #26 Meli
    November 24, 2008

    What about female sterilisation? You mention vasectomy, but not tubal ligation or Essure.

  27. #27 Marcus
    November 24, 2008

    I haven´t read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat something that has already been said. The reason people get many kids (more the two anyway) is that they are poor. You can see a strong correlation between the number of kids born and GDP/capita in a country. But poor people wont give a rats ass about those kind of “ethical” opinions suggested above. They have to think of their survival. We that are lucky enough to live in the rich part of the world already have less then 2 kids/ couple on average. So from that perspective those “ethical” suggestions are pointless.

    If you want to do something about the overpopulationproblem, we need to find out how to make poor parts of the world richer and ask ourselves what creates economic growth.

  28. #28 Martin R
    November 24, 2008

    Meli, sure, we could subsidise that too, though it seems to be a much riskier, more invasive and more painful procedure than just shoving in an IUD.

  29. #29 Barn Owl
    November 24, 2008

    While I agree that all humans are born with equal value, obviously not all humans have the same ecological impact, as the links that MonkeyMuffins provided indicate. We Americans in particular have huge individual levels of energy consumption. An affluent couple can rationalize greatly increased energy consumption levels for just one child, what with all the individually packaged foods and drinks, mountains of disposable diapers, tons of toys and clothes, and increased vehicle size (SUV or minivan). My parents supported the ZPG concept, so I have just one sibling; in one generation, the amount of stuff required (apparently) to raise one child (in this case, my nephew) has at least doubled.

    I don’t have children, and there’s a funny sort of societal pressure about reproducing that I encounter from time to time. Because I’m a well-educated person with a PhD and a stable professional job, and perhaps because of my Northern European ancestry, height, and overall good health, I was supposed to reproduce. IMO, this attitude is beyond politically incorrect, but I still hear it, even from students; sometimes it’s as blunt as “You should have kids!” Not that I should adopt kids (which is much more likely, to be honest), but rather that I should produce kids that share my genetic material. WTF?

  30. #30 Brian Schmidt
    November 24, 2008

    Martin – I don’t think the accuracy of a philosophical assertion in the abstract, e.g. “it’s unethical to abort an 8-month-old fetus because that age fetus has attained personhood,” is subject to a vote. The assertion is wrong or right, regardless of the percentages of people supporting one side or another. Some people might disagree with this abstract principle, but I vote that we ignore them.

    So current opinion shouldn’t matter that much. If you think it does, though, a substantial percentage of world opinion think that late-term abortions raise significant ethical questions, so that should suggest the issue is worth considering.

  31. #31 MPhil
    November 24, 2008

    Well, I would agree… except that we do not merely want to stop overpopulation. Another important criterion which we simply must not forget is diversity. In the process of coming to grips with overpopulation, our (political) ethics should be sensitive to the issue of cultural and social diversity. Not only are there species of animals dying out which we want to protect for diversity’s sake – there are also human cultures and sociocultural structures dying out. So perhaps procreation in areas and infrastructures and cultures which are already overcrowded should be restricted while procreation of those belonging to vanishing cultures or sociocultural structures should be protected and enabled.

    Theoretically, it would be possible to program an algorithm to come up with the optimal solution given a goal of population-control modulated by diversity-protection.

  32. #32 Pierce R. Butler
    November 24, 2008

    Trying to enforce a fertility regime, even by “non-coercive” means such as promoting more responsible reproductive ethics, seems insufficient.

    An economic structure that promotes what the ecologists call a high-K strategy (investing maximum resources in just a few offspring) is also necessary, particularly in the “third world” where schools, pediatric health care, etc, are so grossly undersupplied. Likewise, involving women in the full spectrum of social activities so that they have attractive alternatives to full-time mothering may be more efficacious than (delusional) attempts to promote contraception without cultural engineering.

  33. #33 Miss Cellania
    November 24, 2008

    What community uses public money for infertility treatment? I missed that completely when we paid out the wazoo for testing. I decided against treatment. We did get a tax credit for adopting (two in fact) that took years to use up.

  34. #34 William Miller
    November 24, 2008

    In the developed countries, birthrates are already mostly below replacement. The problem is, the people actually relevant to population growth aren’t hearing these discussions and even if they did, have more immediate things to worry about. (Also, they often get economic benefits from having kids).

    I believe the current projections show populations topping out at 9-10 billion. If we can make it through the coming climate crisis, the same technologies should allow us to feed that many people with less harm.

    I think the problem with overpopulation is more the irreplaceable species going extinct. Right now, starvation isn’t because of overpopulation – the world produces more than enough food for everyone (and could produce vastly more, if we didn’t pay farmers not to farm). Barring a Super-Dust-Bowl, I don’t see that that is likely to change.

  35. #35 Paul Murray
    November 25, 2008

    Most top predators breed slowly. Why? Because the ones that breed quickly wipe out thye populations they pry on, and swiftly go extict themselves. That is – there have possibly been populations of fast-breeding predators in the past, but none survive for long.

