It’s time for the annual Global Population Speak Out. We all know that in order not to crash the planet we need to consume less energy and raw materials and we need to emit less pollutants. But it doesn’t seem to be generally known that nothing an affluent Westerner does can have anywhere near as beneficial an effect on the future environment as not having kids. Riding a bike to work, recycling milk cartons, turning off the outdoor lamp before you go to bed — all of those green efforts of yours will be swamped and obviated if you have that extra kid.

Think about it. If there were only a few million people on the planet, then we wouldn’t have to worry about consumption or pollution. The problem is partly our environmental footprint per capita, but more the sheer number of people on the planet.

So, as I once wrote, for a person to produce more than two children is unethical. If you want lots of kids, then adopt — preferably from an affluent country, as you only make things worse if you move people from cultures with a small environmental footprint to a land of big cars and hamburgers.

We need to give little girls worldwide a good education, because that makes them have fewer kids when they grow up. And we need to combat various religious organisations that sow doubt about the efficacy and moral acceptability of contraceptives.

The population will not continue to grow for ever, nor remain constant on a high figure for very long. Sooner or later the human population will come down. It’s up to us to decide if this should happen through contraception and a global single-child policy or through a catastrophic die-off.

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Comments

  1. #1 Rod Gallant
    February 1, 2010

    From my observation is that only middle aged white men talk about population control and can’t really influnce it.
    It is hard to talk family planning to a family whose individuals have a life expectency of just over forty years and whose childeren have a mortality rate of living past five years old greater than 25 per cent

  2. #2 Douglas Watts
    February 1, 2010

    But it doesn’t seem to be generally known that nothing an affluent Westerner does can have anywhere near as beneficial an effect on the future environment as not having kids.

    Well, that’s not true at all. A very wasteful rich American couple with no kids can easily consume 10X more resources and energy than a poor couple with 1 or 2 or 3 kids. This happens all the time in suburbs across the USA.

    Secondly, this concept ignores the externality of what happens when your child decides to devote their life and career to protecting the Earth. If you decide to have no kids to “save the planet”, you remove that kid who otherwise might have adopted your ideals and taken them to the next level.

    This is an extraordinarily simplistic essay.

  3. #3 Tor
    February 1, 2010

    “nothing an affluent Westerner does can have anywhere near as beneficial an effect on the future environment as not having kids.”

    I think you are probably being too categorical here. If you have a kid and I don’t, but you and your kid each consumes only half as much as I do, then the two of you together burden the planet no more than me alone.

    How to cut your environmental impact in half, then? Well, the milk cartons won’t make much of a difference, of course. But I would expect that an affluent Swede who donates half of his income to charity will probably automatically end up consuming about half as much as he would otherwise.

    Lifestyle makes a difference — and not necessarily to the detriment of your personal well-being. According to

    http://www.happyplanetindex.org/learn/download-report.html,

    the world’s happiest people, the Costa Ricans, consume only marginally more than what would be sustainable at the current global population level.

  4. #4 ChicagoMike
    February 1, 2010

    Al Gore’s new book, Our Choice, has a very well researched chapter on the problem of over-population. He tells us that the most effective solution requires a combination of:

    1. Educating women.
    2. Empowering women legally and politically (Right to vote, own property, hold public office, etc).
    3. Providing access to contraception for anyone who wants it.
    4. Decreasing rates of infant mortality.

    I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about over-population because they think the only solutions are coercive policies that restrict people’s choices (and also because Rush Limbaugh might tell you to kill yourself: http://climateprogress.org/2009/10/20/limbaugh-to-ny-times-environment-reporter-revkin-why-dont-you-just-go-kill-yourself/)

    Focusing on Gore’s solutions, however, is probably more likely to achieve results.

  5. #5 ChicagoMike
    February 1, 2010

    Tor: “the world’s happiest people, the Costa Ricans, consume only marginally more than what would be sustainable at the current global population level.”

    I think this is a slight misreading of the happy planet index. The index is basically a measure of (happiness * life span) / resources consumed. So the Costa Ricans are not necessarily happier then Europeans & Americans overall, just happier for longer per unit of consumption.

    Still, I generally agree with your point.

  6. #6 Martin R
    February 1, 2010

    Rod G, such a family is likely to have a rather small per capita environmental footprint anyway.

    C-Mike, sounds like an interesting book. But the lower infant mortality rate is rather counterintuitive. Is the thinking that people will have more babies if they’re unsure how many of them will survive to adult age? But that must have to do with total child mortality, not just infants. I mean, after a year your kid is no longer an infant and then you know whether the infant mortality rate is a problem or not in your case.

  7. #7 darwinsdog
    February 1, 2010

    “We need to give little girls worldwide a good education, because that makes them have fewer kids when they grow up.”

    Yeah, let’s educate little girls in order to reduce their Darwinian fitness. Altruistic motive if ever there was one…

  8. #8 Captain Patriot
    February 1, 2010

    What the hell? I always knew the leftists were for population control, but this is sick! You people need a lesson in how the real world works. I figured out a long time ago that global warming and the healthcare bill have one thing in common – the extermination of certain peoples in order to gain unlimited power and install socialism in the place of freedom. Population control is an idea that goes way back. Karl marx was for it. Hitler was certainly for it, and seems like today’s marxist leftists are all for it too. I agree. Let’d do population control – by getting rid of socialists, communists, and other liberals. You sick people should be ashamed of yourselves.

    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28

  9. #9 Janne
    February 1, 2010

    “I think you are probably being too categorical here. If you have a kid and I don’t, but you and your kid each consumes only half as much as I do, then the two of you together burden the planet no more than me alone.”

    It’s a larger difference than that. The environmental impact of another child is the consumption of that child over their lifetime – and the consumption of that childs expected number of children (and childrens children…) in turn.

    @Captain Patriot: Huh? You often pop in to rant about something not even remotely connected to the discussion at hand?

  10. #10 ChicagoMike
    February 1, 2010

    Martin: “But the lower infant mortality rate is rather counterintuitive. Is the thinking that people will have more babies if they’re unsure how many of them will survive to adult age?”

    I think that’s the idea. When people know their children are likely to survive into adulthood, they’re also willing to dedicate more resources into their health and education.

    Population growth due to reproduction (as opposed to immigration) in most developed countries is basically zero or even negative (in Japan for example), without any legal restrictions on having children.

  11. #11 megan
    February 1, 2010

    [[God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28]]

    A Biblical dictum created by a struggling desert Arab tribe trying to out populate their neighbors, stealing creation stories from neighbor tribes and making them their own. It’s also the way a virus and most not un-intelligent conscious lifeforms go about living. Using bible terms/idea, GOD has also given intelligent humans beings the rule, as STEWARDS of the planet. Therefore it is SINFUL to waste and abuse the planet by overconsumption and greed, resulting from uncontrolled animal-like breeding lust justified for power, without intelligent reasoning of effects on God’s planet surroundings or available resources.

    The researched fact is people/women NATURALLY lower their birthrates(balanced populations) when they have a secure and healthy environment/medical access and aren’t culturally controlled by men and male dictated(DICK-tated) sexual religious mores.

