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I am the population problem
September 13, 2011 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I am the population problem. "Both local and broad scale environmental problems often are linked to population growth, which in turn tends to get blamed on other people [...] But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me. " The Feminist Breeder responds: Mother Earth Doesn’t Want Kids?
posted by the young rope-rider (164 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I fucking hate seeing all the hippie breeders. It's so... hypocritical.
posted by symbioid at 2:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm seeing an awful lot of "I'm right and you're wrong so neener" on both sides about an issue which is completely personal and individual.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is sort of charming. On the one hand, we have the conscientism which holds that every choice must be measured by environmental consequences.

On the other hand, the ideology that a choice made by a woman must never be measured by any consequences, or at all.
However, Hymas’s article did not begin with a discussion on respecting women’s reproductive choices. Instead, her article began as a comment on those who do choose to have children, and why us breeders are killing the planet by doing so. In related article, she calls the child-free choice, “the green choice.”

Yikes.

[. . . ]

Instead of establishing her right not have children as a personal, private decision that is, frankly, none of anybody else’s business, she deflected the criticism of her choice toward the people who’ve made the personal, private decision to have kids.
posted by grobstein at 2:23 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


an issue which is completely personal and individual.

I think population size problems are by definition global and social.
posted by DU at 2:25 PM on September 13, 2011 [31 favorites]


I blame the people telling poverty-stricken third world inhabitants that they can't use birth control, because of Jesus.
posted by mullingitover at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [38 favorites]


And while I agree that ok, maybe a couple kids is fine (replenish the population, etc...) just... I dunno - a complete worship of being a family just strikes me as fundamentally opposed to the whole idea.

(I guess I should read the article before my grar!)

Maybe I'm tainted by those little stickers on the back of vans and the quiverfull movement and everything else.

Maybe I'm just an angry white male and should shove it.

Actually, the point is quite valid that we do consume too much. I'm all for reducing consumption in general. Derrick Jensen discusses this in End Point how a lot of the overpopulation issue is a bit racist in the sense that it's directed towards places like africa and impoverished nations (and even in our own country against minorities)...
posted by symbioid at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"white, middle-class, American me"

Hey guys, it's okay, I hear that America's middle class is disappearing anyway!
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm seeing an awful lot of "I'm right and you're wrong so neener" on both sides about an issue which is completely personal and individual.

There are enormous externalities imposed on the rest of the world by the creation of another American. While no one should question a woman's right to decide to have a child, it's not too much to ask that people be fully informed about the consequences of doing so. I don't think it's pro-Establishment or anti-feminist to ask (ask, not demand or require) people to stop and think about it before they decide to have a child.

It doesn't help that The Feminist Breeder tries to use an intuitive, anecdotal argument to counter an empirical one made by Hymas. Compare: "I definitely know families who are much more eco-friendly than some of their single, child-less counterparts. Families share resources, and usually practice a great deal of conservation in order to survive and thrive."

with: "A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that in America the climate impact of having one fewer child is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, such as driving a hybrid, recycling, using efficient appliances and installing compact fluorescent lights."

Full disclosure: I am an anti-natalist.
posted by jedicus at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2011 [45 favorites]


Yeah, the second blogger seems to be conflating the right to do something with the right to not be criticized for it.

The fact that I support your ability to do something idiotic doesn't mean I have to restrain from calling your ass out on it.
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on September 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


While no one should question a woman's right to decide to have a child...

Anything can be questioned. Women are not holy.
posted by DU at 2:29 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone who doesn't sell all of their earthly belongings and use the proceeds to feed the hungry is living wrong. Myself included.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Also, "The Establishment"? Really?)
posted by griphus at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2011


Who are all these people who can afford to have kids?
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


I think women are holy, but that's ok. You can have your religion and I'll have mine.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2011


It's kind of weird that The Feminist Breeder complains about other people complaining about strawmen, and then makes an argument against the position that every childbirth is always bad because it's bad for the environment.

I'm pretty sure Hymas didn't say that. I think she just said that not having a child is better for the environment than having a child. Other factors need to be considered.

Families share resources, and usually practice a great deal of conservation in order to survive and thrive. A five person family does NOT have to mean five times the resources.

Five people still consume more than two people. And what's stopping whole communities from practicing that kind of conservation?
posted by LogicalDash at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: "Who are all these people who can afford to have kids?"

From what I've observed, being able to afford kids isn't something that most parents consider. Or as they say, the rich get richer and the poor get children. Or, what xkcd said.
posted by mullingitover at 2:33 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


an issue which is completely personal and individual.

This issue is absolutely not personal or individual...at all. It is the opposite of personal and individual.

Over population is the single greatest threat to the planet and the greatest challenge facing us. The fact that bringing up this issue has become taboo is ridiculous and insane.

If you absolutely can't keep yourself from making babies, please have one and one only. At most, any given couple should be limited to two. At least that way the population will remain stable-ish.

posted by Lutoslawski at 2:33 PM on September 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


There are enormous externalities imposed on the rest of the world by the creation of another American. While no one should question a woman's right to decide to have a child, it's not too much to ask that people be fully informed about the consequences of doing so. I don't think it's pro-Establishment or anti-feminist to ask (ask, not demand or require) people to stop and think about it before they decide to have a child.

See, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt that they have indeed done that.

Others' mileage may vary, I guess.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


While no one should question a woman's right to decide to have a child...

Anything can be questioned. Women are not holy.


Of course, women have often been considered holy or sacred in history. This has not necessarily been good for women. But it's an idea that still has traction today.

I think a lot of putatively "feminist" arguments are actually making atavistic appeal to the idea of women as sacred. Women's right to choose must not be questioned in part because women and their wombs are sacred, set apart. It profanes them to question them, so it's verboten. Affronts against women are framed to resonate as transgressions of the sacred.
posted by grobstein at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anything can be questioned. Women are not holy.

You're new here, aren't you?
posted by kafziel at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]




with: "A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that in America the climate impact of having one fewer child is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, such as driving a hybrid, recycling, using efficient appliances and installing compact fluorescent lights."


Just because it's couched in "objective" language doesn't mean that it's actually empirical. The study, as described here, is kind of ludicrous and easily dismissed: "almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices"? Are we taking as a given that driving a hybrid is actually a useful way to save the world?

I'm not taking a stance here, but that this is not a matter of careful scientific measurements, and one empirical article versus an emotional response.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:37 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man...I guess I expected the comments here to be full of childfree types sanctimoniously lecturing me? Yet I somehow I still managed to underestimate it!

I guess wanting to have one or two young people who're predisposed to care about me when I'm old, and who might help me avoid being a burden on the resources of the state, makes me a selfish asshole. Noted!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:38 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


jedicus: " While no one should question a woman's right to decide to have a child"

I think you meant to say, 'no one should question a woman's right not to have a child.'

At least that's what I hope you meant, because what the hell is wrong with questioning someone's bad decision? Okay, perhaps you've never met a sixteen year old who's trying to get pregnant.
posted by mullingitover at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I blame the people telling poverty-stricken third world inhabitants that they can't use birth control, because of Jesus.

Overpopulation caused by more than just lack of access to birth control. Fundamentally, it's a public health issue, and this includes everything from nutrition and the status of women, to education.

In regards to restricting the number of children in developing countries (called "USA" in this article), a better, more logical and realistic solution is to change consumption habits, which are the real the villain here.

Which is fundamentally more valuable? A gas-guzzling car or a child?

Because if you are saying it's unethical to have children, you are essentially saying that we are unable to change our consumer lifestyle for the sake of the planet. Throw away your iPhone and create a family instead!
posted by KokuRyu at 2:42 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


See, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt that they have indeed done that.

The problem in the case of "The Feminist Breeder", at least, is that there's no evidence that the concept of carbon legacy has ever even occurred to her. It's not whether your five kids consume five times the resources of one kid. It's their kids, and their kids' kids. (This also massively outweighs things like you not being "a burden on the resources of the state" because you have children to care for you in old age.) I'm not expressing an opinion on whether environmental considerations should determine family choices. But the argument about the environmental impact of children is pretty much over, as far as I can see. There's nothing you more effective you can do, in terms of minimising carbon emissions for which you're personally responsible, than to not have a child you would otherwise have had.

