The problem with environmentalists isn’t merely that they have destructive ideas about the economy, but that so many of them embrace repulsive ideas about human beings.
Take this recent NPR piece that asks: “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?” If you want to learn about how environmentalism has already affected people in society, read about the couple pondering “the ethics of procreation and its impact on the climate” before starting a family or the group of women in a prosperous New Hampshire town swapping stories about how the “the climate crisis is a reproductive crisis.”
There are, no doubt, many good reasons a person might have for not wanting children. But, certainly, it’s tragic that some gullible Americans who have the means and emotional bandwidth — and perhaps a genuine desire — to be parents avoid having kids because of a quasi-religious belief in apocalyptic climate change and overpopulation.
Then again, maybe this is just Darwinism working its magic.
In the article, NPR introduces us to a philosopher, Travis Rieder, who couches these discredited ideas in a purportedly moral context. Bringing down global fertility rates, he explains, “could be the thing that saves us.”
Save us from what, you ask? The planet, he tells a group to students at James Madison University, may soon be “largely uninhabitable for humans” and it’s “gonna be post-apocalyptic movie time.” According to NPR, these intellectual nuggets of wisdom left students speechless.
The room is quiet. No one fidgets. Later, a few students say they had no idea the situation was so bad.
Oh, no! Did someone forget to tell them that the megatons of greenhouse gases their cell-phone charging has emitted into the atmosphere is going to create a dystopia? That’s an unforgivable oversight by our culture and public schools, which almost never broach the topic of climate change.
What can we do? Well, Rieder says: “Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them.”
The idea that we should have fewer children to save the planet hasn’t been provocative in about 50 years. It would take these students five minutes of googling to understand that doomsayers have been ignoring human nature and ingenuity since the eighteenth century, at least.
They might read about Paul Ehrlich and our “Science Czar” John Holdren, who coauthored a 1977 book suggesting mass sterilizations and forced abortions to save the world (we’re decades past the expiration date); or about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who not long said that she always assumed Roe v. Wade was “about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” Did she mean poor people? Did she mean people who recklessly use air conditioners? It’s still a mystery.
It’s a serious failure of our society that the intellectual offspring of frauds like Ehrlich, rather than Julian Simon, are the ones lecturing students about the future. But “overpopulation” is regularly cited by journalists — who quite often live in the densest, yet somehow also the wealthiest, places on earth — as one of the world’s pressing problems, thrown in with war and famine and so on.
It’s got bit of a new twist these days. As Rieder tells it, Americans are responsible for more carbon emissions per capita than anyone; and since the world’s poorest nations are most likely to suffer from “severe climate” it all “seems unfair.”
Agreed. Let’s make the world fairer and stop pressuring emerging nations to stop using the cheapest, most effective energy. It’s immoral. Let’s also stop worrying about population growth. The biggest spikes in population growth in our history coincide with the greatest growth in wealth and innovation for a good reason. Best of luck to everyone else.
So far, so good. According to the World Bank, because of the spread of trade, technological advances, and plentiful energy, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10 percent. We also have fewer hungry people than ever in the world; fewer people die in conflicts over resources, and deaths due to extreme weather have been dramatically declining for a century. Over the past 40 years, our water and air is cleaner, despite population growth.
As Johan Norberg notes in The Spectator:
If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.
Everything is headed in the wrong direction for environmental scaremongers. If we’re already experiencing the negative force of climate change — which I’m told we are every time we have ugly weather somewhere in the country — shouldn’t things be getting worse? Well, the real trouble is always right over the horizon.
Take India. Not only do they have to deal with Americans despoiling the earth, its population has exploded from 450 million in 1960 to 1.25 billion today. Yet by every tangible measurement of human progress the Indian people live better now than they did before the colonialists started using refrigerators. And it’s not just India.
A lot of this explosion is reliant on affordable fossil fuels. More than any time in the history, in India — China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia — children have a better chance than ever to avoid extreme poverty. Now is the best time to make some.
Even the United Nations estimates that the nine billion people expected by 2050 could be supported with the technology we already possess. What Malthusians never take into consideration are the efficiencies and technology we don’t have yet, which continually amaze us and undermine their dark vision of humankind’s future.
Also, imagine how history would have played out if humans “protected their kids by not having them” in times of calamity and tragedy? Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe it’s the best time in history to have children.
The real problem we face is sustaining population. The replacement rate is 2.1, and in places they fail to meet this threshold — parts of Europe and Japan, for example — they’ve suffered economic and cultural stagnation. Here in the United States we have, for a variety of reasons, long struggled with this problem, as Jonathan Last has argued. The success of developing nations also portends a similar slow-down for them.
Prosperity is not just about selfishness, it’s about health, peace, happiness, and community. I’m not sure what economic plan philosophers and environmentalists have to help grow an economy that will take care of the ballooning older population. Unless they subscribe to the Ezekiel Emanuel school of thought, which is to say treat the notion of the elderly the same way some devout environmentalists treat the notion of children.