Population Control As A Means Of Slowing Global Warming?


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Let’s face it…there are a lot of people on this earth and there are not enough natural resources available for every person to have an equal lifestyle. If everyone around the globe lived like an average American, we would require multiple earths to sustain them all. But why should people in countries like Africa and India have any “less” than Americans do? Aren’t they entitled to lead a comfortable life like the rest of us? They are…and therein lies the problem – we all cannot live like that; it’s impossible.

When India introduced that very cheap $2,500 Tata Car, the rest of the world was incensed that all Indians were going to own cars now and what it would do in terms of pollution and global warming. They were furious about it! Of course, they were mad as they got in their own big cars and drove to Wal-mart, but still…they were mad because the Indians were going to make global warming worse. But shouldn’t they have cars that work and are safe like we do? Of course! If we can have them, so can everyone else. But a lot of people don’t think that way – they want their lifestyle preserved and other’s lifestyles hindered in order to keep their own and it’s just not fair.

So what do we do about it? Do we not allow certain countries and peoples to have access to automobiles? That is certainly not right. Do we not allow countries and peoples access to electricity and cellphones and water? That is not right. So what can we do?

A reader of The Good Human emailed me a while back asking about population control as a means to curbing global warming. I have given it a lot of thought and have come up with a few opinions on the matter, some of which you may agree with and some of which you may not; either way, it’s just my opinion. I do not think we can institute population control throughout the entire world – it’s just not feasible and it’s not a rational way of handling the issue. Believe me, if our government tried to do something like this, they would only target third world countries while avoiding the issue here at home. And no matter that the people in those countries barely have running water, electricity or food, they are still people who should not be told what to do by some foreign nation. No one on earth should have the right to tell another someone if they can or cannot have children. Sure, our population growth has been HUGE in the last couple of decades…but who is to tell who that they have to limit the number of children they can have? It’s a natural human right to be able to have children, and not only would it never be accepted by the general population, but it would also have serious consequences down the line. Any time you try to control the natural order of things you cause problems.

That being said, something has to be done about how we are all affecting the earth. But it is going to take a worldwide movement of people all agreeing on one thing – we are in for some crappy times, and this is what we are going to do about it. Countries like Iceland and Finland and Norway are working hard at reducing their dependence on any kind of fossil fuels while investing heavily in solar, wind and geothermal energy. What are we doing here in the United States? Trying to turn corn into gasoline (so we can keep our gas guzzlers in a time of no oil) and digging for oil in tar sands in Canada – which takes more energy to dig up than we get back in return. It’s quite silly. The Europeans are investing huge dollar amounts in high speed train service across all their countries. What are we doing here? Cutting funding for Amtrak and other public transportation programs.

I don’t think we need population control as a means to slow global warming for two main reasons – One, I think it is too late to try to do it even if we could and two, it’s not anyone’s right other than my own to decide how many children I have. But there are things that the entire world can work on together, by spending money on REAL alternative energies that emit no pollution (solar, wind) instead of spending $12 billion a month on a war in Iraq. We always have money for war, right? Well, fighting global warming is the ultimate war and the entire world could be at stake instead of a single country. Let’s start working towards a common goal with the entire world working together. Let’s join the rest of the world in signing the Kyoto Treaty. (Yes, we are the only major country not to sign this important legislation) Let’s actually spend money on things that benefit everyone and not just a select few.

I know it all sounds hokey…but really, what have we got to lose by trying? Nothing. What do we have to lose by not trying? Oh, just possibly the earth. No biggie, right? And if we are wrong and there is no problem at all with global warming? Well, at least we cleaned up the water, we have better public transportation, we have less landfills filled with toxic sludge, we have cars that emit less pollution, we have healthier citizens…it really is a win-win either way.

photo by katmere

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  1. Population reduction would have the most impact if the biggest wastoids (Americans!) were reduced first. I have no doubt that there would be millions of people waiting to step into our absence, but we are consuming a disproportional amount of resources. Cut us out, and cut out a lot of consumption.

  2. David, I apologize sincerely for the hijack and I hope what I am about to write is helpful for someone:

    This is one of those things I continually pore over in my mind. I have thought about this so much, because while there are numerous “small changes you can make that add up” (it seems like every environmental website has a list of 10 or 25 or 50 things), and while of course those things are worthwhile and do make a difference, I think we do need to address some of our BIG decisions. The decision to have children is a big one; for some people, it’s the biggest of their lives.

    So many of our environmental decisions focus on consumption. How to consume, what not to consume, how much to consume. But either way, as long as we are living, we are consuming; some of us more, some of us less. Creating a human being means creating a lifetime of consumption of whatever kind. That is a fact bears acknowledgment and serious consideration.

    Does this mean I think institutionalized force of any kind should be implemented to control the population? No. Absolutely not. I think that’s a very dangerous path, for women and for everyone.

    What I do think is that we should learn to view the decision to have children as one that carries a great deal of weight, not only for us personally and for our immediate families, but for the planet. It’s difficult to mess with people’s desire to reproduce because it is one of our essential biological impulses. It seems like it cannot be denied. Not only do people want to have sex; they want to reproduce and they want to pass on their genetic material. Anyone who’s used the term “biological clock” understands how strong this instinct can be.

