Essay originally appeared on Medium, here.
In a recent Democrat climate change debate, a question about population control was met by thunderous applause. Its response equally applauded.
Pundits and critics bellyached and ballyhooed over the politics of this question and answer; each scoring the plus or minus of its political posturing in the never-ending politics-as-entertainment pageant.
For a minute, let’s forget about the upcoming election and simply focus on the reasonableness or truthfulness of this question and answer.
The inquiry was from CNN audience member, Martha Readyoff, a teacher from New Milford, Connecticut; the response from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
First, the full question, asked:
“Human population growth has more than doubled in the past 50 years. The planet cannot sustain this growth. I realize this is a poisonous topic for politicians, but it’s crucial to face. Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact. Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?”
Before proceeding to the politician’s answer, let’s ask ourselves, “Does this questions’ premise ring true?”
The growth rates of population remains an objectively knowable fact.
The plinth upon which this inquiry rests is: “Human population growth has more than doubled in the past 50 years…”
“Growth,” in this context, is a vitally important modifier.
However, this is demonstrably false.
This mantra — that human population rates have doubled in 50 years — can only be quipped, and believed, by those who fancy facts niggling. Facts, as has been said, are stubborn things.
Population growth rates have been falling, not doubling.
Lifespan — the longevity of human life — has increased. Increasing lifespans coupled with a falling population growth rate may — and, in current times, has — produced more living people.
This is not a quibble.
If more people are bad (and we’ll get to that momentarily) then the source of these “people,” becomes something more than superfluous relative to policy goals. Does the planet get cured with fewer people being born (population growth) or by curbing the “plague” of human longevity (terminating existing humans)?
While the juxtaposition of these two policy options might seem stark, like Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, they remain the sequitur following the debate question’s premise. If people are the problem, then the solution lies in curbing those born or hastening death to those alive.
The responding politician focused his solution upon curbing population growth.
And now, the full Bernie Sander’s response:
“Well, [the] answer is ‘yes.’ And the answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions.”
Sanders continued, “And the Mexico City agreement, which denies American aid to those organizations around the world that are — that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control to me is totally absurd.”
“So I think, especially in poor countries,” Senator Sanders concluded, “around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies, and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, it’s something I very, very strongly support.”
Let’s set aside the wickedly radical insinuation, from Mr. Sanders, that fewer children are the goal of people inhabiting lesser developed countries. To historians, this will sound all too familiar and similar to the eugenic worldview of other Democrats like Woodrow Wilson.
And another aside and quick disclaimer: My husband and I have two beautiful children; we believe the more, the merrier. Without reservation, I am pro-population growth (and incidentally, not that Senator Sanders would care — radically in favor of longer longevity for the living).
Sander’s anti-population growth position is regrettable, but he is not alone. Great Britain’s Prince Harry, in an interview with Jane Goodall, following the birth of his firstborn, admitted that he intends to have a “maximum” of two children for the sake of the planet.
U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex (D-NY) suggested curbing population growth is a legitimate policy and scientific question, in a live-stream to her 2.5 million Instagram fans.[v]
Presumably, these antinatalist positions are born of a perspective that sees humans as consumers and consumption the bane of our planet’s existence. Ironically, each of these three advocates for limited birth rates has an insanely massive carbon footprint. Yet, hypocrisy of an opinion holder, is no disqualification for the truth of their position.
People — and children to be precise — are more than consumers.
Nevertheless, for this review, let’s accept the utilitarian approach to children as planet consumers and see if this proposition holds merit.
Consumption is arguably connected with costs or expenses. Money is a medium of not only exchange but a surrogate measurement of use.
Childless Households Consume Equally or More
Generally, in the Western World, child-rearing is considered expensive. In the U.S. specifically, the cost — based upon income bracket — ranges from $160,080 to $389,670. With the U.S. government pegging an average at $260,000, up from $220,000, in 1995. Interestingly, as a percent of income, in the United States, the cost of child-rearing is falling.
