Environmentalists Mad About Things Environmentalists Say

A few months ago, NYT columnist Bret Stephens was lambasted for saying this:

A guy I know just had a baby and he’s a big global warming, climate change activist. If he thinks in 20 years we’ll be heading toward unsustainable climates and there will be tens of millions of people being displaced, presumably including himself, at the most apocalyptic level, then presumably he wouldn’t be having children.

It contradicts the belief that we are heading ineluctably for an apocalyptic environmental future.

The entire environmentalist blogosphere erupted. But … the thing is that what Stephens said has been environmentalist gospel for years. There is about half a century of the left side of the environmental movement embracing and even demanding population control. From Ehrlich to Holdren to Bill Nye, we’ve had constant calls for population control. The most recent iteration appeared in the Guardian, which talked about a paper that said the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to have fewer children.

Carbon emissions must fall to two tonnes of CO2 per person by 2050 to avoid severe global warming, but in the US and Australia emissions are currently 16 tonnes per person and in the UK seven tonnes. “That’s obviously a really big change and we wanted to show that individuals have an opportunity to be a part of that,” said Kimberly Nicholas, at Lund University in Sweden and one of the research team.

The new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, sets out the impact of different actions on a comparable basis. By far the biggest ultimate impact is having one fewer child, which the researchers calculated equated to a reduction of 58 tonnes of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life.

Put aside the fancy calculations. What this amounts to is saying that there would be no carbon emissions if there were no people. And that’s true enough, I guess. But this paper has been run with by many environmentalists, including those who criticized Stephens, as sound advice for a healthier planet. You would think the ugly history of population control, such as China’s brutal one-child policy, would give them pause. But no, they’re running out there with another round of, “Stop having babies, everyone!”

Well, they’re wrong against just as they’ve always been wrong on this particular subject. As it happens, the world is not facing an overpopulation crisis. Population is projected to peak mid-century. In fact, many countries are now worried about an underpopulation crisis. Countries like Japan and almost all of Western Europe are worried that their societies will not be able to sustain themselves.

What’s more, global warming is not a problem that we have a solution to. Alternative energy and efficiency are great but they are only delaying actions. The real breakthroughs — on nuclear power, energy storage or climate mitigation — have yet to be made. We need future generations of engineers, scientists and business people if we’re going to make those breakthroughs. That means having children. That especially means educated people have educated children. By encouraging such people to not have children, the greens are delaying future environmental progress, not advancing it.

Post Scriptum: I noted earlier that I was in Israel this week. I’ll write a full report at some point. But one thing I’ve noticed about Israel — especially in contrast to Europe — is the number of children. There are children everywhere in Tel Aviv. This is as opposed to Rome or London, which are almost childless. It’s not unusual to see a family with four or five children. Part of this is religious of course. But it’s not like Israel is a totally oppressive patriarchy. Women serve in the military. The WEF ranks Israel 49th in gender equality, even by their somewhat odd methodology (which ranks Rwanda 5th). If you look at maps of countries by gender equality, Israel is an island of gender equity in sea of oppression.

One theme you run into in Israel is past-present-future, the idea that this is a country which has a rich history but is looking forward to the future. They have one because they’re having children. Europe … doesn’t have a future. And if we listen to the environmentalists and stop having children, neither will we.

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  1. stogy

    And that’s true enough, I guess. But this paper has been run with by many environmentalists,

    You know that there is a similar meme on the right as well – climate change isn’t the problem, population growth is.

    The problem with the point you raise here is that the question is being asked upside down. The question should be: “What is a environmental and economically sustainable population for X part of the world and how do we get there with the least pain?” And then we develop policies to that end.

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  2. stogy

    If you look at maps of countries by gender equality, Israel is an island of gender equity in sea of oppression.

    Well…. yes and no…

    Jewish orthodox communities in Israel differ very little from some of the more oppressive across the Middle East in their treatment of women;

    The extremists who spit at women, who call themselves Sikarikim, learned their lesson 101 times and learned it well: A husband would do well not to let his wife go outside, into the street, and should restrict her outings “to once or twice a month, as necessary, since a woman has no beauty except by sitting in the corner of her house.”

    Because inside the house – very deep inside – her glorious honor awaits her: “Every woman washes her husband’s face and feet and pours him a cup and prepares his bed and stands and serves her husband. And any woman who refrains from doing any of these tasks that she is obligated to perform – is forced to do them.” Some recommend forcing her with a whip or by starvation “until she gives in.”

    Female (Jewish) friends of mine in Jerusalem have also told me they have been spat on and attacked (stones thrown at them) for not wearing head scarves or behaving modestly, and warned me to stay away from particular Jerusalem neighborhoods, in case I was targeted.

    There was also the case of the woman – a holocaust survivor – seated next to an Orthodox man on a flight being made to move seats (she sued and won). Just two weeks ago, orthodox groups managed to cancel a plan to allow a section of the Western wall to be opened for both men and women to pray together, which means that women get only the tiniest (and least holy) part of the wall – not so different from segregated doors for men and women in Mosques.

    On the other hand, I know some really kickass Israeli women, but they aren’t so different from other female friends who were raised and educated in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. All of them (Jewish and Arab) have had to fight for their rights (often supported by their fathers), and many have faced repeated threats of violence.

    There are children everywhere in Tel Aviv. This is as opposed to Rome or London

    Going back to your original point – there is a demographic time bomb in Israel. Israeli birthrates are significantly higher than in the West. However, they are disproportionately higher among the ultra-orthodox communities (far higher even than Arab-Israeli birthrates). With current growth rates, the country is running out of room (hence the need to annex large parts of the West Bank for settlements). They refuse to serve in the military or engage in many commercial activities, impoverishing and endangering the country’s survival.

    You wouldn’t see much of this in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem it’s very obvious. They are very different worlds. Tel Aviv is seen as a kind of modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah by many in Jerusalem.

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  3. CM

    I completely agree that it’s stupid to tell people not to have kids, and most definitely agree that educated people having educated kids is good. It’s the morons who need to stop breeding (not saying all those with less eduction are morons, far from it). They won’t though so it’s important that not only morons are breeding.
    And most definitely yes in terms of different parts of the planet being able to sustain life at different levels. It’s very clear that some parts that are habitable now are unlikely to be in decades to come.

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  4. Hal_10000 *

    Reasonably points, Stogy, but that ultra-religious faction is a small but powerful minority.  The Sodom and Gamorah (a phrase I’ve only seen in that whacked out link) has half of Israel’s population, almost all of its tech industry and enormous financial and political power.  The difference between Israel and its neighbors is that, among many of its neighbors, those fanatical cults are the government, all of it.  There is no secular or left wing.

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  5. stogy

    but that ultra-religious faction is a small but powerful minority. 

    True, but based on current fertility rates (over 6 per woman) they are expected to comprise the majority of Israeli Jews by mid-century.

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