If we were to assert that cars are the cause of traffic accidents, we would be disingenuous. Cars are hunks of metal, plastic, and rubber that just sit there. It’s people who make them dangerous missiles. We drive them around. The same is true for air pollution. So much for metaphors.
Allow us to elucidate. Last Sunday we were watching Cosmos on the Fox Network. The host and lecturer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made an eloquent case that climate change and global warming are real, that human behavior is largely responsible for it, and the consequences are likely to be dire. Fine.
But the blame, as in most arguments we come across, goes something like this: We are burning too much coal, petroleum products, and natural gas. The argument usually goes that the burning of fossil fuels is killing our environment. In other words, just as people drive cars that cause destructive accidents, people cause the pollution that destroys our environment.
The cure? Replace our fossil fuels with wind and solar power. To that, some arguments go, add hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and nuclear power. Fine. The problem is that no one in the mass media is saying anything about the root cause, the drivers, as it were. The root cause is too many people. Demographers estimate that human populations will grow by about 40 percent by the end of this century. It’s crazy. No matter how fast we replace fossil fuels with renewable and other alternate sources of energy, we’re still going to need to supply an additional three billion of us with electrical power.
But the communications media virtually never discuss the need to educate our ourselves about not producing more of us than the planet can handle. It seems as though we can discuss anything except the drivers of the metaphorical cars of environmental destruction who are causing the problems. Perhaps they are afraid that mentioning family planning is the third rail of environmentalism.
So, it may be up to Mother Nature to control her children by letting them destroy their home and killing them off by means of environmental disasters. Sooner or later the news media will have to talk about the dead elephant in the room.
We wish the term “global warming” had never been conceived. With a third of the U.S. population having its brains beaten out by snow and near-record cold temperatures (at this writing New York City expected a low of seven degrees this morning and Chicago looked forward to a wind-chill of about 40 below), how can anyone think about global warming?
Just hold your horses—or kangaroos—as we take a look down under. The Aussies have just lived through their hottest year on record. And so far, things don’t look much cooler for 2014. While the cities on the east coast of the country have decent temps right now, it might not be a good idea to visit the outback, and we’re not talking steak houses here. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that 34 locations in Australia set all-time high temperature records between Dec. 30 and Jan. 4. One area of south central Australia had highs above 120 degrees. These high-low ranges are why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming.”
Remember, we just experienced mega Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, preceded by “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the U.S. East Coast. Which brings us to the point. Don’t let the bitter cold that is saturating broadcast news misdirect your attention. In California, where we live, 2013 was one of the driest years on record. The northern part of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the snow-dependent Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada, is practically gasping for rain and snow. We are experiencing week upon week of well-above-average temperatures. So while we are all looking at snow drifts on the tube, we feel this reminder is timely: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND THE SEAS ARE RISING. In other words, on average the surface temperatures on our planet are headed upward. And that means ice everywhere is melting faster than it is replaced.
According to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, the preponderance of evidence places the blame on human activity. And no matter how energy efficient we become over the next century, adding three billion of us to the planet is going to make it all but impossible to reduce energy consumption overall.
Nancy Cole of Union of Concerned Scientists, writing in the fall 2013 issue of Catalyst, explains that “ … heat is also absorbed by oceans, causing water to warm and expand. Together, these mechanisms have caused the global average sea level to rise eight inches since 1880; some cities along the East and Gulf Coasts have seen even greater increases, from 12 inches in Miami Beach to 30 inches in Virginia Beach.” Cole refers to scientists’ projections that globally seas could rise an additional six to 16 inches by 2050. In the ensuing 50 years they could rise another two to six feet.
If there is one thing we have learned since diving into the myriad issues of the consequences of overpopulation, it is that such projections often don’t have merit when it comes to accuracy. 2013 for instance was supposed to be one hell of a year for Atlantic hurricanes. The reality, in a word: fizzle. But over the long haul, it is likely that the air will warm, ice will melt, and seas will rise. A lot.