    Also, with millions born everyday, to say every person should pop out another baby because by chance it could be an Einstein/Borlaug is the highest level of arrogance. One can always second guess if this or that did or didn’t happen.

    Science and logic have shown ANY lifeform that out breeds it’s resources in it’s environment starts developing high rates of illness, genetic diseases, increased starvation, internal violence and then in extremes, cannibalism.

    Humans are exhibiting this not just regionally but having expanded to worldwide limits, globally. The conspiracy is the bold denial and ignorance by those who want to keep living as is(luddites and technocrats) and thinking there’s always another rainbow and another horizon another science/medical/food production miracle, prayers (ie exploit another planet?Antarctic?planet sized petridish?biofuels?shale?nuclear energy)

  12. #12 Jose
    February 1, 2010

    Excellent post and you didn’t get compared to Hitler until comment 8! Not bad going considering the subject matter.

  13. #13 Reh
    February 1, 2010

    Captain Patriot – Maybe it’s just me, but I fail to see anything sick or shameful about extolling the possible benefits of adoption and/or lessening your family’s carbon footprint.

    As for educating women (or anyone, for that matter), I think the only ‘education’ that could make a difference in that respect is massive government-funded programs that inform people everywhere that we are in the beginning of a population-overload, and we need to act. Then lead them the the already-mentioned options – adoption, contraceptives, etc.

    Yeah, I know, governments everywhere are doing this about climate change right now, and it doesn’t get us anywhere…but the biggest difference between this population thing and climate change is that correcting a population overload probably wouldn’t offend oil companies or other big polluting/destructive businesses, nor does it require years and years of bureaucratic hodgepodge to get things done…this is a problem that, when it comes right down to it, lies solely in the hands of mommy and daddy.

  14. #14 G.D.
    February 1, 2010

    The topic is interesting also for the fact that it drives generally sane people to the kind of non-sequiteurs, fallacies and generally idiotic comments and failures to see the point that we usually expect from right-wing nuts on other topics.

    Such as Tor: “if you have a kid and I don’t, but you and your kid each consumes only half as much as I do, then the two of you together burden the planet no more than me alone.”

    Correct, but if you didn’t have that kid, your impact would be even less – half, in fact – and it is the total impact that matters, not your impact compared to mine; right? And as Janne points out, your kid will be likely to have kids who leave an environmental footprint themselves etc. Do you genuinely not see the point, Tor, or do you just want to miss it?

    Douglas Watts commits the same fallacy, and adds: “If you decide to have no kids to “save the planet”, you remove that kid who otherwise might have adopted your ideals and taken them to the next level.”

    Huh? A kid with good ideals but who leaves at least some environmental footprint compared to no kid – which scenario causes the least environmental impact overall? The statistical chance that the kid will, overall, benefit the planet is – to put it mildly – slim. This, Douglas, is an extraordinarily simplistic dismissal of the point. “Feeble” might be an even better word.

    No one is saying that lifestyle doesn’t make a difference (and don’t try to make it into a false dichotomy). The point is that the biggest difference you can make is …

  15. #15 michellespidermonkey
    February 1, 2010

    This reminds me of a discussion some friends and I had about a year ago. We were talking about the debate to have/not have kids, and the population argument was brought up. However, one of my friends suggested, “What if your child were going to…” and another chimed in “find the solution to the population crisis.” The first one said, “well, sure, but I was thinking ‘…was going to commit mass genocide.’ ”

    That obviously was a joke, but it is a good point. You never know if your progeny might turn out to be someone really important or not, but it is a possibility.

    Nonetheless, while I think we do need to pay serious attention to both a) consumption and b) population control, we need to consider the fact that it’s very hard to make the decision not to have kids at all for that reason, and it’s even harder to tell other people that they should make that decision (Not to mention that it’s hypocritical to tell someone that if you already have your own biological progeny). People have a very strong desire to have children, and often want their own biological children, and to try to work against that is problematic. Furthermore, the right to have children is something that some consider a fundamental human right–this is something we debated in my “global perspectives of women’s health class,” particularly regarding assistance in both family planning/contraception and fertility treatments to women in developing countries.

    Instead, it is better to frame it by focusing on positive means of limiting population, rather than negative means. Ie, instead of focusing on “people should not have children,” a focus of family planning (ie, preventing UNWANTED children through contraception, and planning “wanted” children), and greater support for healthcare and education.

    That said, I also thinking that the problem might end of taking care of itself, as environmental pollutants and life choices seem to be reducing fertility in affluent countries… I think the most important thing would be to promote (and make the process easier/less expensive) adoption as an alternative to fertility treatments….

  16. #16 Paul Murray
    February 2, 2010

    Offer everyone $500 to get sterilised. The people who take it are precisely those ones who we don’t want breeding. Problem solved.

  17. #17 paddy
    February 2, 2010

    Captain Patriot: You will be thoroughly thrashed here; you picked entirely the wrong forum to start babbling on about your magic book and your invisible sky fairy. And you know what, I look forward to it.

    “Listen not to religious people’s opinions in matters of science because they know not what they say.” My Fat Ass, 2:14

  18. #18 Nick Williams
    February 2, 2010

    When this discussion comes up, as it frequently does, among thirtysomethings, I always quote the British poet, Philip Larkin.

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

  19. #19 Paladin
    February 2, 2010

    The post is very true but, not surprisingly, most of the people will find it horrible.
    Even if Captain Patriot is a poe, that kind of thinking is going to be the vast majority, and i’ve seen a lot of people that consider themselves greens that have families of 3+ (not adopted) children. They just can’t grasp the notion of a (geometrical) growing population.

    One way to deal with this would expansion in space, where energy is pretty much free and most of the materials are easy to get – think asteroids – and with no environmental costs. But even then, we need to stop the population growth, as the solar system (or the galaxy or whatever) is still finite.

  20. #20 Tor
    February 2, 2010

    ChicagoMike: No confusion here: if you check out page 61 of the report I linked to you will find the Costa Ricans ranking first in HPI _and_ in life satisfaction. (And in life expectancy they beat Ireland, Luxembourg, and the USA.)

    G.D.: I’m not trying to deny the importance of population control. What I’m questioning is Martin’s assertion that all other choices a person makes are of negligible importance — I have yet to see that claim backed up by solid evidence.

    Janne: Of course my little comparison is simplistic. But yours is problematic too. Sure, an infinite line of descendants will consume an infinite amount of resources. But spread out over an infinite timespan, they will also have an infinite amount of renewable resources at their disposal.
    It seems to me that the best way of framing the question is in terms of sustainability: if everyone did as I do, with respect to procreation and lifestyle, could the earth take it in the long run? And it seems to me that Martin is underestimating the importance of the lifestyle component.
    Maybe I’m wrong; I would be very interested in references to relevant literature.

  21. #21 Tomas Romson
    February 2, 2010

    “a person to produce more than two children is unethical.”

    So I really don’t understand why almost all comments sounds like it is either no kid or too many kids…

    And I don’t understand how you would count this with couples as we’re obviously not talking about 2 children/person = 4 children/couple. And with this statement what happens at remarriage or loss of parents?