    This will get me flamed – but there are sex differences here. Most women want to have children, more so than do men, to the point of it being a nearly basic drive. Without women weighing in about their *right* to have babies (oh yes, lots of ‘em really think that), this discussion is one sided and will go nowhere.

  36. #36 Paul Murray
    November 25, 2008

    Not only are there species of animals dying out which we want to protect for diversity’s sake – there are also human cultures and sociocultural structures dying out

    So, traditional hunter-gatherer culture is dying out. What shall we do? Are we going to take a segment of people, strip them of posessions, and tell ‘em “you have been selected to preserve hunter-gatherer culture. You must now hunt the emu with spear and woomera, or starve.”?

    Because culture is how you live, what you believe. You can’t have both the conveniences of moidern technology and also a culture conditioned by lack of same. If a person isn’t really a savage who thinks that rivers and rocks are alive with spirits, then they are just a average joe who pretends to be a traditional american indian (or whatever) on the weekend.

    Damn right there are sociocultural structures dying out. Infant genital mutilation cannot be gone from the world too soon to suit me.

  37. #37 RickrOll
    November 25, 2008

    i hate to double post, but since this has been brought up here especially:

    the problem of sustaining the old seems to be a big problem in countries like japan, and if you think this isn’t the case in america as well, then you’re an idiot. Baby Boomers will possibly take the economy with them when they go, a scary thought. After all, in the Great depression, what were the stats on the eldarly? I assume far less, both because of the time and also because there wasn’t a big boom in population 50 some-od years previous. that will be a big strain…

    It is interesting to note where the quiet dignity of cutting one’s culture off from caring for you when you get inescusable old seems to have vanished. Many primitive cultures had this in practice, and the lack of this selfless social conditioning leads us to the current delema.

    You may point out that there was deep reverance for the old in some cultures, nut the eldarly were very often rare due to conditions. They had wisdom and knowledge to impart, but even so, there was likely a point where they in sisted on putting their tribe above themselves. Feel free to correct me

  38. #38 MPhil
    November 25, 2008

    Paul Murray,

    please don’t distort what I said. Of course there are social and cultural practices and ideologies that are not worth engaging… but there are people, tribes, and even nations with a rich cultural history whose population is shrinking ever more rapidly. For example, in Germany we have the problem that there will soon be more retired people than working people in Germany – the infrastructure, social systems etc will not be able to bear it. Standard of living will go down and infrastructure will break down – a state of civilization may be severely damaged. That’s why here, it is not morally reprehensible to have more than one child (or more than two) but in fact socially responsible.
    I am merely saying that that local and individual legitimate interests have to be considered when evaluating the moral, social and political situation and the individual responsibilities.

    Of course I agree that things like genital mutilation and primitive, injust sociocultural rituals and institutions in generals need to disappear – and the sooner the better. I am simply saying the situation is complicated – these are mere prima facie considerations and the circumstances and individual situation always needs to be evaluated justly, i.e. fairly (legitimate interests have to be taken into account). This includes that in countries where the demographic situation is so that it will collapse into an infrastructural, economical and social catastophe if the age-pyramid isn’t restored, procreation is not to be limited but encouraged, whereas in countries and regions that suffer from habitat collapse because of overpopulation or are clearly, demonstrably drifting towards such a crisis, political encouragements of limitation of procreation ought to be encouraged.

    …I’ve studied the problems of bioethics and political ethics academically – the academic research in political ethics has a lot to offer, up to and including bioethics, biodiversity etc. The situation is evidently not black-and-white – many legitimate interests have to be taken into account.

  39. #39 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    Quoth Mphil: - there are also human cultures and sociocultural structures dying out. So perhaps procreation in areas and infrastructures and cultures which are already overcrowded should be restricted while procreation of those belonging to vanishing cultures or sociocultural structures should be protected and enabled.

    Nah. I’ve seen too many dead cultures to be very impressed by live ones. If one dies out, we can make up a new one. What you’re stating here is basically just a nationalistic position. Cultural relativism doesn’t just mean that Western culture is no better than traditional cultures — it also means that traditional cultures are no better than the Western one.

    Asked Miss Cellania: What community uses public money for infertility treatment?

    Countries with universal healthcare such as Sweden.

    W. Miller said: I believe the current projections show populations topping out at 9-10 billion.

    “Top out” as in “collapse catastrophically”?

    Mphil said: here, it is not morally reprehensible to have more than one child (or more than two) but in fact socially responsible.

    Oh come on, think globally. Loads of third worlders would be more than happy to come over to Germany and take care of your old folks.

  40. #40 tndl
    November 25, 2008

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using public money to support infertility treatments. Everybody should have the right to have one child of their own if they so wish. On the other hand, we should discourage people from having more than three children, because that is indeed unethical and irresponsible.

  41. #41 johannes
    November 25, 2008

    >> a) it assumes that humans are the only intelligent life on >> Earth (a faulty assumption at best, an outright lie at
    >> worst)”

    > Make your case for this.

    There are a lot of intelligent beings on earth – monitor lizards can count to six, and grey parrots can be trained to READ – but humans are the only sentient beings.

  42. #42 johannes
    November 25, 2008

    > Loads of third worlders would be more than happy to come
    > over to Germany and take care of your old folks.