I'm not taking a stance here, but that this is not a matter of careful scientific measurements, and one empirical article versus an emotional response.

The OSU study was pretty good actually. Read for yourself: PDF link.
posted by oliverburkeman at 2:42 PM on September 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


People having children as a form of social insurance (and as a safeguard against massive infant/child mortality rates) is the problem. Remove the barriers to enriching the lives of third world workers and you will see your population problem begin to resemble Germany's.

In something like 50 years. Which is far too late, from what I've been led to believe, to help the human race at this point.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:44 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos, so does that mean that in my volunteer work with low-income populations I should stop assuming that people who have a whole ton of kids (note, Narrative Priorities, not talking about one or two with lots of love and attention) without the resources or energy to properly raise them to be productive members of my society are unaware of the broader impacts of their action, and should be helped and nurtured so that they can put their remaining energies into making sure the kids they have can do the best they possibly can?

Because the alternative is that I treat them as knowingly having done what they did, and therefore as malicious and the enemy.

One or two kids, lots of love and attention given to making them upstanding members of the community, I'm right there with ya. Not my choice, I spread my child-raising energies across all sorts of kids (and parents), but I understand the biological urge.

More than two: I assume ignorance (either cultural or personal, I'm not directly accusing here, I'm looking for solutions, and that may happen in the next generation), because the alternative is assuming malice.
posted by straw at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2011


What I love about these discussions is how it is always about everything except the person - the person, not the child or kid or offspring - you are making. That you are MAKING. You are making a person, and inflicting upon it all the wonders and horrors of existence. It is great to think about the environment too, but it is not the first thing you should be thinking about.
posted by curious nu at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


From the second article:

I believe that fresh, new humans are important to the life cycle of our planet, cultures, and society in general. I think us breeders do help keep the machine running. Yes, Americans pollute the planet like crazy, but that’s a product of our culture, not of reproduction itself.

It's our culture! Just like the Japanese are killing all of the whales -- it's just part of their culture!

The second author is so deeply entrenched in her "culture" that she can't bring herself to seriously absorb the first author's main point, which is that we play a very specific and very extreme part in the ecological devastation that is occurring, as opposed to the third world cultures that are often lambasted for having more babies than they can sustain.
posted by hermitosis at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


From TFA:
The impact of humanity on the environment is not determined solely by how many of us are around, but by how much stuff we use and how much room we take up. And as a financially comfortable American, I use a lot of stuff and take up a lot of room. My carbon footprint is more than 200 times bigger than that of an average Ethiopian, more than 12 times bigger than an average Indian's, and twice as big as an average Brit's.
Emphasis mine.

Population is an element, but the consumptive portion of the population is the biggest part of it. Thus, it's completely individual -- on average, a US citizen will require twice as much carbon as the average Brit.

It's not about breeders, but eaters (and buyers, and travelers, and exurbanites who drive alone, idling in traffic for over an hour just to get to work). It's patterns of consumption, which the average US whitey will pass on to their average, white kids.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


So if it is true that the average number of children per family in the United States is .9 and the average number per family that has at least one child is 1.83... can someone explain to me what this argument is about? It doesn't appear that Americans are even reproducing at a high enough rate for simple replacement.
posted by the jam at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2011


so does that mean that in my volunteer work with low-income populations I should stop assuming that people who have a whole ton of kids (note, Narrative Priorities, not talking about one or two with lots of love and attention) without the resources or energy to properly raise them to be productive members of my society are unaware of the broader impacts of their action, and should be helped and nurtured so that they can put their remaining energies into making sure the kids they have can do the best they possibly can?

Please don't put words into my mouth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


People having children as a form of social insurance (and as a safeguard against massive infant/child mortality rates) is the problem. Remove the barriers to enriching the lives of third world workers and you will see your population problem begin to resemble Germany's.

Yeah, but individually folks living in developing countries use far, far fewer resources than do their counterparts in North America. Hell, Japan's per capital C02 emissions are 50% of their North American counterparts.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Darwin appreciates her removing her genes from the pool.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


the jam: "So if it is true that the average number of children per family in the United States is .9 and the average number per family that has at least one child is 1.83... can someone explain to me what this argument is about? It doesn't appear that Americans are even reproducing at a high enough rate for simple replacement."

/thread.
posted by mullingitover at 2:50 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm realizing I may not have read those stats correctly if they are only counting families with children under 18 currently living in the home... not if they ever have had a child at any time. Maybe someone else can clarify if I was wrong.
posted by the jam at 2:52 PM on September 13, 2011


It doesn't appear that Americans are even reproducing at a high enough rate for simple replacement.

They could be reproducing at an even lower rate, however. I guess. Or whatever.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:53 PM on September 13, 2011


It looks like the average births per woman in the United States is 2.05.
posted by the jam at 2:59 PM on September 13, 2011


We need all the educated, compassionate people we can get in this world. If you can raise a kid who is curious and kind, you make the world a far better place for everyone.

There's a strange sort of irony in that those who would refuse to have children because they care so much about the environment are probably depriving the future of some of its most amazing residents and ideas.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Thing is, in a lot of the world having children is still your retirement plan. With high rates of infant mortality, you need to have a bunch of extras to cover the attrition. The best thing for the planet is a combination of health care and birth control in the third world, so people don't need to have five children just to ensure that they have two or three to take care of them in their old age.
posted by mullingitover at 3:04 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do you really feel like people are not having kids because of the environment, or do you think it's a choice they would have made anyway?

I feel like reproducing (or not) is a choice that is made completely illogically by most people and then justified one way or the other as though it were logical.

Choosing to reproduce, especially, seems to have little to no foundation in logic, which makes sense if you consider that the strong desire to have and raise children is probably strongly selected for.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:04 PM on September 13, 2011 [19 favorites]


There's a strange sort of irony in that those who would refuse to have children because they care so much about the environment are probably depriving the future of some of its most amazing residents and ideas.

You know, it's possible to instill these virtues in other people's children.
posted by hermitosis at 3:04 PM on September 13, 2011 [28 favorites]


I feel like reproducing (or not) is a choice that is made completely illogically by most people and then justified one way or the other as though it were logical.

Agreed. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that people with lots of kids should be condemned for having done an environmentally damaging thing. But I do think that a small subgroup of them, probably including the second-linked blogger in the original post, should be condemned for constantly trying to argue, in the face of the facts, that they haven't done an environmentally damaging thing.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anything can be questioned. Women are not holy.

A woman's right to decide whether (or not) to have a child was denied for thousands of years, then questioned for a couple of hundred, then finally established for the past few decades. This is not about some notion of women being sacred. It's about firmly established (if not firmly enforced) human rights.

At least that's what I hope you meant, because what the hell is wrong with questioning someone's bad decision?

It's fine to question a woman's decision to have a child (or not). It's not okay to question her right to make that decision. This is a very important distinction, analogous to freedom of speech versus the right to call another person's ideas foolish.

See, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt that they have indeed [thought about it before having a child].

American society's general ignorance of the environmental and economic externalities of the American lifestyle suggests this is overly optimistic (i.e. even if they have thought about it they probably had inadequate or inaccurate information). As does the poor economic situation of many people who nonetheless decide to have children and the large numbers of people who have children accidentally.
posted by jedicus at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know, it's possible to instill these virtues in other people's children.

Not sure if you're being serious or not, but fuck that.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not sure if you're being serious or not, but fuck that.

Incidentally, I was.

So many of the arguments against the first article seem to hinge on the idea that it's all or nothing -- imagining scenarios where everyone stopped having babies altogether instead of just cutting back a bit.

From the comments:

If everyone stopped having children, there would be nobody paying into the tax system to support our infastructure when the rest of us are too old to work.

HAHAHAHAAH.We are not going to fuck our way out of this problem.
posted by hermitosis at 3:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


fuck that

KokoRyu, I read Hermitosis' remark to mean that people who choose not to reproduce may have laudable things to instill in children not their own--are you against that?
posted by everichon at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


In lieu of children, what if one's "retirement plan" were planned euthanasia when one is no longer economically self-sufficient? One's remains could be composted and one's belongings could be re-recycled back into the population. Is that ethically consistent with no child-bearing and a low-impact lifestyle?

