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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oh, Brave New World, With the Right Amount of People in It

Something from the UK called the Optimum Population Trust has issued a briefing, A Population-Based Climate Strategy, that identifies the best, easiest hope (as they would have us believe) for staving environmental doom:
The most effective personal climate change strategy is limiting the number of children one has. The most effective national and global climate change strategy is limiting the size of the population. Population limitation should therefore be seen as the most cost-effective carbon offsetting strategy available to individuals and nations – a strategy that applies with even more force to developed nations... because of their higher consumption levels.

A non-existent person has no environmental footprint: the emissions “saving” is instant and total. ...

A population-based climate change strategy has several additional advantages. Fewer people means less demand on resources which means fewer of the negative environmental effects of a purely technological strategy – from wind turbines in beautiful countryside and biofuel plantations on land needed for growing food to a possible new era of nuclear energy. These impacts are substantial. ...

A population-based strategy also involves fewer of the taxes, regulations and other limits on personal freedom and mobility now being canvassed in response to climate change - travel taxes, congestion charging, water restrictions, carbon rationing. And because technological adaptation would be less urgent if population was stable or reducing, the economic costs of transition to a stable climate would be less and the transition itself would be smoother. To sum up, a population-based climate strategy would be easier, quicker, cheaper, freer and greener. ...

A purely technological strategy for mitigating climate change involves increasing intervention by the state both in the market and in individual freedoms for the foreseeable future, with all the scope for social tensions this could bring. Given the nature of democratic politics, the outcome of such a strategy would be uncertain. [C]limate change “strategies” since the 1990s, with targets proclaimed and later dropped or missed under political pressures, are a model for what might happen in the future. But climate change is also a question of supply and demand (for energy). The current approach to mitigation emphasises one half of the equation (supply) while virtually ignoring the other (demand). It is based on two approaches which were once anathema to the environmental lobby: technical fix and predict and provide. OPT argues that while greener technologies and reduced consumption both have a vital role to play, treating population growth as a “given” – something over which we have no control – is a failure of courage and leadership in the face of a planetary emergency. It will do nothing to increase people’s awareness of how their own decisions about family size could have potentially devastating consequences for the environment in which their children grow up. The world... needs to take population seriously.
Three things come first to mind:
    1. "Do it for the environment" is supplanting "do it for the children" as the last refuge of scoundrels.
    2. "Family planning" has never been about choice; this I knew. I have been thinking it was about good old-fashioned license, but now I'm not sure--I can't quite put my finger on it...
    3. "Go forth, be fruitful, but stabilize" is what God meant when He took the boot Adam and Eve to help them on their way out of Eden?
Right Wing Nut House glances off the third item:
[W]hat makes this such an idiotic, shallow, and self defeating criticism – to the point that we now have international eco-arbiters who have taken it upon themselves to police the manners and customs of everyone else in search of “green” violations – is that it fails to take into account the potential contributions and even eco-pluses of those extra human beings to the human race. This is what happens when you stop thinking of human beings as living, breathing, thinking, caring, loving organisms and instead look at them as metrics on a chart who either consume resources like food, or raw materials or belch carbon. (emphasis added)
Each person is an end in himself. Yes, sustainability of growth is an important factor, as Pope Benedict reminded us recently. Nevertheless, this is not an either/or, but a both/and situation:
The Church’s conviction of the inseparability of justice and charity is ultimately born of her experience of the revelation of God’s infinite justice and mercy in Jesus Christ, and it finds expression in her insistence that man himself and his irreducible dignity must be at the centre of political and social life. Her teaching... thus appeals to right reason and a sound understanding of human nature in proposing principles capable of guiding individuals and communities in the pursuit of a social order marked by justice, freedom, fraternal solidarity and peace. At the heart of that teaching... is the principle of the universal destination of all the goods of creation. According to this fundamental principle, everything that the earth produces and all that man transforms and manufactures, all his knowledge and technology, is meant to serve the material and spiritual development and fulfilment of the human family and all its members.
In other words, in the final analysis, the earth was made for man, but man was not made for the earth. When we lose sight of this, we get the anemia that is Europe today. Which raises the question: If we developed nations (the higher consumers), because of our "sophistication," struggle to maintain replacement birthrates, as is widely chronicled, despite largely ignoring the energy demand and emissions factors, then why do we need a policy for limiting national population growth in the first place?

(hard hat tip: The Anchoress)

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