Years ago I suspect I shocked some folks on an internal Sun Microsystems email alias with a casual statement, one which I honestly thought was a self-evident consequence of simple math. I said that the single most detrimental thing most of us would ever do to the environment was to have a(nother) child.
Yes, by all means recycle, batch up your car trips, take a bike when you can, support a carbon tax, and question whether you really need an SUV. But with the exception of the carbon tax, the effect of all of that combined is not going to hold a candle to the effect of creating an additional consuming/polluting human being, especially one who lives in an affluent country, who will go on to make more human beings, and so on ad infinitum. An infinite series can be a formidable opponent.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have kids, of course. It does mean that population size is an important factor in environmental degradation. We all know that, right?
Well, yes and no. Understandably, people who have kids and love them dearly don’t like hearing that creating more of them contributes to serious problems. And in this country, at least, we consider the decision to have kids a personal one — none of anyone else’s business, regardless of the societal impact. In fact, we have institutionalized support for that decision to the extent that those who have fewer kids pay extra taxes so that those who have more kids can pay less. We are indisputably a parent-friendly nation.
So I was delighted to see Sir David Attenborough, who is as engaging in public as he is at the entrance to a burrow, speak to the RSA about breaking the taboo against talking about population control. It’s very definitely worth a few minutes to watch.
The bottom line, as he so eloquently explains, is that ultimately our population growth will be controlled. For all other species what limits population growth is a death rate that rises to match the birth rate because of limits on resources. Humans are the only species capable of choosing to do it a different way, by limiting the birth rate. But will we?
Not if we can’t even bring ourselves to talk openly about it.