    To former Western Germany – very few non-white people dare to go to the former GDR.

  43. #43 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    I take it that we automatically rule out eugenic-like measures to limit the population (forced sterilization or killing of ‘unproductive’ members of the human population).
    So, left with voluntary measures what is our objective?
    As others have mentioned the Earth currently produces more than enough food to sustain all and more of todays world population. With the current rate of technological innovation and the right choices (a switch to a more vegetarian diet and the development of sutainable power supplies and transport – such as efficient and clean nuclear power, decent electric or biofueled transport, etc) theres no obvious reason why we cannot stabilize the worlds human population in a sustainable way.
    How about looking at the ethics in a different way.
    I would suggest that the vast majority of overpopulation occurs due to poverty. In that case is it ethical for one section of the population to have huge fortunes while another section has almost nothing (with all the resulting consequences in terms of lack of education and increased numbers of offspring)?
    Would redistributing wealth have a better effect than the alternatives?
    I realize that politically this is not an option. The question is whether it is more ethical as a means of population and environmental stabilization.

  44. #44 Dunc
    November 25, 2008

    As others have mentioned the Earth currently produces more than enough food to sustain all and more of todays world population.

    Only by unsustainable rates of fossil fuel use, phosphate mining, aquifer extraction and topsoil erosion. Not even close to sustainable.

  45. #45 ab
    November 25, 2008

    humans are the only sentient beings.

    Somebody doesn’t know what the word sentient means.

    It’s just “having senses.” All vertebrates and possibly many invertebrates are sentient.

  46. #46 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    Dunc, sustainable fossil fuel use is an impossibility under anything but a tiny human population living off peat bog production which is why I suggest we need to develop alternative fuel supplies in the future. The current reliance on meat production (in particular cattle) is something that needs to be tackled as seriously as the question of fossil fuels as it directly affects the other aspects of your point. I’m not a vegetarian myself but I do try to limit my consumption of meat for this reason.

  47. #47 Barn Owl
    November 25, 2008

    Loads of third worlders would be more than happy to come over to Germany and take care of your old folks

    Better hope that’s the case, because it certainly isn’t on the career radar screen for the majority of those in the developed world whose birthrate has declined (i.e. predominantly white affluent people). There aren’t even enough geriatricians for elderly populations, because among recent medical school graduates, geriatrics is not considered to be a sufficiently prestigious and lucrative specialty. “I want to work with the elderly” is just as BS an application essay line, as is “I want to work with underserved populations in developing countries”.

  48. #48 Ghoti
    November 25, 2008

    Paul Murray –
    To pit your anecdotal evidence against mine, most women I am familiar with (though this is primarily the younger generation) are uninterested in having large numbers of children, and are, in many cases, reluctant to reproduce at all. Those who are reproducing in large numbers or from a young age are doing so for religious reasons, often at the request of their husbands. Older women I have spoken to often indicate that their set of cultural values includes the belief that their sense of self worth should in part be dependent on family (i.e. reproductive) success. This is a sentiment that (again, speaking from personal observation) seems to be declining as women become more involved in professional and academic success.

    I have no drive to have children and will not do so, but have met perhaps two men in my own age range who share similar sentiments, with most of them expressing it in such a way as you’d think it was nearly a basic drive. Such men seem to think it’s their right to find partners who will reproduce, and yes, some of ‘um have really said that.

  49. #49 johannes
    November 25, 2008

    > Somebody doesn’t know what the word sentient means.

    > It’s just “having senses.” All vertebrates and possibly
    > many invertebrates are sentient.

    When “sentient” is used in the context of animal rights or some religions (Jainism), yes. However, in popular culture, especially science fiction, “sentience” has the different meaning of “personhood”: the essential quality that separates humans or other sapient beings from machines or lower animals.

  50. #50 Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008

    Paul Murray opines:

    Most women want to have children, more so than do men, to the point of it being a nearly basic drive.

    To which I can only say, funny how many women I know who aren’t “most” women, then. And funny how many industrialised countries have a reproduction rate below replacement level if it’s all about “women’s basic drive” to have babies. And funny how many women are willing to say they don’t actually want children if you, you know, talk to them.

    Ghoti’s got it. It used to be that women were taught that their purpose in life was to be mothers, and self-esteem depended on having babies. Now, more women have lives of their own, and children are an option, not a requirement. Personally, I’m very protective of children, but I do *NOT* want one of my own.

  51. #51 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    among recent medical school graduates, geriatrics is not considered to be a sufficiently prestigious and lucrative specialty

    Market forces will most likely take care of that. The Boomers have money.

    Personally, I’m very protective of children, but I do *NOT* want one of my own.

    AHA, Luna! That means you are a real man!

  52. #52 Stacy
    November 25, 2008

    I’ve had this theory for a long time, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge it could be considered “unethical” and has holes:

    When children approach child-producing age, perform a reversible sterilization on them (I know this is possible for men, I’m not sure about for women). When people want to have children, have them go through a training session (sort of like marriage counseling before a couple gets married). If they are emotionally prepared and knowledgeable, reverse the sterilization and allow them to procreate (then maybe restrict how many children the have).
    Have the government pay for the medical treatments and counseling.

