Bioethicist: The climate crisis calls for fewer children

We are told we must only use electric vehicles, to save the planet—like robots, we agree.  We are told to get rid of aerosol cans, use expensive solar panels, and get rid of carbon— regardless of cost and jobs lost.  So it is just a small step for government to say, NO MORE BABIES.  China did this for close to thirty years, a one baby policy.  Now they find they are losing population.  Today they have 1.2 billion people.  By 2200 they will have 700 million people.  Policies have consequences’

“NPR correspondent Jennifer Ludden profiled some of my work in procreative ethics with an article entitled, “Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?,” which summarized my published views that we ought to consider adopting a “small family ethic” and even pursuing fertility reduction efforts in response to the threat from climate change. Although environmentalists for decades have worried about overpopulation for many good reasons, I suggest the fast-upcoming thresholds in climate change provide uniquely powerful reasons to consider taking real action to slow population growth.

Only Planned Parenthood could support this concept of fewer children.  This is a sure way to destroy the economy.  But watch as the woke start promoting this policy—and social media censuring those that promote having babies.

Bioethicist: The climate crisis calls for fewer children

Travis N. Rieder, Director of the Master of Bioethics degree program at the Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, The Conversation,   11/27/21 

Should a future parent consider the impact more people will have on the Earth? child via www.shutterstock.com

In 2016, I found myself in the middle of a lively debate because of my work on climate change and the ethics of having children.

NPR correspondent Jennifer Ludden profiled some of my work in procreative ethics with an article entitled, “Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?,” which summarized my published views that we ought to consider adopting a “small family ethic” and even pursuing fertility reduction efforts in response to the threat from climate change. Although environmentalists for decades have worried about overpopulation for many good reasons, I suggest the fast-upcoming thresholds in climate change provide uniquely powerful reasons to consider taking real action to slow population growth.

Clearly, this idea struck a nerve: I was overwhelmed by the response in my personal email inbox as well as op-eds in other media outlets and over 70,000 shares on Facebook. I am gratified that so many people took the time to read and reflect on the piece.

Having read and digested that discussion, I want to continue it by responding to some of the most vocal criticisms of my own work, which includes research on “population engineering” – the intentional manipulation of human population size and structure – I’ve done with my colleagues, Jake Earl and Colin Hickey.

In short, the varied arguments against my views – that I’m overreacting, that the economy will tank and others – haven’t changed my conviction that we need to discuss the ethics of having children in this era of climate change.

How bad will things get?

Some comments – those claiming climate change is a hoax, devised by those who wish to control the world’s resources – are not worth responding to. Since 97 percent of all relevant experts cannot convince climate change skeptics of the basic scientific facts, then nothing I say will change their minds.

Other concerns, however, do require a response. Many people reacted to my work on procreation ethics by saying climate change will not be so bad, and so curbing individual desires, such as having children, in its name is unnecessary fear-mongering.

In my work, I suggest that 1.5-2 degrees Celsius warming over preindustrial levels will be “dangerous” and “very bad,” while 4 degrees C will be “catastrophic” and will leave large segments of the Earth “largely uninhabitable by humans.” Here is a very brief survey of the evidence for those claims based on what I consider reputable sources.

At 1.5-2 degrees C, a World Bank report predicts an increase in extreme weather events, deadly heat waves and severe water stress. Food production will decrease, and changing disease vectors will create unpredictable infectious disease outbreaks. Sea levels will rise, combining with increased storm severity to place coastal cities at risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that from the years 2030-2050 – as we reach this level of warming – at least 250,000 people will die every year from just some of the climate-related harms.

Perhaps many of us in rich countries (the “us” who might be reading this) will be largely protected from these early harms; but that doesn’t make them less real to the vulnerable citizens of, say, Bangladesh, Kiribati or the Maldives. In fact, it escalates the injustice, as the global wealthy have benefited from and contributed to climate change the most, while the global poor will be hurt first and worst.

At 4 degrees C warming, the World Bank predicts that every summer month will be hotter than any current record heat wave, making the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean deadly during the summer months. Many coastal cities will be completely under water, and all low-lying island nations will likely have to be abandoned. Hundreds of millions, if not billions of people could become climate refugees, as their homelands become uninhabitable.

Based on these descriptions, I stand by my predictions.

No, environmentalists don’t hate babies

Other critics have argued that advocating for a lower birth rate = hating babies or being “anti-life.”

Obviously I don’t hate babies! I’m pretty wild about my own kid, and small humans in general.