I, for one, am open to contemplating the idea. But then again, I always loved The Giver.
posted by keasby at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you really feel like people are not having kids because of the environment, or do you think it's a choice they would have made anyway?

I think this is exactly right. My strong suspicion is that environmental impact of children is the deciding factor in having children or not in a tiny, tiny fraction of cases. If any.

Consider what is happening in Russia or Japan in the very near future for the real-world impact of reproduction rates significantly below replacement. Hint; it is a disaster.
posted by Justinian at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2011


The ability of large families in America (let alone places where it's easier) to take care of themselves and others is amazing. I continue to be impressed by the care 7+ child families* have for their land, sick people, elderly people, the poor, etc. The level of creativity and self-sustenance is impressive even in suburbia. Additionally the members of these families love themselves and each other very much and are generally happy barring the usual trials of life.

So, rather than trusting the future of a planet to anti-natalism, I would prefer to trust it to the naturally occurring unit of society that actually preserves and improves what's around it when it's allowed to flourish.

*Octomom excluded.
posted by michaelh at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but individually folks living in developing countries use far, far fewer resources than do their counterparts in North America. Hell, Japan's per capital C02 emissions are 50% of their North American counterparts.

Naturally. Japanese people live in a much smaller and much, much more population-dense country (337 people per square km in Japan versus 32 in America). They'd have to really try to make up the difference.
posted by vorfeed at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokoRyu, I read Hermitosis' remark to mean that people who choose not to reproduce may have laudable things to instill in children not their own--are you against that?

Generally speaking, instilling values in children is the responsibility of parents, and no one else. You want to teach my child something, teach him math and spelling.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fond of anti-natalists. They're freeing up more resources for me and my near-infinite, ravenous brood.

There was a really interesting analysis in the last episode (I think) of Planet Earth, in which they discuss the population problem. It's really a consumption issue - Western individuals consume a ridiculous amount of resources and energy per person, whereas if we were all living at a European level (or, even more so, the level of the average African or rural southeast Asian individual) the problem would be greatly alleviated.

So yeah, throw me in with the bunch who think that not having children is less of a solution than educating people not to personally consume such a huge piece of the global pie.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


No longer being flippant: Wouldn't it be true that as a High Consumption Society, if we have a below-replenishment birthrate (seems to be the case, depending on your source) and, as a community we work together to reduce wasteful consumption, then we are on a trajectory to decrease our overall impact?

One might counter that it is not racist/classist to focus on the developing world. While the marginal impact of one developing-world child is far less than one American child, the cumulative impact and the trajectory should be our bigger concerns. Nations with above-replenishment population growth are more often than not moving (in some cases, rapidly) along the path of greater resource consumption per person. There is a multiplier effect at play for some resources (i.e. corn needs as they relate to meat consumption), and compounded with the twin increases of consumption and population, the result seems far more concerning when projected over many years.

Of course, my point is rife for criticism. I do not believe the developing world is entitled to lower quality of life, less resources, etc etc. The fact is, we are starting from a great inequity. How do we resolve this? I do not know, I am merely trying to illustrate the point that the developing world's trajectory is potentially more impactful long-term than developed nations. I do not have a solution, except to wish we could all be a little more selfless and little more spare in our desires.


(I apologize if this comment was already made, I can't keep up with the new posts.)
posted by keasby at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2011


Generally speaking, instilling values in children is the responsibility of parents, and no one else. You want to teach my child something, teach him math and spelling.

How about we teach them all about the things you're too harried to teach them because you are burdened with supporting and running an entire family? And the things that they frankly aren't interested in learning from you because you've occupied such a specific role in their lives for many years? Or the things that actually you don't know anything about.
posted by hermitosis at 3:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


What I don't get is exactly what the prize is for being the most sanctimonious person in this thread.
posted by GuyZero at 3:28 PM on September 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


I do not believe the developing world is entitled to lower quality of life, less resources, etc etc.

This is a good point, but I do think that we need ("we" in the West but also globally) to re-think the connection between "more resources used" and "greater quality of life." I'm not sure how you'd actually calculate this, but it seems to me that there's an upper limit to how much just consuming more will actually increase your quality of life or happiness. And I suspect that if we smoothed out resource consumption globally to give everyone what they need to reach that limit, we'd still be using fewer resources globally than we do now, simply because the disjunction in the developed world's resource use is so vast.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


General question: Do you think it's easier to reduce consumption or to have fewer children?
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I don't get is exactly what the prize is for being the most sanctimonious person in this thread.

Sanctimony, my friend, is it's own reward.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


How about we teach them all about the things you're too harried to teach them because you are burdened with supporting and running an entire family? And the things that they frankly aren't interested in learning from you because you've occupied such a specific role in their lives for many years? Or the things that actually you don't know anything about.

Such as?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I don't get is exactly what the prize is for being the most sanctimonious person in this thread.

I'm kind of scared that it might be a free baby.
posted by elizardbits at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [35 favorites]


Hey, everybody: here's an interesting fact that is both important and irrelevant: approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S., and many births, are unplanned. BTW, I had one child and am glad I did, for entirely selfish reasons...or maybe entirely unselfish reasons, I really don't know.

However, twenty years later, I might think twice about consciously bringing a child into this world because I am so pessimistic about where we are heading...
posted by kozad at 3:31 PM on September 13, 2011


There was a really interesting analysis in the last episode (I think) of Planet Earth, in which they discuss the population problem. It's really a consumption issue - Western individuals consume a ridiculous amount of resources and energy per person, whereas if we were all living at a European level (or, even more so, the level of the average African or rural southeast Asian individual) the problem would be greatly alleviated.

It was in that same episode that a noted scientist said that the human population capacity of the earth, that is the population that can be sustained without destroying the environment, is probably around 500,000.

It is not an issue of consumption v. population, as these have everything to do with each other. At a basic level, population is consumption.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:33 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


General question: Do you think it's easier to reduce consumption or to have fewer children?

Personally? Likely the second. Resource control is not entirely in your own hands, after all - some people just need to drive to work, based on where they live (absence of public transport, etc.). In terms of society? Not entirely sure. Depends on how extreme your methods are, I suppose.

approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S., and many births, are unplanned

Good point. Access to contraception and good sex ed is likely to have a much larger impact on population growth than people preaching about the environment.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's y'all's kids who will have to live in the world we're creating for them. Word to your mother.
posted by fuq at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Generally speaking, instilling values in children is the responsibility of parents, and no one else.

So no aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, mentors?
posted by everichon at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


So no aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, mentors?

How are their math skills?
posted by hermitosis at 3:43 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of a friend who had 3 kids and always talked about world population going to hell because too many babies, breeding. Then wrote me to announce that two of his children, married, had given birth. He was ecstatic.
posted by Postroad at 3:47 PM on September 13, 2011


Because I tend to like people who grew up in large families. I think there should be a designated Big Family couple who birth and raise enough kids for the whole community. I give up my right to have a kid to this Big Family couple (or threesome, or whatever) and donate some time and money to them.

That way, I don't have to have kids. They can have lots. They can benefit from buying in bulk and no kids end up raised with that center-of-the-universe/laser-focussed-parents problem that so many single children end up with.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


> So yeah, throw me in with the bunch who think that not having children is less of a solution than educating people not to personally consume such a huge piece of the global pie.

I'm with you, but unfortunately we live in a world where Jimmy Carter is still reviled thirty years later by vast swathes of the population for suggesting that people turn down the heat a bit and wear a sweater when it's cold out.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:54 PM on September 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


Well, we're capable of doing great things if pushed - think about the efforts to ban CFC's. Japan, which used to be an industrial wasteland in many areas, with mine tailings contaminating drinking water, has managed to clean up its act. Over the last 20 years, diesel particulate in Tokyo has declined dramatically. So it's possible to change quickly.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2011


If you absolutely can't keep yourself from making babies, please have one and one only. At most, any given couple should be limited to two. At least that way the population will remain stable-ish.

