Get Green, Go Sterile?

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Does going green mean humans should have fewer children? Two Oregon State University professors recently released a study which argued that parents are responsible for the carbon emissions of their offspring.

The study is premised upon the concept that a mother and father each “inherit” responsibility for one half of their offspring’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, one quarter of each grandchild’s emissions, etc.

Professors Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax conclude that, under current conditions, each U.S. “child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions.”

They urge women to forgo children instead of amenities as a carbon-capping measure. “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle,” write Murtaugh and Schlax.

“For example, a woman in the United States who adopted the six non-reproductive changes in Table 3 would save about 486 tons of CO2 emissions during her lifetime, but, if she were to have two children, this would eventually add nearly 40 times that amount of CO2 (18,882 t) to the earth’s atmosphere.”

The OSU researchers also unfavorably compare the emissions of U.S. children with those from Bangladesh: “The range of values is enormous: under the constant-emission scenario, the legacy of a United States female (18,500 t) is two orders of magnitude greater than that of a female from Bangladesh (136 t).”

Ironically, the latter government engaged in rigorous population control policies during the 20th century, claiming this would reduce poverty and therefore raise living standards. Birth control methods such as Intra-uterine Devices (IUDS) and the Pill were distributed to Bangladeshi women and a popular, if controversial, incentive utilized by the Bangladesh government was compensated sterilization.

In addition, between 1975 and 1977 the Indian government performed over 7.6 million forced sterilizations in the name of “population control,” according to Debabar Banerji; China continues to forcibly sterilize and perform abortions on Chinese women as part of its “one child” policy.

“In some ways, [the researchers’] focus on America and British births is an improvement over the previous bout of overpopulation worries,” wrote William McGurn for the Wall Street Journal on August 3. “Back in the 1970’s, when the experts complained about people having too many children, they meant Chinese, Filipinos, Latin Americans, Africans, et al.”

“Many still believe this is so,” continued McGurn. “At least for the moment however, the American mom who brings a new life into this world seems to be regarded as more of an environmental menace than the Bangladeshi mother who does the same.”

That may be because the Bangladesh population lives fewer years and consumes fewer resources per person. Murtaugh and Schlax’s calculations demonstrate how carbon-capping policies subvert rising living standards in the developing world and would devolve living standards even in the poorest, “least developed” nations:

“A set of aggressive emissions reduction scenarios summarized by the IPCC…shows, on average, about an 85% reduction in global emissions between 2000 and 2100. Adjusting for a projected population size of 9.1 billion in 2100… this translates into a reduction in per capita emissions from 4.3 t CO2 in 2005 to about .5 t CO2 per person per year in 2100. This is an extremely ambitious target: emissions in Africa, which includes 34 of the 50 ‘least developed’ countries in the world…were roughly 1.2 t CO2 per person per year in 2005.” (emphasis added).

In his WSJ column, McGurn asserted that “accept [Murtaugh’s] assumptions, it means that when a friend has a baby, you have to think we’re all the worse for it. It means that instead of celebrating the development that brings things like refrigeration, cars and calories to people who don’t now have them, we fear the day that a child in Manila enjoys the blessings of life to have the same carbon footprint as a kid from Minnesota.”

Similar views can be traced back to Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich in his book Population Bomb (1968), a pivotal work in the population control debate. Prof. Ehrlich told the makers of Demographic Bomb that the book’s “goal was to insert the population issue into the environmental discussion, and from that point of view it was certainly a success.” He also said that he would have preferred to have titled the work Population, Resources and Environment instead of The Population Bomb.

Less than a decade later Ehrlich and his wife co-authored the textbook Ecoscience: Populations, Resources and Environment (1977) along with John Holdren, President Obama’s science czar.

Holdren recently came under fire for statements in this book which endorsed placing sterilizing agents in the water supply and a “Planetary Regime” determining ideal population sizes. The former concept can be attributed to Princeton’s Kingsley Davis, not Holdren, who was alluding to Davis’ work.

In the meantime, those who take their kids to the recently renovated Smithsonian Museum of American History can visit the “Science in American Life” exhibit, conveniently located next to two interactive children’s science sections. There, under the banner of “Better Than Nature, 1950-1970” you will find two multicolored walls dedicated to celebrating the creation of the birth control pill, complete with an extra-large cartoon illustration of “The Population Bomb.”

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.


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