That will mean that coastal cities will either be swamped or have to spend big bucks on stopping the seas. Beaches, and even a country or two, like the Maldives, will disappear. And future generations will wonder, “What the hell were they thinking back in the early 21st century? Or were they thinking at all? After all, didn’t they realize there were enough of us, even back then?
Let’s answer the title question this way: If population growth is necessary for a prosperous economy, we will one day prosper ourselves into oblivion. If we must grow in order to prosper, we will either have keep populating until we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or decide to regress back to a less-wealthy state.
As to whether we need population growth, let’s consider the broader picture. Automation is eliminating the need for workers. Technology improves worker productivity. We live in a society in which production is becoming more efficient. Costco, Amazon, Lowe’s, and the like are turning warehouses into stores. So while corporate profits and stock markets hit new highs, engineers are forced to drive school buses and work at Wal-Mart at the same time the Federal Reserve Bank buttresses a lagging economy. It sounds like an economy run by the Mad Hatter.
All of these apparently contradictory indicators lead us to believe that we don’t have enough jobs to keep a growing population employed. Sooner or later, it seems, those corporate profits will sink away as we have an ever-growing segment of people struggling to pay their bills.
But, hey, we’re not economists. In lieu of that status let’s look at a study from Population Connection (PC) that aims to refute the allegations of those it describes as “questionable characters” who are trying to “guilt American women into having more children.”
The organization asserts that while Americans will have to make some adjustments as baby boomers age, we can definitely have a healthy economy without increasing our population. “Economic growth does not depend on population growth.”
According to Population Connection President John Seager, researchers he describes as independent interviewed scores of economists and academics in related fields. The researchers concluded that economic growth is not dependent upon population growth. Considering the world’s limited resources it is a bad idea to rely on a growing workforce to compensate for an aging population. “Increasing productivity, boosting female participation in the labor force, and providing incentives for older workers to stay on the job longer if they want to, can offset the effects of an older population.
“U.S. productivity can increase with a smaller workforce, but not unless we invest in education and address age discrimination.”
Among the insights provided by the academics are:
- Gross Domestic Product measures monetary value. It does not include leisure, volunteering, family time, and other productive activities.
- Natural resources are limited. Humans are consuming renewable natural resources faster than the earth can replace them,
- There is a culture in society of “education-work-retire,” which needs to be re-imagined. We need to adopt the concept of continuously educating ourselves, making us more adaptable.
- Older workers should be open to—and should be accepted as—being able to do work that typically had not been thought of as suitable after “typical” retirement age.
Seager makes the case that, “Unfortunately, in today’s media environment, panicking over ‘birth dearths’ and other ‘baby busts’ always seems to get more airtime. The message ‘We’re gonna (sic) be just fine,’ isn’t sexy so it doesn’t sell.”
With so many environmental, quality-of-life, civil strife, and threatened species problems to be concerned with, all of which are exacerbated by mushrooming human population, “It’s nice to have at least one thing—too few babies—that we don’t have to worry about,” explains Seager.
You can read the entire report upon which Seager bases his case right here.
Our book makes the case that there are enough of us. The truth be told, there are more than Enough of Us. And with fewer of us, our economy and planet can thrive. Hence, the answer to our question is a resounding, “False.”
We have been sounding the clarion call, warning the world that making kids, especially a lot of them, is a really bad idea. What we have been unable to describe, however, is exactly what this tiny orb in an almost unlimited galaxy will look like in a few centuries.
Author Alan Weisman described what the Earth might look like if we suddenly all disappeared, in his 2007 book, The World Without Us. In fact, it looks pretty good, if you can live without the image of The Peter Principle of all species (aka Homo sapiens) running through your imagination.
In his latest tome, Weisman projects just the opposite outcome. In Countdown he guesses what our planet will look like if we can’t keep our sperm contained.
