In response to my column last week celebrating (despite the many drawbacks) a global trend of smaller families, some readers and callers said that the real solution to planetwide environmental destruction is for each of us humans to consume fewer resources, rather than trying to have fewer of us around.
This is a perfectly fine statement, built around the formula:
(global environmental destruction) = (no. humans) X (lifetime damage per human)*
If you reduce either of the variables on the right, you reduce the product on the left. Why did I talk about reducing the first variable but not the second, some readers wondered.
Simple: Because people will never use less. We’ll cut back a tiny bit here and there, but as soon as the price of gas falls we’re back in our oversized Bulge-Mobiles wearing fast fashion and flying to conference in Europe to talk about how to use less. This is a worldwide phenomenon. And no technology is going to make it magically possible for us to live the same lives while consuming less – if nothing else, we’ll fall into the Jevrons paradox and screw it up.
No, our only hope is to have humans slow our reproduction rate. (To answer another question I was asked, I think government’s role in making this process happen is to (a) ensure girls are educated and (b) ensure society is stable and safe enough that people feel rich enough not to worry about having children to support them.)
ANOTHER ADDENDUM: Maybe this is part of the reason birth rates are declining: Sperm rates are falling in the West and nobody knows why.
*I have no idea what units this would be measured in.
One of Wired magazine’s features is “Jargon Watch”, where new terminology is explicated. The latest issue has “sex czar” — a “new government post in Spain charged with stepping up procreation”.
As you can imagine, the Internet is full of commentary about this. Some of it is funny. (“At least they didn’t call it the Ministry of Love.”)
But the point, I guess, is that states where population is actually shrinking see it as a disaster, not a blessing.