So, what's your plan for enforcing this limit? Tube-tying at gun point?
posted by octothorpe at 4:06 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing that worries me greatly is that the people pumping out kids and keeping them alive and teaching them how to live, are the last people I would want to do that.
I feel kinda obligated to have a bunch of kids just to balance up the scales!
For every person born into this world destined for poor education (or low IQ) and a lifestyle that allows our problems to go on, I feel like making 2 of my own and teaching them a very different way of life. And I don't even live in the US...
It's always the same; people who do dumbass shit with their money make millions, while people who value other things higher don't and hence can't influence society as much.
People who don't get fanatical about ideologies don't use force to get their points across and hence don't get heard.
People who give a rats about the planet and other relatively important topics are more likely to not multiply at the same rate as people who couldn't care less and hence we will be increasingly outnumbered and may as well just friggin give up! Gah!
posted by Zorsha at 4:11 PM on September 13, 2011


Metafilter: a near-infinite, ravenous brood.

Anyway, yeah, carbon footprint of the affluent is a thing. Not sure that "just stop having babies, rich people" is a going approach, if that was really being put forward. Call me a starry-eyed optimist, but I think we are capable of creating an affluent global society where people who want kids can have them and yet we don't totally hose ourselves.

(Not sure we're going to do it, but I do think we're capable of it.)

I'm pretty sure a knock-down drag-out hippie-breeders vs. childfree lefty argument will move us forward to that goal by ... not at all.
posted by feckless at 4:11 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some kind of bribery would likely work better than penalties.
posted by elizardbits at 4:12 PM on September 13, 2011


Soylent green is made out of people...
posted by fuq at 4:12 PM on September 13, 2011


Every population graph for every animal I have ever seen follows a basic path: reproduce exponentially until a food shortage causes a drastic downturn.

So don't worry people, things will take care of themselves!
posted by Shit Parade at 4:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


So, what's your plan for enforcing this limit? Tube-tying at gun point?

I don't think this is something that needs to be enforced, but there definitely needs to be a social paradigm shift of some sort - that it is completely, entirely okay to not have babies if you don't want to or can not afford it, and you're not a weirdo/irresponsible/unsuccessful if you choose not to have one. People should be taught this from a young age. This weird mindset that having a baby is one of the ultimate life-phases needs to fucking go.
posted by windbox at 4:14 PM on September 13, 2011 [24 favorites]


Not every place in the US has the same carbon footprint. If she lived in Manhatten instead of, say, Huston, her carbon impact would be much lower. Or she could move to a 3rd world country or something.
This weird mindset that having a baby is one of the ultimate life-phases needs to fucking go.
From a biological point of view, it is the ultimate purpose of your life as an individual.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shit Parade... I feel like that couldn't more be the case. I hope I'm doing something society still needs when that day comes.
posted by Buckt at 4:27 PM on September 13, 2011


This weird mindset that having a baby is one of the ultimate life-phases needs to fucking go.

Thanks to hormones, having children is not always a rational desire.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it wrong that I am relieved this one is not reproducing?
posted by molecicco at 4:32 PM on September 13, 2011


If you absolutely can't keep yourself from making babies, please have one and one only. At most, any given couple should be limited to two. At least that way the population will remain stable-ish.

So, what's your plan for enforcing this limit? Tube-tying at gun point?


No enforcement, that's why I said 'please.'
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:35 PM on September 13, 2011


The answer is simple. Nobody should have more than ONE child. That would help everything on the planet immensely and satisfy both sides of this debate.
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:35 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Liquidwolf: "The answer is simple. Nobody should have more than ONE child. That would help everything on the planet immensely and satisfy both sides of this debate."

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot walker stamping on a human face - forever. Because that would guarantee a permanently top-heavy population tree with the olds making all the rules.

I personally think that while Logan's Run was pretty campy, they had some great ideas in there.
posted by mullingitover at 4:41 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which is fundamentally more valuable? A gas-guzzling car or a child?

That depends on a bunch of factors: the price of gasoline, the gross weight of the stuff I need to haul around, how often I have to replace the kids' shoes, etc.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:44 PM on September 13, 2011


Every population graph for every animal I have ever seen follows a basic path: reproduce exponentially until a food shortage causes a drastic downturn.

Actually, K-selected species follow a sigmoid population growth pattern, with populations eventually leveling out near the carrying capacity of their environment. Many animal species are K-selected, arguably including humans. There is substantial debate among ecologists about Earth's actual human carrying capacity, though, and the r/K selection theory is often criticized as being overly general.
posted by dialetheia at 4:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Children shouldn't guzzle gas. I mean, I am not a parent, but still.
posted by everichon at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I was always going to have kids. I have kids. Now I want them to have kids, though I am willing to wait a few years. Whenever I hear that someone is having/has had a kid I squee. Not being able to have kids seems like an unimaginable hardship (to me). You can pry my belief that more kids are better out of my cold, dead hands.

That said, Feminist Breeder's got nothing. What a silly excuse for an argument.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:52 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep trying to work in a ranty annoyed argument about over-population when a thread about our economic downfall comes up (which has been daily).

guess what: there are way too many fucking people on this planet and we're now seeing that resource scarcity is starting to effect EVERYONE. daily life, no matter who or where you are, requires energy. western lifestyles require more than, say, someone living in a tiny African village. but chances are that western individual will live a longer and healthier life. so who wouldn't want that?

maybe i'm wrong and maybe there's a way everyone on this planet can live the same Western-ish lifestyle with cars and steak dinners and 3 kids with their own cars and grandma living to be 94 hooked up to machines and walmarts full of shitty crap that no one needs.. but i don't fucking think so.
posted by ninjew at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


guess what: there are way too many fucking people on this planet and we're now seeing that resource scarcity is starting to effect EVERYONE.

And again, Thomas malthus proves there is indeed internet connectivity in the afterlife.
posted by GuyZero at 5:08 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]



I personally think that while Logan's Run was pretty campy, they had some great ideas in there.


Well, yeah. I mean you couldn't enforce a one child rule anyway but I think the idea is worth trying for. I guess the only ones who would listen would be the smart ones, then you'd end up with Idiocracy.
So, in the name on Logan's Run...maybe we dispose of everyone over 50 then? (30 is too young).
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The scary thing is that I really don't like most people and yet I apparently like humanity in general a heck of a lot more than some of y'all. Any time I think I'm too much of a misanthrope I just load up one of these threads and come out feeling like one of the Up With People freaks.

Humans are awesome. Go humanity. Have kids. Have more than one. Growing up with siblings, particular those relatively close in age, is a pretty dang great thing. Maybe don't have seven kids. Birth control; it's what for dinner.

In any case, this is a self-limiting problem. The People Haters will select themselves out of the gene pool.
posted by Justinian at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2011


Is this the part of the thread where someone is supposed to post the intro to Idiocracy?
posted by snsranch at 5:18 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, snsranch. Yes it is. I was just coming in here to do that. You beat me to it!
posted by bloody_bonnie at 5:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never saw Idiocracy, but that intro doesn't look encouraging. The narrator in the voiceover babbles on about how back in the day it was people of merit who procreated, unlike today... and they flashed a portrait of Beethoven as one of those people of merit - except it doesn't seem that Beethoven ever reproduced (at least nobody has made a good case, or proven such)... this kind of sloppiness makes Idiocracy seem a pretty idiotic, underresearched and lazy piece of work.
posted by VikingSword at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2011


this kind of sloppiness makes Idiocracy seem a pretty idiotic, underresearched and lazy piece of work.

Almost like it was some form of comedy or something.
posted by aramaic at 5:30 PM on September 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Of course, the Idiocracy premise that stupid people will overbreed pisses me off, because if you want a nice little example of "elitism" there you go. Lots of us here came from families made of up perfectly smart people who never had the chance to go to school or leave their tiny towns, and would probably get called dumb for that reason.

Enlightened attitudes are not genetic, and intelligence, inasmuch as you can measure it, is incredibly dependent on access to education and opportunity.

Those Duggar kids aren't any dumber than the special snowflake only child of university professors going to Montessori school; they've just been hampered in their development. Which is a whole other discussion, but anyway, let's not go into Smart People Like Us Should Breed More talk, because the more you look at that attitude, the nastier it is.
posted by emjaybee at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Not sure if you're being serious or not, but fuck that...Generally speaking, instilling values in children is the responsibility of parents, and no one else. You want to teach my child something, teach him math and spelling.