The world’s human numbers grow by the population of Egypt each year. Reno, Nevada has a about 230,000 residents. That is approximately how much global population increases daily. Imagine building a city the size of Reno each and every day of the year, replete with energy sources, fresh water, sewage, and on and on, each day. To us, that is mind boggling. In the six years since Weisman wrote The World Without Us, our numbers have increased from 6.5 billion to 7.1 billion. In less than a century, that number will grow to more than 10 billion.
Imagine, 42 percent growth in nine decades. That’s an increase of two Chinas or nine United Stateses (if that’s how to say it). But enough of statistics. What does this mean in practical day-to-day-life terms?
Let’s start with water. “Ever-rising water demand, and climate change, are expected to boost water problems worldwide, especially in countries that are already experiencing shortages,” says Dina Fine Maron of Scientific American.
She goes on to point out, “Pakistan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, is on the brink of crisis. A recent report from the Asian Development Bank, highlighted by The Atlantic, states that the country’s emergency water reserve only has enough supply for 30 days – more than 30 times below the 1,000-day recommendation for similar countries.”
We must find a way to bring these numbers down or, as Weisman points out, eventually, drought, warfare, disease, or famine will. He traveled to 21 countries to speak with scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and others to research his book. While countries that adopt liberal family planning policies, like Iran – which offers voluntary state-funded birth control and education – seem to “get it,” other countries slog along, creating cities like Mumbai, India, where many of its 20 million people live under tarps strung between skyscrapers.
Weisman makes the case that our planet can provide adequate fresh air, water, and food for two billion people, which was our population in 1900. If we were to adopt China’s one-child policy, we could get back to that number in a century. “I don’t see us being able to change our lifestyles fast enough,” he opines. “The one thing we can do is contraception. We could change human impact more quickly that way, and give ourselves time to solve these other problems.”
As we are fond of saying, there are more than Enough of Us. The tools exist for us to turn things around. What is lacking is the self-awareness, the political courage, and the gumption to “Just say ‘No’”.
In our prior column we began our response to Jonathan Last’s essay, “America’s Baby Bust,” in the Wall Street Journal Review section. He laments the current and soon-to-be-“worsening” baby shortage that will leave our economy in bad shape. After all, without a growing population, who will pay the bills for the ever-increasing number of senior citizens?
Briefly, here is our response:
Those seniors without kids, or with fewer of them, will be better able to afford to support themselves (see last week’s column);
- If increasing the population of little ones is a good thing, why are we so stressed about being able to care for the current spate of baby boomers?
- Increasing the size of our consumerist society means more pollution, trash, demand for energy, climate change and its ramifications, demand for renewable resources, water shortages, etc.
- Increased population means expanding roads, public transportation, water supply and disposal systems, and myriad other public works needs. As things stand right now we cannot even afford to maintain America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Jonathan Last’s take on this is, “it’s unlikely to last. Historically, countries with fertility rates below replacement level start to face their own labor shortages, and they send fewer people abroad. In Latin America, the rates of fertility decline are even more extreme than in the U.S.” What does that tell us? In his essay, he lays out various plans, including tax incentives, to get folks to keep contraception out of the bedroom. This, he contends, will help motivate Americans to have the children they already desire.
For their first 18 years and beyond, children tend to be burdens on society. In the current economic crisis large numbers of recent college grads can’t find work and must remain living with their parents. Folks with advanced degrees are working as unskilled labor in an effort to pay their bills. Many jobs are being shipped overseas or transferred to robots. And we don’t know what the odds are that many of those lost jobs will be replaced by employment openings that require domestic labor.
It seems that society pays little attention to the burdens young people can place on their predecessors. These burdens are especially true for adults of any age who do not have their own children but must nevertheless share the expense involved in bringing up a new gneration..
There are no simple answers to the issues raised by increased populations, or smaller ones, both domestically and worldwide. But thinking only in current economic terms without consideration of environmental and sustainability concerns is not a healthy approach. And prognosticating is a tricky business. But sooner or later we will have to decide that there are more than Enough of Us. And if we wait until much later, the generations that Jonathan Last wants so desperately to increase may have hell to pay for their parents’ profligacy.