  22. #22 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Tomas, I count it as individual responsibility. Let’s say you have two kids with wife1 and then she runs off with the mailman. You then marry wife2. In that situation, it would be unethical for you to sire any kids upon her regardless of how many she’s had before.

    Two kids per person is the replacement rate.

  23. #23 Tor
    February 2, 2010

    I just discovered my link doesn’t work as posted; this one should.

    http://www.happyplanetindex.org/public-data/files/happy-planet-index-2-0.pdf

  24. #24 Dunc
    February 2, 2010

    Yeah, let’s educate little girls in order to reduce their Darwinian fitness. Altruistic motive if ever there was one…

    You do know that H. sapiens is not an R-selected species, right?

  25. #25 kai
    February 2, 2010

    Eh, one child per person is the replacement rate. A couple can then have two children. but actually we don’t just need to stabilise the population, but bring it down, so a Chinese 1-child-per-family policy makes sense.

  26. #26 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    one child per person is the replacement rate

    Sure, in a statistical sense. But the rule each individual needs to follow in order to stay at or below replacement rate is “no more than two kids from my gonads”. The concept of “couple” shouldn’t enter into the equation since so many people these days are members of more than one couple over their lifetimes.

  27. #27 Barn Owl
    February 2, 2010

    Tor @ #20:

    It seems to me that the best way of framing the question is in terms of sustainability: if everyone did as I do, with respect to procreation and lifestyle, could the earth take it in the long run?

    This is pretty much the way I see it as well, but in the real world, it seems to run up immediately against a spectrum of self-interested counterarguments. At one end, there are the utterly repugnant racist and xenophobic responses to any mention of limiting population growth (which, in the southern border states of the US, where I live, typically takes the form of “ZOMFG!111! Mexicans will overrun us!11! Throw away those condoms, Bubba!). At the other end, specious but not necessarily repugnant, is the argument that “As an educated, responsible person who is interested in environmental issues (or whatever), *my* children will be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.” The same individuals will also use their cleverness and importance (i.e. privilege) to justify all sorts of high carbon footprint behaviors: “It’s important that I fly around the world to meetings etc.; this is balanced by the less important people staying home.”

  28. #28 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    “As an educated, responsible person who is interested in environmental issues (or whatever), *my* children will be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”

    Yeah, that’s really lame. Children of all skin tones and cultural backgrounds can learn enviro-responsible behaviour if they just get to go to good schools.

  29. #29 Barn Owl
    February 2, 2010

    It’s amazing how often you encounter that argument, Martin – especially in the liberal blogosphere. Implicit in the argument is the notion that children can’t learn enviro-responsible behaviors and attitudes from anyone other than their enlightened parents.

    There are some very interesting examples of public (US definition) school programs and initiatives to teach inner city and other socioeconomically disadvantaged kids about nature and environmental stewardship. They just don’t seem to get much attention, though – people are much more interested in discussing their privileged foibles.

  30. #30 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    One point on the subject of adoption – at this point, statistically speaking, as I understand it, adopting children doesn’t actually result in a net reduction in the number of children in the world. That is, mothers that give their children up for adoption tend to go on to have as many children, plus those given up, as mothers who retain their children. So I’m not sure that this is the answer, in a statistical sense – instead it seems to shift who gives birth, rather than signficantly affecting the number of children. This seems to be true in both the Global South and the Global North.

    This should not be viewed as a case against adoption, for which their are many excellent reasons, but I’m not sure the best of them is the one you cite.

    Sharon

  31. #31 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Still, there isn’t really a population growth problem within the highly educated subset of the world’s population. Sweden would dwindle fast if it weren’t for immigration.

  32. #32 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Sharon, I don’t quite follow your argument. Are you saying that if a mother puts her child up for adoption, then her decision whether to have another kid is influenced by whether the first one gets adopted or not?

  33. #33 David Marjanović
    February 2, 2010

    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28

    We have successfully completed this alleged objective. Now we need to make sure we don’t become a victim of our own success.

    And Hitler, you moron, gave medals to mothers of at least 8 children. He wanted to settle (at the very least) half of Europe with Germans, and there weren’t anywhere near enough Germans for that.

    Two kids per person is the replacement rate.

    About 2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.

    You do know that H. sapiens is not an R-selected species, right?

    H. sapiens is in fact an r-selected species. K-selected species reduce their fertility as a result of overcrowding – we don’t.

    We share many traits with K-selected species that r-selected species usually lack (slow reproduction, large parental investment in children…), but that’s not the definition.

    r = reproductive rate
    K = carrying capacity

  34. #34 Lucario
    February 2, 2010

    We don’t reduce our fertility rates as a result of overcrowding? Then why do urban areas generally have lower fertility rates than rural areas?

  35. #35 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Slums have high fertility rates. Manhattan has a low one because only educated people can afford to live there. Both are urban areas.

  36. #36 darwinsdog
    February 2, 2010

    Dunc & David: K- versus r-selection is the kind of generalization or truism you learn about in undergrad biology courses which you then have to unlearn when you study ecology & evolution on the graduate level. The concepts represent the poles of a continuum and are so slippery and come with so many caveats, exceptions and special cases as to render them essentially meaningless. K- vs. r-selection is early-/mid-20th century ecology that’s best dropped today.

    Educating little girls is a noble ambition. When you explicitly state that you want them educated BECAUSE said education is expected to lower their birth rate (i.e., to reduce their Darwinian fitness) your ambition is stripped of all nobility and your selfish motivations are revealed.

    This said, have as many kids as you can, I say. Fitness is, after all, the only currency selection trades in. No individual of any species is under any obligation to reduce reproductive output for the sake of some vague ideal such as the “good of the species” or “good of the environment.” That’s a meme others want you to swallow in order to further their own interests at the sake of your own. If you think that humans need to adopt group selectionist thinking, I say that 4 bys of selection trumps your newage “wisdom.” As population pressure mounts, and resource depletion impinges, it will be groups of brothers & first cousins who can defend farms & communities, or effectively raid farms & communities not organized along kin selected lines. This is the reality we face and those of you who choose to rob yourselves of blood-tied networks of support only make yourself easier for cadres of relatives to exploit. Even if Homo faces extinction, it’s BETTER – a calculated value judgment, thank you very much – to have one’s own genes in the running for perpetuation than to have already voluntarily surrendered any chance of scoring in the Darwinian lottery. On second thought, hopefully mass infection with the childlessness meme reduces competition for my progeny, so by all means, those of you who aren’t related to me, curtail your spawning.

  37. #37 ChicagoMike
    February 2, 2010

    Tor: “No confusion here: if you check out page 61 of the report I linked to you will find the Costa Ricans ranking first in HPI _and_ in life satisfaction. (And in life expectancy they beat Ireland, Luxembourg, and the USA.)”

    Thanks for providing the link. I can see that you are correct.