In that case I'd rather not teach your children anything at all. Please keep them out of the public school system. There are lots of kids there whose parents are open to them learning any number of things.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2011


I'm not sure Thomas Malthus, having ascended to the afterlife in 1834 before the dawn of the Industrial Age, was familiar with the concept of resource-intensive food production and its deleterious ecological effects. or long-term sustainability.
posted by ninjew at 5:45 PM on September 13, 2011


It always feels insulting to have someone question your choices, and people don't always recognise that sometimes they may not entirely be your choice. My partner and I, for instance, have extremely sound genetic reasons for not reproducing but still feel the social stigma and at times have come in for incredulous questioning of the choice from people who don't know our reasons (in which case I have no shame in pulling out the "horrible genetic degenerative condition" card to make them feel guilty).

What annoys me about these issues is that they almost immediately devolve into extremes (on either side). The people with kids are called breeders, the people without kids are called selfish, people who advocate even the mildest of population control programs (such as education on environmental impacts) get accused of advocating eugenics or human extinction. Or called "People Haters". So we end up being able to have a sensible discussion about it because everyone's so sensitive. The writer of the first linked article is making a salient point - that we need more social and cultural acceptance of families, couples and individuals who choose not to have kids, for whatever reason - but it's getting lost.
posted by andraste at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


In that case I'd rather not teach your children anything at all. Please keep them out of the public school system. There are lots of kids there whose parents are open to them learning any number of things.

Speaking as a former public school teacher, if teachers stuck to teaching the basics, rather than ham-handed (and half-assed) attempts at social engineering, we'd all be a lot better off.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I meant, of course, "we end up not being able to have a sensible discussion about it because everyone's so sensitive". Damn multitasking.
posted by andraste at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My DNA is better suited towards ensuring the long term survival of humanity. Therefore you should sacrifice your potential future generations so that our species can live. Thank you for your sacrifice. If you would still like to raise children, my sperm is available for a small fee.
posted by humanfont at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2011


Was just thinking: if we weren't self-aware beyond the same level as, say, the other animals on the planet, then we wouldn't be doing things like pouring concrete and mining ore and concocting chemicals and generating obscene amounts of ozone. Then we'd be just like all the other animals; if our population grew too large for the planet to support, we'd just die back down to a normal level.

So if a person is going to get tweaked about all this, they shouldn't be getting tweaked about the population per se...they should be focusing on industrialization. And, presumably, the very first thing they should do is adapt their own lifestyle so that they're living off the land as the other animals are, living by consuming what's available to them, and what they can cultivate with their bare hands and rudimentary hand-formed tools. Otherwise, it's just a game of "you're wrong and I'm right because, even though we both consume, I consume less than you by not having a child." Which is, frankly, a complete red herring.
posted by davejay at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2011


I can think globally and I can fuck locally
posted by Sailormom at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Then we'd be just like all the other animals; if our population grew too large for the planet to support, we'd just die back down to a normal level.

Yo, we *are* just like all the other animals.
We have, do, and will "die back down to a normal level".
It's just that people tend to find all that dying undesirable, and try to prevent it where they can.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


let me tell you about my milleniarianism and then let's talk about my misanthropy and weird personal issues

where are you going wait
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Women are not holy.

I don't know about you, but I have 5 holes in my head alone.
posted by jb at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2011


Yo, we *are* just like all the other animals. I agree with this except for the fact that many other animals or insects, life forms, are much more adapted for survival than we are.

I made up my mind a long time ago that we humans are no better than any other primates that succumb to their instincts for survival. Those instincts that so often in humans override the great "intelligence" and "language" we're so proud of.

We'll have our day, someday, but it's very far away in my opinion.
posted by snsranch at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


From a biological point of view, it is the ultimate purpose of your life as an individual.

Kin selection is the concept that some traits that do not benefit the individual directly can nonetheless be favored by the process of natural selection, because if your family contains a few people with these traits, your family will be more likely to survive, although those particular people will not. Risk-taking personalities are an example.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem described is not a population problem, it's. a consumption problem
posted by theora55 at 7:23 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rationally, I totally get that overpopulation is a problem. I used to be married to someone who used that argument (among many others) for why he personally did not want to have children. My brain got the message.

My ovaries... would not be swayed. I tried to not have kids and it very seriously drove me crazy to repress that part of myself. I suppose I'm in the minority of women in that I felt very strongly pressured to feel ok not having kids and I seriously couldn't do it. I could not come to a place wherein I could accept my future without children in it, try as I might to save my marriage and be happy and at peace and all of that.

And now I'm married to someone who shares my parenting goals and we have a son and it's everything I ever dreamed of and I barf kitties on a daily basis. I promise I'm teaching him to recycle! And I re-use as much stuff as possible and donate all of his gently used outgrown swag to Goodwill! And he's an awesome person and I'm totally over the moon for him and I don't care that he's a carbon suckhole because I'm so much of a sucker that I don't even care about things like the unpleasant fact that I wipe his butt six times per day!

Moral of the story: Ovaries trump brain.

Other moral of the story: People are awesome. Babies are how you start people. I HAVE a baby, but I didn't set out to have this baby exhibit who will stay a small resource sucking whiner. I set out to have this whole person who will hopefully do awesome stuff like grow up and post to MetaFilter someday! And maybe he'll solve peak oil or achieve world peace or write poetry, I dunno, but I'm totally thrilled to see where he's headed with this whole "life" thing.
posted by sonika at 7:39 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm all for people having kids, as long as they do the best job they can to raise that child into a healthy, happy, productive adult. Half-assed parenting is a mortal sin in my book. (YMMV)

I'd much rather be one of the so-called "villagers" who help other people's kids instead of raising my own. It's a role I'm more suited to and more comfortable in.
posted by luckynerd at 8:56 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


we're spinning through space to busy trying to look good or trying to
kill each other, to really understand what all this means. Just like the dinosaurs
we are just the next species to go extinct. But at least as a species we went to space
so the dinosaurs can suck it.
posted by Sailormom at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2011


I will listen to arguments about not biologically reproducing from people who wanted children, were fully capable of biologically reproducing, but elected for permanent surgical sterilization and adoption. For all the "child free" out there, hey, it's super that your natural inclination not to parent has also presented you with another justification for feeling self-righteous. Kudos. But you didn't not have kids because you're so into the planet. You didn't have kids because you didn't want to.

And wow am I sick of listening to people whine about how someone looked at them funny when they said they didn't want babies or told them they'd regret it later (oh gasp, someone vocally disagrees with their choice, how will they ever bear it) or keeps asking stupid questions about when they're going to get on the conventional relationship and reproduction even though they already explained that they're not into that. All of these no-child problems are some punk-ass B.S. compared to the problems of actually having a child. You need some real problems to snap you out of being such a baby about it. I should bring my kid over to your house and give you something to whine about. While you were feeling "stressed" because Gramma looked so sad at when you said you didn't think you would ever have kids at Thanksgiving, a fifty pound human spawn crawled into my bed, radiating heat at about 104 degrees, and proceeded to vomit copiously in my immediate vicinity. You didn't see me come around complaining about my lot in life. Because I accept the consequences of my actions.
posted by nanojath at 9:20 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


> General question: Do you think it's easier to reduce consumption or to have fewer children?

Personally? Likely the second. Resource control is not entirely in your own hands, after all - some people just need to drive to work, based on where they live (absence of public transport, etc.).

Come on. Anyone driving a car in 2012 is hardly in a position to lecture people about the environmental impact of having children.
posted by No-sword at 9:41 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well the slippery slope argument is really that once you decide that people are bad for the environment the only logical thing to do is hang yourself, preferably with recycled rope. Cars are the least of it all.
posted by GuyZero at 9:47 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


hey, it's super that your natural inclination not to parent has also presented you with another justification for feeling self-righteous

Heh. People choosing not to have children help the environment in exactly the same way that I help the environment by choosing not to fly business class round trip to Europe every other month.
posted by Justinian at 9:50 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


oh mean just last night I personally decided not to burn down several acres of Brazilian rainforest. That was a big environmental win.
posted by GuyZero at 9:52 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pan-fried panda paws are actually delicious enough to warrant a slight tinge of environmental guilt
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 PM on September 13, 2011


People with kids = oxytocin junkies.

People who never had kids and don't want them = straight-edge losers who just need to get a good oxytocin fix and they'll come around to the view that the junkies have.