    On top of that, we live in a consumer-driven culture where children are largely equated with our popular image of success and prosperity. As soon as they are able, and sometimes before, people generally have as many children as they can reasonably support, that is, support the consumption habits of until they are able to support their own consumption. “Be fruitful and multiply” and all that. But it seems as though very few people look beyond their own household economy, and into the world at large.

    But I think we are capable of transcending all that. We have birth control for this purpose. We have sex ed (such as it is) for a reason. I think what it will take to “control” the population is for people to feel comfortable discussing reproductive choices outside of this private, personal and sometimes shameful context they’ve been placed in. It will take women feeling that they are in control of their own bodies, and sexually active people knowing that they are empowered to make responsible decisions. It will also take people not taking biological children for granted as something everyone must have eventually.

    It’s difficult for me to talk about this because it means admitting that we live in a less-than-ideal society in a less-than-ideal world. In an ideal world, people would truly have as many children as they could reasonably support and were comfortable raising. In an ideal world, there would also be no such thing as adoption since in an ideal world, there would be no such thing as rape and all parents would have made the decision to have children with sufficient consideration and planning. In an ideal world, we also wouldn’t be using up the planet’s finite resources an at alarming rate and we wouldn’t be blogging about it.

    But this is not an ideal world. The planet’s resources are dangerously limited, and children definitely exist who do not have permanent families. By the thousands. I’m not saying everyone who wants to have children should run out and adopt; I’m not even saying I definitely will or won’t someday. But I am saying we need to look at our situation and call it what it is. We need to learn to think critically about the decisions we do make that are under our direct control–the big ones and the small ones.

  3. Oh, I agree completely with Maria! I was going to write something similar, but she has done it so articulately and thoughtfully already. What I will add is that I wrote a post on my own blog, Fake Plastic Fish, about this topic and basically stated that while the purpose of my blog is to find ways to reduce our plastic consumption and plastic waste, when it comes to birth control, I don’t care if you use plastic condoms, plastic IUD, hormones, or whatever… preventing unwanted pregnancies is one of the most environmentally responsible measures any of us can take.

    No, governments should not regulate our reproduction. But our own sense of morality and social responsibility should. And as Maria indicated, that won’t happen as long as we’re afraid to talk straight to our kids about sex and responsibility.

  4. “But our own sense of morality and social responsibility should”

    I agree – but we are talking about a relatively small percentage of the population that knows about climate change and/or cares about the environment. And for them, morality doesn’t play a role.

    With Bush going around the world pushing abstinence only programs, we have a long way to go on this.

  5. It should NOT be a natural right to have children if you know you they will grow up starving and miserable.

    I would rather see a poor country being shoved with birth control and being told to curb their overpopulation, than to see kids, babies, and adults starving to death and living in miserable conditions all because people keep birthing children into a world with limited and dwindling resources. As you can probably guess, I support euthanasia, because I don’t want to see people suffering needlessly or in extreme pain.

    We can keep giving food/aid/care to people in desperate countries, but that will not prevent the true problem, which is overpopulation, it will only temporarily help at the cost of losing more resources even faster.

    We should have capped the population of the world a long time ago to a reasonable number. More people = more fossil fuels used and more pollution thrown into the air = bigger global warming problem. World leaders either are apathetic or too wealthy to care about the fate of the general population. Nobody is stupid/idealistic enough to believe that we can keep pulling resources out of our asses or thin air to maintain a constantly growing world population. Simple economics tells you that everything is limited.

  6. I am reading The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, published in 1968. Same issues back then, different solutions, obviously. A main point,though, is about feeding the masses. Next on my list is The Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet’s Surprising Future by Fred Pearce. I also read about 25 years ago that 2% of the current population would be in balance with our resources.

  7. Some simple things can be changed in our current laws to encourage people to not have children. For example our welfare program( I don’t know the laws that well) should ask a woman be married to one man who is her husband and she must live under the same roof with him, and if the child/ children she has are biologically theirs, then she may receive payments. If she must seperate from the husband she must be in school or have a full time job to receive benefits. We currently don’t incentivize good behavior in our welfare program. we can also take away the tax benefits for those who have more children. Tax benefits can go to those who choose to have only one or no children at all. Or make it cheaper to adopt a child than and make having your own child cost prohibitive.

    1. So would that mean that if a husband dies, or gay people have kids, or something like that, the children are the ones who then suffer from lack of assistance?

  8. I put a lot of ‘blame’ for over-population, at least in developed countries, on the medical profession. Their goal is to keep people alive, so they have reduced our infant mortality rate and kept people alive longer. If nature was allowed to take its course, things would be balanced. We need to mess with people as much as we need to mess with any other facet of the environment. You and I had this conversation a while ago, I am remembering as I am writing…….

    We can’t go back in time, so we need to find solutions, if Mother Nature does not find them first.

  9. Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for population concerns and global warming?
    One tremendous solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and vastly lower global transportation costs.
    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed between 14 and 16 Billion people, just using presently available modern farming technologies. With a present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for the next 425 years. Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .

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