  38. #38 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    Martin, yes, I am. The point is that women don’t like putting their kids up for adoption, it isn’t fun for them, and they often go on to have more children. If they gave the child up because of extreme poverty or youth, when those circumstances are remedied (or when they simply decide they can live with them) they tend to go ahead and have children. If they gave the child up because of social policies or social disapproval, same deal. If they have their child taken away, even more so. This is especially evident in places like China, where giving up a child is almost always used in order to get a more “desirable” child – the children are either girls or disabled, generally speaking in a society with a prediliction for boys. This is sometimes the case in the US – children with downs syndrome are given up at a fairly high rate, for example, and their mothers go on to have more children as well.

    I’ve got the research on this somewhere – I wrote about it in the first of my books, but it’ll take me a bit to locate it when I get back to my actual desk. I’ll try and find the cites. Again, this is not an argument against adoption – but I do think that the argument that adoption reduces population overall may not work.

    Sharon

  39. #39 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    I don’t agree with much of what Darwinsdog says here, but I do think that he/she is potentially correct about the impact of the motivation of educating women on the populations in question. Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies in _Ecofeminism_ have documented, for example, the degree to which population limitation programs in the Global South have often been misused. Feeding programs for women, for example, that offer supplemental food often explicitly discriminated against the elderly and those already sterilized, letting them go hungry. Educational programs that focus heavily on encouraging smaller families often take an approach, they argue, that isn’t empowering to women, but that shifts power and authority into male medical hands. They are not opposed to such programs, but they are concerned about how they have been implemented, and I think it is worth pointing out that educating women has the effect, in most cases, of reducing TFRs but it can’t be about that – that is, we educate women and give them power because that’s a good and right thing in and of itself, not purely to advance one element of an agenda.

    Sharon

  40. #40 IasasaI
    February 2, 2010

    darwinsdog: Or we could just NOT have a major meltdown of civilization. You seem convinced that’s what’s going to happen, though. Even IF it were to shake down as such, what makes you think family lines are somehow superior? Automatic loyalty? Gee, that worked so well for all the fiefdoms and dynasties and kingdoms of the past, which is effectively the kind of world you’re painting for our future. How long before taking THEIR resources becomes taking HIS resources? I mean, why go OUT to raid and pillage and plunder when you can stay at home for it?
    I fail to see how returning to a Dark Age for who knows how long will benefit the species – that’s far too short a time scale to matter in “Darwin’s Lottery”, unless you’re proposing we return to that way of life for something like a few hundred thousand years, minimum. At that point, both the scenario you seem to be anxiously awaiting and the one our illustrious author supports (as do I) are still “playing the lottery”, so they’re on even footing in that regard. Why not just admit that you are (apparently) unabashedly desirous of a return to a feudal pastoral (probably paternalistic) society?

  41. #41 Thomas
    February 2, 2010

    Re: #22

    “Two kids per person is the replacement rate.”

    Actually 2.1 per couple is the widely accepted replacement rate, not 2 – you have to factor in death rates. Therefore, for a population to stay the same, some people have to have 3 children. How can we take your arguments seriously if you can’t get the simple facts right?

    I’m not even sure we want to stabilize populations yet. Many places- Japan and the Scandanavian countries immediately come to mind – are facing a demographic catastrophe, with birthrates that are too LOW to sustain their economies as their populations age. Nothing unethical about you having kids to pay for my bills when I get older, I’m all for it.

    This kind of Matlhusian thinking has been unequivocally placed in the garbage bin of economic theory put keeps coming up again and again. We are not running out of resources and won’t soon, and climate change has to instituted by smart policies, not by limiting fast growing populations in poor countries that contribute little to the problem. Anyway, its a moot point. The world population will probably stabilize at 10 billion by 2050 due to rising standards of living in poor countries (barring war or some other catastrophe), whatever we have say about it. This is what we should concentrate on, not poorly thought out population control policies that won’t work anyway.

  42. #42 Reh
    February 2, 2010

    darwinsdog: “No individual of any species is under any obligation to reduce reproductive output for the sake of some vague ideal such as the “good of the species” or “good of the environment.”

    This is true, but you say that as if humans are equal with all other species in that regard. No other animal has the potential to over-populate to the extent that humans already have/will continue to, because nature wipes them out long before they get to dangerous levels. But we defy nature. No member of any other species has the capacity to give up its life in the name of moralistic ideals, but humans do that every day. No other species takes care of its mentally or physically ill as long and labouriously as we do. It is survival of the fittest for other animals, living within the boundaries of a ‘natural’ existence, but clearly that is NOT the case with humanity (i.e. obesity and severe/chronic illness do not survive in the Darwinian world)

    It’s no good to just group humans with other animals and say that we should not act on behalf of environment and our species, especially when our intelligence seems hard-wired to do so. We may not be obligated by mother nature, but we are obligated by human nature.

  43. #43 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Darwin’s dog said, “When you explicitly state that you want them educated BECAUSE said education is expected to lower their birth rate (i.e., to reduce their Darwinian fitness) your ambition is stripped of all nobility and your selfish motivations are revealed.”

    This is curious thinking to me. Countering the population explosion isn’t just good for me, it’s good for everybody. And I certainly don’t care about any person’s Darwinian fitness.

  44. #44 Raging Bee
    February 2, 2010

    I always knew the leftists were for population control, but this is sick!

    So…if a guy decides not to have unprotected sex because he’s not ready to be a proper dad, is he sick?

    IF a woman decides that four kids is enough, is she sick too?

    If a family decide to adopt a pre-existing kid and give him all the love and nurturing he needs, rather than let him starve while they create a kid of their own to feed, are they sick too?

    Of course not. The only one who’s “sick” here is captain pee, who can’t pretend to understand other people without demonizing them (and getting the history totally wrong to boot).

  45. #45 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Sharon, I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say. There are today a certain number of orphans worldwide. If I adopt one of them instead of making a baby with my wife, then that translates to one person less on the planet a year from now. My adopting this child cannot conceivably influence the future actions of his/her birth mother. In many countries, the orphanages tend not even to know who the birth-mother is.

  46. #46 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Said Thomas, “Many places- Japan and the Scandanavian countries immediately come to mind – are facing a demographic catastrophe, with birthrates that are too LOW to sustain their economies as their populations age.”

    Yes, I am proud of that. That’s what I hope will happen worldwide. We need to trigger a demographic catastrophe that doesn’t involve people dying from famine, war or pandemics. This means not having kids.

  47. #47 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    Martin, this implies that children will be given up regardless of the availability of adopters. In some measure this is true – parents who cannot feed children will sometimes abandon them, some children will be taken from parents for poor care. But in the vast majority of cases, the availability of adopters is a factor – particularly among the demographic you are suggesting that we adopt from, ie, not the poor world. That is, parents tend to give children up in large part from the perception that someone will give them a better life. But if that person then goes on to have two more children, the net effect on world population is nil. You simply shifted the demographics around – she gave birth to your baby. If she thought that no one would adopt it, most parents wouldn’t give up their children.

    You also can’t take a large number of poor infants and give them to affluent westerners without also altering the perception of demographics. Some women would still abandon their children, of course, but the perception that your extra daughter or disabled child will be rescued by a rich American or European does factor into the decision to give up children.