    This way we can ensure that children are a) planned for and b) that parents will raise them well. No teen pregnancies, pregnancies from rape or incest situations. No idiots that keep reproducing for god knows what reason and messing up their lives.

  53. #53 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    I’ll be the first to acknowledge it could be considered “unethical” and has holes:

    So do people who procreate. *snigger, snigger*

  54. #54 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    Stacy, the objective you aim for are currently met by a combination of education, wealth and career opportunities – remove these from large sections of any population and the birthrate will shoot up.
    I suppose we could go with your involuntary eugenics idea but why not the alternative?

  55. #55 Barn Owl
    November 25, 2008

    The Boomers have money.

    With the stock market as it is now, that’s not necessarily true, in the US.

    Market forces have only recently reached the biology of aging research area, with the emphasis now more on “healthspan”, in contrast to simplistic longevity studies.

  56. #56 Stacy
    November 25, 2008

    MartinC – I never said I endorsed the idea or would ever want to implement it – it’s definately an Orwellian solution. It spawned out of my frustration with seeing friends in high school getting pregnant and through their actions completely ruining the lives of their children. I agree – ideally education, wealth and career opportunities should be working.

  57. #57 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    I didn’t think you were seriously advocating it Stacy and its useful, at least, to hypothetically pose the question.
    So where are we? Eugenics is unethical and redistributing wealth is politically unfeasable.
    I guess global catastrophy is our best hope!

  58. #58 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    Eugenics doesn’t come into it. Everybody needs to have fewer children.

  59. #59 Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008

    Uh…[peers down shirt]…sorry, Martin, the floppy bits appear to be in the wrong place for that…. ;0p

  60. #60 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    “Eugenics doesn’t come into it. Everybody needs to have fewer children.”
    That doesn’t make sense.
    A lot of people have one or zero children.
    If even one child is excessive then you are advocating an implausible scenario that could only be achieved through forced eugenic policies. Not only that but it would be disastrous in practice.
    Human society cannot function without a turnover of the population. We do actually need more children being produced (just not at the current rate).
    How about those couples with more then one child donate the excess kiddies to childless infertile couples who still want a child but can’t since you’ve just banned IVF treatment? ;)

  61. #61 RickrOll
    November 25, 2008

    the biggest issue is that the old need help. I hate being ignored! The eldary which require support from thier childeren seems to be the biggest problem here. After all, in any scenario, reducing the number of children will inevitably put a strain on the economy, due to reduced work force. So how do you fix that?
    A) more automated work performed. Very expensive to impliment. Look at computers. The processors are smaller and cheaper sure, but the places where they produce them get more and more expensive.
    B) have 0 population growth scenarios where children replace thier parents. Not possible, unless a multitude of people automatically have 0 children, no if’s and’s or but’s, because many will break the rules.
    C) get rid of the old people. Oh yes, that’ll go over well.
    D) hey, why not make human hybrids, with cybernetic musculature that is stronger and easier to fuel if we impliment massive solar energy and the cybernetics can be charged. Probelms: developement, principle cost, anti-cyberization groups, and i could go on.

  62. #62 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    Martin C, “eugenics” means “selective breeding of humans”. I’m advocating non-selective non-breeding. And I don’t wish to ban IVF, I just don’t think public money should be used to support procreation in one corner and combat it in another.

  63. #63 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    Luna, those are man-boobs!

  64. #64 Ouchimoo
    November 25, 2008

    Hi, I’ve never read any of your blogs before, but the title of this one caught my eye. Crazy enough, I agree with you 100% on everything. For all those people complaining that having fewer children will somehow stop the turnover or not have anyone take care of the elderly, first of all in an industrialized stable nation the death rate and birth rate balance. There won’t be any gain and there won’t be any lose of human life, however with the advances of medical technology there will eventually be less and less deaths and people will live a lot longer and stronger. So even then we will still be gaining population in an overpopulated species.

  65. #65 Martin R
    November 25, 2008

    Actually, Sweden is an example of an “industrialised stable nation” whose population would dwindle pretty fast if it weren’t for immigration.

  66. #66 MartinC
    November 25, 2008

    Eugenics
    “-noun (used with a singular verb)
    the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp. by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”
    Historically eugenics certainly involved the advocacy and practice of forced sterilizations and it’s in this context I use the term. I guess there is a crucial difference in that eugenicists had target populations they wanted to sterilize (families with mental illness etc) whereas the zero population growth scheme you seem to favor would include everyone. On the other hand you have already produced a couple of kids. Is it not selective breeding to suggest others should refrain from having children?

  67. #67 Chris O'Neill
    November 25, 2008

    It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children. (Adoption of orphans, on the other hand, is highly commendable.)

    It is unethical to limit the availability of contraceptives, abortion, vasectomy and adoption.

    Interestingly, according to Catholic and other religion’s ideologies, it is unethical to perform any sort of “artificial” contraception or generally to interfere with fertility. A lot of people are going to fight tooth and nail against the idea that their religious ideology is now unethical.