Deep in the rainforests of Eastern Ecuador in the early 1940s, primitive Waorani warriors killed about a dozen Shell company workers who were preparing to drill for oil. Why? Because for centuries the Waorani lived on this land and they didn’t want outsiders despoiling the indigenous people’s habitat.
Why on earth would oil companies want to invade the pristine wilderness of Yasuni National Park and the Waorani Ethnic Reserve? This is like one of the clues in the Jeopardy! “Stupid Answers” category. The correct response is: “What is, “Because there’s oil there”?
A team of National Geographic journalists, including five photographers and reporter Scott Wallace, ventured to this area, which “may be one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth.” They came back with a dramatic and visually stunning report, “Rainforest for Sale.”
The Waorani share this area with another indigenous nation, the Kichwa. Both groups participate in trade and some tourism, but those Waorani in the ethnic reserve—or Untouchable Zone—do not. It’s the latter group that has attacked oil workers, and now settlers and loggers, as recently as 2009.
With an ever-increasing demand for energy—as populations in general, and middle classes in particular, grow—it seems that nowhere is sacrosanct, regardless of the personal and environmental impacts.
Eastern Ecuador includes a part of the Amazon Basin, parklands, native peoples reserves, and areas for oil exploration. One of the major problems is that these regions border, and even overlap, each other. An area called the ITT Block (for Ishpingo-Tamboocha-Tiputini) is the big prize for petroleum exploration. It is mostly little-explored forest. The oil companies are closing in. And if the Ecuadorean government does not receive $3.6 billion from those world entities that give a damn, President Rafael Correa is ready to open up the ITT to exploration.
He reasons that poor Ecuador needs the cash to lift itself out of poverty. And either governments and/or environmental groups cough up the cash or it will come out of the ground in the form of oil, an estimated 850 million barrels of it. Correa’s detractors refer to the so-called Yasuni-ITT initiative blackmail. “Every day,” says Wallace, ‘another bit of the wilderness succumbs to the bulldozers and backhoes,” even within the Yasuni’s limits.
If the initiative fails, oil development could overwhelm the southern Yasuni and creep into the Untouchable Zone. As things are now, the night sky glows faintly from the nearby gas flares. If exploration and drilling proliferate, there is no telling how many species might be devastated and even disappear. This includes millions of insects, many of whose species are still unknown.
It’s hard to imagine that demand for energy in Europe, Asia and North America is threatening the existence of insects, cats, a wide variety of primate species, and indigenous peoples in the remote rainforests of northwestern South America. But demand for energy from car owners, TV watchers, and people with homes to heat, mean profits for energy producers and transporters lying in the ground in a continent most of these people will never visit.
Wherever permissible, energy companies are building roads using innovative technologies that enable them to intrude through swampland and forest. These roads create a new set of problems involving the less-primitive indigenous groups. It has happened before. According to Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Galo Zapata, in the 1990s the US energy exploration company Maxus Energy Corporation, built a road. Before very long, “natives living within the (Yasuni) park moved their villages to the road and began hunting animals to sell on the black market. ‘With all the people who will move here, there will be a big demand for bush meat. It will be bad for the big birds and animals. The social impacts will be bad. The story will repeat itself.”
No country consumes energy like the United States does. Per capita, Americans are the world champ energy gluttons. But we are not alone. Middle-class populations are growing worldwide. If the United States does not lead by example in becoming greener, how can we ask the rest of the world to follow? There are Enough of Us already. In fact, there are too many of us. So fecundity in India and China can mean decimation in the rainforests of Ecuador.
We’ll conclude this story next week.
Imagine deciding to take a gamble, but if you lose, that is if the bet goes wrong, an innocent party has to pay. In addition, just placing the bet is almost guaranteed to impact the planet negatively. Well, in his column, “More Babies, Please,” in the December 2, 2012 New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut) exposits that by virtue of not making such bets American society is on the road to decadence.