    Now this could be resolved by adopting only the children that would absolutely have been abandoned anyway, or those whose parents are terrible. The problem with this is that the parenting equivalents are not the same – a five year old who has been repeatedly raped and burned with cigarettes is not the same as an infant, and requires parenting skills that are in shorter supply than the average. If we take only the children of the desperately poor who would have to abandon their kids, not only do your run into the fact that a child who has suffered malnutrition and weighs 9lbs at age 13 months is also going to require some different skills, but you also have precisely the problem you deplore – you are taking kids that wouldn’t have consumed much and moved them to the rich world.

    Please do not take this as a criticism of adoption – I was raised in a family that did foster care, more than 70 children lived in my parents’ house with my two sisters and I. My husband and I plan to adopt, most likely older, high need kids. But I think it is incorrect to imply that one can adopt children and lower the total world population at this point.

    Sharon

  48. #48 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Sharon, now I understand. You’re saying that the availability of children for adoption is not an independent variable, but to some extent driven by demand. OK, good point.

  49. #49 darwinsdog
    February 2, 2010

    The time to have stabilized human population was around the time of Christ, when population was around 200 million and still within the long-term carrying capacity (K) of the biosphere. The greater by which K is exceeded the harder the inevitable population crash that ensues and the greater K is degraded post-crash. Current human population at 6.8 billion exceeds K by an order and a half of magnitude. Only by means of petroleum powered agro-industrial enterprise has Homo‘s population managed to exceed K by such an extent. Global petroleum production has likely peaked and natural gas won’t be far behind. Ramping up of coal fired power generation will degrade atmospheric and surface ocean chemistry to an ever greater extent. The expectation that some technocopian breakthru is somehow going to advert the consequences of the situation we face, IasasaI, is patently superstitious thinking. It isn’t about what anyone is “desirous” of, either. Nature doesn’t care about our wants.

    “But humans are somehow different…” Yeah right, Reh. Culture is a very thin veneer, easily cracked, over the solid rock of biology. I’ve seen little in human history to make me think that the outcome of a little oasis planet innoculated with humans won’t be exactly that of a rich nutrient agar innoculated with a colony of bacteria.

    You may not care about anyone’s Darwinian fitness, Martin, but if you act on your lack of concern and refrain from having kids, any genetic propensity that might exist for not so caring dies out when you do. Hence the frequency for not caring declines in the population. That’s how selection works. The breeders inherit the world.

  50. #50 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    Heard of information transfer from one generation to the next through culture? And about the concept that not all human behaviour is genetically determined? We’re not bugs, you know.

  51. #51 darwinsdog
    February 2, 2010

    This miraculous ‘Lamarckian’ ability to transfer information from one generation to another has ended war, has it? It’s prevented the gross human overshoot of K, routed anthropogenic mass extinction, the poisoning of the atmosphere & surface ocean with oxidized carbon, and all the assorted meannesses of one person to another? Nawww… it’s not done all that but it’s SURE to prevent population collapse! Wishful thinking to the point of self-delusion apparently comes easy to a cultural determinist.

  52. #52 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    There’s an interesting conjunction between this post and the next one, detailing the number of high tech e-waste producing, phones you’ve had, and the next one you are shopping for, btw. Not standing in judgement (I own a cell too) but it does seem problematic to talk about reducing population the poor world on one hand, and why we shouldn’t adopt impoverished starving kids from the Global South and give them a higher standard of living, and then what kind of overpriced cell phone to buy. One may not truly influence the other, but the conjunction, well, that’s art.

    Sharon

    Sharon

  53. #53 Thomas
    February 2, 2010

    “We need to trigger a demographic catastrophe that doesn’t involve people dying from famine, war or pandemics.”

    I mostly agree with you there. My view is that it will happen, and that the best way to implement it is the way its been done in places like Sweden, i.e. sound policies to promote economic development, empowering women, and raising living standards. Population control is futile without these things.

    “The expectation that some technocopian breakthru is somehow going to advert the consequences of the situation we face”

    It won’t be one, but thousands. The sky isn’t falling, the history of the last century proves it. And I’m not quite sold on us being at peak oil yet.

  54. #54 Tor
    February 2, 2010

    All right, I’m giving this another shot, mainly because I’m unsure how to think about these issues myself.

    So we have these two peoples, Swedes and Costa Ricans (for now let’s confine attention to these), living about equally long and fulfilling lives, the latter however imposing only 45% of the per-capita ecological footprint of the former. The world could support 5.9 billion people living happily like Costa Ricans, or 2.7 billion living happily like Swedes.

    (Figures taken from the Happy Planet report linked to above. I can’t judge how well-founded they are — but for now let’s buy them for the sake of the argument.)

    Now consider the following two scenarios.

    A. We all insist on living like Costa Ricans until Nature and/or authority-imposed family planning brings our number down to 5.9 billion.

    B. We all insist on living like Swedes until Nature and/or authority-imposed family planning brings our number down to 2.7 billion.

    Here are two questions for Martin and anyone else who might hold an opinion.

    — Do you agree that, while both scenarios are likely to entail great human suffering, A is nevertheless vastly preferable to B?

    — If so, do you also agree that blog posts downplaying the significance or per-capita resource consumption do not constitute a service to humanity?

    Or am I missing something?

  55. #55 darwinsdog
    February 2, 2010

    “And I’m not quite sold on us being at peak oil yet.”

    What’s the latest word over at The Oil Drum, Sharon? I quit reading it. Last I saw, iirc, was that 2005 was the peak year & July, 2008, was peak month. I don’t think that those production peaks have been exceeded.

  56. #56 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    the number of high tech e-waste producing, phones you’ve had

    Yes, it’s an indulgence, though I don’t consume much else. And my old phones go on to the aftermarket. One was actually bought by a Tanzanian teacher who sent it home to her folks.

    Tor, I agree with you on what is preferrable in that scenario. But those 5.9 billion wouldn’t constitute a stable population. It would grow. The Swedish way of life, as we have seen, leads to demographic collapse, which is what we need. The Costa Rican one does not. And Costa Rica is not well enough organised anyway to manage an authority-imposed family planning policy.

  57. #57 e-liquid
    February 2, 2010

    How about this idea of population control:
    We let all the people that are killing themselves by living unhealthy lives (eating bad food, smoking, drinking too much, etc) just die without extending their lives via drugs. This would much alleviate an already bulging healthcare system that does not provide its patients with health, just a prolonging of life in an unhealthy state.
    The United States would be wiped out of most of it’s people. That would be huge.
    Not that this is a realistic option, but I do think that we have gone too far to preserve a heartbeat rather than quality of life.
    As far as Costa Rica….I do plan on relocating there this year! How ironic that it is mentioned in some of the comments here.

  58. #58 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    Re:oil peak, I think it depends on whether you count the adjusted “liquids” data and include biofuels and high cost extraction techniques that are only viable at certain prices or not. Stuart Staniford, who has an excellent blog just argued that Iraq’s increased production combined with the recession could push off the actual peak by a couple of years, although most of it will get consumed by China’s car growth.