But not all consumption is equal. The price for necessities — food and clothing — has fallen. The cost for services — education, daycare, tutoring — have all risen a hundred-fold.
Clothing for children (and adults for that matter) is now cheaper than ever before in the U.S. Yet American parents are spending more money on children’s clothes, with increased spending up nearly 25%. These parents are not merely buying necessities. Cheaper apparel yet more spent is a culturally driven luxury, not necessity-based consumption.
If consumption is a culprit, it is not the fault of children; rather it signals the cultural norm of their caregivers.
Let’s look deeper.
Do those without children save $260,000 of expenses? Is this surplus cash buried in backyards or given freely to charity or the government for a different deployment?
Those who do not spend their potential family expenses on little ones deploy it as consumption regardless.
Again, not all consumption is the same.
Education, tutoring, daycare — these are all relatively low carbon cost consumptions. Particularly compared to the lifestyle choices of those who travel (even on an Eco-Adventure) or choose to congregate in carbon hogging entertainment venues.
Arguably, from the perspective of net consumption children are not a contributor.
Family Homes and Transportation are More Efficient
Homes filled with children are more energy efficient than single households. It’s a numerator thing. The more people who share a heating or cooling bill achieves a lower per person utilization ratio.
Additionally, a family of five riding in a min-van is more efficient than a single person driving a hybrid. Again, math. It might be an inconvenient fact, in this regard, but population density drives energy efficiency. This is true for cities, family homes and transportation alike.
Solutions are correlated to Population
Solutions — or innovation — has a proven correlation to population size. Simply put more people, more solutions. Our odds of having solutions that work — for every problem, including protecting our planet — increases with the growth of population.
Population growth, not control, is a better answer to the challenges we face.
Antinatalism — an Ancient Cult
Antinatalists are those who view having children as morally wrong. This is not a new theory; it’s an old one. Those societies where prejudice against children was a substantial bias are now, unironically, extinct.
Most hideous and documented among those communities, in ancient times, were those who worshiped Moloch.
According to Plutarch, the City of Carthage fed its children into the burning brass bowels of a furnace fashioned after the image of the Moloch deity.
Granted, the Carthaginian of old, were not strictly antinatalists, in that they strove to have children so that they could “without remorse” feed them to the fire. Whereas a modern antinatalist is one, who believes it is immoral to be born or contribute to procreation. However, this difference is quibbling.
The British mathematician, Bertrand Russell used the worship of Moloch, as a metaphor for those cults that take on so much power and force; they require unthinking servile submission to their ends. A trend which sounds all too familiar.
To be clear, not having children as a choice — regardless of the rationale — is fine. It’s your life. Live the best life you can. But, as with all things, making choices based upon evidence and truth, yields a better life.
Let’s turn back to those “facts.” People, well-intentioned, can get carried away and see things a little less objectively. We call this zeal.
The full quote, which comes from our nation’s second President:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Mr. Adams had a very colonial way of channeling Aristotle.
The CNN audience member, we can assume, is well intentioned; simply misinformed. Senator Sanders may or may not be well intentioned, and is not likely misinformed, but let’s charitably assume, merely misguided.
We, nor our politicians, can with the benefit of truth, contort facts to meet aims of our goals; the ends — seldom, if ever — justify the mean.
Let’s revisit the facts:
Fact: Population growth is not doubling; it’s falling. Fact: People are living longer. Fact: Raising a family is not a net change in consumption. Fact: The more people in a home, the more energy-efficient it becomes. Fact: The more people who share transportation (like a family), the more energy-efficient it becomes. Fact: The more people we create, the more problems we can solve.
Without addressing the positive morality of raising children, nor the nearly mystical experience and abundant joy parenthood imbues, we can conclude there is little to no evidence-based reasons to believe children are bad for our planet.
They are simply children. And of course if we stop raising children, for whom are we protecting our plant?