Douthat is worried about America’s declining birthrate. “The retreat from child rearing is, at some level,” he proposes, “ a symptom of late-modern exhaustion – a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich
societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be.”
This is flip-flop reasoning. And it most certainly is not “conservative” thinking. Douthat’s reasoning would make the Ponzi scheme of population growth the savior of the US economy and quality of life. He feels that because our nation has had a higher fertility rate than France, Japan, China and Brazil it is a superior economic powerhouse.
He takes no notice that our planet is going to an ecological hell in a handbasket, fueled by a population soaring toward 9 billion-plus in this century. Wealthy countries like the United States are the worst offenders because of their profligate consumption of materials and energy.
He makes the case that today’s babies will grow up to be tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers. But with fewer people, we would not need as many entrepreneurs and workers. Douthat is concerned about the worker-to-retiree ratio. He is worried about who will pay taxes in the years ahead. Let’s project this into the distant future. Will we need more babies or immigrants to feed the insatiable retiree hunger, ad infinitum? This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme. The global community of humanity will need to stop growing before we doom our own survival. If not now, when?
Human beings are currently consuming renewable resources like lumber and water at unsustainable rates. Mankind is depleting fossil fuels that will be unavailable for future generations without knowing whether today’s babies will have the know-how to develop non-fossil alternatives for airplanes, ships and a variety of other concentrated energy demands. With climate change wreaking havoc on weather patterns we cannot – at least for now—reliably predict water supplies and shortages.
If we limit our thinking to shortsighted issues like US economic competitiveness and producing future generations for the financial benefit of current retirees, we are doomed to fail. Ideally what would benefit Americans, along with everyone else, is enlightened political leadership that is willing to look the elephant in the room in the eye and ask, “What are we going to do about this thing – this enormous, ever-growing, ever more-consuming mass of humanity that is cannibalizing its own home?”
Certainly there are enough of us. In actuality, there are way too many of us. But let’s go back to that bet that an innocent party has to pay for. We are referring to the very act of procreating. It’s a gamble. One percent of American adults live incarcerated and six times that many spend time behind bars in the course of a lifetime. One percent have disorders on the autism spectrum. Add in mental illnesses, childhood and adult diseases, the expectation that one-third of Americans will have diabetes, and dysfunctional families raising unhappy kids. In other words, parents roll the dice and if the resultant baby comes up craps, it’s the kid who is the primary loser of the bet. We wonder how Douthat can have the chutzpah to call America’s decreasing fertility rate “decadent.” The decision to not reproduce is anything but selfish.
In keeping with our continuing series about religion’s influence on procreation, we look at the family, birth control, and abortion beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormonism.
There are about 12.2 million Mormons worldwide, which makes it a small religion but one that carries a big-population punch.
In 1995, the church’s First President and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” that marriage (between a man and a woman), as well as family, is central to God’s plan. The Mormon Church has issued only five proclamationssince the church was established in 1830. This one spoke to the import of God’s commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth.”
For Mormons, the importance of family has its origins in the Church’s belief in premortal life, i.e., the unborn are God’s spirit children. Each husband and wife brings these spirits to earth, where they become offspring. They manifest in human form and “gain earthly experience” in order to fulfill their divine destiny. Mothers are the ones who rear and nurture their children; fathers provide for, protect, and generally preside over the family, from which the relationships of the members extend “beyond the grave,” and fulfill the “divine plan of happiness.”
Although Latter-day Saints (LDS) celebrate and encourage large families, “Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization,” says Joanna Brooks’ post on the Religion Dispatches.org Web site. “Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members.” Ms. Brooks points to a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Kristine Haglund, who asked the question why insurance plans at LDS institutions do not provide coverage for birth control. The answer, it seems, relates to the present controversy over President Obama’s birth control regulation and “religious freedom.” Even so, Brooks notes that premarital health classes, birth control options and contraception itself is dispensed at Mormon owned Brigham Young University.