This anti-life charge is more interesting, but equally wrong. The premise seems to be that those who wish to lower fertility rates must be misanthropic, or fail to see the value of humans. But that gets things exactly backwards: A radical concern for climate change is precisely motivated by a concern for human life – in particular, the human lives that will be affected by climate disruptions.

A valuable philosophical contribution here is the distinction between “making people happy” and “making happy people.” When I feed a hungry person, or prevent a harm from befalling someone, I improve a person’s well-being. But when I create a person whom I will then feed and prevent from harm, I make a person who will predictably be well off. In the first case, I added happiness to the world by helping an existing person; whereas in the second case, I added happiness by creating a person who will be happy. See the difference?

I, like many philosophers, believe that it’s morally better to make people happy than to make happy people. Those who exist already have needs and wants, and protecting and providing for them is motivated by respect for human life. It is not a harm to someone not to be created.

In fact, I would argue that it is more “anti-life” to prioritize creating new life over caring for, or even not harming, those who already exist.

Can the economy grow with lower population growth?

Another opposing argument: People are not only consumers – they are also producers, and so will make the world better.

Yes, humans are producers, and many wonderful things have come from human genius. But each person, whatever else they are (genius or dunce, producer or drag on the economy) is also a consumer. And this is the only claim needed in order to be worried about climate change.

The problem here is that we have a finite resource – the ability of the Earth’s atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gases without violently disrupting the climate – and each additional person contributes to the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. So although humans will hopefully save us (we do, in fact, desperately need brilliant people to develop scaleable technology to remove carbon from the air, for instance), the solution to this cannot be to have as many babies as possible, with the hope that this raises our probability of solving the problem. Because each baby is also an emitter, whether a genius or not.

Lastly, there’s the view that lowering fertility rates will kill the economy.

Several commenters point to low-fertility countries like Japan, Italy and Germany, and argue that problems experienced by such countries are proof that the “real” population crisis is our dropping fertility rate. We need more babies to grow into healthy young producers to keep our economic engine humming.

The truth in this objection is the following: An economy that requires infinite growth to be healthy will be harmed in a world of finite resources. But if it’s true that our economies can’t survive slowing or even reversing population growth, then we’re in some trouble no matter what.

Why? It’s simple logic that we cannot grow our population forever. We can either reflect now on how to protect our economy while working toward a sustainable population, or we can ignore the problem until nature forces it on us, perhaps violently and unexpectedly.

I’ll conclude with one, final thought: I don’t enjoy arguing for a small family ethic, or a population engineering scheme. Despite snide accusations to the contrary, I get no research funds or any other incentive for making this case. I’m arguing these points because I’m genuinely worried about the future of our planet, and the people who will inherit it, and I believe difficult yet civil discussion is the crucial first step to making that future one we won’t be condemned for creating.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. The entire article is based on a faulty premise. That we are causing climate warming.
    1) Look at any global temperature chart for the last 20,000 or 100,000 years and notice… the earth has been heating up for the last 22,000 years. That was the end of the last Ice Age. That ended without any factories or cars,,, completely without mankind doing anything. This simple fact completely vitiates any thought that we are causing a warmup. Look at the chart! The oceans have been rising a half inch a year for 12,000 years, and just the last 2,000 the rate has slowed to 1/100 a year. We are likely reaching a heat zenith.

    2) Look at any chart of CO2 rates and temperature over the last million years or 20,000 years… and notice that in every instance, the CO2 rates FOLLOW the temperature rate. The earth has a fever and it’s not caused by CO2, and never has been. So how can all these scientists just ignore these obvious facts that completely animate their chicken little theories on global warming disasters..? Financing.

    3) If this frightened scientist wants to limit global population, first he or she must stop having children. Next they must work to send birth control pills around the world , especially to Africa, China and South America and Mexico. Then they must work to allow childhood diseases to spread unhindered, and remove modern power supplies and resultant good hygiene practices from the globe. Then they may sit back a gloat on how magnanimous they are, saving the poor planet from us unworthy humans.

  2. There is no doubt that the earth has too many people. Our reproduction rate has been unsustainable. When reproduction is controlled, such as China did, the balance is destroyed in one or many ways. Right now there are several cultural groups that are reproducing at a level below sustainability. The White group in America and other countries is one of those. As people become aware of the cost and obligation for responsibility for their children they are making those decisions without intervention from government. Currently in America the government is handing out money to millions of people so that they do not feel that burden. Those groups only see children as an even greater basis for government care. Responsibility has consequences many do not want on their shoulders – governments use this to gain control.

  3. Upchuck.Liberals says

    Perhaps you should do your personal part in reducing the earths population? Just a thought.

  4. Academia has always been a source of quacks and grifters.

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