  68. #68 Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008

    MartinR:

    ….ew…..

    …Does that mean I’m just really good at “tucking”, too?…

  69. #69 James Hanley
    November 25, 2008

    OK, here’s a comment from the standpoint of a libertarian political economist:

    It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children.

    I have three children, but among the 8 people that constitute the set of me, my wife, and our siblings, there are 8 children (and almost certainly will be no more). Are we allowed to have 1 for the three siblings who will never have any? Or was I unethical to have that moment of passion on New Years night 7 years ago and not ask my wife to get an abortion?

    It is unethical to limit the availability of contraceptives, abortion, vasectomy and adoption.

    Yes, but overpopulation is, at best, the secondary reason. Individual autonomy–which is otherwise at risk in your arguments and that of many commentors–also requires this conclusion. Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.

    It is unethical to use public money to support infertility treatments. Let those unfortunate enough to need such treatment pay their own way or adopt. And let’s put the money into subsidising contraceptives, abortion, vasectomy and adoption instead.

    This argument, more generally, is, “it is unethical to tax person X to pay for policy Q, but ethical to tax person X to pay for policy Z.” It ignores the question of whether it is ethical to force people to pay for policies they disagree with. If it is ethical to force Christians to subsidize abortions, do they not have a claim that it is ethical to force me to subsidize printing of Bibles?

    That is to say, I think we can only claim our policies are ethical when they are justified on generally applicable grounds, rather than on the grounds that they lead to the outcomes we want. Otherwise we are in that difficult position of saying the end justifies the means, in our case but not in theirs.

  70. #70 Shannon Murphy
    November 25, 2008

    I am confused. Are there people out there that welcome a huge pandemic or whatever? I’m not familiar with this argument.

    Your point is food for thought anyway. I have read a study somewhere that says that people tend to have fewer children in urban versus rural settings. So perhaps the problem will take care of itself as we become more population-dense.

  71. #71 RickrOll
    November 26, 2008

    yep the only way to do it is to tell people point blank: ONE CHILD!!! Will that work? never.

    Technology: even if we had the technology of 20 years past ourselves, the 3rd world would be living on the technology of at the very best, the present. Implimenting technology is more important than aquiring it. If we all went down to africa and built say 15 cities like NY or San Fransisco, then we would see the moves that are necessary to the survival of our species, like fewer kids.

    Hey, legalise Gay marraige! Legalize abortion, both contribute to slowing population growth. Also i would be absolutely happy to see a religion that preacticed not Celibacy, but sterilization for 90% of it’s congregation (only the Godly shall inherit the earth, you see).

    The population growth is in fact the least human thing you could ever do to other humans, for the simple fact that more people are going to die 10 years from now that even existed in 1980, and the population still won’t go down. It’s horrendous. By preventing people from having kids, you are doing a service to the world.

    The only thing that would remendy the situation to everyone’s satisfaction would be if People could be hybridized like cars, and the sun were to be captured in the ways that they suggest (beaming down mircrowaves from space for the energy- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_satellite) or helium 3 for fussion that’s on the moon- http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/helium3_000630.html
    Hell, if they could colonize the moon, that would be an amazing help.

    Meat will be outlawed (*cries*). end of story. wow, talk about the Prohibition!!

  72. #72 Bob
    November 26, 2008

    But the road to reduce human population is full with hidden ecological surprises. The biological goal of each individual of any species is maximum fitness, which means health, strength etc., but also maximum viable offspring. Sure, this could mean foregoing reproduction, as seen in altruistic behavior in social insects. Altruistic behavior can only persist when it enhances survival of the genes of the particular individuals. Expect cheating! It is not in our nature to care for abstract concepts like ‘the world’, ‘civilization’ or ‘humanity’, unless there is a clear benefit to ourselves or (future) offspring. Do we make this judgment intellectually (even when others don’t?) or on some very basic level (like an ant, which does not have a huge brain mass)? In a white society with decreasing population, the introduction of large guest worker/ immigrant populations causes a lot of resistance. Often they are perceived as an outgroup, perhaps most of all for this reason.
    An overabundance of males, like in China and India, creates another huge problem. They are all becoming gay??? In human societies gender imbalance is more often corrected by wars.

  73. #73 Martin R
    November 26, 2008

    MartinC: Is it not selective breeding to suggest others should refrain from having children?

    I don’t suggest that. I suggest that they have no more than two.

    Luna: Does that mean I’m just really good at “tucking”, too?

    I think you’re tucking awesome!

    James H: was I unethical to have that moment of passion on New Years night 7 years ago and not ask my wife to get an abortion?

    Yeah, that’s pretty much the value I suggest, unless you were completely unaware of the population problem. Your sibs don’t come into the equation when we judge your personal actions.

    James H: Individual autonomy–which is otherwise at risk in your arguments and that of many commentors–also requires this conclusion.

    True. And above I suggest a few ethical rules against which the choices of autonomous individuals may be judged.

    Rickroll mentioned gay marriage. I’m confused. Of course I support it, but what does it have to do with the population problem? Are you suggesting that if gay people can’t marry each other they will feel more inclined to procreate? I believe the opposite is true.

