Travis Rieder is a moral philosophy and bioethics professor at Johns Hopkins University. In his new short book, â€œTowards a Small Family Ethicâ€, he posits that if we want to fight climate change we should have less people, i.e. have fewer children (the bookâ€™s subtitle is â€œHow Overpopulation and Climate Change Are Changing the Morality of Procreationâ€).
I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree with the good professor: people who are really and seriously committed to fighting climate change should have fewer children. In fact, they should probably make a commitment to a negative population growth and not have children at all. Gaia, and I, will thank them.
Of course most Western countries â€“ and most countries in the world generally â€“ have been having fewer children over the past few decades, though that has nothing to do with the concern about global temperatures. Ironically, both socialism and capitalism are good for reduced population growth. Socialism either kills people, tells them not to breed (Chinaâ€™s one child policy) or depresses fertility by taking away peopleâ€™s hope for the future. In advanced capitalism, on the other hand, peopleâ€™s priorities change and having children becomes less important than other personal goals. In between socialism and capitalism there is a whole gamut of other approaches and polices; Iran, for example, has managed to over the past half a century reduce the average fertility per woman from almost 7 children to below 2, so below a natural replacement level, without necessarily killing or enriching many of its citizens.
Professor Rieder should be happy about the fertility rates falling globally. Throughout Europe and elsewhere the populations are actually already shrinking or are about to shrink. But even thatâ€™s not enough because these are precisely the countries which produce by far the most emissions per capita. Less capita, less emissions, and voila, the world is saved.
In reality, whatever you believe about the anthropogenic climate change, what will eventually lower or altogether eliminate carbon dioxide emissions is technological development, which will produce entirely new sources of â€œcleanâ€ energy or will make existing â€œalternativeâ€ sources of energy as cheap and economical as carbon-based fuel are currently. Itâ€™s called technological progress, which has been one constant in the history of the human species. The race is on to see whether the dream of cheap and clean energy can be realised while there still will be future generations in the developed world to enjoy its benefits. In the meantime, Professor Riederâ€™s readers are more than welcome not to breed. Think globally, not procreate locally. Rieder himself has got one child, of which he should be ashamed.
By the way, congratulations to Australia for having the highest emissions per capita of all the developed countries, at 17.3 tons of CO2 â€“ Luxembourg is higher still at 19.34 but however developed itâ€™s not a real country. The largest per capita emitter is the Netherlands Antilles (the Dutch East Indies) at mind-boggling 98.53 tons. God knows what theyâ€™re doing up there, but well done, gentlemen and ladies. In reality (the same one as in the paragraph above), you cannot de-carbonise the world economy now unless you want to destroy it, which some of the climate change activists do actually want. Just because an overwhelming majority of those concerned about the climate change is well meaning, it doesnâ€™t mean that there is no agenda, shared by some of the most committed believers, which is deeply anti-capitalist and anti-industrial and in favour of more redistribution and government control. Some people merely recommend you have fewer children; others would love to force you to.