The Church’s position on abortion is clear: it’s only acceptable when pregnancy is a result of a rape that causes severe emotional trauma in the mother (when would it not?) and/or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy. The decision to undergo an abortion must always involve a competent doctor and confirmation through prayer of the local priesthood authority.
Because Latter-day Saints believe that having a family is central to their purpose in life, there is little chance that most Mormons would choose to be childfree. Yet, there are Mormon women who are childfree by choice. For them, receiving understanding within the LDS community is tough, and in some cases, nonexistent. “I am made to feel worthless in the eyes of the church,” blogged one woman, who is married but clearly does not want children.
Mormons may well be turning a blind eye to the plight of our planet by making children a spiritual priority. According to George B. Handley, Associate Professor of Humanities at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church does not have an official position related to contemporary environmentalism. He goes on to write that although the LDS scriptures “clearly announce the centrality of human beings as God’s offspring and declare that all of creation was provided for human enjoyment and use,” this does not mean that abuse of nature is justified.
As long as Mormonism encourages large families nature will suffer. The only light at the end of the tunnel where the LDS Church is concerned is adoption. If a couple cannot conceive, they can (and many times do) adopt, which is a saving grace for our overpopulated world. It seems, generally speaking, that Mormons do not accept that making more children creates problems that far outweigh their beliefs about the sacredness of populating earth.
The question has often been raised: How does having children affect how much happiness there is in a person’s life?
Now a new twist on kids vs. joy has entered the arena. If kids reduce the quantity of happiness, how do they affect the quality of whatever happiness remains?
In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, writes about that very question.
He acknowledges that many fathers feel, “that it interferes with romance and tends to make them feel neglected by their wives.” He even cites a 2004 study among parents that found that among 16 various activities, taking care of kids ranked above only housework, their jobs and commuting in its “enjoyableness.” (Who knew there is such a word?)
So far, so good. But here is where Etzioni embarks on the road less taken. “The question is not how much happiness children bring or take,” he asserts, “but how good is the happiness?”
This brings to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which Diane Keaton asks Woody’s character if he’s ever had the wrong kind of orgasm. His response: “My worst one was right on the money.”
How, we wonder, do the criteria for happiness compare? Is quantity more important than quality or do we settle for happiness that is merely “right on the money” but greater in quantity than waiting for the “right kind” of happiness? Is occasional, intense happiness “better” than frequent, pretty good happiness?
Here is what we believe is the crux of Etzioni’s assertion: “We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting — is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.” What self-congratulatory babble this is.
Does he really believe that we who are childfree are rushing out to dinner, heading for the nearest casino, or just vegetating in front of the tube? What about those who volunteer to help forlorn animals or the less fortunate, write books and blogs, or get involved in local political, environmental, or ethical causes?
In fact, we often find that those who have kids are much less aware of the greater community around them. They seem to be the ones with gas-guzzling SUVs and minivans, whose garbage bins are filled to the brim, and who are clueless about societal issues that don’t relate directly to their kids’ schools.
He claims that children provide a unique “other” in their parents’ lives.
The good professor also assumes that kids in and of themselves are a positive. In the years of research we have conducted in preparation for our book, Enough of Us, we have learned what a high-stakes gamble raising children can be. There are considerable risks that the joy parents expect from their kids may be displaced by sadness, disappointment, grief and even despair.
Its sounds like Mr. Etzioni is merely defending his own fatherhood of five in the face of all the evidence that parents tend to be less happy than the childfree. To his credit he says that while he lost a son (he does not go into details) and has suffered a fair amount of other grief in relation to childrearing, his kids have blessed him with much joy.
But here’s the kicker. He says he now has “a whole slew of grandchildren.”
“What fun—and no diapers to be changed.” Evidently Etzioni’s child-based joy doesn’t give a crap (pun intended) about their environmental impact.
Amitai Etzioni, enjoy your life but please don’t judge the quality, or lack, of happiness in mine.