    Bob: The biological goal of each individual of any species is maximum fitness

    Certainly not. There are no goals in biology. Just an inevitable darwinian outcome, which is completely contingent.

  74. #74 Dunc
    November 26, 2008

    Dunc, sustainable fossil fuel use is an impossibility under anything but a tiny human population living off peat bog production which is why I suggest we need to develop alternative fuel supplies in the future.

    Saying “we need to develop alternative fuel supplies” is easy. Doing it is not. Nevertheless, energy is only one component of the problem, and probably the most tractable. We’re rapidly running out of water and topsoil too – and neither of those problems is easily fixed, even if you do have large amounts of surplus energy.

  75. #75 Bob
    November 26, 2008

    Martin R. : There are no goals in biology. Of course…
    But individuals do have goals! The lion wants to catch the antelope, the weaver bird wants to assist his brother feeding its chicks, we ‘just want to get along’ – or not.

  76. #76 MemeGene
    November 26, 2008

    Just to nitpick:

    Meli, sure, we could subsidise that too, though it seems to be a much riskier, more invasive and more painful procedure than just shoving in an IUD.

    IUDs can be very difficult and painful to insert for many women, especially those who have not yet had children; it never is “just shoving in an IUD”. I recommend doing some more research on the anticipated complexity and pain associated with female reproductive technologies before speculating on which option physicians and women would prefer.

    Tubal ligations can be done with a single incision now, with the patient going home the same day, and Essure is even less onerous because there are no incisions involved at all. New techniques in endometrial ablation also suggest that more permanent contraceptive technologies that are less invasive and less painful will become available soon (as of now, e.a. is not considered effective permanent contraception, but should be considered a permanent end to fertility for those interested in reproducing).

    That said, there should be equal opportunity and coverage of sterilization for men and women, and more positive reinforcement of this activity in society as a whole. There is still great social stigma against men controlling fertility, and it would be good to overcome that.

  77. #77 Martin R
    November 26, 2008

    Essure is an interesting method that I had not heard of before. It seems to place female sterilisation about on the invasiveness level of a vasectomy.

    For couples who want sterilisation with their options still open, it is of course easier to stick sperm in the nitrogen freezer than eggs or fetuses.

  78. #78 MemeGene
    November 26, 2008

    I agree that for committed heterosexual life partners who may wish to reproduce later, keeping the woman unsterilized may make sense. But that desire to allow options should not be the determining factor on a policy level on which forms of contraception should or should not be subsidized. There are quite a few women nowadays who wish to never reproduce and have experienced plenty of resistance to their rational choices; they are allies in your cause, and being inclusive and rational in policy choices will produce significant benefits.

  79. #79 Martin R
    November 26, 2008

    I’ll modify my entry accordingly.

  80. #80 MemeGene
    November 26, 2008

    Thanks! I appreciate your open-mindedness.

  81. #81 RickrOll
    November 27, 2008

    “Rickroll mentioned gay marriage. I’m confused. Of course I support it, but what does it have to do with the population problem? Are you suggesting that if gay people can’t marry each other they will feel more inclined to procreate? I believe the opposite is true.”

    No, i’m saying gay couples will adopt. or bank thier sexual organs and wait for the interest to appear lol (double entendre). There is also this fascinating little trend of asexuality that is growing (albeit, incredablt sowly) in industrialized societies, in addition to those who never want the social and economic burdon of children. By invoking gay marraige+adoption, that would normally reduce the necessity for abortion (at least, in regards to pop. growth), but advocating both makes great sense because it reduces population in specific demographics. The fact that there is little overlap makes this very promising i think. After all, the Bible belt in the U.S. is the place with the fewest gays and the most fornication lol.

    Shorter: Making gay marraige easy and equal makes the prevalence of gays more likely. Gays can’t have their own kids (except through divorce), so why not have someone elses? Better yet, narrow their choices, make it less difficult for the system to support and for them to choose lol. Everyone wins. Except people who “love” families.

  82. #82 Martin R
    November 27, 2008

    Making gay marraige easy and equal makes the prevalence of gays more likely.

    Umm… I’ve been lead to believe that gay people are made that way and don’t change orientation with changes in the legislation. Perhaps you are thinking of closeted gay people who enter hetero marriage and have kids because of social pressure?

    Anyway, let’s legalise gay marriage.

  83. #83 RickrOll
    November 28, 2008

    No, the brain isn’t hardwired for homosexuality. There is very shoddy evidence for this, the slightly larger hypothalmus and discussions on the size-symmetric right/left brains in sexual orientation. However, that is not to say a variety of other sociological factors beyond their control do not contribute. Indeed, closeted gay Republicans alone are bound to come out to about 20,000 lol. imagine None of said people having kids. It’s just wonderful to hear.
    There are also a great deal of bisexual characters out there. The percentile of completely 100% gay/ straight folks is only at most, 40 percent.
    Given that there is still a great amount of those who wouldn’t commit to such a relationship anyway as they aren’t going to pursue their infrequent “pleasures”, shall we say, i still think that there would be more gay marraige, just from that demographic that is frankly, completely overlooked. so i imagine that you could squessze another 25,000 individuals out of this as well, over time.