    Sharon

  59. #59 Sharon Astyk
    February 2, 2010

    Martin, I’m not picking particularly on you – I hope it didn’t come off that way. I’m just struck by the way we think about our indulgences – me too – and the way that we regard the indulgences (a lot fewer) of people in the poor world. A woman in India as of the late 1990s (figures may be different now) had to have five children in order to be sure of one surviving to support her in her 60s. In Nigeria, with one of the highest reproductive rates in the world, a child produces more than they consume by the time they are 6 years old for a family with almost nothing else. I do think it is important to have a nuanced view of the way population operates here – that children are the one luxury fully available to most of the world’s poor.

    I’ve got four kids – I’ve already crossed the moral threshold, and I don’t have a problem with your analysis that this is unethical. It certainly doesn’t pass the “do as I do” test – at this point, what we can do about it is reduce our consumption radically, and measurably, my four kids use less than 1 average American kid, but I don’t use that as an argument in favor of my reproductive rate. I don’t have a problem with people arguing for social policies that reduce reproductive rates in the Global North – yes, there’s an economic crisis coming, but we should suck it up and endure it.

    I have more issues with how this is done in relationship to the Global South. Worldwide, many women would like to have fewer children and can’t – that’s bad. But it is also not self-evident that the poor world can/should bear the costs of a faster-paced demographic transition than is already occurring, at least as long as you and I still have our cell phones ;-).

    Sharon

  60. #60 Martin R
    February 2, 2010

    We let all the people that are killing themselves by living unhealthy lives (eating bad food, smoking, drinking too much, etc) just die without extending their lives via drugs.

    You’re kidding. They live that way because they don’t know better. Letting them die would be like trying to combat overpopulation by withdrawing aid from Haiti.

  61. #61 darwinsdog
    February 2, 2010

    The great majority of people who choose an unhealthy diet, choose to smoke or to drink too much, know full well the adverse consequences of their choices, Martin, yet choose to indulge in these behaviors regardless of the consequences. Few, if any, indulge in such behaviors “because they don’t know better.” Who hasn’t heard that smoking contributes to or causes lung cancer, for instance? People value the short-term gratification these behaviors offer more than they fear the long-term consequences. Is this not so?

    Likewise, most people value the innate gratification of parenthood more than they fear the consequences of overpopulation induced environmental degradation. Lot’sa luck convincing people to refrain from reproducing because of some threat doing so poses to the species as a whole or to the environment. If people still smoke knowing full well that smoking may kill them, don’t expect them not to have kids on the grounds that doing so may eventually kill (or at least sicken) the biosphere.

  62. #62 Captain Patriot
    February 2, 2010

    Are you people all for Obama czar that mentioned that the government should sterilize parts of the public through the water system? That is evil, not to mention a good way to get his ass kicked when the people find out about it.
    Peak oil? Give me a break. There will always be oil somewhere. Some is even abiotic. Libtards have no brains.

    “Carbon footprint”? Is that what they call it now when you step in a pile of dog shit?

    Carbon is the least of your worries. Global warming is a scam designed to control the population, gain taxes, and gain more power. That’s all. The ICPP is full of crap and most people know it. It’s the hard left socialist marxists that are pushing this load of crap on everybody else and making their lives miserable. When it comes to how much energy I use, how many kids I have, etc, do me one favor – mind your own damned business. If I want to have 50 kids I will. If you don;t like it, lump it or hump it.

    Implementing communist style rules (one child policy) is the best way I know of to start a civil war. It’s fascism based on a lie.

  63. #63 Janne
    February 2, 2010

    “Slums have high fertility rates. Manhattan has a low one because only educated people can afford to live there. Both are urban areas.”

    Slums have lower fertility rates than the surrounding countryside. Urbanisation in itself does lower the fertility rate. Not that it takes away anybody’s greater point here or anything; I just wanted to point that out.

    @Captain Parrot, we’re not discussing your home country here. Perhaps take your absolutely fascinating insights to someplace where it’s on topic?

  64. #64 Captain patriot
    February 2, 2010

    My home country is AMERICA where it is illegal to have the type of population control programs that you so dearly wish to implement. We are not communists or socialists, we are free people. We can have one child or fifty and the best part is – no one has a right to say a damned thing about it as long as those 50 children are being taken care of, the parents can afford it. Too bad for you. Looks like your AmeriKa and my America are not the same. Maybe you should move to China. Methinks you would enjoy the baseless atheism, sensless one child policy, and the rest of your utopia.

    Who on here said Hitler was not in favor of population control? What do you call killing 6 million Jews not to mention the others he killed beforehand.

  65. #65 nico
    February 2, 2010

    most people I know are opting for zero to 1, and a handful at 2.

    Me? one. Never doing this whole having a kid thing again.

    It would help if adoption criteria wasn’t so grindingly archaic even in the western world. My husband and I, educated, stable, married, would get laughed out of most adoption agencies because we don’t fit their ideal image of churchgoing suburbanites.

  66. #66 Chris From Europe
    February 2, 2010

    OK, Captain Patridiot, but the rights of the children should be enforced then against their parents.

    Hitler was against population control for his people (like you). He was for killing whom he considered enemies. Your Hitler comparison is not only ridiculous, it shows that you watch too much Beck.

  67. #67 Alex
    February 2, 2010

    Personally, I don’t want kids anyways so that settles it. I’m just not into parenting really. At least, everyone will agree with my decision lol.

    @Captain Patriot: Who are you? Pick the answer from the following list of nutjobs:
    1) Glenn Beck
    2) Bill O’Reilly
    3) Rush Limbaugh
    4) Michael Savage
    5) Lou Dobbs
    6) Michelle Bachmann
    7) Sarah Palin
    8) Alex Jones
    9) Pat Robertson
    10) Ted Haggard

  68. #68 DDavid
    February 2, 2010

    Hello everyone,

    Pardon me, but I’ve heard this argument (or a variant thereof) many times, and it always rings true for a few minutes before souring. It’s been made by some segment of the educated class consistently for (at least) the last two hundred years or so, and yet the Malthusian trap has yet to catch us. If you are capable of modifying your beliefs based on evidence, this by itself should give you pause. There’s a potential fallacy that may have not been made explicit in this discussion – the planet’s carrying capacity is not constant, technology is steadily increasing it. Earth can support more people w/o mass starvation after the invention of refrigeration than it could before, and it can support more now than 50yrs ago b/c of the green revolution. Is there any a priori reason to think that this technological innovation will be stopping anytime soon? If not, it doesn’t seem likely that the “better technology -> more people -> better technology” loop will be stopping anytime soon either.

    But this is just talk – we can argue all day, the case could be better decided with data. Can anybody point me towards some empirical evidence supporting the claim of this essay? A serious quantitative attempt at estimating Earth’s carrying capacity? Anything? Or is this business about overpopulation all psuedophilosophical rambling?

  69. #69 Tor
    February 3, 2010

    Maybe my mention of family planning was misleading. And I did not mean to suggest global implementation of all aspects of Costa Rican or Swedish culture and politics. I’m only talking about rates of consumption; specifically, about what happens the day Nature imposes its limits on us and brings down our total consumption with or without our cooperation. And the point of the example is, the higher our per-capita consumption, the bigger our die-off. That, to my mind, is a strong reason to curb excessive consumerism. Now.