Hormones. They're a hell of a drug.
posted by daq at 10:11 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


it's super that your natural inclination not to parent has also presented you with another justification for feeling self-righteous... wow am I sick of listening to people whine ... You didn't have kids because you didn't want to.

Not all of us. Some of us made the decision based on other factors. Frankly I have no idea what my choice would have been if we hadn't decided very early on that the risk of bringing a severely handicapped child into the world, with no prospects except slow deterioration and early death, were too great.

But thank you for demonstrating that the topic is so touchy that we can't have a decent conversation about it.

I accept the consequences of my actions.

I don't know what this has to do with anything that's been said either here or in the articles linked to.
posted by andraste at 11:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]



In lieu of children, what if one's "retirement plan" were planned euthanasia when one is no longer economically self-sufficient? One's remains could be composted and one's belongings could be re-recycled back into the population. Is that ethically consistent with no child-bearing and a low-impact lifestyle?

I, for one, am open to contemplating the idea. But then again, I always loved The Giver.


Here is a quote from that author that might offer some new insight into "The Giver":
A parent from my school wants to ban THE GIVER. What do you think about that?
I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It's okay for a parent to say, "I don't want my child to read this book." But it is not okay for anyone to try to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in THE GIVER is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let's work hard to keep it from truly happening.
posted by aniola at 11:17 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bryan Caplan’s new Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids (summarized here) is an argument that takes on many of the objections to child-rearing, including this kind of altruistic pessimism. In a chapter entitled “Your Kids Are Good for You–But Are They Good for the World?” he works through several economic and environmental arguments about children. He argues that bringing new children into the world is, first, a benefit for the children themselves. Since most people are pleased by their own existence, we can assume that any children who do not commit suicide are glad to have been brought into the world. (BONUS!) Second, he points out that that the major economic objections to more children, especially the Parfit-style repugnant conclusions, ignore the role of more people in producing innovations and “growing the pie” of human happiness:
“It takes a whole planet to sustain the progress that we take for granted. You need smart, creative people to get new ideas, but they’re not enough. You also need armies of customers to turn creativity into a paying job. Creative geniuses are the most dramatic characters in the story of progress. Without a cast of billions of extras, however, the story would be less exciting. Indeed, without the extras, there would be no story to tell.”
This is somewhat inexact, but the point stands: fewer people doesn’t mean a higher GDP per capita: GDP per capita is ultimately the product of innovation, and innovation flourishes with density.

Third, we need steady population growth to sustain the current social safety net: bad things happen when countries end up with low ratios of workers to retirees, as we’re currently realizing. (When Social Security started, there were ten workers for every recipient. In fifteen years, there will be three workers per retiree.) So if you’re a progressive who believes in the welfare state, then not having kids looks more selfish, since it’ll be other peoples’ kids paying your benefits! Of course, in my earlier writing on this point, I have tended to focus on the ways in which low native population growth forces countries to embrace immigration. While that’s still true, I wonder whether I’m discounting the wrenching difficulties that immigration places on both local communities and on the immigrants themselves. This is a matter for further study especially since it’s likely to entail some cultural and human costs that Caplan’s economic analyses fail to measure.

For Caplan, the primary judgment we should make in evaluating whether a child will be a miracle or a burden is whether that child will consume fewer resources than he or she produces. He briefly considers the example of a janitor, who may make less than average salary but still produces more than he consumes. (Caplan doesn’t broach other kinds of potentially burdensome individuals: what if my children grew up to be bankers?)

The very best thing about Caplan’s book is that he acknowledges that we can’t have all the answers. So when he takes on the environmental impact of children, he doesn’t pretend like they don’t increase your carbon footprint. Instead, he suggests that the many benefits of children are not completely outweighed by their environmental impact. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” he quips. Instead, he suggests we ought to selectively target carbon emissions (he advocates using a carbon tax if possible). This seems right: carbon emissions may well be an existential threat to our survival as a species. That doesn’t mean that we ought to preempt the threat, it means we should prevent it!

There’s something heartbreakingly calculative in this analysis, isn’t there? But just because it seem coldly rational to count up one’s obligations and deny oneself a luxury doesn’t make it wrong. Thus, just because it’s coldly rational to suggest that children will probably make the world better-off economically doesn’t make it wrong, either. Once they’re born, we’re going to treat them like a miracle in any case.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:24 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can't even drive a car without a license. Why the hell is it ok to MAKE HUMANS (and any number of them to!) with absolutely no training for it whatsoever?
posted by Zorsha at 4:52 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The argument in the first article reminds me of my friend who was considering buying an expensive coat, she reasoned that not buying the coat would save her a couple of hundred dollars some of which she could spend on something else. I asked her why she didnt just 'not buy' a diamond necklace and she would save thousands!
Steer that blame right over here.
read like something out of an Onion article lampooning western guilt.
My carbon footprint is more than 200 times bigger than that of an average Ethiopian.
Free Hummer for every mother of an Ethiopian new born would solve this.
When a poor woman in Uganda has another child she might dampen her family's prospects for climbing out of poverty or add to her community's challenges in providing everyone with clean water and safe food, but she certainly isn't placing a big burden on the global environment.
Lets pray that she remains in poverty and never gets her mitts on a McDonalds or flys in a plane, cos that would fuck the environmental burden ratio with me life up....
Far and away the biggest contribution I can make to a cleaner environment is to not bring any mini-mes into the world. A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that in America the climate impact of having one fewer child is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, such as driving a hybrid, recycling, using efficient appliances and installing compact fluorescent lights.
So shouldnt everyone plan to have 20 kids and then change their minds and have 18 less. The saving to the environment have mother nature singing!
And so, for environmental as well as personal reasons, I've decided not to have children.
I would guess that the personal reasons are probably a bigger factor, but it allows her to write self-righteous crap like she is trying to save the world in her own small way.

The list of things she does to limit her consumption does not include refusing to fly, but she can refuse to reproduce!!
A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that in America the climate impact of having one fewer child is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, such as driving a hybrid, recycling, using efficient appliances and installing compact fluorescent lights.
Seems like she saw this as a silver bullet for reducing her footprint.
And so, for environmental as well as personal reasons, I've decided not to have children. I call myself a GINK: green inclinations, no kids.
Sounds like she is trying to create a moment, so she wont have to suffer the
weird looks and face awkward conversations with family members, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers.
posted by therubettes at 4:55 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


> You can't even drive a car without a license. Why the hell is it ok to MAKE HUMANS (and any number of them to!) with absolutely no training for it whatsoever?

Sure you can. Having the license has no bearing on your ability to drive, only your ability to follow rules. If you make 'baby licenses' a reality, people will still have babies without a license, just like people who drive without licenses. It may cock up the paperwork but it can and does happen, more often than you'd care to think about.
posted by davelog at 5:33 AM on September 14, 2011


It cocks up more than the paperwork...
posted by Zorsha at 5:45 AM on September 14, 2011


all of these articles are ignoring that policy changes are more effective than lifestyle changes. Changing the national policies of the US are going to have a hell of a lot more impact than a decision to have children.

There are also class modulators that I would imagine affect carbon footprint more than the individual decision to breed. a decision by a poor family in the united states to have another child does not weigh nearly as heavily on the carbon cycle as a rich family's, although all citizens share in certain emissions.

And you could combine the policy changes with lifestyle changes, i suppose, by migrating to a country outside of the United States to raise children.
posted by eustatic at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2011


Don't worry, eventually the robots will be humanity's children once we can no longer live on this planet.

Also:
I've got a carbon footprint,
It's a big as a whale!
And it's about to set sail!
posted by charred husk at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2011


> Well, yeah. I mean you couldn't enforce a one child rule anyway but I think the idea is worth trying for.

It's been tried.

The main criticism of the policy, though, is undoubtedly its stimulus to sex discrimination. Faced with hard choices about overall numbers, the Chinese girl child has once again become expendable.

posted by jfuller at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2011


Waiting for the eugenics argument...some of the comments border on that already...
posted by Kokopuff at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faced with hard choices about overall numbers, the Chinese girl child has once again become expendable.

