This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Should People Not Have Children Because of the Impact on the Environment?

The New York Times published an Op-Ed this morning by Maggie Astor promoting the idea that people may choose not to bring a child into a world threatened by environmental collapse.
Add this to the list of decisions affected by climate change: Should I have children?
It is not an easy time for people to feel hopeful, with the effects of globalwarming no longer theoretical, projections becoming more dire and governmental action lagging. And while few, if any, studies have examined how large a role climate change plays in people’s childbearing decisions, it loomed large in interviews with more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43.
Among them, there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront. Some worry about the quality of life children born today will have as shorelines flood, wildfires rage and extreme weather becomes more common. Others are acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally.
To be sure, these data are from a small non-random sample of people assembled by a group called Conceivable Future, an organization that highlights how climate change is limiting reproductive choices, and co-founded by Meghan Kallman, who is interviewed in the article. 

But is this the best response to global environmental destruction? An IUSSP article also just posted this morning suggests not. George Martine, a widely respected demographer, offers the opinion that the problem is the per-person increase in resource consumption that has accompanied population increase. To be sure, more people add to the problem, but the biggest issue is that everyone in the world wants to live like the wealthiest 20% and that just isn't possible. Resources need to be more equitably spread around the world, and we need to change our attitudes about how many things we need to buy (and eat).
Ultimately, the “population problem” is much less relevant than, say, livestock increases (also driven by development) in the imminent ecological collapse. Given the trajectory of degradation caused by the richest third of the global population, the planet we know could well be thrashed even without the addition of a single baby. What we urgently need, therefore, is a reality check on our cherished “development” paradigm.
I would offer the middle ground that we should immediately slow population growth and immediately put a check on the development paradigm. We need both. 

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