Saturday, April 12, 2008

Babies accelerate global warming

I know this one's a stretch for you, but if you sit down and think about it for a little while, you'll eventually be able to connect the dots.

Last December, ABC News reported that there is a baby boom occurring in the US. "In 2005, there were two children born for every American woman. Last year, the so-called 'fertility rate' rose to 2.1 children for every woman." Fortunately, the rate is no higher than that. "That's still nowhere near what it was during the height of the baby boom, when the rate hovered somewhere between three and four kids per family."

Between 3 and 4 kids?? Which means that the families having 1 to 2 kids back then were offset by families having 5 to 6 kids. And the families having 0 kids were offset by families having 7 or more kids. Seven kids?? What were they thinking? The logistics alone of feeding and clothing that many kids is staggering. (Crash Ow! Mom! Bang Thump Stop throwing your food! Waaaaaa Hurry up, we'll be late! Whooooooosh Bonk Mom! Bangbangbangbangbang Waaaaaaaa Stop it! Crash)

"Okay," my hypothetical Jennifer says, "maybe those people who have like 17 kids are sort of dumb, but why would my having a baby affect global warming? That's caused by greenhouse gases from factories and cars and herds of cattle. What does that have to do with my baby sitting in a highchair eating mashed peas? My baby won't produce that much greenhouse gas." No, you're right. But do babies stay babies? Generally they grow up and buy SUVs and newspapers and groceries, live in buildings constructed at least partially of wood, and watch TV and turn lights on in the evening. "Okay..." Jennifer concedes, unconvinced. Yes, you're right, one adult's carbon footprint isn't really that big, if that person recycles, turns unnecessary lights off, buys a fuel-efficient SUV, consolidates road trips for running errands, uses public transit to get to work, stuff like that. "My child would grow up knowing how important those things are." That's great. But multiply your adult child's conservative carbon footprint by 300 million Americans and collectively you get a giant carbon footprint.

I believe the fertility rate should drop to 1.5 or even 1 so that the population actually decreases over the years. That alone would significantly slow global warming and reduce some of the urgency for finding new landfills for the trash we generate.

However, from an economic standpoint, a reduction in population isn't always beneficial, since a smaller population produces less revenue overall. Statistically, the higher the IQ and level of education people have, the fewer children they generally produce, and so a reduction in population would likely result in a greater reduction of those with higher levels of disposable income, and less of a reduction among those with less spending money and a greater need for government services. Economies can thrive in huge populations because the more people there are, the more revenue they generate. Substantial revenue can be generated even from people with very low incomes, provided there are enough of them.

For a reduction in population to be as much of a benefit economically as environmentally, there would need to be a greater reduction at the lower end of the income scale, and less of a reduction at the higher end. Jennifer snorts. "So only rich people should have kids?" Actually no, because (theoretically) most "rich people" are lower-income people with insatiable appetites. We don't need more of them. But people with higher levels of education and higher salaries generate revenue more efficiently. One middle-class person might generate revenue equal to what 10 working-class people might generate. With fewer people generating more disposable income per person, the environment and the economy benefit.

But it's difficult to suggest to a community that they encourage educated people to have more kids and less-educated people to have fewer kids. The self-worth of those encouraged to have fewer kids would be significantly affected. They would feel rejected by their own communities. If that encouragement had been a familiar, congenial custom all along in our communities, we would have the environmental and economic benefits of the custom now and there would be no hard feelings. But asking a community to begin encouraging professors and architects to have kids and discouraging hairstylists and truck drivers from having kids would be seen as an attack on our natural right to have a family.

I understand those feelings of rejection and have no foolproof remedy for them, but financial compensation might help those people feel a little better. If a low-income family has 1 child instead of 5 children, their need for government services is greatly reduced, and their tax liability should be reduced proportionately. Currently, a family's tax liability is reduced for each of the children they produce, and it could be argued that these tax breaks are an unconscious encouragement to have more kids. Conversely, if a family's tax burden increases with each child they have because their need for government services increases, a new idea like having fewer kids would be easier to adopt.


Anonymous said...

w00t neomalthusianism!!

John said...

From the early 19th century? I think this is a little fresher than that. Malthus was all about dire warnings of catastrophe, and obviously he was wrong. We're still here. I make no predictions of catastrophe. My proposal is based on the simple idea that if the status quo is maintained, tomorrow will be no better than today. (A complex concept, I know. You should probably stop and take a moment to think it through.)