Yeah, I was thinking about that as the most obvious downside proven already IRL: if we had a two-child maximum law, with prohibitively expensive licenses for further children (calculated as a fixed percentage of income and not a flat fee, thus attempting to affect all people somewhat equally) with exceptions made for child deaths, you'd certainly get people who chose to treat one gender as more "disposable" than the other.

Space babies are our only hope.
posted by elizardbits at 8:49 AM on September 14, 2011


fewer people doesn’t mean a higher GDP per capita

GDP is utterly irrelevant, the issue is with physical resources (minerals, energy, arable land, freshwater, etc). That sort of economic analysis is flawed. For instance:

For Caplan, the primary judgment we should make in evaluating whether a child will be a miracle or a burden is whether that child will consume fewer resources than he or she produces

That one is easy: humans do not produce absolutely anything, only consume. A farmer is only taking advantage of solar energy, water, soil, the atmosphere and a few selected species of plants to obtain food. He doesn't actually produce the food, merely re-directs pre-existing resources/ecosystem services to more advantageous uses from a human perspective.


we need steady population growth to sustain the current social safety net

No, we need a new safety net that doesn't rely on population growth.

Since the amount of resources is continually declining, because some are finite (petroleum) and others are over-exploited despite being theoretically sustainable (fisheries, soil, the nitrogen and phosporous cycles), the larger the number of people above carrying capacity the worse off the average person will be.

The key word is "average", because 30 years from now there will probably still be 500 million people throwing away a fourth of their food and living in perhaps even better conditions than we now do, while the bottom 2.5 billion will be eating about as much as the bottom 1 billion does now. So, presumably, there will always be someone arguing that population isn't something to be concerned about.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is one of those huge, systematic problems that I don't feel like sacrificing a lot in my life to valiantly struggle against. To one person, something like the decision to have a child or not is going to have a much bigger impact on them as an individual than it's going to have on the huge possibly unsolvable problem of overpopulation. If overpopulation ever gets solved it won't be solved by individual people having kids, any more than slavery can be abolished by individual people deciding not to own slaves. The human race certainly seems like a speeding locomotive heading toward a cliff, but even if I went as far as committing suicide to avoid contributing to any of the various problems I inherently contribute to by living my life and making the decisions I make every day, I don't feel as though I would make any appreciable difference.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:27 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


If your definition of production is "create ex nihilo" then you should acknowledge that humans do not consume, either: the constiuent matter is neither created nor destroyed. That's why production refers to cultivation and value-addition.

This is why we focus on GDP (or better, GNP): it's possible to increase the sum of valued products without a proportional increase in material stuff consumed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:32 AM on September 14, 2011


As a vasectomised and childless man, I most definitely am not the population problem. I suppose I could do more by committing suicide.
posted by Decani at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2011


And wow am I sick of listening to people whine about how someone looked at them funny when they said they didn't want babies [...]

You know, I roll my eyes at the Internet Variant of childfree people just as hard as the next rational individual, but don't you think that's just a bit ridiculous and over the top?

Want kids? Have 'em. Don't want 'em? Don't have 'em. Dislike people all up in your bidniz about your choice - whichever it is? Ask them if they are aware that it's rude to take such a blatant interest in other people's sex lives.

No one has the universal right answer. They only have the right answer for themselves.
posted by MissySedai at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"There is a 60 per cent probability that the world's population will not exceed 10 billion people before 2100, and around a 15 per cent probability that the world's population at the end of the century will be lower than it is today."

I'm not too worried about overpopulation. Managed correctly, our planet should easily support 50 billion. Policies and practices create the problems, not the number of people.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on September 14, 2011


Why the hell is it ok to MAKE HUMANS (and any number of them to!) with absolutely no training for it whatsoever?

Because the enforcement mechanisms amount to sterilization at gunpoint? You first, buddy.
posted by emjaybee at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2011


If your definition of production is "create ex nihilo" then you should acknowledge that humans do not consume, either: the constiuent matter is neither created nor destroyed. That's why production refers to cultivation and value-addition.

Yes, we do, we consume low-entropy inputs, and are dependent on huge stocks of solar energy concentrated over a geological timescale to keep them coming. When you burn gas to cook a meal, the total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains exactly the same, but you can't easily turn those CO2 and H2O molecules back into oxygen+hydrocarbons. Nor can you easily desalinate water. Nor smelt metals.

Once fossil fuels are inevitably gone forever and we need to rely exclusively on renewable energy flows of much inferior quality (thus rendering direct comparisons like "daily insolation is orders of magnitude greater than fossil energy" meaningless) it will be impossible to maintain a society like our present one.
Long before running out completely, though, there will come the time when what's available stops being enough (what peak oil/coal/phosporous/whatever is all about) to meet demand. That time is now, with now referring to this century and the next, not November 29th, 2034, or whenever the trillionth tonne is emitted or any other random benchmark you prefer.

My point is that human labour is not the limiting factor, and that at nearly 7 billion people we certainly have more than enough brains to try to find the best ways to deal with the predicament. Or we would, if we focused more on getting all those brains adequately taken care of while we still produce more than enough food for all, instead of trying to increase the odds of "winning the lottery" by giving birth to a magical genius who would solve the unsolvable.


it's possible to increase the sum of valued products without a proportional increase in material stuff consumed

I suppose that if a barrel of oil now sells for $100 instead of $20 that contributes to increased GDP, and if it comes from the Canadian oil sands it took a lot more effort to obtain (which also counts for increased GDP) than one coming from an onshore traditional oil well. Yet they both contain the same amount of energy and do the same useful work. So it is also possible to obtain the same product with a huge increase in material and/or energy consumption, and it will count as increased GDP as well, hence why GDP is such a poor unit for measuring well-being.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2011


"Because the enforcement mechanisms amount to sterilization at gunpoint? You first, buddy."
Uhm... so the training I suggested is out of the question then?

"Managed correctly, our planet should COULD easily support 50 billion."
There, I fixed it.
posted by Zorsha at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2011


What I like about this thread is that it's time everyone has spent arguing instead of making babies.
posted by hermitosis at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Entropy is not a good way to think about human values. It's the wrong time scale: not this century and next, but this 30 millennia and the next 30. None of our decisions matter at that scale.

I'm not sure why you keep attacking the labor theory of value. No one I know seriously credits that. I'm talking about good old fashioned exchange value, which is capable of valuing the global fine art market at $33 billion annually and the World of Warcraft economy at $28 billion. This means that people can spend a lot of resources making a little bit of value or comparatively few resources creating massive amounts of value. I favor the latter.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:37 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I like about this thread is that it's time everyone has spent arguing instead of making babies.

If you're insinuating that I had a choice between arguing on the internet and getting laid, well...I admire your optimism.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:54 PM on September 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you're insinuating that I had a choice between arguing on the internet and getting laid, well...I admire your optimism.

MULTI-TASKING!

I kid. Though sometimes... tempting...
posted by sonika at 2:50 PM on September 14, 2011


I kid.

Therefore, I pollute.
posted by hermitosis at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Entropy is not a good way to think about human values. It's the wrong time scale: not this century and next, but this 30 millennia and the next 30. None of our decisions matter at that scale.

Huh? I don't understand what you're getting at here.

I said that using fossil fuels (low entropy) is a one-way process and we can't go back to hydrocarbons from CO2+H2O without putting in more energy than what we get out. And that were we to forego fossil fuel usage, and restrain our use of renewable resources to a sustainable level, the agricultural and industrial outputs would necessarily be much less than present, and probably insufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living to 7 billion people. Increasing that number just makes the slice of the resource pie get smaller.


I'm not sure why you keep attacking the labor theory of value

Am I? I don't even know what the theory is...


This means that people can spend a lot of resources making a little bit of value or comparatively few resources creating massive amounts of value. I favor the latter.

No arguing from me there! I attacked GDP as a measure of well-being precisely because it can be an indicator of the latter as well as the former.

Where we seem to differ is that (I assume) you're defending the viewpoint that we can infinitely do more with less and decouple economic growth from resource usage, and I completely disagree with that.
Even in a perfect, 100% efficient world with perfect trade we would need a minimum amount of resources to provide for everyone, regardless of how much we decide to value it in economic terms.