    As for the “Swedish way of life” leading to population contraction: are you suggesting that the way to salvation is for humanity to raise its per-capita consumption to Swedish levels and then serenely drop off to sustainable numbers? I’m pretty sure if we tried that we would bang our collective head on the world’s resource ceiling long before the plan could be carried to completion.

  70. #70 Martin R
    February 3, 2010

    Tor, it seems to me that we basically agree. The point of my blog entry was that if we don’t curb our population trend, then the per capita resource consumption will be an academic concern. Of course people who have no kids should recycle milk cartons.

    And I don’t think that the aspect of Northern European and Japanese culture that leads to population collapse is their high resource consumption. I think it has more to do with their high standard of education and what, for lack of a better word, might be called their “Lutheran Samurai” work ethic. Careerism and individualism. Japanese men work themselves to death at their offices instead of getting it on with their lovely wives.

  71. #71 Martin R
    February 3, 2010

    The great majority of people who choose an unhealthy diet, choose to smoke or to drink too much, know full well the adverse consequences of their choices

    It’s not that simple. Obesity and smoking is strongly correlated with poor education. Those people are not unhealthy because they choose to, but because they belong to a subculture that de-emphasises education.

  72. #72 Akhorahil
    February 3, 2010

    First, I wanted to make a correction re: Martind and Thomas: While Japan does indeed have a very low birth-rate, the birth-rate in the Scandinavian countries is in fact quite high be European standards, most likely because of significant support for working mothers. The countries with really low birth-rates are industrialized countries with crappy options for women to both work and have children, such as Japan and Italy.

    Second, the only way to bring down birth numbers in the third world is by making it both possible and rational to have fewer children. The first is achieved through education (particularly of girls and women) and contraceptives. The second is achieved through a lower child mortality (so that you don’t have to sire as many children jut to have decent odds of one surviving) and through social security measures so that you don’t have to have children to take care of you when you’re old.

    Third, while bringing the expansion of the global population under control is an important goal, the actual reduction of it is a very secondary one. To start with, it’s not something that’s enforceable in a democratic society. It would also have massive social effects. Perhaps reducing the global population by a meaningful percentage could be achieved in a few centuries, but it’s not going to be a solution to any current problems. The actions that are needed – and also practically possible, unlike the pipe-dream of rapid depopulation – are global standards for pollution (CO2 in particular), improved techonology, and improved efficiency, and at a sufficiently fast pace to get the improvements done before disaster strikes. Of course, right now we’re losing this race badly.

    Depopulation, while perhaps theoretically relevant over centuries, is a non-starter. It’s so impractical it’s hardly even worth spilling bits on.

  73. #73 Mills
    February 3, 2010

    for a person to produce more than two children is unethical

    Why two? Make it one (like China). Drastic times call for drastic measures. And make it retrospective to set an example. All non-firstborns should be put up for adoption to infertile couples and newly weds.

    Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a … father of two

    Oh I see!

  74. #74 Martin R
    February 3, 2010

    Depopulation, while perhaps theoretically relevant over centuries, is a non-starter. It’s so impractical it’s hardly even worth spilling bits on.

    Still, thank you for doing so. Good points.

  75. #75 Barn Owl
    February 3, 2010

    Sharon @ #59:

    at this point, what we can do about it is reduce our consumption radically, and measurably, my four kids use less than 1 average American kid

    I realize that you’re not using this argument to justify your reproductive rate, just as I would not use the choice to have no children to justify being carelessly wasteful and excessively consumerist (if I were). Your four kids may indeed use less than one average *middle class suburban* child in the US (though I’m not really sure what all you’re measuring), but I’m not convinced that middle class suburban is “average”. It isn’t average where I live, and you’d have a very hard time convincing me that your 4 kids use less than one “average” child in a typical impoverished urban or rural setting in this region. But such children, unfortunately, are effectively invisible to many Americans, even during this current economic crisis.

    I also realize that Martin’s post and this thread are not about the US primarily, but nevertheless, I wanted to counter Sharon’s point with a different regional perspective.

  76. #76 Martin R
    February 3, 2010

    And regardless of how much resources my kids burn today, we have no way of telling how much their kids will burn. If I have four kids and that particular family tradition endures, then I will have 16 grandchildren and 64 great grand children.

  77. #77 sg
    February 3, 2010

    I almost have to laugh. Exhorting folks in countries with below replacement rate fertility to only have two kids seems a little redundant. Maybe a little late to the party?

    A family with ten kids is a drop in the ocean in a country with millions of people and a TFR of 1.5. In the USA 20% of women have no kids. So the 1% who have 5 or more cannot make up the difference.

    Every industrialized country on the planet has a total fertility rate (TFR) below 2.0, and the USA is only at 2.0 because of immigrants who have a higher TFR.

    In fact the white TFR in the USA is lower than the Chinese TFR despite their “one child” policy.

    50 years ago Europe had twice as many people as Africa. Now Africa has more that Europe. Who is going to feed the 3rd world when Europe and the rest of the developed world undergoes its “demographic catastrophe” ?

    Martin said:

    ” And about the concept that not all human behaviour is genetically determined? ”

    Of course not all behavior is genetically determined but some is. Assuming intelligence helps one choose his own behavior, it seems amazingly irresponsible to leave the planet to those least willing and able to modify their behavior.

    Martin also said:

    “Children of all skin tones and cultural backgrounds can learn enviro-responsible behaviour if they just get to go to good schools.”

    Sounds swell in theory. Who is going to build those schools and provide the curriculum and instruction when the industrialized world goes through its “demographic catastrophe”?

    Honestly, Martin, these are important issues. Sure population is important, but if the only folks who know and care are destroyed by a “demographic catastrophe” it won’t be a panacea, more like an apocalypse.

  78. #78 Sharon Astyk
    February 3, 2010

    The word “suburban” wasn’t very useful there – what I do know is that my famly uses about 1/8 the resources of the average American – and measurably, we’ve been doing it and measuring it for some years now. That means the six of us use less than one average American adult – we make 1/10th the garbage, use 1/8 the heating energy, use 1/9th the gasoline, 1/5th the water (we can do 1/10th but we live in a very high rainfall area, and last summer we had 27 inches of rain in one month, so we’ve been a little slack on this one ;-)), 1/10th the electricity, and purchase 1/10th the consumer goods.

    Again, this is not a justification, and as you point out, it doesn’t mean we use less than every single American. I’m not claiming other people should have 4 kids or that my having them is ethical. Just like a lot of people who come to environmentalism, I have a past, not all of it fully conscious. It is also true that just because we do this now doesn’t mean my kids will continue the trend, and also that if they use our reproductive pattern as a model, they will probably reproduce as well (our severely disabled autistic eldest is probably a firm exception – it is extremely unlikely that he will reproduce). That said, it isn’t a fixed pattern, and we do talk, in age appropriate ways, about the issue – my husband is an only child, for example, so manifestly one’s reproductive patterns are not fully transmitted biologically.