  84. #84 Michael Merren
    November 28, 2008

    I agree w/ your assessment of the problem Martin and also with the matter of reviewing and changing the allotment of funding. I agree whole heartedly with the premise that overpopulation needs to be curtailed. The same issue of SEED magazine that carries your piece, “Why I do Science” also has an article entitled “Carnivores Like Us” by Paul Roberts, which in essence says that Easterners (the Chinese in particular) are beginning, as their economies grow, to eat like us in the West. This fact raises some very interesting issues for the viability of the human race long-term; if the Chinese ate like Americans do they would require another whole planet to produce meat for them – obviously not a viable option.

    Being a former Catholic priest I have some reservations on the matter of abortion, due in large part to some counseling I did w/ young women who had had abortions. But admittedly in part this stems from that Thomistic / Scholastic approach to life at the moment of conception, which I have yet to disprove to myself. At some point prior to birth, that fetus is an organism, which if separated from the mother could be sustained artificially with machines or nurses doing the same nourishing that the mother would do.

    My wife and I have two biological children and have adopted a domestic infant as well, she is now 2 ½ and came home with us from the hospital. Many of our affluent, middle class friends have done similarly, but adoption isn’t an option for many in our country anyway where the average cost is somewhere in the $16,000-30,000 range. Besides this fact, local and foreign governments still make it exceedingly difficult for older adults, homosexuals, and single people (men or women) from adopting. Oddly enough, those who are likely to have the means in our society don’t have the opportunity or right to adopt.

  85. #85 Martin R
    November 28, 2008

    I wonder what makes adoption so expensive. Could that be how orphanages are funded? In the case of your third child, no orphanage was involved.

  86. #86 RickrOll
    November 29, 2008

    The best kind of deal with adoption is to already personally have known the parents. My parents knew my birth mom and it was prearranged that i would be adopted. I’m not sure there was a great cost involved, and it also makes the “transaction”, as it were lol, at lot less uncertain in many respects. I know it is unrealistic to assume that this is possible in many, if not most cases, but this would halp to resore a lot of troubles with the process. If religious persecution of premarital intercourse and the obvious consequents was to be curtailed, this would be a nice option for many. If abortion is going to be that terrible for the mother, then i wouldn’t recommend it.

  87. #87 Martin R
    November 29, 2008

    Religious constraints on pre-marital sex increase teen pregnancy. Kids in that kind of environment don’t know how things work and can’t get hold of contraceptives.

  88. #88 Riman butterbur
    November 29, 2008

    When “sentient” is used in the context of animal rights or some religions (Jainism), yes. However, in popular culture, especially science fiction, “sentience” has the different meaning of “personhood”: the essential quality that separates humans or other sapient beings from machines or lower animals.

    Posted by: johannes | November 25, 2008 15:21 UT

    That essential quality is intelligence, which you have already (and correctly) denied is equivalent to sentience.

    Sentience is simply a synonym for consciousness — for the capacity to have feelings.

  89. #89 RickrOll
    November 30, 2008

    Religious constraints on pre-marital sex increase teen pregnancy. Kids in that kind of environment don’t know how things work and can’t get hold of contraceptives.

    Posted by: Martin R | November 29, 2008 3:38 AM

    That was precicely my point Martin.

  90. #90 johannes
    December 1, 2008

    > That essential quality is intelligence

    Riman,

    personhood, or sentience, or sapience, or however you might call it, needs more than just intelligence; it needs not only cognitive processes, but awareness of this cognitive processes, and the use of this awareness to self-regulate them.

  91. #91 Anthropeleres
    December 18, 2008

    I agree that having children is something that should require training. If we want to limit our population and improve our fitness as a species, the we need to collectively have fewer children, and raise them responsibly. I have seen too many mothers who due to youth, poverty, neglect or ignorance have permanently sabotaged their children. Requiring people to be responsible when engaging in the most important job a species has is not eugenics. Might as well argue that requiring a driver’s license or voting age is contrary to the rights of people to do what they want.

    If someone wants children, those circumstances will only ensure that they are prepared for them.

    As to the one child per couple policy that someone said would be impossible to enforce… it has been in effect and effectually enforced in China for quite some time now, because people are aware of the necessity for it. The problem that policy would have in North America are the large numbers of people who feel that clinging to their out-dated mythology is more important then the well being of our species and ecosystem. I’d almost rather have eugenics than that type of ‘ethics’.

    Finally
    This argument, more generally, is, “it is unethical to tax person X to pay for policy Q, but ethical to tax person X to pay for policy Z.” It ignores the question of whether it is ethical to force people to pay for policies they disagree with. If it is ethical to force Christians to subsidize abortions, do they not have a claim that it is ethical to force me to subsidize printing of Bibles?

    The first difference would be that legalized abortion benefits the population as a whole, even if the Christians refuse to admit it. Printing religious texts does not benefit the population as a whole (or anyone, IMHO).