The book you mentioned argues that more people = more added value; I argue that more people = less resources to add value to after basic needs are taken care of, and that given enough people (carrying capacity exceeded), not even basic needs may be met.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:27 PM on September 14, 2011


Nobody has ever been all, "I want kids more than I want air, I really really want them, I desperately want my very own baby and to see if it gets my husband's eye color or mine," and then proceeded not to have a baby for the sake of the environment. As sonika pointed out, ovaries trump brain. And as nanojath pointed out...yeah, it's an excuse to say that you aren't having any for the sake of the environment. In a world where most people think it's horrible if you don't have kids and at least some crazies don't think ANY excuse counts as a good enough reason not to, some childfree folks throw this one out hoping to shut people up by claiming sanctity of the environment. Doesn't mean they don't mean it, necessarily, but.... again, nobody who really really really wants their own biological kids passes them up strictly for the planet.

(And I say this as an evil non-parent.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 PM on September 14, 2011


If I lived in an era (or mindset) in which having kids seemed like a) they weren't adding to the environmental blight on the planet that is humanity & b) they weren't going to therefore inherit some REALLY crappy problems? I would be having children.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:05 PM on September 14, 2011


Where we seem to differ is that (I assume)

Yes, that sounds right to me too. If you find yourself attributing ad infinitum arguments to others, you're probably not reading them carefully.

By the way, one quick heuristic for labor v exchange theories is that labor value comes from working while exchange value comes from wanting.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:29 AM on September 15, 2011


Just to point out as someone who DESPERATELY wanted children (possibly more than air, yes) that I was absolutely 100% willing to adopt rather than having my own bio-kid if it the environmental/overpopulation factors were really my ex-husband's main concern. I was totally on board with working with that. But...

Turns out it was just a glossy cover on the bigger issue of "No, really, I don't want kids."

So, there's one pointless anecdote about how people use TEH ENVIRONMINTS! as justification for not having kids really just don't want to have kids and are using fancy stories to try to reach out and explain this to our ovaries who just LA LA LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU.
posted by sonika at 5:36 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, that sounds right to me too. If you find yourself attributing ad infinitum arguments to others, you're probably not reading them carefully.

By the way, one quick heuristic for labor v exchange theories is that labor value comes from working while exchange value comes from wanting.


I'm really sorry for misunderstanding you and assuming you were saying something you weren't, but it seems to me we're both talking past each other here. I never intended to imply that something that takes more work to create is necessarily more valuable because that's evidently bogus.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:11 AM on September 15, 2011


If I lived in an era (or mindset) in which having kids seemed like a) they weren't adding to the environmental blight on the planet that is humanity

a1) your kids don't have to add to the environmental blight. there are a LOT of people who live with very small resource footprints.
a2) your child might find (or more likely, help find) a solution to the "environmental blight that is humanity"

& b) they weren't going to therefore inherit some REALLY crappy problems? I would be having children.

b1) see a2

When deciding to have biological kids, I think these are the most important questions to consider:

1) do you want the human race to continue or go extinct?
2) do you want your genes to propagate to the next generation?
3) do you like spending lots of time with kids or are you rich enough to hire help?
4) do you want to give up all your free time, sleep, and money?

I fucking hate seeing all the hippie breeders. It's so... hypocritical.

Huh. I don't get it. If everyone lived like hippies, we could support 100 billion.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on September 15, 2011


The reality is that if you have kids in the US and don't live a completely bizarre lifestyle, you are NOT living with a "very small resource footprint" and you likely never will. People like to compare themselves to the "dude who drives a Hummer" but that's like the people who make 500k a year saying that they're not rich because someone else makes 2m. It's myopic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:37 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. I don't get it. If everyone lived like hippies, we could support 100 billion.

Speaking as a hippie kid... no. We still drove. In fact, when we lived in the boonies, we drove a LOT just to get to school. We, and many of our friends, drove polluting beaters because we were poor.

a1) your kids don't have to add to the environmental blight. there are a LOT of people who live with very small resource footprints.
a2) your child might find (or more likely, help find) a solution to the "environmental blight that is humanity"


a1) I don't want my kids to have to live like third worlders, which is what it would take, imo, to live with a light footprint.
a2) the "but your kid might discover a cure for cancer!" argument makes no sense. There are lots of kids being born. The odds of my kid discovering some fantastical solution aren't any better than those of lots of others.

Q) Do I want the human race to go extinct? A) Are you suggesting that if I, personally, don't breed, humans will go extinct? That's absurd. (And, since you asked, it wouldn't break my heart if it did go extinct.)

Q) Do I want my genes to propogate? A) Not particularly. They really aren't that special. I mean, I'm quite attached to them, and my brother's kids are AWESOME but more objectively speaking, no.

Q) Do I like spending lots of time with kids? A) I have to breed to get that now?

Q) Do you want to give up all your free time, sleep, and money? A) I doubt anyone does, but many people find kids worth those things.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a hippie kid... no. We still drove. In fact, when we lived in the boonies, we drove a LOT just to get to school. We, and many of our friends, drove polluting beaters because we were poor.

Sorry then, but not a hippie. You would have been home-schooled. My definition of hippie is likely a bit stricter than most, I suppose.

The Urban Quest for 'Zero' Waste: Some cities are leading the way in reducing the amount of trash they send to landfills. Here's how they're doing it.

Where are the kids to help with this program?

The problem is not too many kids but how we are living.

People like to compare themselves to the "dude who drives a Hummer" but that's like the people who make 500k a year saying that they're not rich because someone else makes 2m. It's myopic.

I like to compare myself to the people who power their homes entirely with solar and wind, and who grow their own food. I'm still way behind...

Q) Do I like spending lots of time with kids? A) I have to breed to get that now?

Pretty much. Or make it your job, I guess.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:13 AM on September 15, 2011


Sorry then, but not a hippie. You would have been home-schooled. My definition of hippie is likely a bit stricter than most, I suppose.

Your definition of hippie is yours alone, then. I don't know a hippie family that doesn't drive all over the place to do what they need to do- even working for social justice and the environment takes gasoline.

The (decently) homeschooled drove as much as anyone else- they just drove to cooler places, like the beach, parks, or museums. There were unibomber style families homeschooling to be sure, but that meant they got very little actual education at all, and I'm pretty sure that's bad for any society.

I like to compare myself to the people who power their homes entirely with solar and wind, and who grow their own food. I'm still way behind...


I know a few people who do that. Do you have any idea how much money it takes to set that up sustainably? They started out rich. Not that I'm knocking it, but it's more in the line of gentleman farmer than back-to-the-land hipster kid. It's also pretty much a full time job (and you still have to pay property taxes.)

Honestly, the people I know these days who aren't rich who live the most like what you're talking about are the "quiverful" types on the religious right. They have lots of kids who help with the farming and they homeschool. They usually do have a big car, but otherwise live very simply.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011


mrgrimm: "When deciding to have biological kids, I think these are the most important questions to consider:

1) do you want the human race to continue or go extinct?
2) do you want your genes to propagate to the next generation?
3) do you like spending lots of time with kids or are you rich enough to hire help?
4) do you want to give up all your free time, sleep, and money?
"

I lol'd!

1) Whether I reproduce or not is irrelevant to the future of the species. People will continue to breed like rats and consume every piece of available resources like a wildfire in high winds until armageddon or iceball planet.

2) I'm a caucasian. We're a very homogenous bunch, my genes are in no danger of going extinct anytime soon.

3) No and no.

4) No

The only reason I really have to produce children is to make my lovable old parents into happy old grandparents, and since my sister already took one for the team I'm off the hook on that one.
posted by mullingitover at 1:35 PM on September 16, 2011


People will continue to breed like rats and consume every piece of available resources like a wildfire in high winds until armageddon or iceball planet.

You really, really don't like humans very much?
posted by Justinian at 5:13 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Easter Island.
posted by fuq at 8:08 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which makes a great story but probably didn't happen the way popular culture would have it. Recent evidence suggests that the ecological collapse wasn't a result of human short sightedness but rather because the rat population exploded and they fed on the tree roots.
posted by Justinian at 11:55 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only reason I really have to produce children is to make my lovable old parents into happy old grandparents, and since my sister already took one for the team I'm off the hook on that one

Don't worry! No one here is saying you have to have children, or judge you one way or the other!
posted by KokuRyu at 2:13 PM on September 21, 2011


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