    Again, I say all of this for full disclosure, and to point out that I’m not trying to pick on Martin’s smart phone or anything like it. I don’t have to say this – I write and speak about demographic issues and population all the time and I always cop to my kids, unlike most of the people who speak on the subject ;-).

    Sharon

  79. #79 Martin R
    February 3, 2010

    Exhorting folks in countries with below replacement rate fertility to only have two kids seems a little redundant.

    Good point. Who knows, maybe this blog isn’t read by a single person in a country that actually has an exploding population?

    Assuming intelligence helps one choose his own behavior, it seems amazingly irresponsible to leave the planet to those least willing and able to modify their behavior.

    Did you just say say people in poor countries are genetically inferior and less smart than people in rich ones?

  80. #80 sg
    February 3, 2010

    “Did you just say say people in poor countries are genetically inferior and less smart than people in rich ones?”

    No, I said people intelligent enough to modify their behavior, that includes intelligent people in poor countries. I don’t think poor countries will be better off if the smart people in those countries go extinct and leave it to the less intelligent.

    “Who knows, maybe this blog isn’t read by a single person in a country that actually has an exploding population?”

    Anyone reading this blog should probably have at least two kids, and thank you for your contribution to the next generation.

  81. #81 Captain Patriot
    February 3, 2010

    I’m more like Micheal Savage than the rest. Hannity is great, but Savage tells it as it should be told and isn’t afraid of the libs like Hannity.

  82. #82 Rumpleforeskin
    February 3, 2010

    “We need to give little girls worldwide a good education, because that makes them have fewer kids when they grow up. And we need to combat various religious organisations that sow doubt about the efficacy and moral acceptability of contraceptives.”

    That’s right blame the religious for all your problems rather than taking personal responsibility. Liberals suck. We need little girls to grow up to be women, not militant man hating feminazis and we need to combat anti-religious organizations who threaten 6000 years of human history.

    ————————-
    ” It’s up to us to decide if this should happen through contraception and a global single-child policy or through a catastrophic die-off.”

    A global single child policy is FASCISM plain and simple. The man who though that idea up should be castrated and burned at the stake all in the same day.

    There will be a catastrophic die off. Ever heard of the Book of Revelation?

    Damned this was a fascist post.

  83. #83 stella
    February 3, 2010

    A really sobering (and downright terrifying) realtime simulation of births, death and carbon emmissions per country and globally: http://www.breathingearth.net/

    I needed a cup of tea and a lie down (and a tubal ligation)after looking at this for a few minutes!

    Voluntary population control (and the education, medical and cultural means to make it logical and practical) should be more widely encouraged.

  84. #84 Martin R
    February 4, 2010

    No, I said people intelligent enough to modify their behavior, that includes intelligent people in poor countries. I don’t think poor countries will be better off if the smart people in those countries go extinct and leave it to the less intelligent.

    That’s eugenics. Doesn’t work that way. Intelligence is not strongly heritable, and not all intelligent people come around to an enviro-friendly viewpoint.

  85. #85 Akhôrahil
    February 4, 2010

    Depends on what you mean with “strongly” – somewhere between 0.4 and 0.8 is the typical range given.

    (But I fail to see how intelligence would be at all correllated with an environmentalist standpoint. sg, do you think that China opposed Copenhagen because the Chinese leaders were *stupid*? That’s nonsense! It was good old self-interest, as it almost always is.)

  86. #86 sg
    February 5, 2010

    “sg, do you think that China opposed Copenhagen because the Chinese leaders were *stupid*? That’s nonsense! It was good old self-interest,”

    Well, the Chinese think that their one child policy (which yields a TFR of 1.78) counts as part of their long term as being environmentally responsible and no, I don’t think they have the one child policy as an eco friendly measure. However, having fewer kids is what Martin was proposing as an effective eco friendly/responsible measure. So if it counts when Sweden does it then it should count when China does it. I agree that China’s policies are designed to serve what China perceives as its self interest. Other results are incidental. I do not believe that the Chinese plan to implement curriculum in their schools that will help their “people come around to an enviro-friendly viewpoint”. I think their schools teach their people to be loyal to China first. It will probably be effective.

    “not all intelligent people come around to an enviro-friendly viewpoint.”

    Do you think dumb people are as likely to become eco-friendly and therefore limit their fertility for the sake of the environment? Anyway, from what I have read, intelligence is heritable, albeit not 100%, as Akhôrahil stated.

    Also, limiting fertility in industrialized nations is moot since it has already happened and shows no signs of going back up. A more effective environmental strategy for these nations to limit population growth therefore is ending immigration. If your nation’s consumption is high per capita but you are decreasing in number, it doesn’t make much sense to import people with lower consumption to come in and pick up your bad habits and thereby increase total consumption.

  87. #87 onix
    February 13, 2010

    first-off i think it is true that progressive people’s children tend to give a good response in the sence of feeling responsability as a result of the different attitude of their caretakers.
    next i disagree strongly to the xenophobiac reasonings that it would have any merrit to try to keep poor and underdeveloped areas marginal, or that it would actually have any impact on statistics of consumption to apply such measure. it is actually one more of the colonialist excuses, but that besides the advances in clean technology and information (like eg birthcontrol) will allways be better served with exchanges. so in fact the opposite is true, and to have a better chance for survival as a species we should set out to share technology. (of wich living space is an example also). next the realist perspective is that they will develop, and that your ‘race’ of whatever subspecies you do think is served by applying limitations to people who can’t reach you , might develop, the mechanisms that will help us survive the collision of rich and poor, wich is bound to outline more of our recent history then it yet did.

  88. #88 KW
    April 10, 2010

    Just my two [s]cents[/s] dollars.

    The heritability of intelligence isn’t the only factor at work here. Cultural transmission is also “heritable” in the sense that parent to child transmission of values is a strong factor in what the child will believe in. Therefore, utter morons like Captain Patriot (nice nickname there, illustrates the in-group/outgroup thing so well) will outcompete you in the process of transmitting their sheer idiocy to the next generation.

    I’d also like to point out that current opinion in neurobiology does not support the kind of determinism argued for by darwinsdog. The “solid rock of biology”? On what grounds do you argue this? The “solid rock of biology” gave us a brain capable of making projections and modeling the world we live in. The same brain that is capable of designing interventions against eventualities. Also the same brain that is plastic enough to acquire cultural meanings from others of the same species. Dr. Rundkvist’s post outlined an intervention he chose for the reasons he gave. The fact that I essentially disagree with the projected outcome does not remove the fact that planning ahead rationally is possible.

    I support efforts to empower women, because firstly, it’s consistent with my moral viewpoint, and secondly with regard to this post, it is effective in addressing a broad range of social ills affecting third-world countries. That’s an example of rationally designed intervention.

    It’s a fallacy to say, “That’s always been the case, why haven’t we solved it yet?” We plan interventions in our daily lives and in the broader scheme of things according to what we know (and what we believe in, not to discount the role of ideology in coloring evidence). Our tools for projecting, monitoring and assessing the success and methodology of intervention have never been better now than at any point in human history. We have tools never dreamed about by people fifty years ago, a mere blip in human history. Read any science fiction book written 30-40 years ago. The difference between what they imagined and what we have is stark.

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