    The second point is that I pay taxes for things I don’t use/agree with all the time, because they are a benefit to the population as a whole. I support the military, even though I am a pacifist. I pay for public education, even though I have no children. I pay for health care, even though I am healthy and don’t need it myself. I also pay for abortions for people who need them, and free contraceptives, sex education and I am mightily insulted that the religious institutions which oppose education and reduced population growth are tax-exempt. Religious views or programs should never be paid for by public money. Ever. Especially when they run counter to the good of the society as a whole.

  92. #92 ProfBob
    November 29, 2009

    A deeper analysis of ethics relating to overpopulation and other societal issues is found in Book 4 of “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info). As a former professor of ethics I found it well worth reading.

  93. #93 Sandra Knight
    December 6, 2009

    We witness the immense struggle of wildlife to survive in an increasingly hostile, modern world, invaded and destroyed by the human species

    The Human race is guilty of conservational, ecological and environmental crimes. What we are doing to all other species is murder! It is ecocide!

    In less than 100 years of so called civilisation using technology, we have managed to destroy what took more than 3 billion years to evolve. Entire species are being wiped out. We kill everything we touch,have run out of space, land, soil, air, water and landfill sites. The only thing we haven’t run out of, unfortunately, is people. 7 billion and rising fast !

    The main culprit of this ecological disaster is religion, Christianity being the worst, as it keeps the prolific uteruses busy, spitting children out at a fast rate. And when they can’t procreate naturally, in-vitro fertilisation is there, readily available, speeding up the breeding process, revving it up to turbo breeding.

    http://helpingthem.co.uk/index.php/topic,114.0.html

  94. #94 jenni
    December 25, 2010

    Fetuses aren’t fully developed people, so we shouldn’t treat them as such, especially during the first trimester, where it is scientifically confirmed that the fetus cannot feel pain or have cognition whatsoever. It’s like saying destroying tree seeds is as bad as cutting down rainforests. Is it moral that we let teens have babies that are incapable of caring for them financially or emotionally, neglects them or abuses them? However, what is most preferable to abortion is the prevention of unwanted and unnecessary pregnancies with better more available contraception, where the need for abortion is limited as much as possible. I cannot agree more with the first two ideas in this article. Overpopulation is a real threat, to our environment, food supply, animal diversity that directly affects of health and well being and threatens the fertility of humans to come.

  95. #95 John Taves
    April 18, 2011

    In the absence of mechanisms that regulate the birth rate and ensure that it stays below two, it is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children.

    As someone stated above, the poor uneducated will not give a rats ass about these ethics. But that misses an important first step, which is to make sure that the rich and educated know these ethics regardless of whether they happen to choose to have fewer than two anyway. Once the rich and educated know these ethics, then we can figure out how to bring the birth rates below two every where and keep it there.

    Everything must be done to ensure that we all maintain a birth rate below two, because a birth rate above two causes the population to rise to the limit and at the limit children will die at the rate necessary to allow only one to become and adult for each adult. In other words, if the birth rate is three, then one in three children will die.

    Yes, the limit can be raised with new technologies, but not forever.

    We don’t know which specific children will die, but we know the deaths will not be quick and painless and there will be a significant percentage that just barely make it. It is more ethical to kill quickly than to create this suffering that is inevitable when we average more than two. I think this answers the #2 and #3 questions.

    It is not ethical to limit birth control methods. It is also not only ethical to subsidize birth control, it is an ethical requirement that governments manage the birth rate. Certainly subsidized birth control would be a part of that.

    Why must governments regulate birth rates? Because each land area has a limit to what it can sustain, and governments are the organization that has the power to compel individuals over those land areas.

    One more thing regarding “Our goal should never be to rid the planet of humans”. You shouldn’t confuse “humans” with “a human”. No human will be harmed if we all choose to have no children. Humans would become extinct in about one hundred years, but no human will suffer for it. Nobody will ever experience human extinction. In short, there’s nothing morally wrong with choosing to have no children, but in the absence of birth rate regulation, creating more than two is morally wrong.

    John Taves

  96. #96 John Taves
    April 20, 2011

    Do not have more than two.

    Do not have another child if that will create more than four grandchildren for your grandparents.

    Do not have another child if that will create more than eight great grandchildren for your grandparents.

    If we all followed the above ethical rules immediately the population would stop growing immediately.

    There is no choice in this, because any group, your descendants for example, that maintains a birth rate above two will cause overpopulation regardless of what others do.

    See http://stopattwo.org

    John Taves

  97. #97 Kate
    April 22, 2011

    I strongly agree with this post – I cannot see why the public purse should pay for treatment for childless couples when there are so many children from poor homes or orphans who should be adopted. I would like to see the money go towards contraception and education particularly in the third world etc instead.

    Also..in time when the world’s resources diminish in parallel with the increased birthrate, people will either starve or there will be legally enforced population control. It might not be for some time but one day it will be forced. We’re too successful for our own good.

  98. #98 Luke
    November 3, 2011

    Surely, just make sure there are, on average, less than 2 children for each set of parents. That way each successive generation become smaller, and even if technology extends life indefinitely the population size could not increase indefinitely, mathematically speaking.